Drumming in West Africa
By Amy Senier
AAMA drummers offer lessons in Kokrobite, Ghana.
Drumming goes on everywhere in Africa: weddings, funerals, and all other rituals are performed to one beat or another.
In Ghana the Academy of African Music and Art (AAMA) offers lessons in Ghanaian music and dance to individuals and groups. The school is located in Kokrobite, a picturesque fishing village 20 miles west of Accra. When I studied there as a beginner, AAMA teachers were also instructing a group of professional drummers from the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Shamsudeen (Sunshine in Arabic), a performer and teacher at AAMA, gives private lessons for $3 an hour. He is insightful, encouraging, and analytical. When I did finally manage to hit the djembe correctly, I knew.
Yes! That is it! Shamsudeen cried. I hadnt felt that sensation since I was a kid playing softballlike the crack of a bat when you hit a home run. When I told Shamsudeen this he said, You make me very happy because I see you feel the spirit of the drum.
That afternoon I walked down Kokrobites beautiful sandy beach, past the fishermen repairing their nets, and climbed the cliff to AAMA to see the schools troupe perform. Shamsudeen and his colleagues put on a 2-hour show that can only be described as an aerobic music and dance extravaganza. They played and danced non-stopsome of them, Im sure, without their feet ever touching the ground. Djembes, bass drums, bells, and mallets all set the throbbing backdrop to beautiful traditional songs and dances.
That evening, as Shamsudeen and I walked back to the village, I asked him how, as a Muslim, he sees his religion coexisting with the spirituality of his music. He explained to me that he believes in the spirits of the forests and the drums, but that Allah is supreme.
Toward the end of my stay in West Africa I visited another renowned drumming capital, the Ile de Goree, a tiny island 20 minutes by ferry from Senegals capital, Dakar. It was once the center of West Africas colonial administration and a major hub for the Atlantic slave trade.
The islands relaxed atmosphere and famous museums (including the former Slave House) make it a popular destination for tourists and Dakar residents. Ferries bring carefree, sun-worshipping day-trippers from dawn to dusk. What many of them dont realize is that once the sun starts to set the islands greatest show of all begins.
The beauty of Gorees sunset drumming is that it is unstaged. Baye Fall, a mystical Islamic brotherhood founded in Senegal that practices work as prayer, play and dance with such abandon and passion that those who happen to stumble upon their performance cant help but marvel at their own good fortune.
The Academy of African Music and Art (AAMA) is located a mile beyond the village of Kokrobite, 20 miles west of Accra. The turnoff is signposted with the AAMA sign. Alternatively, take a tro-tro (minibus taxi, 25 cents) from Kaneshie market in Accra to Kokrobite and walk the extra mile.
Rooms at AAMA cost $15 per night and its famous meals cost between $5 and $10. Big Millys Backyard (in the village itself) has rooms for $5 per night and great meals for $3 to $10.
Drum lessons are $3 per hour and dancing lessons $5. The AAMA troupe performs every Sunday night ($3) and rehearses Saturday (free).
Goree ferries leave the Dakar port every 20 minutes and cost $6 return for nonresidents. Of the several guesthouses on the island the cheapest is the Syndicat dInitiative, directly across from the ferry, at $15 per night. Alternatively, ask for a room in someones house, which costs about half the price.
Lessons are by individual arrangement with whomever you wish to study with. Though price is not often discussed, a cadeau of $3 to $5 is appropriate after the lesson.
AMY SENIER recently finished three years in Namibia with the Peace Corps and eight months of travel throughout Africa. She is now a freelance writer in Reading, MA.