Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Which way now....

 As everyone winds their way home, I want to say what a fantastic group of travellers this has been! Open of mind, respectful of tradition, curious of difference.  We have all deepened our experience of music and life on this trip. The students' willingness to make each day a great one, despite small illnesses, uncomfortable heat and new challenges was admirable. I enjoyed myself thoroughly and would do it again anytime. They have represented themselves and Carleton University well and I look forward to seeing where they all go from here....  Miaga dogo!

Big thank you from all of us,  to Carleton's FASS Dean John Osborne,
IAS Director Professor Blair Rutherford, and IAS Administrator June Payne
Special thanks also to U of Ghana Professor Joseph Yaro, Kwasi Dunyo and Godsway Dunyo


Sunday, 26 May 2013

Random Ghana

Here is a post script, taken from the group journal that was kept in the Lodge. Just a few of our favourite lines and photos. Not everything made it in, but for good reason.

"Its nice to be nice"

"Fanti Kenkey with Fanta"

Godsway,  leading everyone on a walkabout tour of the village our first day there: "this is mud"

Ashley: "Rebecca, I think your dress is ready"
Rebecca: "Why?"
Ashley: "Because Angelina said, are you Rebecca? Your dress is ready."

Emmanuel, (U of Ghana student coming to Carleton in the fall term) : "I'll see you when you see me!"

Jodi: "Dennis, is this going to be a whole ride thing? Are you sure? Okay "

"so sweet"

"The Roof"

Jodi to Godsway: "Godsway, how do you say pineapple?"
Godsway: "pineapple" 

Elvis,  using Ewe tonal inflections: "Let's make it a party"

Samantha, referring to her roomate who shall go unamed: "No, you need to wake her up four times....and not leave! "

Torgbui (our drum and dance teacher but also a chief) : "...And then you shake your ass"

To Elvis: "How do you and Selorm know each other?"
Elvis: "Historically"

Driving up behind a brass band in the back of a pick up truck! Standing and playing while driving. Yes really.  see pic below

Joe complimenting one of our dancers after the show: "You have the butt of an African woman, that's what's good!"

Kathy: "Everyone picture A900 (pre-renovations of course). Now picture here! "

Godsway at the final dinner: "We must eat like a pregnant woman!"

Song composition on the last night,  sung to the tune of Mano Efe. Composer shall remain anonymous: "In heaven, there is no beer, that's why, we are drinking all the beer"

"There's a goat in the back seat!"
"Sounds like my last date"
"Have you ever been in a car ride with a goat?"

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Leaving Day

This morning I sat up on the roof of the Kathy Armstrong lodge, in Dagbamete. Watched the sun peak over the treetops and enjoyed the sounds and silences of the village in the early morning (early for me at least-before breakfast!). I thought about all of the events, cultural differences and temperature obstacles we have overcome, as a group and individually. I started to wonder when I will be able to come back. Carrying these last few weeks, such a brief period of time really, in our hearts as we leave, do we ever really leave?

As a travelling group of young’uns we have become quite close, The idea that this time tomorrow we won’t all be dragging ourselves out of bed by 8:00 to get some delicious homemade everything on our plates, is heartbreaking. Like everything in life, it comes to a close and is further explored if our hearts desire. I have enjoyed every member of the team, we really do act and support as a team, our separate backgrounds, moral compasses, ideas and dreams, have all been welcomed and shared. The conversations we indulge in alone have been life lessons, eye openers and sparked interest for more adventures. But the experience I have had here, is incomparable. There are still parts of this trip I have not sorted through emotionally or mentally yet, but when I’m supposed to understand, I will. I feel very privileged and honoured to have spent three beautiful weeks with so many beautiful, well respected people, yes that includes the ones that boarded the plane in Canada.

