By Stacy Marr
Africa: its exotic beauty and majestic landscapes has been calling to me since I was a young girl and now I have the opportunity to answer that yearning.
My destination was Ghana, where I would be writing about my experience as well as volunteering my services to the Bizung School of Music and Dance, which is located in the city of Tamale, Northern Ghana.
The school is affiliated with The Playing for Change Foundation where their mission is to create peace and social change through education and music. The founder of this wonderful school is Mohammed Alidu who is from the Dagomba Tribe and is part of the Lunga Chief lineage—also known as The Talking Drum. The lunga has been passed down through Alidu’s family for thousands of years and because of this, he is considered the messenger of his tribe. Not only is he an incredible musician, but he’s also kind, generous and has a big heart. His drumming on the lunga tells the stories of Africa, the Dagomba tribe and of their ancestors. Both the Dagbanli language (the native language of the Dagomba Tribe) and the music are passed down orally; there are no written records of their existence that is, until recently.
The Bizung School of Music and Dance teaches classes in African dance and various instruments including: the lunga, the gungong, xylophone, as well as Western musical instruments such as acoustic guitar, bass and keyboards. Most schools in Africa are incredibly expensive and require tuition; however, the Bizung School of Music of Dance is the first tuition-free school in Northern Ghana. All that is required is a desire and willingness to learn. Some children walk nearly ten miles to get to class because it’s their first time attending school and possibly the only education that they’re able to receive. Today there are over 200 children that attend the school and it continues to grow.
I was excited to visit the school and when I arrived, I was greeted by two young children who grabbed my hands and wouldn’t let go. The faces on these precious angels captivated me as we stared into each other’s eyes in awe. There was such joy, wonderment and curious fascination between us that I was simply mesmerized with my new friends. Every time they glanced over at me, they would beam sweet smiles and radiated such love and purity that it made my heart sing. I was touched by how loving these children were to a complete stranger. In fact all the people that I met in Tamale were warm, gracious and welcoming.
Alidu invited me to one of his drumming classes and I was thrilled to be a part of it. To learn African music in Africa, what a treat! Alidu’s friend and fellow instructor, Chief Suale would also be teaching the drumming class and he gave me a quick lesson on the gungong (the bass drum), which has a deep, rich resonating sound. It was a great deal of fun to play and I’m looking forward to learning more of the gungong as well as other indigenous instruments that are played in Northern Ghana.
Children began filing into the school and took their seats with their drums. The place was jammed packed with nearly forty kids in the courtyard area eagerly waiting for class to start. If some children didn’t have drums to play, they would watch intently, not wanting to miss a moment and eager to absorb everything that was being taught. I was touched by their passion and commitment; their thirst for knowledge was palpable and infectious.
Both Alidu and Chief Suale are excellent instructors and would provide individual instruction when needed. Did I mention that drums were for a time only played by men? Now, and at the Bizung School both boys and girls can play the drums.
It was a beautiful sight to see these children so engaged in learning and I very moved in witnessing this moment; knowing that these children are learning something unique that also defines their culture. Through education, they are carrying on their heritage for future generations.
Afterwards, I chatted with some of the students and what I loved most in interacting with these kids was how free and expressive they are in their everyday life. Some children that I had never met before would come over and give me the biggest hug. Their happiness was contagious and it’s evident that the Bizung School has had an impact on their lives.
Words cannot adequately express my deepest gratitude and appreciation for this experience. To say that my time in Tamale was life-changing is an understatement. I fell in love with Africa, its people and above all, the children. They have truly captured my heart.