One of the main reasons why I wanted to come to Ghana was for the classes we would be taking. In particular, the performing arts in West Africa class, where we learn and perform different traditional dances and drumming songs fascinated me. I knew that Ghanaians, and West Africans in general, have incredible performing abilities, but I was not exposed to it and its popularity until this week. I saw different forms of dance and music in almost every place we visited, no matter the occasion.
Accra showed me its vibrant nightlife through dance and music. Afrobeats, a genre of music that has widely been used to label any music that comes out of Africa, played in every corner. The genre incorporates African beats and percussion with Western jazz and funk, though it originally stemmed from highlife – a Ghanaian genre of music popular in the 20thcentury during colonial rule. However, the songs would be nothing without dance. Recently, dances such as azonto, shoki, shaku shaku, gwara gwara, and kupe, to name a few, have been popularized through the music videos of the dances and through #challenges of the dances. So, when the song is played, everyone knows the dance moves through the music video. I will always remember people making space in the dance floor for people to start dancing perfectly synchronized choreographies of almost every song that played.
In a more traditional sense, dance and music have played a very important role in Ghanaian society. The idea that dance and music must be performed together, as seen in Accra through afrobeats songs and dance moves, is rooted in traditional dances. In class, we are learning the Adowa and Pacha dance, both of which have songs and music that must be performed with it. The importance of drums and music was very clear in the performance by the CapeDeaf dance team that we saw on our first day in Cape Coast. The dance team, who were all deaf, relied on the vibrations of the drums as cues to change dance moves. They sported shirts that said “disability is not inability,” and the power of music and dance was able to show clearly how it was not.
Lastly, another experience that involved music during our excursion week was at Elmina castle, a slave castle that saw the enslavement, torture and rape of thousands of Africans. Coming out of the castle after an emotional tour, we were greeted by market women who wanted us to buy their products from their shops. Towards the end of the courtyard, however, were a group of people who were singing and dancing. Initially, I thought it was strange but also beautiful that they were creating music in a space that was built to enslave their ancestors. However, I learned at dinner that the song that they were singing was an escort song for slaves. The song was called Adjijewa (this spelling was what I think it is phonetically, so clearly will be misspelt) and Ghanaian enslaved people would sing it while walking towards the “door of no return” that saw them shipped to the “New World” as a way to send well-wishes on their journey, and to instill a sense of community, culture and tradition between those that were enslaved.
I was able to see the evolution of music in Ghana within a week of travel; it took me from colonial times to 2019. Music and dance have very important roles in Ghanaian society, it is performed in many and any situation, whether it be traditional dances for ceremonies or choreographed dances for entertainment. From my experiences so far, it has made me feel more involved in Ghanaian society and community, since many people want to teach you dances, and has helped me gain a better understanding of Ghanaian traditions. I know that I will never be able to dance as well as Ghanaians, but I hope to improve my skills and meet more people in the time I have left here through dance and music.
Here are some interesting readings I found while researching music and dance in Ghana: