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!


3 Comments posted on "Production-line song-writing!"
anne on June 22nd, 2007 at 4:14 pm #

i thought you enjoyed a challenge, all those songs, so speedily composed, i hope they will add something great to their praise.
one week till the end of term sounds dead cushy, enjoy the break all of you, and the cooler weather.
why have you lost the internet?
love anne

Big Al & MrsT on June 24th, 2007 at 8:42 am #

Great to read the update. Looking forward to hearing you on the livelink at ABC this morning and praying that the techy bits work well.

God bless


edward phillips on July 15th, 2007 at 7:34 pm #

Hi Baker family, its Ed “no way “Phillips I really enjoyed doing the live link with guys. The feedback from the church was that it went really well…so much so I have got skype installed so we can carry on with the chat! Carin really enjoyed talking to you as well. Great blog by the way and I just love the elephant my favourite animal in Africa!
Bless you guys keep up the good work hopefully the 4×4 day will keep you safer!
Ed Steph, Carin & caitlin