Quiet please. Drum lesson in progress
The art of learning music in Ghana is all in the timing
Sunday 13 October 2002
I should have guessed something was up. As our taxi shuddered to a halt outside the Academy of African Music and Arts (Aama) at Kokrobite beach 19 miles from Accra, all was silent. My friends and I were hoping for an uplifting few days, ready to lose ourselves in the rhythm of pounding drums and the bracing Atlantic waves. I'd been told you could hear the famous Ghanaian drumming school before you could see the resort. But today it was graveyard quiet.
"So, when does the music start?" I asked the receptionist. Every Sunday, the resident band, the Royal Obonu Drummers, puts on a wild two-hour extravaganza for guests. We couldn't wait to hear it before starting our lessons the next day.
"There are no performances or lessons in May. There's a ban on drumming," replied the receptionist, his eyes wide with apology. "You should have asked."
After an hour's rest in my pretty round bungalow I was ready to go in search of explanations. Aama was founded by one of Ghana's most famous musicians, Master Drummer Mustafa Tettey Addy. It's the place to learn traditional Ghanaian beats and the sizzling contemporary rhythms that have sprung up from them. Individuals and groups, skilled professionals and fluffy-fingered beginners like me flock here to sit at the feet of the brilliant artists who teach drumming, singing and dance, all year round.
Well, almost. Our visit just happened to coincide with the run-up to the biggest party in the Ga traditional calendar, the Homowo or "hooting at hunger" festival. Every May or June, the Ga, the majority tribe in the Accra area, prepares for its late-summer harvest festival with a strictly enforced month-long ban on noise-making and drumming. Visit during the festival and the rhythmic beat of traditional drums fills the air, but in the run-up drumming is a major no-no.
We would just opt for peace and relaxation instead of riotous music-making. My guidebook described the resort as "swanky in a Ghanaian kind of way" and the Aama accommodation sets the mood perfectly. Traditional buildings sit low in fragrant gardens which lead right up to the red rock headland on the ocean. Rooms are basic – open windows and fans, rather than air conditioning, to keep you cool – but cost next to nothing.
One of my friends had a birthday, so in the evening we treated him to lobster brochettes and cold beer in the terrace restaurant. We pulled our table to the very edge of the rocks for a view of the largest silver moon I have ever seen.
The next day, after a breakfast of pineapple, we went in search of a swim. Aama has its own beach reached by a steep, rocky path but we didn't dare even dip a toe in here. Despite being assured that swimming was safe, we didn't fancy the drag of the current off this tortured bit of coast. You must choose your beach with care. More beautiful and much safer is Lamgba beach, half a mile or so to the west.
Later that day we cajoled a young man at the resort to give us what turned out to be a silent drumming lesson. Looking nervously around him like a cartoon burglar, he whisked four tall wooden drums into a beach hut. We had no idea who he was but he knew what he was doing, and we spent a half-frustrating, half-exhilarating hour perched on broken stools learning kpanlogo, supposedly the simplest Ghanaian rhythm. His jumpiness kept us from slapping the goatskins to vary the sound, as you should do to create this rebellious dance rhythm. But our soft hands were soon aching, so we were in no danger of being arrested for noise making.In the afternoon, Kpani Addy, teacher and leader of the Royal Obonu Drummers, showed me the circular practice rooms and dance halls in the grounds. "When the place is in full flow," he said, "it's like paradise. There is the most incredible atmosphere."
In the next few days we made a couple of gentle forays out of the resort: to Big Milly's, a hippier version of Aama just down the coast, and to the tiny village of Kokrobite, a 10-minute walk away.
After a few days of complete relaxation, we checked out. The Aama receptionist drove us to Kakum National Park, where we went for a night walk through the forest. We also explored the slave castles at Elmina and Cape Coast, chilling evidence of earlier visitors to this part of the West African coast.
I was sorry not to have had a chance to discover my hidden talent for drumming. But even without the music, Kokrobite is a fabulous destination. I'll just have to remember to ask the right questions when I go back there.
Ghana Airways (020-7499 0210) flies direct to Accra from £430 return.
If you have your own transport follow the coast road west from Accra turning at the signposted junction to Kokrobite after about 14 miles. Alternatively, take a taxi, which will cost about £10, or the tro-tro (a local taxi-bus) for 50p-£1 from Kaneshie station in Accra direct to Kokrobite.
AAMA, Kokrobite, Ghana (00 233 21 665987). Bookings can also be made through www.afrikamusica.com. A double room is £6.50 per night. a bungalow £10.50. Drumming lessons from £1.75 an hour.
Ghana Tourist Information (020-7201 5924; www.ghana.com/republic).
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