My preparation began before even landing in Accra it would seem. It was interesting as I went via Namibia Air and stopped in Windhoek and Lagos before reaching my destination. In Johannesburg the Ghanaians on the flight were, as most black people in South Africa are, very respectful and almost unassuming, especially those designated as amakwerekwere. But by the time we were boarding the flight that would land us in West Africa, the musical tones of West African English and laughter, the boisterous sounds of Twi, Ga and the like could be heard throughout the room and throughout the cabin once we were boarded. It was something like the transformation I have witnessed in Zulu land when English-speaking persons get away from Anglophones and speak in their mother tongue. I have even known some isiZulu speaking men to have deeper voices when speaking. When we stopped in Lagos this aspect was amplified. My mind kept going back to my recent acquaintance M.K. Asante’s observation that white people would not have been allowed to settle in West Africa in the ways that they did in the South. Of course, they were not “allowed” to settle in the South, and the reasons preventing them from doing so in the West are more prosaic–19th century Europeans for the most part could not survive the climate, for example. But still my mind went to that observation…
Finally disembarking in Accra and immediately the heat descended bathing me in tropical heat, which of course I never experience in Durban where the weather is very mild almost all the time. The heat and the humidity were thick as wass, the aroma of burning charcoal and wood, ever present in Accra. Confirmed in my few days here, right from the beginning I could see that that this is very likely where my people descended from. The flatness of the back of my head was not out of place here, but was actually the norm. I remember my mother telling me that her girlfriends, her friends (do ex-sharecroppers living in the projects have girlfriends?) telling her to shape my head as an infant. Glad she didn’t do it. I see the same body types and the preponderance of thickness. Many of the men are very heavily muscled (alas, my own thickness has a different etiology). They are very handsome, even gorgeous peoples (you were right, Nishlyn Ramana!) with a range of milk and dark chocolate, adorned with bright colors and elegant style. I was and remain struck by certain differences from my everyday surrounds in eThekwini. 1) Most men and women wore African clothing as a matter of quotidian habit–that is, not limited to ceremonial occasions. There is Western style dress, but to say that the shirts and dresses that Ghanaians wear are simply Western is like saying blues musicians use Western functional tonality, what with their striking color combinations and graphic designs. 2) In Durban there are many women who wear an array of natural hairstyles, but the majority seem to wear weaves or wigs and a minority straighten their hair. In Accra some women wear weaves and wigs, and some straighten their hair, but the overwhelming majority wear natural hairstyles. 3) Robust street traffic at night, a sense of safety for all pedestrians and the like, the ability for a person to leave her purse at a club on a table to go to the rest room and return to it without anyone bothering it, etc. As I am writing this I am reminded of how clean the city is, and the relative scarcity of beggars as compared to SA, though there are mad street hawkers offering to sell snacks and the like. I got to play with one Victor Dey, who is a fantastic musician with a great trio. As a composer he reminds me of Moses Molelekwa and as a pianist he reminds me of Afrika Mkhize, which is to say he is a hell of a composer and a hell of a pianist, with a modernized, African and virtuosic take on jazz.
I also got to hear some contemporary takes on High Life with a particularly delightful instance in Opoku, whose music was both infectious and adventurous. Band had multiple horns, multiple singers and a rhythm section augmented (not even the right word) with hand drums,, Ghanain traditional drums played in the style of the congas really, really tasty. I was thirsty for hand drums after the drought like conditions in Mzansi, actually. But dance music is alive and interesting in Accra, and while the jazz culture of Ghana doesn’t really compare to that of South Africa, there are great muses there in that arena as well.
I was only here briefly, but my overall impression is the kindness and gentility of the people. They are very helpful and easy-going. Got lost and a cat went with us to show us our way. One cab driver after agreeing on a price (you must negotiate every thing here) decided that he overpriced me and gave me a refund (!), etc.
I’m already looking forward to my next trip here.