There are some wounds only Africa can heal. –nayyirah waheed, salt
In January 2016, the Berklee student club turned nonprofit MusicXChange, founded by student Federico Masetti, organized a two-week service trip to Ghana to build strategic partnerships and raise awareness about the organization. Due to the increased risk and liability of sending our students international, as director of student activities I took a very active role in the trip planning process. As a result of our many and lengthy planning meetings, ultimately the students invited me to attend the trip to help them manage the onsite logistical aspects of the excursion. What followed for me was a humbling, life-affirming, and transcendent adventure that significantly shifted my walk through this world. It especially shifted my interactions with my family, friends, colleagues, and students; especially my interactions with my own soul.
'Adinkra symbols serve as a forum for social, political and historical representation.
Adinkra symbols are symbols used on African material for clothing. The symbols denotes character of people and their personalities. In this short fm, the juxtaposion of artwork and adinkras emancipate the mind subjectively for restitution." ~from the Sankofa, Aesthetics and Adinkra Symbols youtube video.
As of this semester MusicXChange it is no longer a Berklee student club. As of the fall it became, and continues to be "...
On January 8, 2016 our team hosted a concert in Kumasi, Ghanain collaboration with the Center for National Culture. The event featured: Jubilee Youth Choir from Kumasi, Nkabom Cultural Troupe from Okurase, Hewale Sounds from Accra, andAmamreso Agofomma from Kumasi.al built by the humanitarian organization HopeXChange, Inc. in Kumasi, Ghana. One of our primary goals is to develop a pilot program in music therapy at the HopeXChange Medical Center."
First a little background.
I am the director of student activities at Berklee College of music and my department works with student clubs. While as a rule my team and I cannot serve as faculty/staff advisor, it is our role to work with club's student leadership to be their #1 resource as well as to cultivate and connect them with resources external to the Student Activities Center. We also establish and implement policies that ensure equity and mitigate risk across all clubs.
So while I cannot be an advisor on record, I began to work very closely with MusicXChange Ghana (MXCG) because professionally it is certainly my job to be supportive in the events component of the project. That and, while my office does not generally handle international travel for students, I felt it imperative that this group have adequate support in planning for the travel in the absence of a this guidance coming from elsewhere at the college.
Finally from a personal perspective I'd set an intention in 2015 that in 2016 I would travel to THE continent. At the time my focus was myopically on Mozambique to visit one of my best sister friends who returned to her home there this past year. So when the opportunity came up for me to support this project, I felt it a tremendous opportunity to energetically engage with my intention.
It was a year ago March when I was one staff facilitator on an alternative spring break trip that I first learned about MusicXChange. We'd taken a group of students
to the Mississippi Delta to we study and reflect on Delta blues history, Civil Rights Movement history, and to do community service. It was there that I met then student Federico Masetti who enthusiastically told me about MusicXChange and his plans to return to Ghana to record an album that upcoming summer. He asked if we could meet at some point to talk about it but when we all returned to Boston, the hustle that is Berklee delayed that meeting from happening until sometime later. In fact I did not think about it again until I ran into Fede in the SAC lounge one day and he requested we meet to discuss the project.
Upon meeting, it was immediately obvious that this project was as special as it was complex. It was also immediately obvious that if any student were going to pull it off, Federico would be that student. Fede's enthusiasm about many things, but especially about MXCG is infectious.
In full disclosure deciding to throw my weight behind Federico and MusicXChange Ghana was about 51% selfish in that helping Fede in the ways that I could and did was helping myself. You see one of my guiding principles for my life is to dream always. Beginning in about 2013 I've seen with increasing clarity that the Universe takes care #ThankYouYes and it will generously order your steps #NoCoincidences when you begin moving in the direction of your purpose. So in
2015 I set an intention to dream big to which the Universe all but said aloud, "I got you." Now for
2016 I've set an intention to dream bigger ;) and the Universe is already delivering beyond my wildest dreams.
I say all that to say that many of Federico's espoused beliefs mirror my own. And his passion and commitment to seeing MXCG through reminds me of my big dreams for which I've been blessed with support, and even protection, from the most obvious to the craziest of places. So supporting MXCG is in some ways my way of honoring my supporters and paying the gift forward - especially those who help me see that it's ok take "...the first step without seeing the whole staircase" (MLK). So many times I've needed folks to do that for me and they did and my life is better than blessed as a result. So my investment in this was personal as much as it was professional.
