Archive for March, 2007

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 24-03-2007

Whilst our friend, Jon, was here, he gave our kids these red noses, for Red Nose Day:


I had meant to post this up on the day, but somehow forgot! For those of you not familiar with ‘Comic Relief’ and Red Nose Day, have a click here to find out more. I remember going to 6th form college proudly wearing my red nose, back in the late 80’s! Mind you, in the late 90’s I went to work Vandyke Upper School one day dressed as Pudsey Bear!!!

Enough of this nonsense! Here in Benin, Lois is still busy getting the Summer Fair sorted and Rob has been doing tonnes of rehearsals for the performance of ‘Pirates of Penzance’ as well as editing Nawdm and Gangam recordings inbetween power cuts!!!

Government elections take place this week – it looks like it will be on Wednesday now, so our show will be on Thursday instead! Pray that this will be peaceful.
Alex & Jackie come on Friday and Rob’s taking them up to the Pendjari Park to see some wild animals like this one:


Health-wise, we’re all fine, which is good. Pray that this continues.

The photo gallery has a new album called ‘African People.’ Click here to see the photos, or on the picture to the RHS of this blog to get to the gallery.

That’s all for now.

Thanks for visiting!

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 19-03-2007
I’m not sure whether there’s global warming in Benin, or whether it’s always been this warm.

However, it’s certainly not long johns weather here at the moment, with temperatures ranging from 28-34 degrees C and very very humid!

Thanks to Eddie Arthur and Richard Hall for this one!


In addition, we’re having TONNES of power cuts, sometimes for up to 12 hours at a time
(so I have to choose my moments for updating the blog as our connection doesn’t work during power outages either). Still, at least we have the generator now, which helps (even if it’s noisy).


Other news…

  • Our president was ambushed last Thursday, but emerged unscathed. However, some of his entourage were hurt. Read the full account on the BBC site by clicking here.
  • We have the school’s performance of ‘Pirates of Penzance’ (no link to previous item!) next Wednesday (28th) and are frantically rehearsing for that.
  • The senior and junior schools are set to swap buildings during the Easter break.
  • Our friends, Alex and Jackie (and children) are flying out to see us for Easter and hope to visit the Pendjari Park too.
  • Lois is busy organizing the school’s Summer Fayre, which takes place after Easter.

And finally…

Rob had had a new haircut!

This was partly due to the heat, but mostly because of the head accident he had a few weeks back. “Now my hair’s all the same length again” he says “but it is weird having it this short.”

Lois thinks he looks like Max, from ‘Max and Paddie’s Road to Nowhere’ (played by Peter Kay).

Have a look at these two – can you tell the difference???


What d’you think??? Leave us a comment!


PS Click here for more Max & Paddie photos!

Filed Under (Ethnomusicology, General) by Rob on 18-03-2007

Off again on Weds, 7th March for another song-writing workshop, this time with the Gangam people of northern Togo.

Thankfully, an SIL colleague offers to come along to see the north and to help with the driving. Phew! We arrive in Kara on the Wednesday afternoon, then we’re off early the next morning, through Baga and further north. After about 90 mins driving, we turn right down a dirt track towards Gando, which seems to take an age. In fact, we begin to doubt this is the right road, so stop to ask a lady. She speaks no French (so definitely no English!) so I point forwards and say ‘Gando’ loudly. She nods and repeats ‘Gando’ so I figure we’re on the right road!

We arrive at the centre at about 9:00am – here it is:


However, nobody is there apart from the translators. I’ve had problems getting in touch with the guy here, so hope he’s remembered the workshop is on. The translators obligingly ‘phone the guy and he soon arrives and says he’ll round folk up! Two people arrive at 9:45 and by 11:00am we have five! Oh dear – will we have to cancel this workshop? Five is barely enough, but I guess we can do something, so we make a start (aware that lunchtime is not far away!) By 11:30, we have eleven people, which is encouraging. Ultimately, we end up with up to 15!