This trip is just the beginning of a new chapter. The lessons learned here will flow over into the rest of my life, they will encourage me that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to and be a friendly reminder that I, Rebecca, can dance!
Much love to you all <3

Celebration & Goodbyes

 The Dunyo Family has two strengths among many: gracious hosting, and their ability to make and enjoy a great party. When those two elements are brought together, it really is magic. And that was our last night in Dagbamete. A dance party and buffet to send us off in style. After an all ages thump thump dance party on the porch, we all squeezed into the Lodge: the Canadian visitors, our teachers Torgbi and Selorm, our drivers , some village elders and various others. As well as the whole assembled Dunyo clan who have been our amazing hosts for the last two weeks. The table was laid out with all the finest dishes Vivian, Mawukwenya, Adzo and Mansah and all the others could think up: chicken, fish from the catch we witnessed the day before, crab, goat kebabs (see Random Ghana blog post for some words about THAT) two kinds of rice, akple, dzakple (a personal favourite), mixed vegetables, salad, red sauce, goat soup and minerals (Fanta, Coke etc). And Torgbi hauled out the “Red”  a local herbal drink made form palm sap ;) and had Kofi, his star drummer and dancer from Dzogadze pour shots for all in the room. It was an amazing feast and there were many happy faces in that room!

 One of our students, Jodi, initiated making homemade Guacamole with all the lovely local ingredients. We all loved it, but it was a new taste for our Ghanaian friends. Served with rice crackers we found in the Mall in Accra (what, we haven't told you about the Mall?....a whole other post I suppose)

After dinner we assembled in the summer hut to pay tribute and thanks to our teachers as Salorm had to leave Dagbamete.  A few tears and lots of hugs.  Its been a very special time. Our father, Kwasi, who was not able to be in Ghana for this group’s tour, can be proud of what he has built and put into place. It’s a one of a kind experience for all who come. I was feeling pretty moved myself, thinking about all the years we have collaborated and shared some amazing times. Watching the next generation rise to the task was beautiful.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Last night Reflection...

As I listen to the booming speakers on the front porch, beckoning a good time, I realize this is our last night together. On the first night of our trip I remember thinking that I have to spend a whole three weeks here, by the end I’ll be begging to go home. The days crept up too quickly and the thought of not seeing my newly found friends everyday doesn’t seem real. Signing up for this course worried me, being in first year I thought it would be harder to appreciate the company of the older students. That wasn’t the case at all. We bonded and supported each other through every activity. Students from different programs taught us new things and new outlooks on our trip. What one person struggled with, another would understand, balancing our weaknesses. Practicing for our final concert felt safe, no judgment was brought to class. The concert was a blast other than the persistent sweat that drenched us like rain. Our first piece struggled slightly, but it was nothing our enthusiasm couldn’t handle. Nervous looks shot around which was then relieved by a peer’s reassuring smile. By the second half our focus was no longer on the audience or the fact we were being graded, but enjoying ourselves. Throughout this trip I’ve seen many things that have changed my perceptions, particularly about social situations. We don’t need to separate and make ourselves the prime focus in our lives; together we are stronger. 


--> One of the course assignments was to perform a concert for the village of the pieces we had been working on here in our lessons. This happened Friday afternoon, under the canopy of the community drumming trees.  No better place to play drums in my opinion. With a small grouping of elders in front  of us and school children assembled after school let out, we began with an ad hoc Kinka to gather the audience. Soon after, we did our “set” which was an instrumental version of Gota, then one with dancing. Then came our Bobobo,  with singing, trumpet,  drums and dancing. It was magnificent. Some of the group was nervous, especially when a burst of laughter erupted in one of the Gota moves, but as soon as they realized their local audience was in fact thrilled with their efforts, everyone relaxed and gave a great show. Our teachers Torgbui and Selorm led us, along with a couple of drummers form Dzogadze (Promise and Kofi) and our own Dagbamete friend Jambolah. A fantastic musical end to the trip. Congrats to the performers, some of whom were totally new to this music.

Finding Inspiration in Dzogadze

Coming to Dagbamete, I was most looking forward to taking traditional drumming lessons from the experts at the source.  Our lessons with Selorm and Torgbui were fulfilling and fun, but as the week progressed, conflict between different teaching and learning styles began to show.  In the Western world we are so used to breaking things into simple steps, explaining them thoroughly, and then adding everything together.  Here in Ghana, the music is learned through enculturation.  Meaning, people simply learn by observation and repetition.  Torgbui and Selorm did a great job at simplifying things for us, but there was still come confusion at times.  By the end of the week I was feeling very frustrated and discouraged.  There were a couple days when I did not even want to go to our lessons. 

