Ledzi Agudzemegah

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Ledzi Agudzemegan (forward), dancing Atsiagbekor at his home village of Dzogadze, Volta Region (July 2008) Photo (c) Michael Frishkopf

Name: Ledzi Agudzemegah
Age: 28
Education Level: Accounting student at Association of Chartered Accountants (ACCA)
Birthplace: Dzogadze

Ledzi Agudzemegah is a master drummer and speaks English, Ewe, Twi and Ga. His last name, Agudzemegah, is also the last-name of the Dagbamete village’s chief because his ancestors were among those who founded Dagbamete. He spoke about the musical differences between Dzogadze and Dagbamete. Dzogadze is a bigger village and known for its traditional drumming, singing, dancing and performance culture. People know its music e.g. Atsiagbekor has two versions: the popular and the traditional. The popular version is divided and is found almost everywhere. The traditional version is originally from Benin and a perfected version is found in Dzogadze. The village is popular for its shrine and its funeral life support group, which is not found in the smaller villages (e.g. Dagbamete). Musical occasions unite people and music could be used anytime including at school or market. The children learn constructively by observing and becoming interested to learn. That is how music is passed on.

On the other hand, in Dagbamete, children cannot play drums. Ledzi says that it’s a shame because the interest in playing drums here is less than in Dzogadze. The only piece that most people of any age can play is the shrine music because they are still traditional when it comes to religion. Otherwise children do not care for it. There is general lack of interest and therefore they are not as skilled. In comparison, older people are better drummers. Due to a strong sense of traditional religion, the religious pieces still exist but the social pieces are gradually depleting.

The effect of modernization is primarily that one has to fight with the interest of the children, who are more interested in new games and technology as opposed to traditional music. Ledzi’s father told him that their school would abstain them from cultural practices so if a person wants to find traditional practices he has to go to the villages. He says that education can affect the continuation of traditional music, but it depends on people’s personality differences and on their interest. The popular music in the media is diverting the attention of the population, for example, funerals have a gap between the older people who partake all day and night, and the youth who do not participate for long unless there’s a DJ or some form of popular music. If there isn’t a DJ or popular music at a funeral, there will be less attendance.

Ledzi witnessed an Ashanti funeral where there was a television showing images played back from the funeral, so people were crowded around that instead of attending the festivities. He fears that if care is not taken, traditional music is going to become extinct. Example of music that became extinct include Oleke: his father was young and never got a chance to learn it. The dance was hopped backwards on one leg. That’s all he remembers about it. As for Atsiagbekor, Ledzi’s grandfather was one of the last men to go into the business and learn the dance. There was a fear that it was becoming extinct but Ledzi’s father complained to the elders to teach people the dance. Many of them refused so he pleaded that if they refused to teach it, they’d be losing something valuable to their culture. The examples of preservation can be taken from those professional dances such as hunting, fishing, war etc. which have lost their function, but they are now used for entertainment purposes; for example Adzogbo or Adzohu (same dance, different name) is a defense dance in which the performers wear big heaps of fabric around their waists and cloths on their heads or over their shoulders.

Kondo -young man “who do not know of sex” (virgins) are sent into the forest where they are fed by a postmenopausal woman. taught by spirits routines. -young men come out of the forest and perform and their performance is read by the commander. If it is a combination of two different styles, they have to be interpreted to see which defense tactic has to be taken.?

He fell in love with music in general from a young age, and has been performing traditional music from a young age. He toured Ghana and was performing and playing the drums when he was eleven. He says that he had an invitation to go to Cuba and Germany but due to corruption of his leader who was arrested he wasn’t able to go. He devotes all his time to try to bring back traditional music and pass onto the younger generation. Reggae is his favorite music and he has composed 22 songs but is yet to put it together instrumentally. He would like to record someday. He loves acting and participates in an act of head-hunting, which is an old practice that is now hidden in the Akan land. This dance happens in the chief’s palaces because it is usually ordered by the chiefs.

The Ewes abolished the practice because according to them if you commit a mischief, the God of Thunder will find you and smite you. If the Thunder God comes and kills you without finding out the truth of what you did, the truth is sealed and lost forever. If the God comes and kills you but this time people find out the truth, he comes after your family. In this situation you have to pay to the shrine, usually by giving away the most beautiful virgin in your family to marry the shrine. She has to marry the shrine priest, and these girls are not properly taken care of; they are practically slaves who have to provide for themselves and their children.

When the priest dies, the next in line inherits his wives known as troukoshi (trou means traditional God and koshi means slave) A troukoshi can not marry another man unless they pay the shrine, usually in another young beautiful virgin. If the priest doesn’t like the girl presented to him, he’ll offer her to his successors or will ask for another form of payment. The troukoshi practice was abolished in 1998 after a serious campaign and NGOs built schools for the children of the troukoshis usually craft schools.

