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!

1 Comment posted on "Rob makes it to ‘real’ Africa…"
Bob Hall on March 30th, 2008 at 11:28 pm #

Great to see your photos Rob, and your website is teriffic.