I digress. ;) Eventually my support in the planning process led to an invite to attend the trip to support Federico in managing the logistical aspects of the excursion. So that brings me to the actual trip. What follows are picture and video collages that I created mostly from what I captured with my own phone. I will note where an image is not my own. Each of these collages in incredibly special to me. However, since a blog is supposed to be relatively short, I will write a line or two about most; and I will write a paragraph or two (or three ;) about the ones that are most meaningful to me.
There's no words to convey how excited I was to finally visit THE continent. Prior to departing the USA I'd ask two of my friends, one from Tanzania and one from Mozambique, for any thoughts or advice with respect to my impending travels. My friend from Tanzania said a few things and while I remember them all, I deeply internalized two. The first: let go of all expectations of what it will be. He shared that having expectations, good bad or even neutral, can be incredibly difficult to reconcile when those expectations are not met. He said this is the case especially as for African-American traveling to the continent for the first time. The second: he told me to let go of Western notions of time. He said to just leave that behind. What he meant, especially for me as an event planner who can be time-on-task obsessed when I'm in charge of an event, is that I would be much happier and would get the most out of the trip, if I realized that when someone says 5 minutes know it may mean 5 minutes but it may also mean 50 minutes, or even 5 hours. Most importantly he meant that I should move slower, enjoy my time, be present, and take as much in as I possibly could. Suffice it to say, except when I was hungry and needed to know EXACTLY when the we'd eat next,
When I am very much looking forward to an impending experience I first get really jittery and excited and thinking about it will keep me up at night. Or if I am able to sleep my dreams are filled with visions of me doing that thing. That is until a day or two (or three) prior to the experience. It's then that I go into what I call "zombie mode." I imagine this is a survival instinct: this only happens when my enthusiasm and anticipation of a thing is so over the top that it's no longer healthy for me to ruminate about it in the many ways that I can!
Suffice it to say my trip to Ghana was one of those aforementioned "things." So when I finally got on the airplane to begin the journey from New York's JFK airport to the airport in Accra, Ghana, I was incredibly calm. So calm my pulse may not have registered. You see the depth of my calmness is inversely related to the level of my excitement. By the time I got on the airplane and we took off, I'd stopped thinking about Ghana altogether and it wasn't until we deplaned that I "woke up" and regained a profound level of varied and diverse emotions.
When I exited the airplane and the dry heat, very much unlike the weather I'd left in Boston, hit me like a brick wall I thought, "Oh my God I'm really here."
When I descended the airplane steps and my feet finally touched the tarmac I thought, "I'm on THE continent."
When we traversed through immigration, gathered our luggage, and walked outside to a group of strangers who were already family with outstretched arms and huge smiles and an energy so warm and welcoming that I thought, "I'm home."
In fact one of the first things I remember was hugging someone, I'm not entirely sure who because at that point I did not know their names, and as that person hugged me back he said, "Welcome home."
In that instant so many thoughts traveled through my mind: "This is our home. This continent is the birthplace of civilization. Ethiopia being the cradle." "This is our home. I've NEVER seen this many Black people in one place at one time." And finally, "This is our home. This certainly is all of our origin story. However as the only African-American on this sojourn I am the only one in our group whose whose ancestors were stolen from their homes, shackled and chained, shipped across an ocean, and forced to survive the unspeakable on their journey to becoming "Americans." Then, once given their freedom, still had to live through the horrors of Jim Crow segregation. Then, despite all of that madness, someone begat someone who begat someone who begat someone - until someone begat me.
Suffice it to say that grand sign on the airport that that reads "Akwaaba," which is the Akan word for "welcome," meant something different to all of us. Now you have some sense of what all it meant for me.
Ghana was chosen as the inaugural location for this project for a number of reasons. First there is a Berklee faculty member, Papa Joe Galeota, who not only has a home in Ghana but also annually hosts a group of students at his home. Second, Federico was one of the students who visited Ghana with Professor Galeota and he fell in love with the place. Third, and most importantly, music is interwoven into so many aspects of the culture. In addition to our drumming, gyil, and dance classes, we were in the right place at the right time to interact with a multigenerational family of fishermen reeling in their net to examine the day's catch. The second collage shows how the fishermen use music to communicate with each other as they complete this arduous task.