One of the guys is wearing a ‘Britney Spears’ t-shirt. I keep looking at it and all I can think of is what she looks like now, with no hair!


At 12:30, we have a break for them to go home and eat. Although I tell them we’ll reconvene at 2:00, the first arrives at 2:30 and everyone by 3:00! I guess not many of them have watches.


We get into 3 groups and begin composing in different genres. These folks compose FAST!!! In fact, you could almost say that composing is a form of improvisation to them, as they start singing almost at once. For those interested, here are the main genres which exist in Nawdm music (scroll down is it’s not of interest!)

  • Inawuuyuon: Used during the ‘Tinawur’ ceremony (a know of right of passage).
  • Ijiguyuon: Sung when beating the millet.
  • Icencencieyoun: Sung when beating down the ground to build a house on it.
  • Inopuogbenyuon: A song of rejoicing, sung by women.
  • Ikonyuon: Sung during rites of passage to adulthood.
  • Ikunyuon: During funerals/funeral ‘celebrations’.
  • Inonkponyuon: For hunting
  • Ikokolyuon: Sung when building up the earth around yams on a plantation.
  • Kipeñunyuon: Ploughing the fields.
  • Ibuyuon: For fetish rituals (agreed we wouldn’t used this in our compositions due to its associations and possible misunderstandings).
  • Ikonduunyuon: Sung at weddings.
  • Itelnyuon: Sung when telling a story.

We finish at 5:00pm with 3 songs composed. We remind them of the prompt start (7:30am) and point out that that’s the time schools start, so they only have to watch when the school kids are leaving to be on time!

Day 2

Our hotel is somewhat basic. The room has a tin roof, a bed (with mozzie net) a table and a chair. There is also electricity some of the time, but no running water. So, it’s bucket shower first thing and the loo, too, needs water pouring down it. Still, at £1 a night, who’s complaining??? Here’s the bar next to the hotel.

The village is a decent size, but very village-like (ie totally different from Cotonou). Have a look:



(more photos on the gallery – click on either of these 2 to get there).

Anwyay, back to the workshop. It’s 8:00am and I’m finishing breakfast, thinking we said 7:30, but they’ll not be there yet, when I get a phone call from the co-ordinator blokay saying ‘They’ll all here waiting.’ How embarrassing! So, 5 mins drive to the centre and we’re off.


Six more songs composed today. In fact, you could say seven! One of the groups composed a song identical in melody to one yesterday! Thankfully, I’d made short recordings of each group as they composed, so was able to play yesterday’s similar song to them. They agree to alter theirs! Another obstacle was that one old lady was late arriving, so the rest of her group – all very young – were unable to compose as only she knew the local music well! That’s why it’s always important to have some old people on courses such as this!
Dinner at the hotel is couscous or spaghetti, with or without guinea fowl. As we arrive, the lady is in the process of plucking a guinea fowl. Mmmm!

Day 3

Off to an early start again and we begin recording. They have nine new Bible-based songs, in nine different genres (four of which have not been previously used in church, so it will be interesting to see how other folk react to them).

Here’s a photo of me with the whole group which attended:

A highlight was the arrival of these two old blokes, who were excellent players of the 3-holed flute and really added to the recording in a positive way.

Also, some great drumming and a lady (LHS) shaking a baobab pod filled with stones:


Done by midday and time to clear up:


Back to Kara in the afternoon, then off early the next morning again. In Dassa, they were serving CROCODILE with ginger! Couldn’t resist ordering it, but was unimpressed with the taste (and – strangely – the amount of fat!)

Thanks for reading – do leave a comment if you have time!

