This morning our music class went to see a performance/workshop by the Koo Nimo dance and drumming group. The group played traditional African drum beats first, beginning with a piece that representing one of the Asante nature poems that goes something along these lines: ‘The path crosses the river. The river also crosses the path. Which is the elder? The river for it flows beneath the path.’ All of these nature poems, as their title suggests, represent the Asante people’s reverence and co-existence with nature. To our untrained ears it just sounded like really cool drumming–lots of intricate parts and polyphonic rhymthms. But, as they explained, each of the motifs played by the drums tells a specific story. The order in which each part of each rhythm is played is crucial to understanding the message. Music is more than a mere sound experience–it is communication.
Some of the drumming included traditional dancers. We’ve seen some other drumming and dance groups here, but while those tend to have at least 4 to 5 female and male dancers (respectively), there was only 1 male and 1 female dancer today. But they were wonderful–their joy you could see expressed on their faces while they danced was so genuine that you couldn’t help but want to dance along. And at one point everyone did! I have tried to post a video of it on here, but the connection here in Kumasi is very unreliable and quite slow, so it’s not working as of now. I will keep trying though.
What was most interesting to me were what they called their ‘palm wine songs.’ Palm wine is a traditional drink here associated with both everyday life and ritual. These songs used not only the traditional drums, but also two guitars and voice. It was a strange shift from the drumming which felt organically African (at least to my Western conception of what is organically African). But the palm wine songs had strong flavors of jazz and even mariachi band music (though there were no horns). This is a relatively new style of music, so it would be interesting to see how these Western genres influenced this African music. It sounded beautiful nonetheless.