Name: Togbe Agudzemegah
Occupation: Chief of Dzogadze and Teacher of Literature in Ho (capital of Volta Region)
Education: Bachelor of Music and Dance at University of Ghana
Q: What does Togbe mean?
Togbe: Literally, it means grandfather. It is the title of the chief. The chief of the village is called Togbe. I am the chief, the ruler of the village.
Q: How long have you been chief of Dzogadze?
Togbe: 6 years
Q: What do you have to do as chief?
Togbe: In every society there should be a leader, to rule the society. In every village we should have a chief. To see to the affairs of the community, their wellbeing, everything. The elders come together to choose the best person for the job, a in doing so they selected me.
Q: What level of education do you have?
Togbe: I did diploma first, in 2004. I have a diploma in music and dance. And, after having the diploma I decided to continue on to do a degree. So I went on to do a degree in 2006. Another two years. I have a degree, still in music and dance at Legon at the school of music and performing arts.
Q: Have you played music all your life?
Togbe: Yes, but mostly the dance. Not the orchestral music, the traditional drumming and dancing,
Q: Did you start as kid?
Togbe: In our family, all of the small boys start to play the drums. The moment they start to grow, they start to play the drum, because we always play drums. So I started from childhood.
Q: Who taught you to drum?
Togbe: Over here, we don’t have people that teach how to play or how to dance. We only look at the way the elders do it. Then you also do it. You just practice it, copy it, and learn it.
Q: Did you learn by watching community drumming and shrine?
Q: How is your family involved with music?
Togbe: My father is the leader of Atsiagbekor.
Q: Does your whole family play music?
Togbe: They all play.
Q: Did you play in groups when you were growing up?
Togbe: At first, we started with the dancing. We go to community drumming. When there is a funeral, we go there and play drums and dance. Then, after that we continued with Atsiagbekor. We have group dancing. We go to places to dance. Then after dancing for a while, I started to practice drums. But it is not everybody that is perfect. Some are more perfect in drumming, and some are perfect in dancing.
Q: Can you tell me about the Atsiagbekor group your father runs in school?
Togbe: Started a long time ago before our grandfathers. My father thought it wise to bring it to the school to teach the children. So now the children in the school are playing it
Q: Was it getting lost?
Togbe: Yes, it was getting lost. So my father thought that if the drumming was left in the hands of the old men, our grandfathers, then when they die, the dance would die with them. So you must teach the children, so that the children can learn, and teach the ones that follow them, and the dance will remain.
Q: How was the dance taught before taught in school?
Togbe: Our grandfathers go to the bush. They don’t learn in the village or house. They go to bush to practice. So when they go to the bush, they practice and come back to stage it and go back to the bush. Before you become Atsiagbekor warrior, you have to be in the bush for some time and learn everything about the dance. That is how it was taught in olden days.
Q: So, once war stopped, they stopped going to the bush, and eventually brought to school?
Q: In high school, did you continue playing?
Togbe: I formed a group. When I went to high school, the head master asked me to form a group, because I knew something about Atsiagbekor. So I formed an entertainment group. So we were playing Atsiagbekor before I completed school
Q: And you taught this group?
Togbe: Yes, while I was in high school.
Q: Before University where did you play?
Togbe: After high school, I didn’t teach anything about Atsiagbekor. But anytime I come back home and they are staging the dance, I join them Atsiagbekor is Dzogadze’s dance.
Q: What are other songs they play in Dzogadze?
Togbe: We have other musics. We have Gadzo, Kinka Agbadza. Many of these things in the village.
Q: Were you a member in those groups?
Togbe: Everybody in the village is a member of all of the groups. Most of the dances do not require special skills. For example, Agdbadza and Kinka, you only go and dance. It is only Atsiagbekor that requires special skill to dance. If you don’t know it, you can’t join. But the rest of the dances, you can join the group and dance. So anytime they are playing, as a member of the village, you also join and sing and dance.
Q: At Legon, did they teach all styles from around Ghana?
Togbe: In the university, you also learn about other ethnic groups in Ghana. You learn their music. For example, in the north, they play Bawa and Bamaya. And you learn all those things. You learn about Kpanlogo. And Adowa and Kete.
Q: How can you learn a tradition in just two years?
Togbe: They teach this dance today, and another dance tomorrow. So we have many lecturers. Various lecturers teach each dance.
Q: Did you find that, learning that quickly, you could not completely learn each dance?
Togbe: Yes, I have the skill that is embodied in me. So anytime you teach me any dance, I pick it up quickly.
Q: Did they teach Ewe music?
Togbe: They taught Atsiagbekor, but their style is a little different than the one here. Theirs is a little more choreographed. Ours is traditional, but there they change things and choreograph. They also added some styles that were not original.
Q: As they teach that at university, does the music change?
Togbe: The music changes a bit. For example, the way they play totogi is different than the way we play.
Q: Did you spend time learning in villages?
Togbe: No, only in university. They brought people from villages to the university to teach
Q: What classes did you take at Legon?
Togbe: Literature, History of African music. Drama. Singing. Traditional music. Choreography. How to choreograph a dance. We had a lesson in how to take a dance and try to change it. We were taught all those skills.
Q: Did you see music in Accra?
Togbe: Yes, Kpanlogo. No Atsiagbekor
Q: Is music in the big city different than in villages?
