Crossing Personal Space: Amazing Moments of Intimacy in Ghana

By Wendy Perron

Dr. Noah Abanekolgo gave my ankle three shots of a local anesthetic, which hurt like hell. I was lying on my stomach sort of howling/grunting/chanting, though I was trying to be restrained. He brought his face very close to mine on the cot, looked me in the eyes, and asked, “Are you OK?” I said, “Yes, I’m OK.” It was the most intimate, caring thing a doctor has ever done with me.

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Cradle of Strong Compassionate Humanity

By Valerie Naranjo

I couldn’t wait to see my Ghanaian hand drumming teacher Kofi Missiso’s face, hear his vibrant shout, see the way he gives every person his or her very own moment, taking each by the hand and saying each name. We’d patiently sat in Sunday traffic out of Accra, then turned off at Kasoa, a densely populated community 22 miles away. The car ambled through the typical bumps and ruts found in newly developed Ghanaian suburban residential roads to Kofi’s new abode, which was built recently by donations from students and other private supporters. Modest, yet beautiful, this two-family house in Kasoa is in a similar neighborhood as his old one in central Accra. Kasoa and Accra, like Ghana itself, are home to people of many West African ethnicities and are two of many places that exemplify translucent borders.

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Sharing Burdens Through Dance and Music

By Wendy Perron

On the first full day, we got a glimpse of the vitality of the arts community in Accra. We visited two musicians at the national arts council, a vast collection of shacks where people make things, sell things, perform, and live. We were guided by our NYU colleague, percussionist Valerie Naranjo, who had been to Ghana many times to study with master musicians; she seemed to know about half of the thousand or so crafts, people and performers there. Valerie’s gyil teacher, Ba’ere Yotere, welcomed us into his tiny hut, slipped on a ceremonial vest, and played for us. He chose two compositions of his own and one he learned from his grandfather. Suddenly in this little shack the music was as intense and grand as any solo concert at Carnegie Hall.

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You Can't Eat an Elephant All at Once

By Andy Teirstein

On a hill along the gold coast of Ghana lies a sprawling shantytown, the Arts Council of Accra. Here artisans are busy carving figurines, weaving cloth, and stretching skins across drum frames. We are seated in a shack, listening to the playing of Ba-ere Yotera, master of the gyil, a wood-slatted instrument (the grandmother of the marimba) whose name means, “to surround.” Ba-ere is a revered mentor to one of our team, Valerie Naranjo (faculty, Steinhardt). The rapid music pours around us, emanating from Ba-ere’s two hands in multifaceted conversation; through the forest of patterns simple melodies tickle our ears. Low tones rattle fiercely, their vibration amplified by calabash gourds that hang beneath the gyil. As we relax into these unfolding sound layers, it seems as though there are many interweaving voices singing, and I become aware of the magic trick: the invocation, by a single person, of an ensemble.

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