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The Price of Adaptation: Hybridization of African Music and Dance from Village to International Stage

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2011
Dissertation
Author: Habib Chester Iddrisu
Abstract:
Dance companies burgeoned in West Africa following independence from the late 1950s through the 1960s, including the establishment of the Ghana Dance Ensemble (GDE), Le Ballet National du Senegal, and Les Ballets Africains of Guinea. These companies, among others, played major roles in spreading African music and dances across ethnic and international boundaries. These intercultural exchanges and the growth of folklore troupes derived from the policies set forth by newly elected African leaders, such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Léopold Sédar Senghor of Senegal, and Sékou Touré of Guinea--to mention a few--in response to European colonialism and African independence. With Ghana's independence in 1957, specific indigenous Ghanaian music and dance forms proliferated across ethnic and international boundaries from 1962 onward. In this dissertation, I concentrate on the GDE and the Dagomba ethnic group (they prefer to be called Dagbamba ) in the Northern Region of Ghana within the context of African nationalism and globalization. In particular, I examine how indigenous performance practices change when adapting to new situations as they travel from village to village, from the rural to the urban, from ritual to stage show and, most broadly, from Ghana and West Africa to the world at large. To accomplish this, I draw on the body of literature on African and Ghanaian nationalism, archival research specifically on the GDE, ethnographic field research on performance (music and dance) of the Dagbamba people and veteran performers of the GDE (many of whom have founded dance companies in the U.S.), and my own experience as a dancer and musician, first growing up in a Dagbamba town and becoming a professional member of the University of Ghana's Abibigromma touring company, and as well as many other performing groups on the national and international stage.

TABLE OF CONTENTS ABSTRACT…………………………………………………………………………………3 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS...……………………………………………………………........5 GLOSSARY…………………………………………………………………………………7 DEDICATION……………………………………………………………………………...12 LIST OF MUSICAL EXAMPLES……………………………………………………........14 LIST OF FIGURES...……………………………………………………………………….15 CHAPTER 1.

Introduction…………………………………………………………………….16 2.

Music and Dance of the Dagbamba People of Dagbon………...……………....33 3.

From Village to Stage: A Theory of Hybridization…………………………….80 4.

The Ghana Dance Ensemble Production of Baamaaya and Damba/Takai.........119 5.

The Ghana Dance Ensemble: An Inspir ation to Groups in Ghana and the Diaspora………………………………………………………………………..142 6.

Afterword: Challenges and Prospects fo r Teaching African/Ghanaian Music and Dance Abroad………………………………………………………………….171 7.

Conclusion……………………………………………………………………..197 References………………………………………………………………………….201

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LIST OF MUSICAL EXAMPLES

1.

Example of lung’a drums’ proverbial words identifying me through my family and the Bizing lineage. It is also applicable for multiple dancers 41 2.

Example of the exchange between experi enced and supporting Lung’si 47 3.

Proverbial drum language between a Lung’a and a dancer 50 4.

Examples of some introductory lung’a drum language for baamaaya 64 5.

Hybrid Yoruba music on a Dagbamba lung’a drum 67 6.

Music created by the Anakulyada/Anakuliyara cultural group after the formation of the Arts Council of Ghana 78 7.

Standard hybridized lung’a drum call for baamaaya 121 8.

Northwestern University students’ interpretation of Ga kpanlogo 192 9.

Bell pattern in kpanlogo instrumentation 194 10.

The cycle of the bell pattern in kpanlogo instrumentation 194 11.

On-beat hand clapping in relation to the bell pattern in kpanlogo 195 12.

Clapping off-beat in relationship to the bell pattern in kpanlogo 195

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LIST OF FIGURES Fig. 1. The lung’a drum and a L ung’a playing the drum 37 Fig. 2. Picking up money on the dance floor for the Lung’si in a performance 52 Fig. 3. A baamaaya performance by the Youth Home Cultural Group 60 Fig. 4. A calamboo flute player in a performance 61 Fig. 5. The sayali percussive instrument in a baamaaya performance 62 Fig. 6. Youth Home Cultural Group’s baamaaya dancers in action 63 Fig.7. Atsiagbekor music and dance pe rformance at a wake-keeping 102 Fig. 8. A jama music procession on the way to a burial site in Accra 104 Fig. 9. Final approach of a music and dance procession to a burial site in Accra 104 Fig. 10. Music and dance at a funeral on a busy Adabra ka street in Accra 105 Fig. 11. The lung’a 124 Fig. 12. The gungong drum 128 Fig. 13. Dagbamba technique for holding the gungong in a performance 129 Fig. 14. The chahira part (snare string) on the gungong drums 131 Fig. 15. Chagla percussive costumes worn by a baamaaya dancer 133 Fig. 16. The spinning and reversed action of the dansiki smock 138 Fig. 17. Results associated with the ri ght technique employed by the dancer 139 Fig. 18. The number of female dan cers used in atsia dance 145 Fig. 19. Norvisi group performing mbende and wali dances 162 Fig. 20. Electronic advertisements of the Koteff group 179-181