Filed Under (Ethnomusicology, General) by Rob on 18-03-2007

Here’s an account of the Nawdm workshop Rob ran in Baga, northern Togo from 1-3 March 2007


Thursday, 1st March (Day 1)
Having made the epic journey from Cotonou up to Kara, we set off early the next morning for a 45 minute drive further north to Baga. The road is well tarmac-ed with stunning scenery (although less stunning this time, as the Harmattan is blowing strongly). We turn off the main road in Baga and it’s a few hundred yards of dirt track to the church. Here’s where we arrived:


Amongst the crowd that greeted us was an old man. That must be un vieux du village (old man of the village), I thought and quickly told my friend, Jon, to hold his right arm with his left hand when shaking his hand (a mark of respect). What I didn’t know then was that he was actually le fou du village (village madman!) who proceeded to enter the building where the course was run and interject at regular intervals, with barely intelligable French! The others were very patient with him, but he did stay until lunchtime, then we saw him no more! Here’s Rob doing some teaching on song genres:


If you’re interested, these are the main genres used in Nawdm music:

  • Simpa, used to express joy and also at funerals (but not for mourning in the truest sense). Not exclusive to Nawdm music, though
  • Balance, as above.
  • Santm, for joy.
  • Kukpalña, for joy.
  • Kamgu, for joy.
  • Dagabina, for joy, or sung after the death of an old man.
  • Fokabina, sung following the death of an old lady.
  • Timbingu, sung/played during a procession.
  • Kajaaga, for joy.
  • Bagu, hunting.
  • Habara, sung in the moonlight, as exhortation (includes interesting dance involving banging buttocks with ones neighbour!!)

(NB I’m writing them in western script so you can all read them. If you have keyman and would like them with the exact sounds, I can send them to you).


Following this, there is an exegesis of Philippians, then they split into 4 groups (one for each chapter, roughly) and choose appropriate verses/themes for their songs. After lunch, composition begins.


Today is not only a baking hot day, but also extremely dry (10% humidity if you’re lucky) due to the harmattan. In fact, between 8:00am and 5:00pm, I drank 3 litres of water and only wee’d once!!!

Back to SIL centre and we’re treated to a drive up Kara mountain with an SIL colleague – fab view and a great laugh!


Friday, 2nd March (Day 2)

A bit more teaching and loads more composing! We start by singing through yesterdays songs again, with percussion. I encouraged folk to fetch more instruments, so today there’s also a large clay drum someone has brought. Here are the main percussion instruments they used:

On to James: exegesis, then into five groups to begin composing. The songs are finished by mid afternoon and we once again reunite to share the songs and for everyone to learn the refrains of the songs (or sogdgm as they call them in Nawdm!)

Jon, who’s a gifted percussionist, enjoys learning some of the local rhythms and takes plenty of video to help him remember them. He looks shattered by now, mind, and is finding the heat hot!

Back to SIL once again.


Saturday, 3rd March (Day 3)

Recording day is here! We meet up and go straight into groups to rehearse songs. The first thing to understand in this business is that there’s always something which hinders your recording! Be it goats, motorbikes, chainsaws, parties, the sooner you realize there will be something to make life interesting, the better! This time, it was the wind. The Harmattan was strong this morning, and many of the trees around our recording area had dried pods on them which made a terrible din. We wait (and keep rehearsing) and by 10:30 the wind had died down, so we set up and start recording.


The second thing to know is that there’s likely to be some kind of technical, equipment-based problem. Today, I accidentally set my phantom power to 12volts instead of 48 volts, which meant that the choir were far to quiet and not well balanced. So, we had to retake and some of the choir are not happy. We soldier on until lunchtime, conscious that the paillotte is needed from 3:00pm and desperately trying to get at least Philippians ‘in the can’ before dinner. The folks are tired. I realize thay probably haven’t eaten a thing all day (especially as they’ll know by now how copious the lunch will be!)

As well as drums, an old man from the village arrives with his 3-holed flute (similar to this one) and some of the ladies put shakers round their legs, a bit like Morris Dancers. You can see both here:

In the afternoon, we start again. The folks have been drinking millet beer over lunch (I’m offered some, but politely decline – not while I’m working and have to drive the LR home!) Predictably, they return for the afternoon session much more relaxed and the rest of the recording runs more or less smoothly and we’re away by 4:00pm, copyright forms signed and all.

