Archive for June, 2007

Filed Under (Beninese culture, General) by Rob on 28-06-2007

Yes, do not adjust your set… this is still Rob & Lois’ Benin blog, honest!

It was time for a change of scenery as we’ve had the old watermelon for a couple of years now. Also, you’ll notice that this one has three columns rather than two. The photos at the top are all of Benin and have been taken since we arrived in 2004.

– The photo on the left is a typical traffic scene in Cotonou, taken from the footbridge by Dantokpa Market by our friend Clive Rahn. All the yellow shirts are zemidjans. (NB If you don’t know what they are yet, why not look up zemidjan in the search box above?

– The second photo was taken from the balcony of the Auberge de Grand Popo back in October 2004. Grand Popo is a beach resort about 80 minutes’ drive west of Cotonou, not far from the togolese boarder. This is also where Awale Plage is situated.

– The third picture was taken in the Pendjari National Park in northern Benin in December ’06. This elephant crossed the track just metres in front of our Land Rover and then just stood there with birds on its back!

Thanks for visiting – any comments on the new look???


Filed Under (Beninese culture, General) by Rob on 24-06-2007


It’s quite common in West Africa for couples to have matching costumes. Sometimes a whole choir or group will get matching material like this. So, here we are, showing off our new outfits. Trouble is, I doubt if we’d dare to walk down the street in England dressed like this!!!

Filed Under (Ethnomusicology, General) by Rob on 22-06-2007

Yes, we’ve finally got round to putting some videos onto Here’s one of some Ntcham ladies clapping:

[youtube eVBFTBjKBUw]

There are plenty more, mostly of ethnomusicology stuff, but not entirely. Have a look here:

Bakers’ Youtube videos

or just visit Youtube and search for ‘Robenin’. Happy viewing!

Filed Under (Ethnomusicology, General) by Rob on 22-06-2007

Last week, I ran a song-writing workshop with the Ntcham people in Bassar, Togo. The journey there takes around 7 hours with a boarder crossing. There are the predictable goats, chickens and daft dogs to circumnavigate, not to mention all those dodgy lorries! I finally make it by 5:00pm, just an hour before nightfall.

Bassar is located in a pretty part of the country, surrounded by hills. To get there, I even get to drive through one of Togo’s national parks, which was very pleasant. Here’s Bassar:

In an average three-day workshop I expect there to be around nine songs composed and recorded. However, when I met with the Ncam co-ordinator, he mentioned that there were two groups who spoke slightly different dialects of the language, so they’d like two cassettes making (= 18 songs!) Aaarrgghhh! How am I ever going to get that much done? Then came another shock – most of the ladies attending run market stalls and so would not be able to attend on Saturday. That leaves me two days to get all these songs done!

So, I’m met at 7:00am from my accomodation at the blind rehabilitation centre (nice room and running water some of the time). Here’s where I stayed (2nd house from the left, just behind the long wall):


The first job before the workshop begins is to get the tailgate of the Land Rover repaired. All those bumps on the way here have meant the screws have come loose and fallen out, and so the door will not shut properly and rattles like crazy. We find a local mechanic who sorts it out. That done, we have a flip chart to pick up, then it’s off to a disused hotel on the hillside to get started. Upon arrival, there’s a young man shouting. Another mad bloke, who’s likely to hinder our work. Eventually, he’s escorted away and we can get to work. I divide the attendees into six groups (three in each dialect) to compose. The first thing I tell them to do is pray together, then re-read their Bible verses. Here’s one lady reading theirs from the Ncam Bible:


Once they’re done composing, they regroup within their dialect to sing the new songs to each other. In this way, by midday on day one, we already have six new songs composed and I’ve introduced the next set of verses. By 3:00 on day one, we begin recording (unheard of to start this until at least the second day, but needs must!) and by 6:00pm we have eight songs in the can and the mosquitoes are starting to bite me everywhere!

Day two and we start at 8:00am by introducing the last three verses, making a total of nine verses/songs for each of the two larger groups. More recording from mid-morning and when we break for lunch, there are only five songs left to record. These are all done by 4:00pm. Phew!