Togbe: Ga people in Accra. Their music is different from Ewe people. So when they have festivals, the only music they play is Kpanlogo. So when they play, it is a little different than in school. They have free range; they do anything they want to do. But in school, we have guidelines. So it varied a bit.
Q: Are there many that study music at university?
Togbe: So far, I am the only one to go to university to study music.
Q: You are a teacher. Do you teach music?
Togbe: I teach literature. The type of music in our schools is the notation. We don’t do the practical one, the traditional one. I didn’t study the notation, the orchestral music, so I don’t teach music. But we have a cultural group in the school and I handle that. So anytime that we have a cultural festival I handle the group. And because there are not always events to prepare for, I can’t be in the school waiting for the time to handle the cultural group, so I have to teach literature. We were also taught literature in university, so I teach English literature.teach Western music in schools.
Q: Western music is taught in schools. Why not traditional?
Togbe: I don’t know. When the missionaries came to Africa, they made the African mentality to be that everything traditional is bad. So they held onto the Western music. That is the mentality they have created in the minds of Africans. So up until now that is the music they teach in schools. But they don’t teach traditional. In the university of Ghana we have choral music and traditional music. Traditional is drum and dance. Choral is pure notation. You go to piano and guitar and sing. That is what is taught in Ghana. Choral people teach in high schools. And traditional musicians have nowhere to teach. The choral teacher goes to school and draws on the chalkboard, the G clef, and solfege notation. Other than history, traditional is never taught.
Q: Did missionaries and Christianity change the music in villages in Ghana?
Togbe: When they came, at first, there were no government schools. All were missionary, so they brought their music to the schools. So if you wanted to learn music, this is the music you have to learn. This has been handed over to present generation. It is now that we are trying to bring in traditional music to schools. That is why we are trying to have cultural competitions.
Q: While only Western music is taught in schools, did traditional music get lost?
Togbe: No. Traditional was never taught in school. The only thing that kept the music going was the people and the community. They use the music at any occasion. At funerals, any recreational activity. So the music kept growing. So now we are trying to bring the traditional music into the school syllabus. But the only aspect we teach is the history. But we don’t teach the playing or dancing in the schools. The Western one, the notation, is in the syllabus. They tell you the music has a G clef and an F clef.
Q: Will traditional ever be taught in schools?
Togbe: Since it is taught in university, one day they will add it to the syllabus
Q: In villages, is music taught the same way, now, as it was when you were a child?
Togbe: Still taught the same way. We put out the drums, and the kids wake up, they take the sticks and hit the drums. Hitting anyhow. And as they continue to hit it, if you listen to the rhythm, you will know that they are forming some kind of rhythms. As time goes on, they begin to listen to how the pattern goes, and they copy it and learn it that way.
Q: Have musics changed?
Togbe: Atsiagbekor is the same. It has never changed. Only in university that they change. They change the pattern somehow.
Q:They teach altered versions?
Togbe: Our type of Atsiagbekor is nowhere but Dzogadze. The rest of people play choreographed, the university type. Our type is only in Dzogadze. We never changed. We still play it the way it was handed from our forefathers to us.
Q: Throughout the rest of Ghana, are they playing the wrong Atsiagbekor?
Togbe: Atsiagbekor is only Ewe. Southern side. Anlo section. No more anywhere else. But we have people of four areas that also play it (Afyiatningba, Aflao, Abosue, Anloga – likely misspelled). But the way they play it is different from the one we play I Dzogadze. But they don’t really play a lot any more. When you go there, you wont see any serious Atsiagbekor played.
Q: If Dzogadze stopped playing it, would Atsiagbekor get lost?
Togbe: The reason Dzogadze still plays it is because it was introduced into schools. That kept it going up until now. Or else it would have died like everyone else’s died.
Q: Have some musics died?
Togbe: Yes. Goteni is no more in existence. The thing is practicing. When you are practicing the music, it will be alive. But when you stop practicing, the people that know how to play that music, when they die, the music will die with them. So we have various musics like Goteni. Our type of Kete was dying down, but we are reviving it. We have many dance or musics that have died with the people who introduced it.
Q: How can Ghana keep music going?
Togbe: Some of the musics aren’t played regularly. Some are played regularly, When someone dies, they play that music, so it is played regularly. But the ones that are not played regularly, they have to introduce to children. And the place of the children is the school. If you want to teach children something you have to teach in school. If you teach outside of school, when they go they forget. So these music, must be introduced into school systems, and if the teachers work with the students, the music will remain
Q: What do you think the biggest change to music will be?
Togbe: The change I can think about is with the various categories of music. Atsiagbekor has never changed. But music like Agbadza has gone through changes until this present stage. It was not like that formally. So there is a change in some of the music, but some have never witnessed any change
Q: How can a music change and yet stay the same?
Togbe: The change is with the performance of the music. Formally, the drums that they use to play Agbadza have changed. They vary the drums. They no more use the old type of drums. The type of music, the songs that they sing have changed. The pattern of the songs has changed a bit. Also the dance has changed a bit.
Q: Who can change a type of music?
Togbe: It just changes on it own. As time goes on, the generation (its handed on from generation to generation) will decided to play the music this way. The moment it starts, it will continue on, and then the next generation decides to change. It is not like a group gets together and decides to change. When it changes they don’t know that it is changing.
Interviewed by Derek Gray Summer 2009