Millet Beer…
In the evening, Jon and I are invited out with a colleague to sample tchouk (millet beer) in a local village (for more on tchouk click here to view someone else’s account). Nice stuff (but one calabash is plenty!) In taste, it’s closest to scrumpy jack cider, and the liquid has bubbles constantly rising from the bottom. The last cm or so is sediment which you don’t drink, but pour out onto the floor. However how you throw away the dregs is important and says a lot about you in the local culture. It should go in a straight line away from you. I did it in a straight line, but towards me – oops! The locals all notice, but understand that I’m a novice in such matters!

Back at the SIL centre, we grab a Fan Milk and watch the lunar eclipse. Here’s a photo Jon took of it:

Sunday, 4th March

Up with the lark and back home to Cotonou.

Thanks for reading!


Filed Under (General) by Rob on 12-03-2007

Our trip to Togo was a fun one, if a tad too ‘eventful’ at times! We took a different route to Togo, crossing the border near Azovè. However, the battery light came on as we were leaving Cotonou, and it emerged that our alternator belt had snapped! Still, a half hour stop in a village and it was done (and all for £1.00 – cheap at half the price!) Here’s the mechanic busy at work under the Land Rover’s bonnet:


Once in Togo, we hang a right and took a very bumpy road north to the hydro-electric dam at Nangbeto. As Jon works in this field, it was interesting for him to see (although he maintains Rob was even more excited by it!) Here’s the road as you approach the dam:
Nangbeto 1

And here are the turbines and stuff:

Nangbeto 2

From there, it was still over 4 hours’ drive to our destination. We stayed the night at the SIL centre in Kara, them travelled 45 mins north to Baga, where we started the song-writing workshop with the Nawdm people from 1-3 March (see post above for details of this).

On Sunday, 4th, we headed back down south, passing several overturned lorries on the mountain pass. Boarder crossing fine and quick, then the usual stop at the Auberge in Dassa for one of their legendary omelette sandwiches. Mmmm! Unfortunately, on the way back into Cotonou, Rob scraped the right side of the car on a parked lorry. Ooops. This took out the back window on the right, which has now been replaced with plexiglass. Not to worry.

So, back in Cotonou for Jon’s last full night in Cotonou – time for some manakiche and chwarma at the Teranga restaurant, just round the corner:


(hey, Brian and Matt – you’re famous too!!)

Jon flew out the following night and two days later Rob set off on the same journey again (but longer) for ANOTHER workshop!!! Aaarrrggghh!

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 12-03-2007

Our good friend Jon ‘The Drummer’ Assheton, came out to visit on 21st Feb for 10 days. During his stay, he visited the largest market in West Africa, rode on a ‘zemidjan’, visited a village on stilts and took a trip to northern Togo to see a bit of ethnomusicology. Being the talented drummer that he is, Jon had a fab time hearing and learning some of the local rhythms and even bought himself a ‘djembe’ to take back!

Here’s Jon with Rob, ‘chilling out’ after a busy day!


And here he is reading ‘The Enormous Crocodile’ to Micah.


(more photos on the ‘Friends and Stuff’ album of our gallery. Just click on either of these photos to get there)

Jon flew back on 5th of March and is now back home in bonnie Scotland! Thanks for coming out, mate – missing you already!

PS Here’s Jon’s photo of his right leg:


Filed Under (General) by Rob on 06-03-2007

Firstly, I must update you on the malaria – we’re all recovered now, which is great news.

It’s extremely busy at the moment, with one workshop just over and another coming up from tomorrow!  Will try and post some photos soon!  Thanks for visiting.  Jon flew back lastnight and said his time here was his best holiday ever.  Wow!  Great to see the guy and he enjoyed the song-writing workshop (although the head and dryness up north was harder to bear than the Cotonou climate!!!)

Bye for now,