On Tuesday we headed to the nearby village of Dzogadze, where Torgbui is the chief.  Many smiling faces, and clusters of children welcomed us.  We heard some drumming across the grounds, and soon they joined us where we were waiting.  They led us in a drumming procession to a shaded area under a huge, beautiful tree where the performance would take place.  We were greeted by Torgbui and the elders of Dzogadze, and then the show began.  

They began with Atsiagbekor, which was the piece we were most excited to see.  Astiagbekor is a traditional piece of the Ewe people.  It is known as a “war dance” as it represents events in battle.  This incredibly athletic, and high energy piece was traditionally used to excite and inspire soldiers, as well as tell the story of the soldiers’ journey to battle.  Today, not many groups have kept the tradition alive.  

We were so lucky to be invited to Dzogadze to experience such an amazing performance.  The young men and women who danced and drummed were all smiles and shared their energy with the entire audience.  I could not believe the ability they had to perform, and there are no words to describe how excited it made me feel. 

After an intense Atsiagbekor of about 45-60 minutes (and a quick break), the younger performers returned to show us their version of Kete.  In this piece, the dancers formed a circle.  There would be a couple people, moving and dancing inside the circle, and then they would tag another person in to dance in their place.  It was a sort of game.  

One of the best things about these kinds of music and dance is the sense of community.  The children were interacting and having fun with each other, and soon they reached for us to join them, too.  Dennis and I were first chosen from our seats to dance within the circle.  We had a partner show us how to participate, and then we were quickly on our own.  At first, I felt a little awkward because I was not really sure what to do, but I embraced the moment and had so much fun!  Others from our group were also pulled in, so there was a mix of everybody participating.  I know I had the biggest, cheesiest grin on my face!  It was so fun to participate and enjoy the dance with everyone there.  I added my own style to the moves I had been taught, and I did not care if I looked silly at all because I was having so much fun.  

After Kete finished, everyone cheered and we returned to our seats for what we thought was going to be goodbye.  However, the music just continued.  The next piece, Kinka, was a very casual piece where people are invited to take part in a small social dance together.  Watching everyone dance, and being able to dance with those from Dzogadze, as well as our friends from Dagbamete was amazing.  These people have moves!  And the positive, exciting energy that they share with us makes you feel so great.  One of my favourite moments was when I danced in a group from Dagbamete.  I was next to Abey (Robert), who is normally a shy, reserved man, but as soon as the drum call started his smile shined so bright that I couldn’t help but smile, too.  Not only did he have great energy, but his dancing was amazing, too.  

Many master drummers took turns at the lead during Kinka, including Kathy.  In Ghana, it is very rare to see any female drummers, and traditionally they are only men.  Not only was Kathy breaking that stereotype, but she is also left-handed and a Westerner!  The looks on many of the men’s faces were very entertaining to me.  Some of shock, some of amazement, and some just couldn’t believe what she was capable of!  That was an empowering moment.  

When everyone had finished dancing and the drums were silenced, we thanked everyone for their generous invitations and outstanding performance, and headed home to Dagbamete.  The whole ride home, I was so happy.  This had absolutely been the highlight of my trip.  I loved each and every moment that I shared with my Ghana family, and with the people in Dzogadze. 

After all the frustration I had experienced throughout the week in our lessons, our visit to Torgbui’s village confirmed my love and passion for this music.  Through all the tough hours of polyrhythms, syncopations, singing, dancing, and even some crying, the end result is so worth it.  At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if your technique isn’t perfectly correct, or if you miss a beat, what matters is the connection with the people around you who are also enjoying and making music with you.  The love and joy in the community is a very wonderful thing, and I just hope that I can continue on the route to keeping the spirit of drumming and music in my life forever.    


