Avu Adukpo

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Avu Adukpo(July 2008)

Name: Avu Adukpo
Age: 51
Birthplace: Dagbamete
Place of Residence: Dagbamete
Education: Primary School 6
Occupation: Retired/Drummer


Avu Adukpo was born and raised in the village and has lived there all his life. He ended his studies after the sixth grade, and he worked as a farmer until he lost his sight. Since then his family takes care of him. Sometimes he travels for brief visits to Nsawen near Acera and Pekie in the Volta.

Adukpo says that he alongside his brothers inherited the tradition of drumming from his father and grandfather and also learnt music at school. Today Adukpo plays lead drums in several groups including a funeral insurance company and composes music for them. (In fact he was meant to play at a funeral the day after this interview but due to an illness he planned to miss it).

Although Adukpo is older than other drummers in his group, he says that he is “always being asked” to play. For Adukpo music is something that comes from someone’s desire and interest and it demands listening and interest. Adukpo is currently a teacher and many students from WACE (West African Cultural Exchange) alongside foreigners come to learn from him. According to Adukpo, a good student is someone who listens and concentrates, and he claims that in his philosophy if a student is not good it implies that he has had a poor teacher, and if a student is good it is because of his teacher.

According to Adukpo, Dagbamete used to be a village but has grown into a town. The musical tastes of young people have also changed and some prefer traditional music, whereas others like popular music. He expresses his opinion about this change through a famous proverb in Ghana, which says that a child who resembles his father grows unfamiliar and unrecognizable when he grows up. In other words, according to him people change and leave “old” ways. He feels sad about this because in his times the “young people used to need old people,” not just to teach them about music but to simultaneously teach them about life. However, Adukpo says that today with recorded music the young people do not seem to feel the need to interact with old people and learn from them. The impact of technology and modernization on music in the village is adverse, says Adukpo. There are occasions in which religious music at the funeral is played at the DJ system instead of being played live, and he finds that to be very unpleasant. He believes that the way to preserve traditional music in the village is through education in schools.

Interviewed by Elisa McRae on July 26 2008

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Second Interview

Avu Adukpo is a 57 year-old male drummer who has lived in Dagbamete for 52 years. He has one son. His education ended in Grade 6. There was no school in Dagbamete at the time so he attended primary school in Akwave. At the age of 12 Avu went blind. Because there were no support services available for blind students he could no longer attend school.

Avu learned to drum from his Grandfather and Father. He believes there have been changes in the musical culture of the village. However, he says “the culture still remains strong”.

When he is asked to provide an example of change Avu points to teaching methods. He says that in the past drumming and dancing were taught with much more technical detail. A student would have to progress through certain landmarks before a new concept would be shown to them. Avu remarks that today children will just pick up a drum and play whatever they hear other people playing, perhaps without an understanding of the meaning or consequence of the rhythm they play. He believes this stems from an attitude of declining levels of respect for elders. Children today lack the discipline to learn incrementally as was done in the past.

When he is asked whether the teaching of music in schools has changed his answer is ‘no’. As in the current system, traditional music has not normally been taught in school. However, Western music was taught at some schools. Traditional music would only be taught if there was an important upcoming festival, competition or performance. When asked if he believes that knowledge is being lost due to the change in teaching methods and decline in respect for elders, Avu strongly believes the answer is ‘yes’. He uses dress code and social conventions as examples of this. He says that people no longer wrap their cloths correctly as was done in the past, and women wear pants which was never allowed before. The traditional complex greeting process is no longer used by most young people. The way he speaks about these losses in tradition convey the feeling that he does not believe these changes are good for his culture. When asked whether there are any festivals or occasions where music used to be played but is not played anymore Avu answers “No”. He says they still play music at every occasion. This comment seems to reinforce his previous statement that the traditional culture still remains strong.

Avu currently teaches music to both men and women of all ages. His attitude towards learning is that it requires a mix of heredity and proper training. He believes that anyone can learn the traditional music with the proper concentration and respect for it. However, in order to be extremely good you must be born with a family history of music. Avu believes his own son would be classified as a ‘divine drummer’, and that you can only become a divine drummer when the music is passed down through your ancestors.

As translated by Amuzu Dunyo.

