Friday 24 May 2013

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.    


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