Thursday, 23 May 2013


Struggling to wake up at 6:30AM to ensure some breakfast in our bellies, we set off for an musical beach adventure that we honestly had no preconceptions about. We tried to leave for 7:30, but made it for 8:00, which is still pretty impressive. Godsway was not happy, but after playing ‘Waist and Power’ twice from his phone he was back to his admirable jolly mood.

We then set off for a beautiful and scenic 40-minute drive that led to us to a breathtaking view of the Atlantic Ocean at the small town of Denu, close to the border with Togo. The early morning was worth that view alone-blues and greens forming into teal that are sprinkled with white as the waves crash on a bed of sand heavily populated with shells. Moreover, this beautiful beach was secluded and empty, making us feel like it was made only for us. Fishermen on the ropes who had already set out their nets, as well as lots of crabs welcomed us. Not expecting this, we were all confused but enjoying every step of sand under our feet. Palm trees danced in the wind as waves formed and crashed and we, in between, walked along the shore taking in the sun while the rhythms of was taken in and we were all five shades darker (or redder). 

We were easily comforted when Torgbui bought us cold sodas and cookies and we then proceeded to admire the fishermen bringing in the fish. The song and rhythm were calm and slow until now, reflecting that of the waves. Matching the increasing intense movements of the fishermen, the song and rhythm became more vigorous and it seemed as though the waves of the Atlantic responded to this. Swimmers ensuring the nets were in place challenged the force of the waves and the two sides of the net, which were originally kilometer apart, inched closer and closer. Within twenty minutes, they were side by side and the fishermen were pulling in nets while the swimmers made it smooth.

While all this action was happening, more and more women came on to the beach balancing their beautiful baskets eager to fill them with fish. Finally the last of the nets came in, dense with fish of all sizes fluttering about as well as jellyfish and spiky blowfish. As the seaweed was weeded out, the jellyfish and blowfish were thrown back into sea or left on the beach.

All this, happening so fast, was crazy for us but eventually all the hullabaloo calmed down and we left with a huge fish that was yellow tailed but we don’t know what is called as well as lots of little fish that we know we will be eating for lunch tomorrow. Oh not to forget the octopus that Dennis and Kathy cannot wait to devour! It was dashed to us by the fishing net owner, who said our presence had brought them good luck. It was a bigger bounty than they had recently been having and they were very happy.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

One Week

When there’s one week left of a trip, your mind starts working overtime. On one hand, this trip was only 3 weeks, and we still have 1 left…a whole other week of new adventures, of funny stories, of learning new things. On the other had, we only have one week left. As much as I try to not get into countdown mode, where I picture the days ticking away, I can’t help but think about what little time we have left.

Everyone seemed a little spent after we arrived back in Dagbamete from our trip to Cape Coast. I think many of us realized how much this place feels like home. What makes a trip so interesting is how different people go through different emotions, at various points throughout the trip. Sometimes people needed to take a step back and have some alone time, while others needed to celebrate and to be with everyone.  With a different group of people, these different emotions could have been difficult to go through, but I think on this trip, it has shown us how close we are. We have truly become a family and we have helped each other through the highs and lows. Which makes it that much more important for us to cherish every moment we have.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Soul Music

Living a musical life offers many privileges, and many challenges. Today’s afternoon drum lesson contained both. Our teachers, Torgbui Agbla and Selorm were beginning Bobobo with us. This is a piece some of the students know pretty well from the African Ensemble at Carleton. However, several in this group, from other departments of Carleton,  have never played hand drums AT ALL, and were certainly not familiar with this piece.

First, the challenge: typical of many beginning lessons in this repertoire, Selorm taught the bell pattern first. And then he launched into the second supporting part, which is two open notes followed by two closed notes, all on the offbeat. To the Ghanaians, this seems like an easy and logical drum part to begin with, but for Western trained ears, musicians or not, it is excruciatingly difficult to grasp. But there is no getting out of it, and I have stopped trying to convince my Ghanaian teachers to leave this to the last. So there we all were, sweating in the heat of the day, playing offbeats and trying to get them to land properly with the syncopated bell pattern. This experience was really eye opening for the students in terms of styles of teaching and learning. I try to occasionally interject helpful comments and reference points but the dogged determination of our teachers to MAKE the students learn how to do this part by sheer repetition with no accompanying explanation completely overpowers my suggestions. They believe the students will do it and so they will!  But not anytime soon. And so we persist for at least an hour and a half ON THE SAME PART!