One interesting instrument, not limited to the Ncam by any means, is the so called talking drum, which has strings along each side which are squeeze under the arm to alter the pitch. The guy to our right is playing one:


One instrument I hadn’t seen before was the two-stringed traditional guitar, made up of a calabash (gourd) and a long stick. This one also had metal lids from Coke, Sprite and Fanta bottles on the end of the head for added percussion! Here it is:


For those interested, the Ncam song genres are as follows:

Lawa – Used at weddings and funerals for rejoicing.
Dikpannol – Used after hunting.
Kinimpucambeeu – Sung by men at a wedding, for exaltation, rejoicing or proverbs.
Abaal – Wedding song sung by women. Same or similar to the Haraara of the Nawdm people.
Njeem – Sung after killing a ferocious animal
Googoo – For funerals, after an old person has died.
Atagbin – Also sung at the funeral of an old person.
Konkomba – For rejoicing after the harvest. Same as the Gumbe of the Tem people.
Ganga – For an old persons funeral.
Icaalan – For sadness/mourning.
Koncee – Sung at celebrations by old ladies with sticks.
Kurnyimaa – For weddings.
Tampa – The use of large drums and a horn for an old man’s funeral.
Kitamkpanbeeu – A piece using the traditional two-stringed guitar.

Other news…

  • One week till the end of term. Yippee!
  • Madelaine has had a nasty chest for the past few days, but is recovering slowly. We’ve managed to buy a nebulizer from somebody leaving Benin, which is a huge help.
  • No internet at the house, so I’m typing this in the garden of the infants school.
  • Rainy season persists, which means cooler weather. We recorded an all time low of 23 degrees C the other evening!
  • We have spiritual retreat in Kara in late July, and Rob’s in charge of the worship.
  • Lois’ sister and family are visiting in August.
  • Rob’s next workshop is actually in Benin (wow!) and only three hours’ drive away. It’s in August during the Woods’ visit.
  • We met a French bloke at our Sunday fellowship recently who’s in Benin until August. After that, he’ll be studying at Silsoe College, just down the road from Ampthill! Small world!

That’s all folks! Thanks for visiting. Please, please leave a comment from time to time!


Filed Under (Ethnomusicology, General) by Rob on 07-06-2007

The Bogo (who speak Igo) are the smallest people groups in Togo, with only around 6,000 of them. Furthermore, until last week they had no church music in their own language or genres. Ethnomusicologist to the rescue…


I’d had an e-mail from a colleague a few weeks back saying:

‘We are losing our traditional songs in favour of Ewe songs, can you help?’


Ewe is a much larger people group, but the Bogo also deserve to use their own music for God, so I agree to come along and help.

After several hours’ driving a final hour of narrow, bendy, poorly-surfaced mountain roads, I make it to the village of Sassanou, situated in a pretty valley only 500 metres from the Ghana border. I was scarcely out of the car when I was met by a whole crowd of women singing a song of welcome. At the end of the song they all gave out a high pitched ‘Eeeee’ cheer and one lady promptly put a necklace round my neck. Wow!  What a warm welcome!
Once we got started, it emerged that the Bogo only know about 4 of their musical genres – I guess the others have died out with older generations, which is sad. Nevertheless, I found out that the following still exist:

  • Ikawo -    Sung by women to express joy.
  • Iyaya -     Sung at funerals and to express joy (yes, you can have both at once here). Sung by women.
  • Okpaja –   Sung after hunting or after harvest, mostly by men. (The initial letter is the short ‘o’ as in ‘hot’)
  • Atungba – Used when a new chief is enthroned. Men sing and play it, women dance to it!

So, over the 3 days we got 11 new songs written, some based on Bible verses and some on parables, which went well.  In the Atungba, large barrel drums are usually played. They said they’d have to get the permission of the village to use them for these new songs. On the day of recording, they not only brought the drums but also an old man from the village came along to play his horn. Here are some of the Bogo folk, singing Biblical songs in their own style for the first time:
[youtube kQQkNVlnPoY]

I think you can tell how happy they are!


The Zoho zaha

One of the guys attending the course also brought along his zoho zaha, an instrument made of a wooden cane with grooves and a round seed pod which runs up and down. There is then a flat, dark seed pod held in the left hand acting as a sound box. Here’s a photo:



New gear…

This was the first workshop when I got to use my new Behringer Eurorack portable mixing desk, which worked really well. Here it is:


That’s all for now, cheers!

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 04-06-2007

We found a shop in Cotonou which sells two-stringed stunt kites, so promptly seized the opportunity and bought one…

We had chance to try out the kite on a recent trip down the coast to Grand Popo.  Here we are getting started:


Ready to launch…

…and finally airborne:


The wind was a bit lacking, but it worked for a while.  Here we all are on the beach, with Mads getting ready to fly the kite:


That’s all for now.  Thanks for visiting.  Just got back from a fab workshop in a remote valley near Ghana!  Watch this space for a report soon!

(PS:Thanks to Joanna McNeill for taking such excellent photos!)