Ghana Diary 2005

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News: project receives £10k Big Lottery grant : Gandawi to play at Kilsyth International Carnival on 12th August

Preamble - The G8 Summit:

Scotland, June 1st 2005:

Our mission is clear but not easy: we have just three weeks to recruit a group of drummers and dancers from the Sissala tribes of the far north of Ghana, at the behest of Perth and Kinross Council, to play at the G8 summit concert, Make Poverty History rally, the Glasgow Mela and a series of festivals in Scotland this summer. 

Suleman Chebe – a big, happy-go-lucky Ghanaian usually known as Avenger - is a fellow Kilsyth International Carnival Society director, football fan, and longstanding family friend. Avenger’s work is as a freelance rhythm consultant, and the opportunity to recruit an authentic tribal group to perform at the G8 flowed from his work with schools in Perth and Kinross Council, the hosts for the event. From this single key commission, the idea of organising a summer tour around Scotland grew in our minds. We found ourselves facing the challenging prospect of auditioning a group of young African students and farmers, procuring birth certificates, passports and visas, flying them to Scotland, and turning them into a vibrant performing group capable of stunning the most sophisticated audiences in the world with their raw talent, athleticism and ample good humour.

Tuesday 7th June

Left Glasgow with Avenger around 10am, flew KLM via Amsterdam.

4pm: We are at 35,000 feet over the Sahara, a dull brownish smudge below. It's a good time to ask the matronly Dutch stewardess for another beer. I'm getting stuck into my Manda Scott paperback. Avenger is soundly asleep and gently snoring. I suddenly, belatedly, realise that this is going to be one hell of an interesting road trip, and the book seems pretty pedestrian by comparison. It remains unread for the next three weeks.

8pm. Finally arrive at Accra, and an interminable wait in the arrival lounge to get visas and documents scrutinised. Out at last to a great welcome from Avengers numerous friends and relations - then outside the main concourse to the steamy tropical heat. Usual third world scene, lots of desperate young guys want to take my bags to the car, grabbing and pulling to earn a few Cedis, which as it happens I don't yet have. I always feel nervous and jittery arriving in a strange country for the first time: even amongst friends, I feel a need to get my bearings. A long packed taxi journey to the cheaper side of town along heaving potholed roads of chaotic mad-max style traffic, mostly beat-up taxis, trucks and ancient tro-tros - minibuses. Lots of people on the street, dodging the traffic, selling everything as the cars slow for the junctions, toilet rolls, chickens, chewing gum, fruit, crafts. Its sweaty, friendly, chaotic, and fun. 

The hotel we eventually choose, whilst largely deserted, has a massive air cooling unit in a huge double en-suite room and electrics that sparkle, smoke and crackle whenever a switch is turned. The decor is tattered and worn, the furniture is ravaged, and the room service is pleasantly but utterly incompetent. Even though it's very cheap, I can't be bothered to waste money on an extra room, and share a huge 10 foot wide bed with Avenger. After a beer, we sleep like logs. Welcome to Ghana.

Wednesday 8th June: British High Commission, Accra Arts centre and some serious drumming.

The morning is spent hassling with British officials, in the palm tree manicured and utterly surreal atmosphere of the British High Commission compound. British Visa section, AccraDiscrete, but very comprehensive security is evident at every gate. First queuing at the visa section, (right) which is complete waste of time, then the High Commission enquiry desk, where we are politely redirected to the British Council down the road. This turns out to be a superb modern air-conditioned building, complete with library and spacious reception areas. We are received by Diana Yanney, a very collected and sassy press officer. She's young, pretty, black, British, and altogether rather reassuring. We present our credentials and letters of support from Perth Council. She asks us to write a formal letter requesting support. Off to the nearest Internet cafe, where the letter is written, and then return to hand it over. That's the formal business finished, now its time for some fun.

The afternoon and evening are spent at the Arts centre, a large colourful market near the seafront with many stalls but few buyers. Avenger is checking out the crafts, with a view to the Edinburgh festival. He cant keep away from the amazing wooden xylophones. The djembe drums are being carved from the logs as we walk by. 

I check our the kente woven fabrics and wood carvings. Every shop owner insists that you come inside, very friendly, polite but persuasive. I buy nothing at all - explaining that I will come back in a fortnight and am just looking. I am planning to spend some money for our kids carnival workshops, but don't want to have to lug stuff around on buses for the next two weeks.

We head over to the open-air bar for a beer or two, and a few of the drummers join us. Soon its time for some serious drumming at the local Rastafarian hangout: Root Cultural Musical Shop - and the guys form a drumming circle. The pace gets hotter, everyone takes their turn at dancing in the circle, crazy jive stuff, really entertaining. A crowd gathers, a hundred or more. A few spliffs pass around. The rhythm speeds, and then slows, inter-weaving, subtle, complex but miraculous. It's time to get mellow. Maybe I'm just into the jive, but this is still the sweetest professional drumming I have ever heard.

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Page Two (continued)

© Rob Kay 2005