As we reached the point of full fatigue, both mentally and physically, we managed to get some of the students and myself onto some of the lead parts we knew, and so we diversified the sound a little. Torgbui added a song that he knew we knew, and suddenly the energy began to lift as we sang while drumming. We were all hearing the whole, and enjoying ourselves. You could sense our teachers’ relief as well, that things were hanging together.  Suddenly, our junior teacher, Selorm, who hails from the Bobobo area of Ho, was inspired to begin a simple song that took hold quickly. After taking a minute to teach it, we all began to add our own sounds and harmonies to it. The one word in the song is simply: Naye…Na being the northern Ewe word for mother. The song apparently is a child calling to its mother. Sometimes this song is sung at the funeral of a young mother who has left her young child behind and Selorm told us afterwards, that often the whole community can be singing this with tears streaming down their faces.  It’s a very, very powerful song, as sometimes a simple word or idea can be. This was evident to all of us as Selorm’s face took on a look that transported himself, and took us all along with him. It was as if his musical soul appeared and gathered us all up until we were floating on top of the beautiful and simple music.

By now, we were reaching the magic time of day here. Elvis, our Ewe teacher in Accra has told us this is called Wole, the late afternoon. The sun is beginning to get lower, the air is cooling, the kids are starting to play soccer and the energy for the evening is coming on. The combination of the light, the sounds of our shared singing and the gift of music we were given in this Ghanaian village was truly a privilege and not soon forgotten. 

Sunday, 19 May 2013


I’m not going to write about the slave castle, there aren’t really words to describe the abundance of emotions it made present for me, but after our tour of the castle I really found myself evaluating the amount of freedom I have.  Freedom to live where I choose, freedom to surround myself with what and who I choose, freedom to travel where I choose. I found a new layer of appreciation, on top of the layers that have already formed over our few short weeks here in Ghana. I really reflected on what I have seen, learned and been a part of since arriving. The privilege I have had. This trip has taught me so much about respect, cultural differences, communication, and really indulging in the things, events and people that make you happy. There’s no rush, so why hurry? There’s always time to stop and talk, have a drink, listen to someone’s story, listen to the music.  Life is what you make it, from the materials you have in front of you, so why ask for more? Rather make more from what you have.

I am very thankful for the newness I have been exposed to, I am happy for myself that this was a trip and investment that I found a priority and have worked hard to get. After two weeks I feel so much more whole, and I know in my heart that the privileges I have had will follow through beyond my time spent here, and overflow into my future, wherever it takes me.

I am very thankful for the newness I have been exposed to, I am happy for myself that this was a trip and investment that I found a priority and have worked hard to get. After two weeks I feel so much more whole, and I know in my heart that the privileges I have had will follow through beyond my time spent here, and overflow into my future, wherever it takes me.

I am looking forward to our remaining week here in Dagbamete and continuing to learn, perform and explore. 


Saturday, 18 May 2013

Conquering My Fears at Kakum National Park


The canopy walk was something I was looking forward to since the trip planning had begun.  Walking through the rainforest on rope bridges, high in the trees wasn’t like anything I had done before.  I was excited to experience the foliage and animals that live in the forest. 

After a bumpy and twisting ride in “the fridge,” we arrived at Kakum National Park.  It proved to be a very nice spot with stone walkways, a museum, gift shop and cafĂ©.  With our guide, we hiked up a steep slope, with many stairs.  I was a little nervous to begin, as I have a fear of heights, but I was still excited for the experience. 

Two Canadians, with the help of many Ghanaians, designed and built the bridges and every six months, the tree platforms and bridges are replaced.  The bridges can each hold the weight of two elephants!  The system is built over a valley, so even though the bridges are all level, the farther you go, the taller they get, with the highest point being 40 metres.

