To begin, an Ewe (pronounced, "eh-veh") proverb:
De bia, agɔ bia gake agɔ mefoa detsi o
(you can’t substitute one thing for another and think you can get the same results)
Music, dance, and song are incredibly important aspects of Ghanaian culture. In the Volta Region, as elsewhere in West Africa, drumming not only provides musical texture - drums speak. Ewe is a tonal language, and many instruments (and rhythmic patterns) literally emulate the spoken tones to the point where a proverb or statement can be understood by the listener.
Ewe drums, for the most part, are headed with the thick skins of local antelope. During my last trip to Ghana I had intended to buy some replacement skins for the drums I use at the college where I teach. My teacher, Emmanuel Agbeli, explained to me that we might not be able to procure the skins at all, and if we did, they would be incredibly expensive compared to what I had paid years before. We did find some skins hours away and they were, indeed, very costly. Why was this?
Over the years these antelope have been over-harvested for food (bush meat). Hunters are having to travel further and further to find them, and often fail. As Emmanuel and I spoke about the issue, he expressed his concern about this with a very startling statement: "I do not know the future of our music."
The skins are thick and have a distinct sound quality that gives them a melodic tone that can be manipulated with hand or stick, and that melodic tone is what enables a masterful player to emulate the speech patterns that bring so much meaning to Ewe music. It is simply not possible to replace the heads with another material such as goat - they would not be able to create the same sounds. Hence the proverb at the beginning of this post - "You can't substitute one thing for another and get the same results."
This project is about conservation - but not only environmental, or about antelope. It's about conservation of tradition. My partner Steve Trombulak is a conservation biologist who also has a deep love and appreciation for Ghanaian music and culture, although his first trip to Ghana will be this December. He has met my friends and teachers, learned the rhythms, and danced the dances. He understands the root cause of the problem with sustainability that we are looking at in this situation, and brings his depth of knowledge and expertise in planning with him to this venture. With Steve's experience, we will not only help ensure a more dependable and sustainable population of antelope - we will ensure the continuation of music, dance, and song as only the Ewe can perform it.
Steve and I will leave for Ghana on December 9th. It is our hope to raise awareness and funds to support this work - in part, reciprocity for the beautiful gift of music and dance that have enriched our lives for many years. Thank you for looking, and for your contribution!
- (32 days)