Music has always moved me. I have video evidence that as a small girl I would rock out with the vigour and dance moves of my Dad. I still have a soft spot for Creed, the Beatles, and Supertramp the musical influences of my childhood. I can remember my favourite songs from Grade 3 and all of their lyrics: Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” and the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want it That Way”. My attachment to music has morphed and expanded like a gigantic cloud, ready to burst and rain on my heart at any moment. My music collection acts as a photo album for me, with many songs or albums easily taking me back to the scenes and feelings of a previous time in my life. And my stay in Ghana will not disappoint in this category.
So far the favourite song in Ghana, and my favourite as well, is “I Love my Life” by DeMarco. Please, partake here as you read the rest of this post: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uM7J6aEWlPM.
The few weeks I spent travelling, in pre-dep and moving around Ghana at the beginning of my placement meant that I wasn’t plugged in to my normally constant soundtrack for a few weeks. It was refreshing, and actually incredible, to see how my mood changed as I started to incorporate it into my office life in Karaga. Office listening to music means that I am often caught singing out loud by my colleagues. Sometimes I’m playing the tunes without having my headphones in, and they come to hear my latest selection. Particular favourites have been some of my Persian songs, and Adele. Almost all of the people I work with have commented on how I must really enjoy music.
Randomly on the street a guy pushing a cart or someone riding a bike will pass by, and afford me a snippet of Sean Paul or the Black Eyed Peas. Each time sends a message from the past and a moment of laughter for me, to be hearing something so familiar in a place with which is almost wholly unfamiliar.
Potentially the most surprising revelation I have had about living in my village is the existence, and frequency of bona fide dance parties. Imagine an open dirt floor, a naked bulb and the oldest computer in existence hooked up to gigantic speakers. Add the dozens of kids and young adults dressed in gangsta style and you have a dance party. They call these dance parties playing “jams” but seeing as I’ve been craving jam, and of course feeling the uber-gangsta vibe, I’ve been thinking of them as “jamz”. As far as I’ve been living in Nangong-Ayeli, we’ve had 5 dances, 3 of them being free and two being private, where you pay about 35 cents for entry. All have been populated by music with aggressive beats, often remixed into songs familiar from the 90’s. But these remixes make the beat about twice as fast, and these guys dance to them, incredibly well! It’s mesmerizing to watch their feet as they move to the music, and I know that I can never hope to match them in this category.
It’s also a pretty intense environment. I’m assuming most people can recognise that vicious dance circle that so often forms in North American dance parties, where only the truly brave of heart dare to enter and bust a move while surrounded by their peers. Well, in Ghana, they have upped the ante. You dance in a line with your peers, and do solos of 20+ seconds, and of course all of your peers are watching but also the entire community is sitting around the edge of the dance floor, appraising your moves. Like I said, intense.
Dance parties have somehow become one of my identifiers in my community, due to the fact that I was eager to join in from the first, that they announced my name over the speakers, and finally put me on public display by buying the floor and having only one or two people dancing with me, with the hundred or so onlookers ringing the floor. It really reminded me that I truly do dance only for myself, and by remembering I have left my inhibitions behind. My moves are definitely eccentric, but I’ve gotten good feedback so far so why fight something that feels so good? On that note, I’ve realised that a lot of my friends don’t dance, partly because Islam doesn’t look favourably upon it, and mostly because they think they cannot dance or are shy. Funnily enough, until I had these conversations with my close friends here, I was still labouring under the stereotype that all Africans dance, and dance well. Officially debunked! And I was shocked to discover my huge assumption here, part of the conditioning I have had since childhood about this great continent. What other hidden assumptions will I stumble upon before I leave?
Besides my continuous consumption of music? This morning as I was flicking through my Canadian cell phone, listening to some of my favourite songs stored on its memory card, I realised that my access to tunes is phenomenally high. I was only listening to my cell phone because my netbook was out of batteries. And I had my Ghanaian cell phone as a backup if I really needed it. Whereas the only other time I have heard music in my community is on the one radio that my family possesses, or at the jamz. This sign of privilege, my ability to listen to music at any time of day, from multiple sources and songs of my choosing, is something that I am very grateful for, but something I will have a heightened awareness of from this point forward.