I decided to be one of the first to cross the bridge, along with Kathy and Ashley.  I began on the bridge (made of rope, with wooden planks to walk on), and immediately became nervous.  The bridges are bouncy and swing a little, too.  When I reached the first platform I was sure I was going to take the bypass of only three bridges, instead of all seven.  As each person came to the platform, where I clung to the ant-covered tree, they all suggested I just do it all.  They said I would be proud of myself for completing the challenge, and if I didn’t, I would regret it.  I kept asking if anyone else would take the bypass with me, but I finally decided to just do it!  
As I went along, and the bridges got higher and longer, my nerves lessened.  I was still a little nervous as I moved along at a steady pace, but near the end, I was able to stop and look down.  I trusted the construction of the bridges and their safety, but it was the human instinct to fear falling that trapped me.  When I reached the very end I felt triumphant!  I was so excited that had been able to conquer my fear and make it across all seven bridges.  I survived the canopy walk!  And it was so fun.  

One thing I keep telling myself in life is, if it scares you, do it.  You’re never going to experience anything great or new if you only do things you are comfortable with.  In retrospect, conquering the canopy walk was only one small fear I conquered.

Even our adventure to Cape Coast proved to be another fear conquered.  I am a very shy person, and have trouble getting to know other people.  As a group, we decided that switching roommates would be a great idea; we could get to know each other a little better.  I did not want to do this, and was rather uncomfortable with the idea at first.  However, in the end, I am super happy that we did.  I got to know someone better who I thought was very opposite of me.  I believe travelling let’s you meet and enjoy people who you might not in your normal life.  I am grateful for the friendships I have made on this trip, and for the additions to my “people collection!” ;)

My entire adventure in Ghana has been an accomplishment for me.  I was so nervous to journey far away from home into a culture I knew hardly anything about.  But I did it, and I’m so happy I did.  This journey has been like nothing I have ever experienced, and I would trade it for nothing.


Crazy Cape Coast

            Just as we were settling into our morning drumming classes and afternoon naps in Dagbamete, our trip twisted its course with a densely active three-day, two-night trip to the famous Cape Coast of Ghana. With Master Dan as our pilot and Robert as co-pilot, we packed up the ‘fridge’ (our white van that has SOME airconditioning) and sped off-because “overspeeding” is not an option here. Driving through Greater Accra, we never went hungry with an array of snacks available at our window every time we came to a stop in a busy hub. Ladies perfectly balancing octopus, shrimp, plantain crisps (a staple in our diet), pineapples and other treats would quickly supply our entire van within minutes. 

Once in the Central Region, primarily populated by the Fanti, we drove along the ocean and palm trees, through the bustling Cape Coast township and finally arrived to our Botel. The Hans Cottage Botel, an eco hotel built over water, allowed us to share our meals alongside crocodiles and different birds while listening to the ‘reggae-fied’ tunes that consistently played at the Botel restaurant. 

And have a swim!

Our first dinner would have been an all girls night out as our poor hubby did not have the most comfortable road trip and Godsway had gone in to town. However, Dennis did decide to show up to dinner half way and graced our meal by saying, “It came out of me like shaken up pop can and then I was fine!” With his detailed description of his digestive system we ended dinner early. 

Then came along a very long Friday, a day of rest for fishermen, but not for us! 

Beginning with the canopy walk in Kakum Rainforest (see next post for more pics & stories) in the morning and then the monumental Elmina Slave Castle in the afternoon and not to mention the long traffic and pothole filled drives back and forth (entertained by the gospel radio) it was quite the day! We were blessed with the breathtaking rainforest, drives that were definitely more entertaining than TV and the historical and emotionally challenging tour of the slave castle. It seemed as though everyone was equally drained as they were ready for more and so our busy day did not end here. 

We then drove to the beachside Oasis Restaurant for dinner accompanied by lovely rhythms of live music from further up the coast of West Africa (featuring a kora, berimbau, gourd drum and djembes) and the cooling coastal winds. 

And here we are now-midday Saturday and not illegally overspeeding back to Dagbamete, not sweating profusely enough in an enclosed space and not loving every millisecond of this beautiful and crazy experience!