Interviewed by Stephanie Szakacs on August 10, 2009

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Third Interview

Q: How long have you lived in Dagbamate?
Avu: His whole life

Q: Where did you learn to drum?
Avu: His grandfather and father

Q: How has music changed here in the village since you were younger?
Avu: The changes haven’t affected the culture. Drumming used to be learned in detail but now they just show you the beat, the youth don’t want to listen to elders, they want to learn on their own. They have less respect for the elders and there is a lack of discipline. Things are being lost in the culture.

Q: Can you give us an example?
Avu: In dress, women use to not wear pants. And the greetings used to be a long process.

Q: Did they teach you drumming at the school in Dagbamete?
Avu: He didn’t go to school in Dagbamete. He learned to drum outside of school, and he learned even before he started attending school. It was more westernized drums that were taught in school. They only learned traditional music when they were going to a competition. He wasn’t able to continue in school because of his eyes (he is blind).

Q: Who do you teach? Is there a certain age group that you teach?
Avu: He teaches all ages, who ever comes.

Q: Do you have to be born with the talent to learn music?
Avu: No, if you are willing to learn and listen you will succeed. But to be extremely good, one has to be born with it.

Q: Do you have any kids? Did you teach them to drum?
Avu: Yes, he has one son that he taught to drum. It used to be that you would learn to drum from your family.

A translator was used for this interview

Interviewed by Deirdre Lucas Summer 2009

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Fourth Interview

In Dagbamete, this man is known as Avu. He is one of the master drummers in the Dagbamete shrine and a composer. He has composed for the unity drum piece. Musical tradition runs in his family. Avu’s grandfather and father were both musicians, drummers, and composers. And his mother loved to sing and dance. So, he grew up in a very musically influenced family. In the shrine he plays specific drum patterns to evoke the spirits, but in the everyday life, he likes to play different drum pieces: Unity, Agbadza, Afa, Kinka, and Yefe.

Afu explained to me the four main purposes of playing traditional drum music in the shrine.

1. Animal sacrifice 2. Dancing 3. Healing those who are sick 4. After the sick have been healed

The “Healing” and the “After Healing” period can take a long time depending on the degree of sickness.

Avu loves to play for the community when they invite him. He plays the drum on several occasions, ex. Easter, funeral, festivals, and at the shrine. Avu informed me of the difficulty of singing and drumming together simultaneously in a performance. So when he has to sing the lead part in a call and response piece he stops his drum playing and sings the part. Then he goes back to the drum.

Avu informed me some of the subtle changes that he has noticed in Dagbamete. The music in the community has been altered in small ways. The traditional musical pieces are played at a much faster speed than the olden days because of the youth. The youth play kagan, kidi, and sogo faster than it is supposed to be. It is almost like the youth are rushing to finish the drumming pieces. Avu’s example of this occurrence is very similar to our drum lesson with Professor Kwasi, when he tells us to not rush when playing certain drum patterns. The elders really dislike the youth’s speed when playing traditional music, but if the elders do not play the pieces up to the youth’s speed, then the elders may be considered as bad drummers or musicians.

Thus, the main “problem” that he sees in this village is in the youth, because when the elderly are trying to teach them valuable lessons, they do not want to learn. Due to the western influence they have become more stubborn than before and they do not want to listen to the elders’ advice. Thus, it pains the elders to see such a sight. Avu said that if the youth were able to listen to the elders then the youth would improve and become better drummers, dancers, and musicians, keeping in mind that elders would be happy to teach them. He compared his theory to this example: if you are apprentice to a carpenter, you are a good student and you work hard, then the shop will grow bigger and earn more profit. Thus, it is the same concept. If the youth learn the traditional music playing in the proper way, then the tradition will thrive even more.

Avu believes that the root of the problem lies in the impact that western influence has upon the town and in Ghana. In the village when there is a party of some sort the youth want Western music to be played by a DJ instead of traditional music played by village drummers. Personally, Avu is not a fan of this situation. Because of this he does not like to attend such celebrations. However, at village festivals, they play traditional music to get them back into traditional roots. More kids are watching movies, TV, and MTV, and then portray the lifestyle that they see in those films, and because of this they have become more stubborn and picked up bad habits from the videos. One of the common bad habits is smoking. Their grandfathers and fathers don’t smoke, but due to peer pressure in school some youth have picked up the habit. Those rich musicians’ images influenced them to think that money can come easily at once, so you don’t have to work daily at a constant rate, which lead to a lazy behaviour, then leading to problems like smoking. With this, more young people are moving away from villages to live in the city where there is more Western influence imposing on them.

