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Drumming lessons

I was lucky enough to have my first drum lesson in Ghana on my birthday. I should say that I’m not a Baobab kid, but a total novice. The backdrop to our drumming was a pure blue sky patched with towering clouds. In the middle distance, birds and butterflies flew up from the glossy leaves of a tree. We sat under the Ah Chi Gate; the biggest tree with the most shade. A circle of brown drums were ready on the bright red sand.

I was nervous about playing in front of the pros from Ghana and Baobab, but Kwasi assured me I had a “natural computer” and that I should use it. I can’t say that I played well, but I certainly tried. It was, for me, like a combination of sport and music. We played Kinka and Gadzo.

We got to try the Gankogui ( a metal hand bell), the Axatse (a bead covered gourd) and hand drums.  I had stiff muscles and little tiny bruises on my leg from the Axatse, which might be a sign that I was working hard if not well!

As we played, people from the village came by to watch and listen. Women dressed in bright colours paused as they carried their water home on their heads. One of the village elders sat observing us from the thatch roofed summer house. The women from the dining hall started dancing along.

We knew when school was let out for lunch, because the children in their brown and orange uniforms came to watch as well. They leaned against our benches and watched us at work.

Kwasi brought two teachers that the group hadn’t worked with before; Sammy and Kofi. Sammy is very knowledgeable and super patient about explaining things twice.  Kofi helped me again and again with the Axatse part, throwing his whole body into it and showing me where to put my feet. I very nearly almost got it.

At one point Kwasi was trying to explain how we should put expression and passion into our drumming. As an example of how not to do it he did a perfect impression of how we might sing in public, standing ramrod straight and apologizing for making a noise. Laughing helped me relax into learning.

I’m so proud that I tried, and so happy to be working with these people. I felt doubly blessed on my birthday, by music and good friends.


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Dagbamete Primary School

Odai, Kwasi’s grandson, found us in the village because he heard that three of us were teachers and wondered if we would be interested in visiting the local school. On Monday afternoon, he walked us over and introduced us to the headmaster and a few of the teachers on staff. The headmaster greeted us warmly and gave us some friendly lessons on protocol. He asked us about the curriculum and teacher preparation in Canada and we inquired about the same here in Ghana. The school has 300 students in KG (kindergarten), six levels of primary, and three levels of junior high and serves many of the local villages. All Ghanaian students are doing review this week in preparation for next week’s exams.

In May, the school was severely damaged by a violent storm, forcing them to close half of the primary school. As a result, the children were forced to relocate into an adjacent half-finished building and continue lessons in the open air. Despite this and the spare classroom resources that they have to access to, we found more similarities than differences between the two education systems in terms of student learning.

The headmaster introduced us to the primary 5 teacher, who allowed us to sit in on a math lesson. After such a positive experience, we were invited to return as frequently as we wished. On Tuesday afternoon, we went back to observe a primary 6 science lesson as well. Definitely time well spent!

Kerry, Michelle, and Ann

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Getting to know Dagbamete

On Sunday, our first full day in the village, we were treated to a tour by Godsway. He showed us the shrine (where people were starting to gather with their offerings and goods for sale), a giant shady space where they hold public gatherings, the original well for the village, a really interesting sheltered space under bamboo trees, the new clinic, the partially constructed secondary school (currently being used for primary students since a storm in May blew half of the roof off of their building), an apoteshi distillery, and a cassava mill in action.





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Group Thoughts on Yiri to Dagbamete

I asked my fellow travellers for one memorable moment or observation from the 4-hour drive from the Yiri Lodge in Accra to Dagbamete. Here is a collection of highlights:

  • “Stopping on the side of the road to pick up food for lunch”
  • “People that we had never met before were so welcoming at the market”
  • “Every time we stopped or slowed down, people would come to the van to try to sell us something”
  • “When we stopped, a boy tried to give me a high five and got me in the wrist”
  • “Walking across the bridge” (over the Volta)
  • “The cute kid by the fruit stand”
  • “Singing in the van”
  • “Termite mounds in the fields”
  • “The delicious bread, fresh mango, pineapple, and avocadoes we had for lunch”
  • “The people who were curious about us”
  • “People on the side of the road who had things balanced on their heads”
  • “The speed at which we were travelling.”
  • “I will never be afraid to fly again.”
  • “The varied and interesting road signs”
  • “I would knit and Carol would wind the wool to avoid looking at the road”
  • “The abandoned or partially complete construction sites”
  • “The persistent and seemingly random honking”
  • “A Please Do Not Corrupt Police sign”
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Ghana En Route – Part 2

On Saturday morning, we had a low key start to the day: breakfast at 9, some time for re-packing, playing catch with the rugby ball, then hopping into the vans again for the trip to Dagbamete. We stopped a couple of times along the way, to pick up some food at a roadside market, then again to walk across the Volta River and enjoy the fruit, avocadoes, bread, and spicy goat kebabs for lunch.

The roadside views were varied, full of frenzied activity, and, at times, overwhelming. We will leave you with some photos for now and add more detail later in a future blog post.

We were very warmly greeted upon our arrival in Dagbamete and are looking forward to settling in for village life.

