Tinariwen, the phenomenal guitar-based Tuareg group, will play for us here at the Howard Theater in downtown DC. The group won a Grammy Award in February 2012 for Best World Music Album. Get ready for an exciting report on the show coming up early next week.
In the meantime, here is a video segment of the music from Ghana that I featured on my show last Sunday, June 10th. The segment was recorded during a ground-leveling event in the village of Kunyevela, Tamale 1987, Ghana. Women are repairing a family’s badly eroded courtyard floor. Music and song kept the work flowing. Aishetu is the lead singer — and also director of traffic. The project took 2 full days. I was behind the camera.
Here in the United States, one of the cornerstones of identifying and distinguishing African music from other music cultures around the world is its functionality. I was particularly impressed by this when I took a social anthropology course taught by a Ghanaian professor. After reading J.H. Kwebana Nketia’s book The Music of Africa (1974) and John Miller Chernoff’s 1981 classic ethnography African Rhythm and African Sensibility, I was determined to go to Ghana myself and see how music had a more functional role in daily life.
The video clip I recorded in Ghana and featured here is one of the most spectacular examples I found of the functionality of African music. I also discovered music’s multi-functionality on several other occasions: While attending the funeral of a Paramount Chief in Ve-Deme — an Ewe town in the Volta Region — and again at the University of Ghana in the resolution of a robbery incident. The ground leveling event highlighted in the video was unfortunately the only time I had a film camera.
Granted there are many countries and regions in Africa where music is less profoundly entwined in the day-to-day lives of people. Ethnomusicology in the United States caught on to this fact in the 1990s and dropped the use of terminology such as “African” music. But times change, too, and there are many instances where people recall a day when they used to play drums and sing in the fields during harvest time, for example. It is a wonderful thing, however, to find oneself in the midst of a “functional” musical moment such as the Kunyevela ground leveling. Enjoy the video.