African Rhythms

One of the first things I think about when I think of Africa is the rhythms – the drums, the dancing, and all that other National Geographic stuff. I was not disappointed by my visit to Ghana – although what I heard, as far as worship music goes, was not necessarily what I expected, not that I had any specific expectations. I am sure there are more varied styles than what I heard, but my visit was limited to a few places in Tema, and one church in the Central (coastal) Region.

Gospel SingersOne of the first things that struck me was the obvious impact of Western Gospel music. The first church we visited had a gospel choir, backed up by what was – from my brief experience – a pretty standard worship band setup, consisting of a drum kit, congas, a portable electric keyboard and bass guitar, all playing at a pretty high volume. The music was a melding of Gospel, jazz & funk, played over African rhythms, and was all pretty up-tempo. In fact, even their slow songs were up-tempo, and they often wouldn’t stop to change songs, they’d just go from one to the other. They wouldn’t even stop to change drummers – something I had not seen before, but saw a couple of times in Ghana. I don’t know who would initiate the change, but on 2 or 3 occasions I would see a guy walk up to the drummer in mid-song. Without losing a beat, the drummer would stand and pass off the sticks to the new guy.

The Shuffle - photo by Fred AllenAnother feature of their worship was the dancing; the women all did the same little shuffle – very low key, but still very much into the beat. They’d do their little shuffle back and forth, then occasionally start doing a “conga line,” weaving up and down the aisles. The men, at least in a church setting, tended to be less demonstrative.

At the YWAM base, worship was a tad more Western. I recognized several Vineyard and other songs I knew, and was surprised to even hear a couple of songs that had been written by people I knew. Now, that makes it seem like a small world. However, even though they were songs that I knew, they were all done with an African rhythm, which was really great to hear. I wished that I could have brought some of the rhythms home with me (I do have some video clips) but they’re a bit more complicated than a standard 4/4 Vineyard beat, and beyond my djembe abilities. One of the YWAM students was one of the best bass players I think I’ve heard – he would do some funk riffs that were just amazing.

At the YWAM base, the guys were not at all hesitant to join in the dancing, and also showed far less restraint than the women. Actually, it didn’t take much for the guys to break into a dance – just a simple rhythm on a djembe, and they’d be in a circle having a blast. Now, I’ve seen guys dance over here, but nothing like this.

Often, worship at YWAM would be led by Diana Akiwumi, who it turns out, is one of Ghana’s more well-known Gospel singers. I recently found an article about her in one of the on-line Ghana newspapers.

As I mentioned in a prior post, we spent 4 nights in an inner-city mission church, where English was more of a second language. Worship here was also a bit less Western, although they had the same basic worship band setup. The music, however, had a different feel – it’s hard to explain, but it had kind of a ska feel, only at a much faster tempo than I’m used to. The women here did the same little shuffle dance that we saw in the first church.

Mission church worship bandOh, it was also all very loud. Apparently it’s better if it’s loud – even if it distorts. And, as it turns out, the guests are usually placed right in front of one of the speakers, I suppose to make sure we can really get the full effect. It was sometimes a bit hard to take. Another surprising thing was that everyone seemed to have an ample supply of wireless microphones. Having batteries die and swapping mics was not an unusual occurrence.

We also spent a couple of days in the Central Region, at a little leadership conference. The conference was being held at a borrowed church, without the benefit of a sound system, or worship band. Worship here was done in what appeared to be a common style to those in attendance, representating several different churches. Worship was sung in something other than English, in kind of a singing chant, with no real rhythm that I could discern. While I didn’t understand what they were singing, I did appreciate the spirit of worship that existed, as well as just being able to experience some other form of worship than that which we saw in Tema.

As you might expect, returning to the States and my home church was a kind of reverse culture-shock. It struck me how self-conscious the worship band was, working so hard to achieve some kind of “smooth” presentation. At the same time, the whole worship experience seemed, for lack of a better word, constipated. This is not to say that worship in Ghana does not have an element of self-consciousness, because it does – it’s just in a completely different way, that I could deal with because it was new. However, I am still having a very hard time with our church’s self-conscious worship, to the point where I have a hard time sitting through it – I just can’t seem to get past the worship band. Maybe I’ll just have to spend more time watching my videos of Ghana.

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3 Responses to African Rhythms

  1. maryann says:

    my email thing was listed wrong on the first comment…I will go look on your main page.

  2. me says:

    Thanks for the comment. I plan to write a bit more on my Ghana experience when I get the chance, and upload a few more photos. You can e-mail me (link on my main page) if you have any questions.

  3. maryann says:

    very interested in talking more about Ghana as we are planning a possible trip to there in March…

    this is gonna be great…

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