It’s Beach Day! An exciting announcement for a Saturday morning. But turned out not to be the Hawaii sunbathe, dip in the water and sip Mai Tai’s, but a chaotic place at the Togo border with big trucks lined up, warnings about shady types who typically frequent borders and a dangerous surf that allowed for exactly no swimming and a beach not used for sunbathing. Still, it was refreshing in inhale negative ions and feel the ocean’s swirl around our feet.
That afternoon was a festival at a local school that Kofi organized to showcase his students from Nunya Academy. He had hoped for four groups, but instead there were just Nuny and another group. No matter. Like so much here, the whole thing was outdoors under shade trees, the 60 Nunya students on one side, the other group on another, our group on a third and the group of dignitaries— the Chief from last Monday, school principal from yesterday, Sofia, James and myself. Then the village folks gathered behind us all and a space in the middle for— what else?— dancing!
As always, we arrived with music and dance already in progress and when all were settled, a TV-style emcee came out with a microphone cranked up to 12 on a 1-10 scale. The program alternated between short speeches and performances by the two groups. We had already witnessed the Nunya flair with traditional material, but now we were treated to the work as a brass band, which was extremely impressive knowing how they began at zero and in a short time, played some exciting music in tune while learning to read music at the same time.
I got to give a talk on the importance of Music Education and it was one of the weirder experiences hearing my natural voice as I spoke then echoed with loud and dubious fidelity across the way in the speaker. The talk in short was something like this:
We are music teachers from far and wide come to Ghana as your guests. Why have we come? It seems like music teachers around the world are very, very interested in African music and trying to play drums and dance like you do. But to be truthful, we don’t do it very well. (Laughter) So we came to try to do it better. But one of the lessons we are learning is that we need to see and hear and taste and touch and experience the culture behind the drum patterns and that has been a revelation. To be in a place where everybody plays, sings and dances and they all do it well and they all do it a lot and for a long time. It may be difficult for you to imagine any other way of living, but for us, this is what we have dreamed a culture could be like.
I’m sorry to report that in my country, there are people who don’t play, don’t sing and don’t dance. And there are children who are rarely around adults who do and also don’t get to do it. That’s why we are music teachers, to make sure that every child in school has a chance to learn this language, this way of talking and thinking and expressing yourself and being together in community. Here, music is like food, the main course of each meal. In our country, it’s like candy. You can take it or leave it, just a little treat at the end of the day.
But music is as essential as rice. It is food for the body, food for the mind, food for the heart, food for the spirit. It connects us in community the way that eating together does, it connects us to the ancestors of the past, it connects us to what the present moment asks for and it connects us to the future that we create for the children. We waste so much time trying to convince politicians in our country to keep music in our schools— I wish I could simply have them visit all of you so you can tell them how crazy they are to think that we can live a full life without music and dance. I’m sure you would convince them!
When these children from Nunya Academy came to play for us this week, we could not believe what we were hearing and could not believe what we were seeing. How could children perform at such a high level? And we realized that in addition to their excellent dedicated teachers and their own constant effort, a large part was due to this beautiful culture they come from.
And so we will return to our countries and tell the world about these children and this dynamic culture. Kofi, James, Sofia and I travel and teach in 40 countries and Nunya will be with us as we show what children are capable of. We’ll wear our Nunya T-shirts and wait for people to ask us about this group. Nunya students, the eyes of the world will be on you! And someday, we hope to take you out into the world with us so people can see and hear for themselves. I personally will work as best as I can to help make that happen.
So congratulates once more to these dedicated students and their teachers and congratulations to the people of Dzodze for showing the world how music brings soul and spirit and belonging and love into the world.
Then more singing and dancing and the emcee commenting on how when the children dance, every gesture has a meaning. Each song has a meaning. Each drum patterns has a meaning. And that’s what impressed me most about this connected culture— all things are brought into a collectively understood and celebrated meaning crafted over hundreds of years. And the meanings are all about harmonious community, how to act with the community in mind, steer away from selfish, self-serving thought and action. Donald Trump is a hero in our culture, but would be an outcast here. That’s impressive.