By Virginia Prowell
Thanks to the work of Bill Landau of the Tillamook Library Association for bringing such a delightful and talented musician from Ghana of West Africa to preform here in Tillamook County. His music and story were an inspiration to me and my friends and I’m sure to the rest of the audience. This is a testament to the great variety of enrichment that our incredible County Library system provides.
What an exciting, informative and rewarding experience for Marilyn, Frances and myself when we attended a concert sponsored by the Library and held at the Hoffman Center in Manzanita on Saturday, Oct. 7th.
A charming, but humble African man from the country of Ghana, Okaidja Afroso, took stage, sat on a square box and thanked everyone for coming. He then told us he was from Ghana. He explained his country was in West Africa and was the size of Oregon. He said they spoke 49 languages. (a shock to the entire audience) then he repeated it—“Yes, 49 languages”.
He picked up his guitar and began singing in his native tongue. Although we could not understand what he was saying, his facial and body expressions related the story of love and romance.
A true artist in his field of music, he composes all his own songs which tells the story of his country and its traditions and history.
Before singing his next song, he explained the story of the song. He told how it was important to always raise the children with high expectations and always lift them up to do their very best. It was so amazing to hear him utter those words in his native tongue and feel their true meaning.
There was a tall drum with a hollow center and a leather stretched over the top. When he began playing it, I was mesmerized by the speed and dexterity of his talented fingers and hands.
Next, he picked up a round object which looked very much like a pumpkin. This, he explained, is a gourd which has been transformed into a drum. It had a different sound, but again his fingers were enchanted as they whirled and tapped and thumped in a musical beat.
Teasing the audience, he said there was another instrument he hadn’t played and wanted us to tell him what it was. No one could tell him, so he revealed the fact that the BOX upon which he is sitting was also a drum.
Then he told us the story of the box: In the slavery days, many of his people were captured for slaves and weren’t allowed to play their instruments; thus, the box drum came into being so they could keep their music going. They would sit on the box and play it when the masters were not around.
With a reverent attitude, he placed his hands on his Box drum and deftly started to move his fingers rhythmically, every touch created a tone of excellence. Faster and faster his fingers traveled back and forth, up and down, in an ecstasy of a learned musician. His facial and body expressions relayed the pleasure he was feeling. From the drum his hand moved swiftly to his chest, making a soft and mellow tone, then with a blink of an eye, the hands were on the drum again; with lightning speed, his hands, almost a blur, he ended with a deafening display that resounded through the room.
Finally, he picked up the last of the objects on the stage, it was a small round ball. He explained it was also a gourd that had seeds in it which had dried and would contribute to the music it provided. He again asked the audience how to use it and several people contributed suggestions, i.e.: tossing, throwing, shaking. He used all their suggestions and made the sounds from the little gourd into a wonderful toe-tapping beat,
At the end of his playing, he engaged the audience in a dance routine. Everyone joined in and he was especially attentive to the young children who thoroughly enjoyed him. You could see their eyes twinkle when he played and spoke.
At the conclusion, he told a little about his life. He lived in a small fishing village and on Saturday he always went fishing. He said he earned money to buy candy and unnecessary things that a young teenager might want; however, he admitted he was not a good fisherman and never caught any fish, but the fishermen gave him money.
He asked for questions from the audience, a man ask about the fishing. He said they do a lot fishing for food and for sale. He explained that when they row the boat, they never row backwards, always forward because they always want to go forward in their lives. Although his philosophy was always to go forward and upward, his music reflects the past and his passion to keep the old traditions alive.
Frances asked him how he got started with his career. He related a very interesting story:
He joined a dance group (admitting he didn’t dance very well). Then The Governor of Ghana started a program for boys to dance and they tried out and the best dancers were picked to be in a group to travel the country. Again, he confided that he was not a good dancer, but he liked the teacher and seemingly played up to him. Finally, he was one of the chosen to tour.
The three of us were thoroughly enchanted by the entire experience and only wished you could all have had the same experience.