Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Four Continent Tour: Day 8

We arrived in Ho last night, a bigger, more bustling city than Dzodze and a hotel with a swimming pool and wireless. Well, kind of. 10 of the group armed with small phones ran straighten to the reception desk to get the wireless password before their own room keys. And seemed to quickly use up the limited supply of electrons, blocking access for each other as they hungered to touch base with the folks back home. The Ghanaians play drums at lightning speed, but the Internet here, when it works at all, is slow. Oh well.

We dove back into the class schedule: Juba body percussion from the Southern U.S., Steppin’ and some South African gumboot dancing, then songs and games from the Afro-Latin diaspora. I gave an afternoon lecture on orality and literacy and the way the recent (in the long picture) rise in literacy changes the ratio of the senses, substituting the eye for the ear, changing cyclical time to measured linear time, promoting the individual over the community, changing the relationships between body, heart and mind and changing the power ratio in the community— in literate cultures, those who can’t read and write are not oral, but illiterate, marginalized and low on the totem pole. Alphabetical literacy also fueled colonial expansion and subjugation of primary, oral cultures. It also gave rise to scientific breakthroughs, Shakespeare and Dickens, large concepts like democracy and social justice, flush toilets, clean water and health care. One is not inherently superior to the other and we can’t go back once we’ve crossed the line into literacy anyway. But it behooves us to examine what’s lost and what’s gain and consider how we can re-balance the ratios. And thus, we Westerners come to Ghana to sit at the feet of living oral cultures and marvel at the deep lessons drumming and dancing and singing have to offer and Ghanaian children are encouraged to go to school and learn to read and write at higher and higher levels. And the punch line for me is that orality is not superior to literacy, but neither is it inferior. Both have multiple gifts and limitations and today’s citizen is well-served by being versed in both forms of knowledge and knowledge transmission. And that the Orff approach is a beautiful meeting ground of the two.

I talked a bit more about the different balances of orality and literacy in the West, Catholicism being more involved with ritual than reading, with filling the senses with imagery, music, ritual gestures, wine and wafers, incense, all marks of a culture that leans toward orality and creating a certain quality instantly recognizable in places like Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece and throughout the “Mediterranean diaspora” in South America.Protestantism was made possible by the printing press and created a primary literate culture with plain, white churches, songs in hymnbooks, accent on the mind and de-emphasis on the body, individualism and a less-bubbly social atmosphere that one might find on a train in Germany, Denmark or Sweden. The mix of Protestant England and West Africa in the slave trade found in the southern U.S. was quite different from the mix of Spanish Catholic and West Africa in Cuba, Portuguese Catholic and West Africa in Brazil. Too much more to go into here, but a fascinating study and one that impacted the subsequent new music significantly.

Kofi finished the lecture time with talking about the role of Christianity in Ghana and the role of the traditional indigenous religions, effectively giving a framework to everything we experienced yesterday. Then out came the drums, a review of the Bobobo parts with a new master drum part and lo and behold, we’re starting to get more comfortable with it all! Shopping, dinner, first part of the night’s World Cup game (our three Brazilians quite happy!) on an outdoor big screen and our evening performance with a local group that also performed some musical styles from the north of Ghana. And thus, this living, breathing, ever-adapting musical culture not only speaks its native language of its ethnic group and geographical location, but is beginning to create a “multi-cultural curriculum.”
Not learning Bali gamelan or Taiko drumming, but the distinct styles and instruments from the different regions and ethnic group in Ghana. Fascinating!

Each moment of the trip continues to be splendid, my only hope to make it yet more enjoyable with a few doses of Imodium. If you catch my drift. Onward!

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