In July 2014, I joined PAA Ghana Site Director Bernard Woma and his family at the Dagara Music Centre in Ghana. After more than a day of journeying from the UK, I saw Bernard waiting at Accra airport with a sign that sent a wave of relief over me – the three letters I had been waiting to see – ‘PAA’!
During these three weeks, I learned more about music than I had in three years of University. The experience was not just one of great significance and growth, but one that I cannot wait to repeat! You cannot fail to be inspired by Bernard’s mastery of the gyil! He conducted most of the classes himself, but in his absence, lots of other talented teachers were on hand to practice with you, or to teach you some cool tricks if you felt competent!
Djembe lessons were conducted by Bernard’s ‘right hand man’, Eddie Green. A talented and hilarious teacher, Eddie’s classes were always enjoyable. By the end, everyone had their ‘speciality’ – whether it was kente weaving, music or dance. For me, it had to be dancing, taught by the fiery Evelyn and her glamorous assistant, Princess Joyce! (both members of the DMC’s renowned Saakuma Dance Troupe). These ladies took us through an impressive variety of traditional dances. From the energetic vibes of ‘kpalongo’ to the graceful steps of the ‘bawa’, their lessons proved to be a strong bonding experience for everyone on the trip.
The closest village, Medie, is a stone’s throw away, and is packed with exciting new activities for travellers. It may seem frightening to go exploring at first, but everyone that we met there was incredibly friendly. If you can learn a bit of Twi during your stay, this will act as an ‘ice breaker’ between cultures (and amuse the locals immensely)! The Ghanaian diet is often described as ‘chickentarian’ – it didn’t take long to find out why! Breakfast was a healthy choice of fruit, omelettes and oatmeal. Other meals were usually rice or pasta, with beans or plantains and fried chicken. The food is expertly prepared (everything made was beyond delicious), but Western stomachs beware; almost every ‘obruni’ spent at least 12 hours making acquaintances with the toilet! The best advice is to bring lots of stomach remedies and to keep yourself hydrated!
A number of my favourite moments occurred on the road trip in the centre’s minibus. To name a few, we splashed around in the Kintampo waterfalls (despite a few bruises) and made lots of monkey friends at Boabeng-Fiema. The Kumasi Arts Market was the best spot to purchase gifts and to practice your haggling. Our few days at Cape Coast were like a Caribbean postcard – boogie boarding, beaches and bonfires! Elmina Castle was a harrowing, yet educational, experience. In the dungeons, we stood in silence as we learned about the horrific conditions the slaves endured a mere handful of generations ago. Thank you to everyone at the DMC for being so welcoming and for making the trip so memorable, and thank you to Performing Arts Abroad for all your incredible help!
Written by Fiona Liddel
Performing Arts Abroad music intern in Ghana