"Prof. Nketia is world-renowned as musicologist and composer. He is to African music what Bartok is to Western music. Of all the interpreters of African music and aesthetics, Nketia sets the pace. His concept and interpretation of time and rhythmic patterns in Ghanaian and other African folk music were revolutionary, and became standard for researchers and scholars around the world."
We were a small group so everyone on the team played a role - or multiple roles. From filming, recording, interviewing, performing, and more. On this trip I found my calling as a photographer.
No doubt we each had our favorite aspects of the trip. One of the most rewarding experiences for me was interacting with the many children we encountered throughout our visit. I've attempted to describe this to the many friends and family members who've asked me about the trip but each time my words fail. Nevertheless I will try again here. To look into the eyes of these children… to sing and dance with them… to play games wit them and to teach them and to learn from them… to smile and laugh with them… was healing. They were love incarnate.
The only other thing I'll say on this is that in Ghana, "it takes a village to raise a child," really means something. Half the time I did not know whose children I was interacting with nor did that seem to matter. The children were out and about and seemingly in the care of whichever adult was nearest whether that adult was a relative or not.
Strangers who are Friends. Friends who are Family
I think the title of this set of collages pretty much says it all.
Also known as heaven. #FreshCoconutJuice
These pics are from our visit to the Elmina slave castle in Cape Coast. The sign behind me which is at the entrance to the infamous "room of no return" reads "the return of the slaves." ...They're welcoming US home.
At the conclusion of our tour our little group sat on the steps near the castle's exit and a few of us sang "Lift Every Voice".
Malú of the Dream Defenders asked me "...can u describe the vibes u felt while y'all were singing?" and I wrote back, "...pretty damn invincible and the opposite of sad. ...they, our ancestors, were there with me. I could feel their energy and you know what?! ...they were glowing gold at their DECISION to live in hopes that a future generation - me - would arrive in that place - like I did today - without [physical] shackles."
...my tattoo is the immortal words of my shero Maya Angelou: "I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise. I rise. I rise." That kind of says it all.
For more information about HopeXChange Medical Centre and our partnership, visit http://musicxchangeghana.org/campaign/.
We were not only invited to interview world renown musician Koo Nimo, but we were also treated to a performance in the atrium of his lovely home. Now this was a blessed day...
"[Koo Nimo] ...was born with the name Kwabena Boa Amponsem, he was baptized Daniel Amponsah. On stage, he took the name "Koo Nimo". Koo Nimo has undoubtedly established himself as Ghana's foremost exponent of acoustic guitar highlife and folklore (palm wine music), with a gamut of more than 100 songs to his credit. He is not only a musician but a teacher of the art, who strives to preserve Ghanaian culture through music and the telling of stories; no wonder he is one of the few African musicians whose works are studied in the West African Examinations Council syllabus for music." From http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/people/person.php?ID=145
On January 8, 2016 our team hosted a concert in Kumasi, Ghana in collaboration with the Center for National Culture. The event featured: Jubilee Youth Choir from Kumasi, Nkabom Cultural Troupe from Okurase, Hewale Sounds from Accra, andAmamreso Agofomma from Kumasi.
I chose the names on this djembe in tribute to my unknown ancestry. My father's mama is Mary Brown Jordan and my father is Henry Jordan (possibly John Henry Jordan). My mother's mama is Angelee Tolbert Jenkins and my mama is Anne Pearl Jenkins Jordan.
I chose the two symbols on my djembe to represent me (Nkyinkyim "twisting" is a West African Adinkra symbol meaning symbol of initiative, dynamism and versatility) and my family (Sankofa is a West African Adinkra symbol meaning return and get it.)
Sankofa is the West African Adinkra symbol meaning "return and get it." While I've seen this concept explained in a variety of ways, I find the language used on the Tumblr for Sankofa Designs to be the most thorough. In part in states, "...The Sankofa symbol is from the Adinkra tribe in Africa. The Sankofa represents the idea of looking to your past with understanding that both the good and the bad has helped you become who you are today.
...The Akan proverb states “Se wo were fi na wosan kofa a, yenkyi” or “There is nothing wrong with learning from hindsight.” The term sankofa comes from the words “san” (return), “ko” (go), and “fa” (look, seek, and take).
Just some fun pix of what went down when we weren't working!
SOME SORT OF CONCLUSION!