f o r t u n a

[ 21:33 monday 6 november – bafana bayana cafe , jisonayili , northern ghana ]

fate touches me once more …

having finished up in the rains office and dropped the keys back with the watchman (i disturbed his prayers collecting them earlier) i stood by the side of the main road hoping that a taxi might come by . my bicycle lies abandoned at the mandela centre , its front tyre crippled . i intended to get a new tube this afternoon but the impromptu tuition session put paid to such plans .

after a few minutes i saw an unusual constellation of lights approaching from tamale . when it passed it turned out to be a flat-bed van . still no taxi . then i noticed that the van was turning a little way down the road and coming back towards me . it neared me and pulled in . the driver hailed me and asked where i was going . bafana bayana , just down the road , i replied . so he gave me a lift and here i am , waiting for my supper to arrive .

the fellow’s name is iddrisu and he was on his way to his aunt’s funeral in the next village . the lady was over eighty , a very remarkable age round here . in fact i heard the drumming and celebration all the way from jisonayili last night and wondered what was going on . he invited me to join him and i was sorely tempted , but on this occasion my hunger prevailed . i am still not sure if i made the right decision .

but iddrisu turned out to be a master of drumming as well as a delightful fellow and i have arranged to meet him tomorrow evening armed with my ancient saxophone . i came to ghana hoping i might have an opportunity to learn something of the music . it seems that opportunity has now arisen .

[ 02:10 tuesday 7 november – jisonayili , northern ghana ]

hehe ! i am regularly accused of wanting to have my cake and eat it . personally i see nothing wrong with this so long as there is plenty of cake to go round .

after supper i hitched a lift back to the house , ate a couple of bananas , read a bit , but kept thinking about the funeral . i stuck my head out of the door and could make out the faint pulse of drumming . it was too much to bear . i stuck my cameras and a minidisc recorder in my bag , nicked a bike and set off in the direction of the drumming .

several dirt tracks later i wound up by a hut on the outskirts of a neighbouring village called kanvali (my own spelling) . a couple of women were pounding maize and half a dozen drummers were warming up under a tree . i introduced myself and things unfolded from there .

i have only just returned , having had the most enchanting night . i was swiftly taken under the wings of a couple of the daughters of the chief of gushiegu (a town several hours’ drive away along dust roads , which i visited the week before last with tony flower) who made me very welcome as well as flirting outrageously .

the funeral ritual here makes the english one seem positively … er … deathly . for a couple of days huge numbers of family and friends gather , dressed to the nines , with the best drummers they can lay their hands on . benches are laid outside forming two sides of a square perhaps twenty feet wide , on which the most prestigious guests sit . the closest family seem to be an exception , sitting on the ground on one of the open sides , which i suspect is also the side facing the home of the deceased .

in this instance there were seven drummers . two playing deep-voiced instruments slung round their necks , five playing long higher-voiced ones held under the arm . there was also a younger boy with a small drum who kept in the background and was presumably an apprentice . one of the drummers had the role of a chanter .

it happened that the drummers i had found warming up were preparing to play at the old lady’s funeral . i think they said her name was aiya . so i followed them as they processed through the village to the space where everyone was waiting . there was an introductory period as the chanter paid the respects dictated by custom . first the senior male in the bereaved’s family , then any representatives of royal families (like my friends) in order of seniority and so on .

once this was done the pace progressively picked up . the pattern was for the drummers to fix on one person after another from those on the benches and try to lure them to dance through the virtuosity of their playing . once somebody got to their feet it became a kind of theatre between the drummers and the dancer . sometimes the dancer would dart towards the drummers , driving them back . sometimes the dancer would be pursued to the corner of the space before turning and pushing back again . sometimes the dancer would feign boredom and make as if to sit down , only to spur the drummers to greater feats . the drummers would constantly try to inspire the dancer to greater passions , feeding them new rhythms and building the intensity when the dancer responded . the drummers leapt around quite as much as the dancer .

dancers who entertained the crowd were rewarded by people approaching them from the benches and placing coins in their hands or pressing them onto the dancer’s forehead . a young boy was engaged picking up those which fell to the ground . all this money was destined for the drummers , which if you think about it is an excellent form of performance-related remuneration .

i was called upon to dance a couple of times . i was shy about accepting the call , but when i did the crowd was delighted and i loved it .

in fact there were four funerals going on in the village and my friends led me to a second one where i was also required to dance , to be rewarded by a cheer from the crowd and handfuls of coins .

in addition to having had a glorious night i also have about two hours of digital audio which i shall treasure , plus a number of photos .

but now i really must sleep . the celebrations continue but reluctantly i made my excuses and left them to it .

: cH

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