Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bolgatanga, Ghana, July 16-17,24-27, Sept. 19,23-24

I spent a few days in Bolgatanga on the way in and out of Burkina Faso in July and again in September. Bolga is the capital of the Upper East Region with about 70,000 people (Bradt Guide). Bolga was a good base to go on day trips to Bongo and Sirigu. When I first arrived in Bolga, I was walking along the major highway that connects with Tamale and Paga. The lanes were wide, lots of concrete, and the low mountains were off in the distance. The way the light was striking the mountains made me feel very much at home. It felt a lot like Albuquerque, New Mexico where I had lived for two years. I enjoyed these comparisons even as I traveled through Burkina Faso.

While in Bolga, I came across the Roots Art Gallery (photo below) and enjoyed a couple cups of Ethiopian coffee while looking at the crafts and artwork. I ended up buying a couple pieces of jewelry. Joy and Nyaaba were two of the artists there who are part of the cooperative. They said that Peace Corps volunteers helped establish the cooperative/gallery. Joy makes jewelry, teaches drumming, does various other crafts and is into reggae music. Nyaaba had several French books he was looking at and loves studying languages.

We listened to cds of Kologo music from the Bolga region. Kologo (Koliko,Koloko) music is played on a two-stringed instrument similar to a banjo or a guitar. The body is made from a calabash gourd with a hide stretched across its opening. The strings are played with an intense rhythm. I loved the music and asked them the names of the musicians. I heard Atongo Zimba, Sambo, King Ayisoba, and Amodo. Atonga Zimba sang a song with lyrics something like, "In heaven there is no beer, so that is why we are drinking all the beer here." They told me he is now in Accra and doing well.

When I returned to Bolga again in September, I stumbled upon Sambo's recording studio while venturing to the loo at the lorry station. Sambo was there working on his motorcycle. I asked him about cds and he took me to the back where he sampled them. Sambo's full name is Aburiya Adabire. His music seemed the most intense and urgent of the Kologo players I heard. Joy said his lyrics are good and intellectual. I ended up buying four cds.

I returned to the Roots Art Gallery again and asked about the Koloko musicians. Nyaaba said that Amodo (Akadumah Amodo) lived nearby and he'd check about me paying a visit. While I drank my tasty cup of Ethiopian coffee, he came back and said that Amodo has malaria but he would still like me to come by. We went there walking through various dirt paths behind houses where several pigs were resting and children were playing.

We entered Amodo's courtyard (Agoo, Agoo, knock, knock). He was lying on his cot in the middle of the courtyard. His face was drenched in sweat and I thought we'd just inquire about some cds and then get out and let him rest. But he picked up his Kologo and started playing for us. His music was a melancholy almost wailing bluesy style with a heavy pulse and rhythm from the Koloko strumming. His voice was raspy and sweat was streaming down his face. Nyaaba who was interpreting the lyrics for me assured me he was very happy to be playing. His wife was in the corner washing dishes. I enjoyed a small, very special concert while thinking from here to Mali was the origins of the Mississippi Delta Blues.

Amodo didn't have any cds that day and so I returned again to buy three of his cds. I also ended up buying Atongo Zimba's "Savannah Breeze" cd at the Roots Art Gallery. I'll look for King Ayisoba in Kumasi.

In Bolgatanga, I ate several dinners at Sala's Fast Food (photo below). It was near where I was staying, the Nsanmini Guesthouse, and it was delicious food; all for 1.50 cedis I ate a leg of chicken, a large heaping of white rice and stew. I told Sandra, the owner, that it was some of the best pepper stew I've had in Ghana. It was nice and spicy.

Sandra is only 22 yrs. old and was running a good business. She was training a teenager how to cook. While I was there, several street boys came by and she gave them large heapings of rice. They called her "ma".

She had a T.V. set up in her small sitting area so we would watch music videos, and she would educate me on who the various singers were. We watched the group P Square from Nigeria, twin singers and dancers. They're very popular and Sandra said they are her favorite. We also watched several videos by the singer and dancer, Costuleta. He's originally from Angola but lives in Portugal. He has only one leg and is an incredible dancer, sometimes humorous but also playfully sexual, innovative dancing. Another dancer appeared in his videos who would do comical moves and funny, distorted, facial expressions. They did a lot of dancing with the ladies by a swimming pool or out on the streets.

Sandra enjoys clubbing, often trying out different wigs, and would go on Friday night when it was ladies night at the Soul Train, the local night club. Her friends would stop by and eat, watch videos, and try out various accessories and hair styles. I almost went along with tired, but was too tired when 11:00 came around to eventually go out.

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