t e r m i n a l

[ 01:40 friday 24 november – jisonayili , northern ghana ]

oh , the time has flown . tomorrow is the final day of my work here . in the afternoon i’m hitching a lift to the mole game reserve , where i’ll stay for a week or so amongst the plants , beasties and the delicious absence of mechanical noise . then a brief return to tamale to say goodbye to everyone before heading south for a couple of weeks’ adventuring .

on monday and tuesday last week adverts went out on the local radio offering to train someone in computer-based graphic design and interactive design . applications came in through the week , accompanied by a surreal selection of samples . musah and i ploughed through them on saturday and made a shortlist . seven people were interviewed on monday . the result was announced on monday night . i didn’t have the heart to restric it to one , so i made offers to two people . the training started on tuesday .

on monday neither of the learners (sumaila and moses) had ever touched a computer . as of thursday evening both of them are producing work in adobe photoshop and possess a basic facility with macromedia dreamweaver . i suspect this is some kind of record .

several of the other shortlisted candidates came and hung round whilst the training was going on and i didn’t see any reason to send them away .

i’ve finished editing the film i made with the girls . the combination of a decent laptop and a minidv camera is fantastic . this is my very first attempt and i am very eager to do more . i am quite pleased with the result .

i returned to zayuri last friday with my saxophone and spent the night playing dagomba songs with the two old trumpeters and a couple of drummers whilst the villagers danced and the orange moon rose . oh , it was a dream come true .

on sunday i went to two weddings , as a bit of a counterbalance to so many funerals . separate celebrations continue at the family compounds of bride and groom . once the necessary courage has been summoned a delegation from the groom’s family travels to the bride’s compound where they must negotiate the bride-price . on the bride’s side this is normally handled by a senior aunt (qualities like toughness and stony-facedness are clearly advantageous) . if a satisfactory agreement is not reached the bride will not be released , simple as that . expectations vary from region to region . up in the far north it can be as hefty as a couple of cows , and if the wife ever wishes to leave her husband her family will be expected to repay . in practice this effectively means the wife becomes the property of the husband , not a very liberal arrangement . here in tamale the bride-price is more tokenistic , just a few hundred thousand cedis . but it still seems to be quite a traumatic negotiation for the bride , whose value is being debated in front of her . the day after the wedding the bride moves into the groom’s family compound . there is a widely-believed superstition that she will drop down dead should she ever again pass through the threshold of her former home .

on tuesday night i had my first drumming lesson with hadi , a supremely talented young man who is the leader of a troupe of drummers in kanvali , a village famous for its drummers . i cycled with iddrisu and isaihia to hadi’s hut , from where we cycled on to a further village called tunayili . here there was no electricity . a couple of kerosene lamps set on the ground illuminated the celebration which was in progress . a lunga (drum) was strapped to my arm and i was shown my rhythm to play amongst the other five drummers whilst the dancers continued their routines . joy .

i returned to hadi last night and had my second lesson in his hut (again accompanied by iddrisu and isaihia , who interpreted for me) . he had me play a single rhythm for about twenty minutes , by which time it was sounding natural . then he moved on to something which i found completely unintelligible until i grasped that it was a quintuple grouping . it was not quite so simple as this even . whereas european music is essentially rational in its meter , african music is not . pulses are not placed in a regular fashion , they are placed in ways which seem to relate to the rhythms of movement of the human body . so although i could play this new rhythm once i understood its structure , it took another twenty minutes to begin to play it correctly . at this point hadi began to play some complex counter-rhythms against what i was playing and *bingo* , we were making music ! it was very exciting .

hadi is not only a tremendous drummer , he is a fine teacher . i feel suitably privileged to have these experiences .

every drummer makes his own instruments . hadi has made six throughout his career , all of which he still uses . he has agreed to make a seventh for me . the construction consists of a hollow wooden core , shaped like an hour-glass . cured goatskin is sown to each end to form the heads . more goatskin is cut into a long spiral of thin string , which is threaded back and forth between the heads . the instrument is held under the arm with a strap going over the shoulder . the thumb is hooked into the strings . it is struck by a hooked wooden mallet (whose name i forget) . squeezing with one’s elbow and pulling with the thumb results in the heads being stretched tighter and the pitch rising . a skilled drummer can make the drum “talk” with the inflexions and rhythms of spoken phrases . thus can such drummers communicate from one village to another . prior to my second lesson hadi played a complex sequence lasting several minutes explaining to others in the village that he was about to give a lesson to his white man friend and he was sorry if it was disturbing their sleep . he was particularly pleased with the sound of “anula salaminga” , meaning “good evening , mr whitey” .

this evening i had my third lesson . i was taken to his father’s hut (also a drummer , as were countless generations of forebears before him) who wanted to tell me that i had done well last night and would be able to achieve a high standard if i remained and worked at it for another year .

hadi took a bench out into a clearing between huts and our lesson began . we started with the rhythm with which we ended last night . people started drifting up to watch . someone started dancing . another drummer joined us with a big bass guanguan and added an appropriate rhythm. then hadi started playing an astonishing counter-rhythm which i concluded was based around a subdivided duple grouping set against the quintuple grouping i was playing . he indicated we should swap parts and i did my best but really it was far too difficult .

his father had been sitting there watching us , occasionally throwing in a comment which iddrisu or isaihia would translate for me . now he came over , took the guanguan from its owner and started playing a different bass rhythm , trying to help me . after half an hour i was beginning to feel more secure .

i shall have a final lesson when i return from mole .

how straight-laced , how mechanical , how self-conscious , seems our european music . i have book two of my bach 48 (in the verlag edition) on the offchance i should find a piano . i love and revere this music but the experiences i have had here in ghana have altered
my perspective .

gosh , it is far too late . i must end here and sleep .

ps – my digital camera vanished inexplicably on tuesday . irritating .

: cH

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