Accra, the capital of Ghana, is an established point on the African tourism trail thanks to its good flight and cruise connections, its Anglophone accessibility, its beautiful beaches and the stability of the nation.
Less often seen, however, is Nima Market. Located in one of the poorest areas of the city and home to many migrants from rural Ghana and nearby countries coming to the big city in search of work, it is the heartbeat of the neighborhood. This video takes us on a slow walk through the stalls.
The best thing about this video is that the cameraman uses a lot of close-ups, giving us a shopper’s-eye view of all the food for sale, from the delicious-looking tomatoes to the humongous snails. There are also a lot of fruits and vegetables most Westerners would have trouble naming.
While the produce and the clothing are colorful, you can see that all is not well in Nima. Many of the people have a careworn look, and the man selling shoes only wears a pair of battered flip-flops on his own feet. This blog post by Ghanean blogger and journalist Zainabu Issah highlights some of the challenges the vendors at Nima Market face.
The harder side of life is a part of travel that we can’t shut our eyes to, and witnessing the struggles of people in other cultures can open our own minds. It’s these insights that are often the most important part of our trip.
All kinds of circumstances get musicians together and facilitate creativity. In the case of Sierra Leone‘s Refugee All Stars, that circumstance was West African refugee camps. While their homeland was devastated during a period of violent bloodshed, these musicians made the best of a bad situation and formed their band. This video isn’t new, but it’s too good to pass up sharing. Exploring what music teaches us about both culture and travel is a particular interest of mine, so this video resonates with me. No matter the negative, positive energy can survive in any type of situation.
One thing that consistently amazes me while traveling in Africa is how the people are able to create musical instruments out of just about anything. Take the kora, for example. This West African stringed instrument is made from a gourd and fishing line.
Another popular instrument is the thumb piano, or “lamellophone” for all you musicologists out there. It’s a small wooden plate or box with strips of metal of different lengths on it. These are plucked with the thumb to make different notes. A bit of scrounging in any African town can get you the parts for a thumb piano in less than an hour. Because they’re light and easy to make, they are popular with the griots, Africa’s wandering troubadours. They’re also popular with kids because it’s easy to learn the basics.
The thumb piano is called different names by different people, like kalimba or mbira. In Ethiopia, where I saw them being played, the instrument is called a tom. I bought one for my kid when he was five and he loves it. In fact, it was the first instrument he learned how to play. Unlike the recorder, which he’s learning now in school, nobody taught him how to play the tom, he simply figured it out for himself, and that’s much more fun.
Check out this video of a kalimba player in Malawi, who’s so good a bird starts singing along with him! I’d love to know the words to his song.
I’ve recently moved to Santander, a port in northern Spain. While leaving a major European capital for a small provincial city was quite a leap, Santander has an international feel to it that I like. Being a port, it gets immigrants from all over the world, mostly China, South America, and West Africa.
The West Africans are especially numerous. They man most of the Cantabrian fishing fleet and work on the docks and in industry as well. Sadly I haven’t found any suya restaurants, but I did get to hear some great African music. Last weekend there was an African jam session at a local bar. The band was made up of guys from Senegal and the Ivory Coast playing drums, a xylophone, and the kora, with a Chilean saxophonist thrown in because. . .why not?
If you’ve never heard a kora player, try to go to a concert. The kora is a stringed instrument from Western Africa. With 21 strings it’s got quite a range and sounds like a cross between a harp and a guitar. Check out this video from kora master Toumani Diabate explaining how it works.
As I downed a generously poured rum and coke while speaking Spanish with a bunch of South Americans and listening to West African music, I got to thinking just how mixed together we’re getting. This mid-sized bar in a mid-sized city after the tourist season had people from at least half a dozen countries and four continents. Everyone drinking, dancing, talking, and listening to music. Nice. Later I stepped out for a smoke (Spain started a smoking ban this year) with a guy from the Ivory Coast and another from Cantabria. We all shivered in the cold rain of autumn and complained about the weather. Well, two of us did. The Cantabrian didn’t grow up in Arizona or West Africa, so he didn’t see what was wrong about the weather.
It was the only disagreement I heard the entire night. I can live with that.
Back in March, two Brits, Huw WIlliams and Rebecca Sumner, set off on a proposed two year, 15,000 mile journey, across Africa by bicycle. Their intention is to explore the cultures and landscapes of more than a dozen countries, all the while making audio recordings of the things they hear along the way.
The pair have dubbed their adventure the Listen to Africa Expedition, and their goal is to record samplings not only the natural sounds of the continent, such as the abundant wildlife, but also the oral histories and music of the people that live there. They hope to share these wide variety of sounds with the rest of the world to bring a better understanding of the continent and the people that live there.
The expedition actually began in the U.K. with Huw and Rebecca catching the ferry to France before riding across that country to catch another boat to Africa. They arrived in Tangier, Morocco and began making their way down Africa’s western coast. As of this writing, they are currently in Mauritania, but with no set route, it is hard to tell where they will be going next.
The expedition’s official website offers more information about their plans and includes a blog in which they post regular updates on the team’s progress. But most interesting of all are the audio clips they have already uploaded, which includes the sound of the wind in the Sahara, a variety of birds, music from Morocco, and much more. Listening to these clips while reading their blog entries makes for a vary interesting experience, and it really underscores the goals of the project.
Be sure to check back on the Listen to Africa website for regular updates. This seems like an interesting project to follow and should be fun to keep up with.