the nature of africa: rhythm and socialism

The nature of Africa is all about rhythm. Rhythm pervades everything. There is a great love of music that is almost unseen anywhere else. From the very birth of a child there is rhythm in that tiny life. The child enters the world with built in rhythm: crying, kicking, blinking. This child is then exposed to the natural rhythms of the world: frogs croaking, dogs barking, crickets chirping. We all move about our days in rhythm, we talk, chew, sneeze, laugh, go to the bathroom, speak, and walk in rhythm. A child develops this sense of rhythm in Africa as it swings wrapped on its mother’s back – she fetches water, walks, and dances and the child learns rhythm. Rhythm is present even on a less basic level. In many parts of Africa the ritual of greeting someone is very rhythmic – asking the health of the greeter, his family, and his work. This is all done in an almost sing-song rhythm.

This rhythm is transferred from the natural happenings of the world into the lives of the people through drumming and dance. Drums are a key part of life in Africa. Many communities still use drums for their traditional purpose of calling a community together and sending messages. The tradition of drum and dance is never lost in Africa, that is an aspect that I think will never be lost from the cultures. We have experienced a great deal of this drum and dance tradition as part of our escapades around Ghana and in our course on the art, music, and culture of Ghana. As soon as we arrived in Ghana the rhythm of drums surrounded us. I met the rastas on the second day and began learning from them right from the get go drumming in the market. In Cape Coast we had the performance by the traditional drum and dance group and interacted in the performance with our mostly unrhythmic attempts to dance. More recently we have been coordinating drum and music lessons with our professor and professional music teachers. We had a lesson from the University of Ghana,who is a master drummer, for one of our lectures. We used the traditional Ghanaian drums for this session, they hurt the hands a bit more.

We have also been receiving lessons from Kwasi, who has traveled extensively in the US performing and teaching drumming. He taught and did his dissertation at the University of Michigan. We took the bus to his home which was far from the center of Accra because there is a noise ban. The noise ban was in place from the government so as not to upset the gods before the harvest. Kwasi is an older, stylish and spunky man. He has a nice short afro, dark aviators, creased khakis, and an awesome tie. We start each session with creating random musical rhythms out of words that pop into Kwasi’s head and we often dance around his compound singing and stomping our feet to a rhythm. When we finally got to the drumming we were almost too tired from the dancing workout, you wonder why Africans are so fit – take up some type of African dance. Kwasi was amazing to learn from and was extremely excited to be involved with teaching students music again. He group is supposed to perform for us before we leave. we only have two more days of our course on art, music, and culture.

Along with rhythm consuming life in Africa, there is a certain natural socialism that seems to work quite well. The idea of socialism was attempted across the continent, but it failed – why – because the elites in power were too interested in keeping that power. In much of Africa, specifically in Ghana, people live in secluded hamlets (communes). These hamlets are often isolated, but they remain connected with one another through traditional festivals. In these housing groups there is an idea of communal labor. If your neighbor’s fence has a hole in it the community comes together to work and fix it. This concern for everyone in the community builds the connectivity and social care. This is also evidenced in the ritual greeting and concern for the well being of a fellow community member. Within the hamlet everyone learns how to do every job, everyone knows how to do everything – so everyone helps with everything. There is also a communal yard, court, open space for market, dance, festival, and meeting. I think that this natural socialism helps to build and grow the rhythm of the community.

Professor Dzokoto, lecturing us on the music of Ghana, told us that if you are not part of the community you will not know the rhythm of the community. If you are a stranger to the community you will not know the rhythm of the community. Rhythm pervades all. Kwasi told us that from a young age he began drumming, first on people’s heads. I like to think that I understand that rhythm. As far back as I can remember and as I am told, I was drumming on everything. From my leg, to my desk, to the church pew, to the dinner table – I loved rhythm, rhythm pervades all.

News from Africa:
If you may have missed the news President Bush has placed sanctions on Sudan over Darfur. This marks a great point in his botched presidency. Placing sanctions on companies that operate in Sudan or with Sudan will create a stronger push for a change and hopefully a peace in the Darfur region.

Today the government of Niger dissolved. Yes dissolved, their parliament voted no confidence in the Executive branch because of troubles and corruption in regards to money usage. What this means for Niger I cannot say, but this will definitely be something to keep watch.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

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