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Notes from Ghana #3

Meeting the arriving Baobab group (all 33 of them) at the Kotoka airport in Accra was exciting…finally all of our plans for this trip becoming real. Kwasi had arranged fr the bus My Goodness to fit us all in, kinda crazy but sure fun to be all together. The kids were tired but REAL troopers and after a snack of local groundnuts, plantain chips bananas and Fanta, they headed to bed in the Accra Hotel. Much to my surprise, several of them were up early and we sat outside sipping Nescafe and Milo, watching the crazy busy city of Accra begin its day. After breakfast we headed to the village of Dagbamete. The traffic was horrible but we finally made it by mid afternoon. Its really fun to do that journey by day and slowly leave the chaos of the city behind as you travel further into the Volta region, home to many baobab trees. We were WARMLY welcomed into the village and the kids enjoyed a terrific meal of traditional red sauce, rice and plantain. Yummy. The rest of the day was spent hanging with the local kids. I will just say, let the pictures speak for themselves. More soon….

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Notes from Ghana #2

Yes that was posted by Rory because I was already in Ghana, travelling ahead of the group with our good friend and colleague Jennifer Moir. We two had three crazy busy days in Accra, spending time making some final arrangements for the group, running some errands, eating chicken and rice, some streetfood (kebabs, yam chips & pepe) soaking up Accra life, and just acclimatising ourselves to Ghana. Jen is a fantastic conductor, singer and educator who is accompanying the group (on her first trip to Africa) as a vocal interpreter as well as working on a composition project with Rory, so that we can premiere a new piece with her choir at the University of Western Ontario, in the fall. Jen and I had an amazing bunch of rides with a taxi driver, Kwami (thanks for the great recommendation Deborah!), an Ewe who knows all the backroads in Accra necessary to avoid the traffic, which somehow seems to be worse than ever. Baobab has several times connected with the Osu Children’s Library Fund, mostly in Ottawa for fundraising events. We were really pleased to visit three of the more than 200 libraries built in Ghana by the OCLB, including the original shipping container library started by the amazing Kathy Knowles and run by Joana, a tireless champion for reading and engaging volunteers. It was great to see the adult literacy classes there. We will return to the Nima Library later on the trip to connect and exchange performances with the youth Theatre group there. More on that to come….

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Notes from Ghana #1

Day one. Hayley arrives at the studio early. The bus arrives at the studio early. Just about everyone arrives early and so off we go……early. Traffic is in our favour and so we get to Trudeau airport early. Everything is moving nicely. Hayley finds a nice man from British Airways, Carlos, who is immediately friendly and helpful with our huge group and we get checked in faster than we could have hoped. Hayley prompts a thank-you-Carlos shout-out from the kids, to the delight (or amusement) of this Carlos fellow. Later, as we board the plane, there’s Carlos again, sneaking in through one of those narrow little doors in the mobile on-ramp that you walk down into the airplane. Hayley calls out to Carlos and the friendship is rekindled. Carlos graciously declines an invitation to join us on the trip to Dagbamete and says instead he’ll watch out for Baobab on Youtube (perhaps he means one day, when we get big). Hayley tells him cheerfully that Baobab is indeed on Youtube and produces a Baobab business card for our new friend, with our website on it, from which he might navigate his way to the group’s videos. Then we all greet goodbye. Well, Hayley is no fool, and though she would gladly strike up friendships in any direction at any time, she also knows the potential value of friendly engagements like the one with Carlos.

Once we’re in the air, safely out of Canada and on our merry way to England, Hayley is approached by a flight attendant with a print-out. Carlos has managed to get a message to our airplane. The message is for his new friend Hayley, and she now holds his message in her hands. It says that someone in our party has left immunization records in the airport in Montreal, records which are essential for setting foot in the Republic of Ghana. Carlos, our excellent new friend, goes on in his message to say that he has scanned the document and emailed it to Baobabtree, using the contact info from Hayley’s business card. When we land at Heathrow, the lovely people at British Airways invite Hayley into the first-class lounge to intercept and print out the scanned document. Of course, Hayley takes the opportunity, while enjoying a little first-class comfort, to send a friendly message to our man Carlos, with big, big thanks and a link to our videos. Clever gal.

-posted, in fact , by dogo dogo, Rory Magill….now that we have figured a way to get internet, these posts will be hopefully a little more frequent. We are now in the village of Dagbamete and everyone is doing marvelously well. Stay tuned……

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Packing Party

Last night we assembled  all the generously donated school supplies, sports equipment, dental supplies, guitar, kids clothing and shoes together with our extra duffel bags and went to work packing up the bags to take on our trip. We will have about 30 bags of donations to take, as well as close to $2000 for school textbooks and cultural group supplies needed.  A BIG thank you to all the members of the Ottawa community far and wide for these contributions.Please see a full list of these generous individuals and businesses on our donations page.

