• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Feel the magical rhythm and do the Okoemotion

Ghana is an alcoholic's paradise.

You can buy a half decent bottle of gin for about £2.50. It's still cheap when ordered at the bar at Barbara's Village – a tourist compound in the village of Langma where my friend, and drum teacher, Okoe's band are performing and thus our chosen location for bringing in the New Year.

Anaman, the barman, said: "We have no tonic". It was a blow. They had some whisky but it was only 7pm and my wife Gina and I have been married long enough to know that five hours of cheap whisky will end in tears. So I was dispatched back to our beachside digs for our stash of tonic.

They say you go to east Africa for the wildlife and west Africa for the people. I came back to Ghana for six weeks with my family in tow, mainly because of Okoe.

I came to Africa for the first time last April. It was one of those "I'm a 45-year-old jazz drummer and I need to feed my soul" kind of trips, and thankfully Creative Scotland helped with the airfare. I went to Senegal (which was wonderful) and then to Ghana on a mission to a) meet Africa, b) learn some djembe, c) find a place we could come back to as a family and d) try and forge some links for ABC, the music education company I run in Scotland with my brother Phil.

On my first night in Ghana I was still unsure of myself and what the locals thought of me, and if it was safe to head into the village at night. Barcelona were playing Chelsea and I decided I had to watch the game. Both sides have big support in Ghana.

I decided to deal with security by dressing loud (in orange and white) and trying to look hard. I visualised myself exuding a Chuck Norris menace but it was probably more Christopher Biggins. I watched the first half of the game in a corrugated iron-roofed oven with no beer and decided to try the other village bar at half-time.

So the whole village was in the street when I failed to see the two-foot deep drainage ditch – and they all witnessed my orange and white epic roadside faceplant.

The guy who picked me and my lost glasses up, and who sorted my cut knee was Okoe.

I'd had one djembe lesson with him that morning when we established that he had been to Edinburgh with a Ghanaian drumming group and even played with my friends Shooglenifty and that he wasn't about to teach me djembe. It wasn't a Ghanaian drum but a 1990s import from Guinea and Mali – the drum equivalent of the grey squirrel. He was going to teach me the red squirrel, the beautiful softer sounding kpanlogo (with a silent k).

Two conversations brought me back to Okoe, as well as the fact he is a great musician and teacher and I really like him. One was a question prompted by the groups of children who always stood and watched during my daily lessons. "Do you teach the kids drumming here?" I asked. He said: "Not really".

The second was about his concern for the loss of traditional music in Ghana. I told him how similar concerns in Scotland were turned around by education projects such as the Feisean movement, and the renaissance of the Shetland fiddle. I said: "You should teach young kids kpanlogo." He said: "I would love to do that," so I asked: "What do you need?" He said: "Some money for more drums and someone to give me a push." And so the Okoemotion Foundation was born.

We returned to Ghana for six weeks for a family adventure. My wife Gina started teaching in a school for beach kids, and our 15-year-old son Sam started attending a Ghanaian school and loved it. Our 20-year-old daughter Sophie joined us from university for Christmas and New Year.

My plan was to learn more kpanlogo and djembe, and to push Okoe. ABC had sent him some money, and when we got there not only did he have a group of kids aged from five to 15 sounding amazing, but half of them were girls. Our only demand with the money was that he would teach boys and girls equally – you rarely see women drumming here.

We put the video of the Okoemotion kids on Facebook and within a few days had raised £250 from friends and relatives.

For four weeks leading up to Hogmanay I had been studying hard, both kpanlogo and djembe, and helping Okoe work with the children and develop a sustainable business plan (including the dream of getting them over to Scotland in 2014), and soaking up the complex warm, inspiring, challenging, noisy, sweaty stew that is Ghana.

As midnight approaches Okoe's band are tearing the place up. They are masters of dances and grooves from all over west Africa. We are watching with an assorted gathering of Ghanaians, Slovenians and Croatians at Barbara's when I realise I have to get up and play with Okoe's band. I have been dreaming of doing it since arriving and this is the moment. He is not going to invite me – I need to have the bottle to ask. By coincidence I am dressed in that orange and white ensemble, but this time I don't faceplant as I get up on the stage. Next thing I am soloing on djembe, in the centre of this pulsating group of drummers and dancers. It is like being suddenly plugged into the mains.

When I come off it seems I did OK and it turns out half the east Europeans here are also musicians on holiday. As midnight strikes we all dance on the stage under the warm starlight.

Our plan to get everyone to do the Gay Gordon's to Jimmy Shand is foiled by the want of the correct cable to plug in the iPod and the night got suitably messy after that, including a cab ride to the next village to jam with a reggae band. We don't get home till well past 4am.

Ghana is riddled with stacks of loudspeakers turned up so loud the sound distorts. They either pump out Ghanaian pop music or an evangelical pastor's high octane sermon. A few hours after getting to bed our local church starts up. We sleep blissfully into 2013, the noise drowned out by the swirl of last night's drumming and dancing, mixed with thoughts of home.

Find out about Tom and Phil Bancroft's ABC company

Contextual targeting label: 
Families

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

135634