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INTRODUCTION For centuries, uninformed critics have prejudicially labeled and described “African” music and dance as boring, unwarranted, repetitive, senseless noise, “low” or not even an art form. 1 However, in the last few decades these forms of performance have become some of the most popular and recognizable art forms in the world, with a large following outside Africa, particularly in the United States. On one side, many African artists on the continent and in the Diaspora have benefited economically and educationally from this increased popularity, using it as a source of gainful employment and taking advantage of new opportunities for international travel, thus broadening their knowledge of the world. African nationalists and political leaders, who realized its power from the onset, employed it as a potent instrument for the promotion of pan-African ideologies and African pride. On the other hand, the globalization and popularity of African music and dance has led to inevitable hybridization, a contested and controversial process of which I have been part of expanding. 2

By default I was born and destined to be a traditional Dagbon drummer and historian due to my patrilineal line of inheritance. 3 On the traditional side, I have performed from village circles through big towns and cities across Ghana, inadvertently promoting the preservation and continuity of my tradition to those who heed and value our cultural heritage. On the proscenium

1 Africa(n) is a term widely used and accepted even when a single ethnicity from the continent is the topic of any discussion. With that in mind, the term Africa is loosely used here even though specific ethnicities are discussed.

2 When I was searching for a term to describe the process of combining existing local forms with new ones—originating within or outside the core—I found Garcia Canclini’s definition of hybridization to be the most useful. According to Canclini, hybridization is a socio-cultural process in which discrete structures or practices, previously existing in separate local forms, combine to generate new structures, objects, and practices (2005, xxv).

3 I was born into a Dagbamba family of court musicians and historians in Dagbon, located in northern Ghana. My great grandfather, Alassani Lung Bla was a renowned and respected Dagbon musician and historian. My grandfather and great uncles also followed the tradition of the drummer/historian clan and have influenced my social and cultural development since childhood.

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stage, I have also inadvertently been part of a powerful medium that directly or indirectly nurtures, promotes and propels th e hybridization of African music and dance from villages to the international stage, making it unrecognizable at times to the people of its origin. 4

Hybridization is inevitable. But as teachers, students, scholars, practitioners, and even consumers, what is our responsib ility for upholding the integrity of indigenous art forms so they are not completely replaced or wiped out by th eir proscenium, modern-d riven stage versions? My broad objective, in this work, therefore, is to bring to fore the detriments of accelerated hybridization within the framework of African nationalism, a historically contextualized circulation of African music and da nce performance, particularly the Dagomba ethnic group in the northern region of Ghana (they prefer to be called Dagbamba ). I have discovered that accelerated hybridization has dras tically augmented and now characterizes the presentation of many ethnic performances including those of the Da gbamba. I am particularly interested in the Dagbamba model of performa nce for the reason that it

centers on the social, political, cultural, and economic lives of ordinary i ndividuals and societies. This m odel is particularly important because many indigenous traditions across Africa approach performance in a similar fashion. In contrast, however, the hybridized forms most popular with internationa l audiences and urban dwellers but gradually infiltrating indigenous performance traditions, continue to emphasize economics and politics but view music and dance performance as separate entities from the social, and cultural lives of or dinary individuals and societie s. Indeed, part of African nationalists’ intentions setting up national dance companies to promote the art forms, were not

4 Eric Hobsbawn and Terence Ranger in the book The Invention of Tradition (1983) argue that “tradition” can be the past, real or invented. I use the term “traditional” in reference to the unique process involved in passing customs, beliefs and cultural practices down from gene ration to generation regardless of changes through time.

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only to gain from their political and economic possibilities, but also to showcase their socio- cultural aspects. However, the po litical, and to a larger extent, the economic aspects dominate. The establishment of the Ghana Dance Ensemble (GDE), Le Ballet National

du Senegal , and Les Ballets Africains of Guinea, among others, played majo r roles in promoting intercultural exchanges and the proliferation of African music and dances across ethnic and international boundaries after European colonialism. In particular, the traditions of the Dagbamba ethnic group in the northern region of Ghana are among the many music and dance forms the GDE has promoted since African nationa lists created such companies. 5

But what do these promotions and expansions mean to indigenous customs and practices, such as the Dagbamba? How do these many ge nres hybridize when crossing geographical, social, and cultural boundaries? What is gained or lost? How do trainees of the GDE, the Dance Department of the School of Performing Arts in Accra (the capital ci ty of Ghana), and the professional and amateur groups in Ghana and abroad maintain authenticity (if such a thing ever exists) in a constantly changing environment? How do people fr om other ethnicities interpret the music and dances they perform but that are not ethnically theirs? How are music and dance used in constructing regional identities ― Ghanaian nationalists and/or an African ident ity? And, most importantly, how are these music and dance forms received or frowned upon when they eventually return after hybridizat ion to their plac e of origin?