After some great snacks, the travelers met for a “web building” activity where we vocalized all our good wishes for each others’ journey. The travelers received their final schedule and instructions, as the next time we see each other will be on departure day!

Thanks to Hayley de Bie, our manager for all her work on this tour, parent Claire Thompson for health prep, Board member Nadine Powers who will be a chaperone, the youth performers who worked so hard together, and ALL the parents who have fundraised, collected donations and some of whom will chaperone on the trip. This has certainly been an amazing group effort!

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Oh, What a Night!

Last night was our kick-of concert at the NAC Fourth Stage. The room had a capacity crowd, with many of our friends, family and supporters in the community joining us to celebrate the kick-off to our tour to Ghana, coming up in just a couple of weeks….

There is so much I could say about the evening, from the fabulous energy in the room, to the professional quality of the sound and lights by the great 4th Stage team, to the goodwill and kind words shared by so many people, but I’d like to really focus on the youth themselves.

These 24 kids arrived for the sound check yesterday from various commitments including school, school exams, highland dancing exam, three day trip to Quebec city, and just their busy lives in general. We had one youth recovering from strep throat and another getting over walking pneumonia (in his case it should  have been dancing pneumonia…).

Corralling everyone into a dress rehearsal is challenging, especially with the small stage area, large number of drums, and quick changes that had to happen between pieces. They always have great ideas about the artistic elements of the show as well,  from encouraging each other to smile more, send out more energy, or try new ideas in the pieces themselves….I’ve really seen a lot of growth this year in their leadership and initiative skills.

The show itself was amazing…the energy building and building as the evening went on. We introduced the audience to the Ghanaian tradition of “dashing” dancers and drummers whose efforts and performance you appreciate by pasting coins and bills on their forehead while the music and dance is happening. This was a lot of fun and the audience really got into it! Soon there were loonies,  toonies and $5 and $10 dollar bills floating around the dance floor. In Ghana, this money is collected and then shared equally amongst performers. We collected all the money and will make a donation to the Kathy Knowles Theatre and Dance Group, at the Nima Library in Accra when we spend the day with them on our trip. In total last night, the “dashing” raised $311.80!! Way to go!

We played a bit of Kinka, a new piece we will be focusing on in our studies in Ghana. Its a real community style piece and we were thrilled when three alumnae from the group Ben, Zoe & Emma jumped up from the audience to dance for us. After finishing a resounding high energy Gahu, we ended the show with the magical and soft sounds of  Bell Forest, evoking that special time when the sun goes down, a lot of activity quiets, and the African air and light takes on an ethereal quality. At the end of the piece, when the drums and bells start to fade out, the kids left the stage one by one as our great tech guys slowly brought the lights down to nothing (insert sigh here).

Thanks to Rory and Ian for stage help, and the Baobab Board in general for their support of this event and during the year.

You know, there are many ways to make the world a better place and many things we can all do to contribute and give back. However, when an effort comes from your core being, and is aligned with your soul then it really packs a powerful punch. This Footsteps to Ghana Project is about helping youth expand their world and learn more about themselves so that whatever they find themselves doing in the future, they can connect to that soul quality. I LOVE watching that unfold in them, through the music and dance, the social elements of the group and of course the magic of being in Africa.

Here we go….

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If you were downtown least evening near Elgin and Albert Streets around 7pm, you would have seen a bunch of teens in rubber boots and gold shirts hanging around the magnificent Oscar Peterson….then suddenly, they arranged themselves in four lines and rhythmic sounds of stomping and slapping began, as Baobab Youth performed 2-4, our Gumboot dancing routine. This is a short, complicated and groovy routine taught to us by members of Black Umfalosi, who we had the pleasure of working with a few years back at the Kaleid festival in London Ont. Thomeki, who was the main guy teaching us, always counted us in with the phrase 2, 4,  so seemed a natural title for the piece.

We had some passersby taking video and photos, a few honking cars and even a bus driver who gave us the peace sign.It was so much fun, the youth ran up to the corner of Elgin and Queen and did it again!

What a great way to kick off our concert last evening…..

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Wow, Donations!

Former Board member, drummer and Baobab supporter Janet Quirt and her friend Karole Kidd-Witiuk dropped into the studio this morning with more than 50 items of handmade clothing for us to take to Ghana for kids in need. These colourful shorts and very cute dresses will surely be a hit. Thanks to both of them for all their hours of sewing time and generosity!

