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!


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