He said that drumming is considered a male’s job, and due to social constructions, if a lady tries to do something that pertains to men, people will stigmatize her as being a bad cook, a bad seamstress, or anything else that pertains to women. Women develop interest after seeing western women coming to play the drums and do not understand why the western women and men can do it without being judged.

There was once a Iogo drum made out of cement with a different shape. It could not compete with the original drums sound. It was played with hands and had its own unique sound. In Ledzi’s life-time so far he has not witnessed any changes. He told me that knowledge is kept in old age because everything is kept in the brain therefore people are expected to respect their elders, who also keep their history in songs and drums. Unfortunately by relying on old people, when they die much valuable information is lost

How one decides who’s good/bad musically? He said it depends on the “sweetness” of the music, variations produced, and the ability to change rhythms when needed and more so people want to be able to enjoy dancing to the music. Depending on position of the hands and production of sound, polishing the drum language to perfection, ability to remember the songs and rhythms is important because otherwise the repetition of one sentences is boring and redundant

Reflection: Ledzi was very interesting to speak to, and I spent more than 2 hours with him. The conversation flowed easily so I did not feel the need to come up with many questions. The question I asked myself was that according to the other men, women are present in music, but if that were to be true why did I not find any women to speak to?

Interviewed by Julia Santana-Parrilla, July 2008

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Second Interview

Ledzi Agudzemegah is a 29 year-old male drummer who is also studying Professional Accounting to become an Audit Assistant at a College in Accra. He is not married and he has no children. He lives in a nearby village, Dzogadze, however he spends a lot of his time in Dagbamete teaching music.

Ledzi says that dance and music has been taught in schools since 1975, however not all schools offer these courses. Where music is taught it is normally Western music, traditional music is only taught for important upcoming festivals or competitions. Where music courses are available, all able musicians are allowed to participate, however only the best are selected for competition. Children of all ages are encouraged to learn traditional music when it is available and Ledzi gives an example of the opening of a nursery school where kindergarten aged children performed the drumming while older children performed the dancing. To show this to me, Ledzi led me to an area of the village where children of all ages were practicing for a district-wide competition to be held at the Dagbamete Primary School the following day. He believes that not much has changed during his lifetime with regards to school programs.

Ledzi describes a dance from his own village, Dzogadze, as an example of musical change everywhere in Ghana, including Dagbamete. The dance is known as “Atsiagbekor” and there are two versions of it, the popular version which is more widely known and the traditional version which is taught only in his village. The traditional version of the dance is extinct everwhere except some parts of Nigeria. Ledzi says the people of his village went to great lengths to learn the traditional version of Atsiagbekor and to preserve and teach it to younger generations. The dance is traditionally handed down from Father to son however he believes that this tradition is being lost. The difference between the popular and traditional version is that the traditional version retains the proper meaning of the dance and it is more difficult to learn. Ledzi also describes changes in song texts. Some traditional songs are written in an old form of Ewe which originates in Benin. This is a related language, however it is difficult for Ghanain Ewe speakers to understand, the words are similar but sentence structure is different. The meanings and performance of these songs is being lost as fewer people are able to understand this old form of Ewe.

When asked what reason he believes to be responsible for the decline of traditional music among young people he points to religion. Ledzi says that traditional music was considered to be uncivilized or evil by followers of Christianity. Because of this, both the churches and their followers shunned traditional music. Pentacostal churches are still strongly against traditional music however Roman Catholic churches are presently including more traditional music in their services. Ledzi says that children automatically assume the religion of their Father, his Father went to school where Christianity was taught, therefore Ledzi was baptized as a Catholic and he remains one to the present day. This also reinforces the class-divide between those who do not attend school and follow traditional religion and those who do attend school and follow Christian religion. Ledzi currently teaches music in his own village, Dzogadze, in Dagbamete and in Accra. He says he doesn’t receive much money for teaching, but he does it because he loves it and he feels that the more publicity he can get for his village, the more likely it is that people will contribute money to improve the village.

He says there are many people coming from North America to learn music and he believes that this is a good thing. Ledzi believes that with the rapid decline of tradition in Ghana, traditional music may become extinct in Africa so it will be beneficial to store the knowledge in North America so that Africans may re-learn it in the future if interest is regained. He cites the rise of urban music in North America as an example of this. Currently, rap, hip-hop, r & b etc. are popular music types in North America which draw heavily on the traditional rhythms of African music.

Interviewed by Stephanie Szakacs on July 27, 2009

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