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In the Studio…

Yesterday, JonaRowan, Augusta and myself were guests on “This Island Earth”, a radio show on CKCU at Carleton University. We played some Bobobo, Kpanlogo and chatted about the upcoming trip to Ghana. The kids were really articulate and we had a great time. It was also a chance to plug our show this coming Friday night at the Fourth Stage at the NAC. Thanks to hosts Ron Steeds and Bill Nagle!

Listen to the interview!

Friday June 17, 7:30pm
Footsteps to Ghana Tour Kickoff Concert
Baobab Youth
NAC Fourth Stage

Tickets $20 For more info and to buy tickets click HERE!

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Kate Bryant

Kate Bryant, a long time drummer in  Baobab Tree classes, as well as a donor and collaborator, passed away this past Saturday, after a struggle with cancer.

I heard the news of Kate’s passing, while we were on the Toronto Tour. It was just  a couple of hours before I went into a concert of African music with the Jubilate  Singers and the Youth Performers.

Although it was not unexpected, her death was received with tears and many fond memories. Just before the concert I told the kids the news and reminded them of the wonderful concert we all played together to our mutual benefit (Stephen Lewis Foundation and Footsteps to Ghana) in January 2010,  the love of drumming Kate expressed and always shared,  and her long time involvement with, and continued support of Baobab Tree.

I suggested to the kids that we dedicate the opening number Ghana Alleluia and Bobobo  to Kate, as I told them of my lovely and engaging visit with her, a week ago Friday, where I played and sang Bobobo music, and she spontaneously joined me with great joy and energy in singing and even hitting the drum.  The kids thought we should just dedicate the whole performance to her. OK with me!

We got through the Ghana Alleluia, and the drumming of Bobobo beautifully. Kate would have really enjoyed the whole project,  as we were performing with an adult community choir, who were really just a little outside their comfort zone, learning the aural music of Southern and Western Africa for this performance. The final piece in the program, African Celebration, by Stephen Hatfield, contains mostly South African melodies, and at one point the  drumming stops and the whole choir goes into a four part harmonic rendition of the South African National Anthem.  We were certainly thinking of Kate then. What a great reminder of all the work she and her Capital Grannies (along with many others) have done for the Stephen Lewis Foundation, and the love she showed to all of us, which came back to her in these last few months, as she was well taken care of in her final weeks.
Her spirit absolutely surrounds us, and I do not not doubt for a minute that her fierce dedication to drumming and community will live on in all of us.

Kate is in the front row, on the right edge, surrounded by the Capital Grannies drumming group.
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Toronto Tour news

Wow! What a whirlwind weekend we just had! A mix of rehearsal, concerts, social time, and wandering the streets of TO made for a busy but rewarding tour and really set us up well for our Ghana trip in just a few weeks. Thanks so much to the five parents who came along and filled the roles of drivers, chaperones, stage hands, CD sellers and scouts whenever needed.

We arrived at the beaches area in the east end (I know I know, its called the BEACH now but when I was growing up just east of there,  it was just the beaches…sounds just a little pretentious now). We walked the boardwalk, checked out shops and had dinner at the Green Eggplant where Kofi Dunyo made an appearance to greet all the group. Later that night we arrived for the dress rehearsal with the Jubilate Choir and their conductor, Caroline Spearing where we went over the whole concert program and spent loads of time working on the logistics to get it just right.

The Baobab Youth were hosted by members of the choir that night (thank you!) and returned with them the next morning for our performance at St Christopher House, for a small but appreciative audience. Our group of 30 split in to two at that point and half went to the Eaton Centre and half to Kensington Market where we had a great time shopping, eating vegan tacos, thai noodles, other fast food and generally just absorbing the great vibes.

We checked into the dorms at Glendon College in the late afternoon, and grabbed a bite in the dining hall. Glendon has beautiful grounds, and it was a good chance for the youth to get a taste of dorm life.  We  headed to the show which went REALLY well.  A very enthusiastic audience, including some friends and family of the group that reside in Toronto. Some wonderful repertoire from South Africa and West Africa, as well as a couple of pieces by  Canadian composer Stephen Hatfield. Small groupings of the youth got to accompany the choir for some of their pieces. Not an easy thing to play drums in collaboration with another group (especially with only one rehearsal) so that was a terrific experience for them and it really worked out well.

After the concert we returned to the dorms for a party in the common room and then to bed…..everyone was tired for the ride home but a stop at DQ made the last leg of the trip bearable. Here is a note from the choir’s conductor:

I hope you returned to Ottawa safely and that your young people had a good party after a wonderful concert. I can’t thank you enough for the effort and energy that you put into this venture. You have such beautiful teenagers in Baobab …the sparkle and professionalism they brought to Saturday’s concert made it one of the best that the choir has ever done. We are so grateful.
-Caroline Spearing,  Conductor, Jubilate Singers

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