5 In 1992, Ghana Dance Ensemble was controversially divided into two groups (The National Dance Company and The Ghana Dance Ensemble). The National Dance Company is affiliated to the National Theatre of Ghana, while the one that maintained the original name is affiliated to the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana. The GDE is used as a single group throughout the dissertation.

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My interest in this subject came from curiosity and a variety of questions that I developed over the years as a member of both Dagbamb a court drummers/his torians and various performing groups in Ghana and the Diaspora.

Methodology, Fieldwork, and Roadmap

Using descriptive, historical, critical, theoretical, and ethnogra phical analyses, my dissertation attempts to explore and answer the above questions within the context of African nationalism and globalization. For over 20 ye ars, I have been training to perform Takai and Baamaaya dances, traveling from village circles to big towns to cities and, eventually various stages around the world. 6 The training I received from the elders in my home and the surrounding villages, as well as th e knowledge acquired from prof essional and amateur folklore groups across Ghana and the Diaspora, have ha d a cumulative impact on my life journey and undoubtedly enriched the methodology of this pr oject. The knowledge acquired from these opposite and, in some cases, contradictory pe rformance spaces has by far made me a better investigator, interrogator, performer and, most importantly, a better observer. The combination of my native/Western e ducational training and the “co-performer witnessing,” “outside-in” participant observer paradigms (among different terminologies to explain various processes) in gathering informati on from my village, urba n centers in my home country, and cities in the Un ited States have broadened my scholarly awareness (Conquergood

6

Takai and Baamaaya are

Dagbamba social music and dance genres that are very popular with the GDE and amateur Ghanaian groups in Ghana and the Diaspora.

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2002, 145; Hagedorn 2001, 3). 7 With my liminal position betwixt and between paradigms, I put into conversation primary, archival and secondary sources; interviews with pioneers, including former and current members of the GDE; oral hi stories of indigenous Dagbamba elders; and my personal experience of these histor ical shifts to map the movement of African music and dance practices globally and their transformations. Prior to my PhD candidacy, I conducted pr eliminary fieldwork in Ghana in the summer of 2005. I spent most of this time working with members of the GDE and Abibigromma at the University of Ghana, and over 20 folklore music and dance groups across the country. I traveled to Kumasi, Cape Coast, and Tamale to gather further information toward my dissertation. This initial contact yielded rich ethnographic data bu t surprisingly created more questions which prompted a follow-up trip the next year. From October to December 2006, I returned to Ghana to spend more time with amateur folklore groups. It was during this visit that I accidentally stumbled upon two funerals of my late music a nd dance colleagues in Accra. These unfortunate events, however, provided important ethnographic opportunities for documentation. I returned to the United States and devoted the 2007 academ ic year to conducting research through performances and personal inte rviews with Diaspora performi ng groups in Boulder, Colorado; New York City, New York; Madison, Wisconsin ; and later in Portland, Oregon. The research trips to Ghana and various centers in the Un ited States brought to light many academic challenges and hurdles I had e xperienced throughout years that followed my Ph.D. candidacy.

7 Native is used to identify my ethnic affiliation to the Dagbamba people through birth and the indigenous education I received for belonging or relating to that trad ition. Western is in reference to the foreign education I received from the United States in the Western world.

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Challenges of Data Collecti on by a “Native” Ethnographer

As acknowledged earlier, my native/Wester n educational training has broadened my awareness and made me a better observer. That said, my trai ning also created a dilemma of intercultural and professional confusion in my artistic and intellectual development as I attempt to comprehend how African music and dance forms are packaged and marketed to the international audience. I view myself first as an indigenously trained performer going back home after a brief period of st udying in another land to understand the performance life I have known since childhood. Added to this is my Western trai ning as a scholar-practitioner. In other words, the purpose of my trips home was to experi ence such performance cultures from another perspective, that is, my new Western viewpoint gained through education and living in the U.S. Without such training, I am quite confident I woul d have continued to take for granted my rich life experiences and the unique pe rformance cultures in Ghana. My intention, then, was to conduct qualitative research using my Western trai ning as a guiding principle and my traditional upbringing as a source of inspiration. I anticipate d I could avoid using an entirely academically- sanctioned approach, for the research would in stead be a combination of my cross-cultural understanding, requiring at least open-mindedness toward the varied interpretations of the subject matter. However, with such a dualistic approach, I soon realized that objectivity was very elusive as the academic methodology appeared to domin ate and sometimes dictate the direction my research should take. With the newly ac quired methodological know ledge dominating my investigation of performance in some West African cultures, including my people, I quickly realized I am indeed a scholar entangled in the web of academia that is constantly shifting and