In the end, Avu believes that traditional music will always be relatively the same. And he believes that tradition will not die in Dagbamete even with the stubbornness youth.

Being a blind man in Dagbamete, he feels that life is very hard. When he was 12 years old he got into a car accident with 8 other children on a market day at the Akatsi market. And only 1/9 children survived, and that boy was him. Then came 1982, he started to have pain in his eyes. His family took him to Agogo-town in Kumasi / Kunogo. The doctors were unable to treat it, and from there it got worse. Eventually, he lost sight in both eyes. Currently, his family takes care of him when he needs to go to places. When he is drumming and playing music with everybody he is very happy and feels like a normal man, because he is able to entertain the people in his village or other communities. His mood improves when he visits people from other villages or meets visitors in Dagbamete (like us). Due to his blindness, finding a proper job is almost impossible for him. However, he believes that God is managing his path on to the right route. He does have a very special skill being a man who cannot see. He is able to use his hands to weed his farm. When he touches the grass on the field he knows whether it is a good crop or a bad crop. A very special talent indeed! Also, he feels that because he is unable to see, his ears have become more sensitive for him to concentrate on the music. He has been teaching people how to drum for several years, and some are from the West African Cultural Exchange program (WACE).

Interviewed by Linda Sun on July 30, 2009

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Fifth Interview

Avu Adukpo(Summer 2009)

Avu means, “A dog is an animal that is wild.” Adukpo means “death have mercy on me.”

Avu was born in Dagbamete in 1957 and is a member of three community drumming groups, Akpoka, Unity and Torwogbe. He also co-founded Unity in 1975. He is a master drummer in all three groups and in the Apetorku shrine. Avu started drumming in 1969 and started singing in 2001.

He explained that music is passed on from generation to generation. His great grandparents were singers and drummers and he learned from them in addition to his parents. He also learned a lot by listening to drumming in the community.

Avu explained that Unity songs help when you’re having difficulties such as feeling sad. They cheer people up at funerals. He wrote many of the original Unity songs. Other people are composing new music for the group. This is leading to a gradual change in repertoire. These songs come to him in his dreams. He then teaches vocals to others. Drums are added later on. He often uses already existing drum patterns and old variations. Some of the songs still used are from 1975. He gathers people to teach them the words. They were first taught to people in Dagbamete then brought to Unity. Call and response is used in teaching. There are a lot of songs in the Unity repertoire, too many to sing at every rehearsal. The group constantly mixes repertoire so as not to forget songs. The group also learns dancing as well as drumming and singing. Traditional dances are used. The same songs are taught to young drummers now as he learned them when he was young.

The community comes together to form community drumming groups. They prepare to help each other at funerals etc. If a Unity member passes away the group plays at their funeral. Modern funerals have community drumming and DJs. Multiple groups can play at a funeral. Dagbamete’s group is the best due to a strong musical tradition.

Avu explained that Christianity doesn’t destroy tradition. Members can practice both Christianity and traditional religion. Both Christianity and community drumming can be at the same funeral without quarrelling. A dying person chooses which tradition should bury them.

The same drums are used forever. There is no change ever to Unity music.

He composes songs encouraged by other’s praise. Others will continue to sing his songs after he passes away. He will live on through his songs. Sometimes he composes new drum improvisations and follows certain rules while doing these compositions.

As time goes on music is becoming more important to the daily lives of people. Community drummers are all equal and share the same role but have a leader. Obligations of community drumming members include contributing monthly dues, attending all rehearsals/performances (monthly or funerals) and wearing the uniform (shirt and hat). If they don’t pay they can be kicked out of the group or the group will not provide for the family when they die. The symbol of the group is two hands shaking. This is a symbol of unification in life and strength.

To be a member of all three groups is fairly common. Rehearsal dates are planned so they don’t conflict. He explains that some changes will happen in the future. People will add songs. People will alter words of existing songs for the modern era. Songs will never die. They will just change slightly.

Interviewed by Derek Gray Summer 2009

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