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Ghana En Route – Part 1

Travelling as a group of 24 is a very different experience than family travel! The two hour bus ride to Montreal was filled with playing Heads-Up and excited chatter. In Montreal, it took us nearly two hours to get checked in, check our bags, get our Ghana visa’s entered into the system and get through security. Needless to say, we didn’t have much time to spare before boarding our flight to Amsterdam.

The flight was uneventful (thankfully). In Amsterdam, we broke into small groups to take the train into town and had about 3 hours to tour around. We had a much smoother time navigating the Amsterdam airport and some time to chill before getting on the next flight.

We were very happy to be greeted by Kathy, Kwasi, and the Dagbamete crew when we landed in Accra. It was dark and chaotic in the airport parking lot, but we eventually loaded into the vans and made our way the Yiri Lodge, our home for the first night. All told, it was 27 hours of travel from the time we left the Ottawa train station until we arrived at Yiri. Whew!

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Ghana 2017 #1 Departures and Arrivals!

The group left Ottawa yesterday with all persons present, so I have been informed (thanks Ian!). That bodes well for the rest of the trip ;) We have 13 youth and 12 adults on the Footsteps 2017 journey. Here they are leaving Ottawa. The first leg involves a bus ride, and two long flights. I have taken the lead and have been in Ghana for a few days already. There are lots of preparations for a group this size so Kwasi and I have been working hard to get everything ready in Dagbamete. I am in Accra now, with friends Angelina and Jambolah, also making preparations. We, along with Kwasi and an entourage from Dagbamete will meet the group tonight at Kotoka airport. I can hardly wait! We have purchased some fresh local plantain chips, sweet bananas (tasting the way bananas ought to), a few biscuits and of course lots of water for the travellers upon arrival. I have been enjoying driving around Accra, seeing familiar and new sights. Here we go…


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Ghana Kick-off Concert

Last night we closed the season with a fabulous performance at St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts. The energy for the upcoming Ghana tour was palpable, not only from the performers but also the audience and the parent group dancing in the back of the hall! Everyone is super excited for the upcoming trip.  You can see in the pictures (courtesy of Ian Holland), the new,  blue tour t-shirts, generously donated by MapIT, (design by John Sekerka).

In addition to the drumming and dancing from Baobab Youth Performers the concert featured special guest artist and longtime Baobab collaborator and friend,  Ghanaian drummer Dominic Donkor. He led the youth in Fume Fume, Kpatsa and Danse Guerriere. We opened with a meditative performance of Bell Forest, along with accompanying slides and the reading of a poem written by a former Baobab youth member during her visit to Kakum National Rainforest park in Ghana, where our group will be visiting in a few weeks. The concert closed with some highlife music, featuring outstanding and enthusiastic music students from Carleton University.  Dennis Bass, tenor sax; Liam McMullen, bass; Jennie Seaborn, drum kit; Avery Vine, trumpet, Hans Vivian-Wenzel; guitar and Baobab’s Amanda McCarthy on alto sax!

The event spilled into the adjoining traditional Irish pub run by St. Brigid’s for some socializing before the show and at intermission. Our friends from the Osu Children’s Library Fund set up a table to sell books. We will be visiting two of their libraries when we are in Ghana, exchanging cultural performances and sharing donations of school supplies. A basket of tasty and useful African treats was put together by our Board chair Evie Gray and raffled off just after intermission by one of our ROOTS kids in the audience.

A great turn out!  Thanks to all the volunteers, especially Rory, Kevin and Ian for tech support. We will be updating this blog with news from the July Ghana trip so stay tuned!

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The Next 150

CANADA: The next 150. This was how we chose to frame our final DrumChat presentation last night at Ashbury College. Multiple levels of government have offered funding for projects this year, Canada’s 150 birthday. As a recipient of this funding, we are aware of the concerns around the nation’s celebration, during a time of reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Creating pathways for dialogue between all people through music is our response to one of the calls to action, set out by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, specifically number 63 iii which recommends “Building student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy and mutual respect”. In partnership with Young Voices Can!, we offered a glimpse into our drumming and dialogue process for a supportive audience last night. We shared rhythms, conversation and food. Great night! Thanks to the Board members of both our organizations, Ashbury College for donation of the  presentation space, and to Ontario 150 for the funding of this pilot project. We hope to continue! 

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Drum Chat!

This spring, Baobab Youth Performers and Young Voices Can!  has been engaged in our innovative pilot project Drum Chat!

This project has provided opportunities for connection between youth in the City of Ottawa that that may not typically interact, through a series of music workshops. Our goal has been finding commonalities through drumming & dialogue by connecting youth from diverse economic and cultural backgrounds and engaging them in the music of Ghana, West Africa.

This project has been generously funded by Ontario 150 Partnership Program, and during our second workshop, we had a special visit from our MPP and Attorney General, Yasir Naqvi who renewed his drumming skills with us…and shared a meaningful story of his first school day in Canada at age 15, as a new immigrant.

Baobab Community, and Young Voices Can! engage youth from diverse populations with the intent of fostering connection and understanding. Participants for this project have included newly arrived refugees, as well as Muslims, Jews, Christians and non-denominational youth from the local community.  We feel that our organizational goals are particularly aligned during these times of global unrest, and disconnection amongst youth, and this project has been an exciting opportunity to share strategies and skills.

The culminating event will take place on Thursday May 25 from 7:30-9pm at Ashbury College 362 Mariposa Ave. Join is for a presentation of drumming and reflection on the project.


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