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re-focusing ideas to make sense of cultural traditions of the Other (mostly people with the same or similar background as mine). In other words, I am fully aware of the delicate balance between research leading to academic discourse and an attempt to avoid being labeled a “know it all.” This observation has nothing to do with se lf-examination or self-consciousness for digging into indigenous trad itions through the lens of colonial and post-colonial discourses that indirectly promote the written te xt over oral traditions. Rather it creates more questions: What does it mean to do qualitative research? Does that make me a be tter researcher and ethnographer? As in almost all fieldwork, I encountered many challenges, specifically those that non- native researchers might never experience nor be cognizant of their exis tence. Among the many questions I designed during my ethnogr aphic trip, the one that made me re-evaluate the merits of qualitative research came from Mr. Seidu Mb alba during one of my trips to Tamale. 8

“When did you first learn to dance takai ?” I asked, thinking it was a di rect and simple question. On the contrary, Mr. Mbalba looked at me in dismay for a while before responding in Dagbanli: Abibu, bon dali ka alebgi silminga?Ooe!! Amaa nyong polo maa lebgaa oo!!. (When did you turn into a white person ? Your relocation to southern Ghana has really transformed you.”) In southern Ghana my aunt Oseinatu Rufai asked the same question in the Ga language with skepticism “Me be ochun Blofo nyo ?” (When did you become a white person?) 9

8 Seidu M’baliba is a very accomplished dancer who was part of a resident cultural group (Anakulyada) in the Tamale branch of the Center for National Culture.

9 Oseinatu Rufai (aka. Bugey) is an experienced dancer and musician. For years I lived in her home in Adabraka-Accra. I also danced with her in the Kyir em cultural group at the Arts Center in Accra.

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Unfortunately, this became one of the biggest obst acles in my interviews with locals. Some of my-longtime music and dance colleagues in Ghan a would not even consider taking a question from me, for this reason, they ar gued that I was aski ng questions whose answ ers I should already know. Furthermore, I was criticized for (according to them) not upholding the authentic music and dance traditions of my people. One such criticism came from my home town crowd for teaching some of the music and dances to students in the United States. I taught waa leyla dance (a different version of the tora dance) and damba/takai (GDE’s version) to students of Bowling Green State University (BGSU) in Ohio. During one of our trips to Ghana in the summer of 2003, the BGSU students performed waa leyla and were very well received by the crowd. But in 2009 when I showed a video of the students performing damba/takai to some colleagues and elders, they were not very pleas ed. In fact, they were very di sappointed because I had expanded the GDE’s version of tora, damba, and takai instead of the Dagbon version and presented it to the international audience. This unresolved issu e has been a constant and ongoing battle between the indigenous Dagbamba, with both the GDE and Abibigromma on one side and the Dagbamba elders, who do not find the hybrid stage version of Dagbamba music and dance forms authentic, on the other. Complications further arose when artists of the same caliber in a folklore group reprimanded each other over the issue of hybrid ization, as was the case in January of 2009. While helping my friend Nii put skins on Ga Kp anlogo drums in his drum shop at the tourist- packed art market in the Arts Center in Accra, I heard a familiar voice shouting my name. It was the voice of Nii Darku, a friend and dance coll eague from my old Adabraka neighborhood. In

Full document contains 212 pages
Abstract: Dance companies burgeoned in West Africa following independence from the late 1950s through the 1960s, including the establishment of the Ghana Dance Ensemble (GDE), Le Ballet National du Senegal, and Les Ballets Africains of Guinea. These companies, among others, played major roles in spreading African music and dances across ethnic and international boundaries. These intercultural exchanges and the growth of folklore troupes derived from the policies set forth by newly elected African leaders, such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Léopold Sédar Senghor of Senegal, and Sékou Touré of Guinea--to mention a few--in response to European colonialism and African independence. With Ghana's independence in 1957, specific indigenous Ghanaian music and dance forms proliferated across ethnic and international boundaries from 1962 onward. In this dissertation, I concentrate on the GDE and the Dagomba ethnic group (they prefer to be called Dagbamba ) in the Northern Region of Ghana within the context of African nationalism and globalization. In particular, I examine how indigenous performance practices change when adapting to new situations as they travel from village to village, from the rural to the urban, from ritual to stage show and, most broadly, from Ghana and West Africa to the world at large. To accomplish this, I draw on the body of literature on African and Ghanaian nationalism, archival research specifically on the GDE, ethnographic field research on performance (music and dance) of the Dagbamba people and veteran performers of the GDE (many of whom have founded dance companies in the U.S.), and my own experience as a dancer and musician, first growing up in a Dagbamba town and becoming a professional member of the University of Ghana's Abibigromma touring company, and as well as many other performing groups on the national and international stage.