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A Field Trip to Africa

 
  Berklee student musicians with tribal drummers in Ghana during a summer trip to Africa
  Photo by Noah Appel

When I arrived at Berklee in 2004, I fortuitously lived in a dorm surrounded by musicians who had exceptionally diverse and worldly musical tastes. Our uniquely international musical exchange was a vitalizing force, enabling me to broaden my horizons to incorporate both Western and non-Western musical traditions. Ultimately I enrolled as a drummer in the West African Drum and Dance Ensemble taught by Associate Professor Joe Galeota. To gain a deeper experience of the music and culture, I signed up for Galeota's 2007 summer student trip to Ghana.

Nearly 20 years ago, Galeota, an African drumming specialist, began bringing Berklee students to Ghana to bring them closer to the music they studied. Having attended the University of Ghana himself to study ethnomusicology, Galeota is uniquely qualified to lead his student charges around the country to reap the benefits of the many connections he has made over the years.

Our itinerary included stops in Accra, the Dagbe Cultural Institute and Arts Centre in Kopeyia, the northern city of Tamale, and the majestic Mole National Park and offered a good survey of the country's regions and people. The cultures of Ghana are drastically different from one another, even within villages that are close geographically. Everywhere we stopped, we observed a distinct primacy of ritual, tradition, family, community, hospitality, music, and dance in villagers' daily lives. Slowly I began to realize that for these people, there is virtually no division between these concepts.

Music was the primary reason for our visit and the principal object of study, but as is often the case, it became a gateway to something more profound. The structure, content, and function of the music in these villages expressed an entirely different conception of the world. As a modern Westerner, it was hard for me to fathom a lineage of tradition so deep and intact. It seemed to me that the unity of these traditions allows the people of the region to remain vital. The language is embedded in the drums, which is the sound of the dance that tells the story.

As we learned about Ghana's musical traditions and sounds, we also came to realize that we were learning about how music is connected to a way of life. The unity we found in the villages was contagious and spread among our group, and in the same way, our music became communal. As we traversed the dusty dirt roads to hear and play music with the villagers, we got a bit closer to the taproots of contemporary American music.

-Craig Brodhead '07