We extend our expressions of solidarity and concern to the families of the young students violently taken from the school in Chibok where they were sitting exams. Our hearts are with you and we, like so many around the world, pray for the safe return of these young people. We reach out as well to our many colleagues in colleges and universities across Nigeria, who are confronted with a tragedy on both personal and professional terms. As an organization of researchers and scholars, WARA denounces this growing attack on education. The brutal targeting of students is an all-out assault on youth and on the future.
Children everywhere, girls in particular, are increasingly targets of oppressive violence. It is each of our jobs as adults to see that our children are safe. We must denounce the production and circulation of the arms that make this kind of violence possible. We must hold our communities and governments accountable for enforcing policies that protect our children. Girls and young people everywhere deserve to live in a world free of violence where they can learn and grow and prepare for the future of their communities.
The West African Research Association
Boston & Dakar
Survival in Ho-Asogli Traditional Area
Ghanaian ethnomusicologist Dr. Misonu Amu, a visiting scholar at the New England Conservatory of Music this spring, was recently the guest of WARA and the African Studies Center. On Thursday, April 17, 2014 she gave a compelling talk entitled Ewe Women’s Musical Practices in the Volta region of Ghana: Survival in Ho-Asogli Traditional Area.
In her general introduction to Ewe musical practice, we learned that northern Ewe groups use a diatonic scale while southerners use the pentatonic—or five note—scale. We also learned about a range of instruments and some types of songs practiced by the Ewe. Dr. Amu underlined that music among the Ewe is interactive and involves singing, instruments, and dancing.
The core of her presentation was on women’s music. “Women,” she noted, “are custodians of tradition.” And music is among the most important of traditions in any culture. She underlined the key role of music in women’s lives and the many social functions it fills. One of these functions is expressing grief and dealing with death. This is the domain of the Aviha, literally, weeping songs. These traditional funereal songs, performed exclusively by women, with their often philosophical lyrics, pay tribute to the deceased and engage the community in the ritual of grieving. Dr. Amu noted that in Ho, the capital of the northern Ewe region, the Aviha is not permitted to be performed for Christians.
The audience was treated to demonstrations of some of the songs by Dr. Amu and enthusiastically took on their role in the call and response format.
The Tutsi Genocide: In Remembrance of April 1994 in Rwanda
The Senegalese novelist Boubacar Boris Diop and writer Felwine Sarr recently joined efforts to establish a new publishing house in Dakar, Les Editions Jimsaan. WARC joined together with Jimsaan to host film screenings and discussions in remembrance of the Rwandan Genocide, which took place 20 years ago. Boubacar Boris Diop, hailed for his committed writing and his thought-provoking perspectives, is the author of Murambi, Le Livre des Ossements (Murambi the Book of Bones), a heart-rending tale on the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda. Felwine Sarr, author of three published novels, is also dean of the faculty of economics and management at University Gaston Berger (Saint Louis, Senegal).
On April 22 and 23, Editions Jimsaan teamed up with the West African Research Center to screen two films, 7 Jours a Kigali and Sometimes in April. Screenings were followed by discussions with the audience. The Rwandan tragedy, according to members of the audience, should not only be sorely lamented but should be taken as a warning for other African nations and the rest of the world of what is possible when we are not vigilant.
The director of 7 Jours a Kigali, Mehdi Ba, attended the event and contributed to the discussions. Unfortunately, the director of Sometimes in April, Raoul Peck (most famous perhaps for his film, Lumumba), was unable to attend.
The two films and the ensuing discussions certainly contributed to a heightened understanding of the complexities of the Rwandan situation in 1994. Prior to colonization, Tutsis and Hutus lived as two distinct ethnic groups, in peace and harmony. They worshipped the same god and were culturally very close until the Belgian colonial forces stepped in, ushering in a different religion and fanning the flames of division and hostility between the two groups. This state of affairs culminated in the tragic events of April 1994, fueled by the now-infamous community radio station, Radio Mille Collines, and some European powers.
The two films attracted a crowd of 59 people, which, over two days, completely filled the new WARC conference room.
A Tribute to John Coltrane
Jazz is a world heritage, as indicated by these words from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History,
Jazz: spontaneous, never ordinary, completely genuine, born in America, enjoyed worldwide.
This year, the West African Research Center (WARC) opened its doors to the public and local event organizers for a celebration of April as Jazz Appreciation Month. From April 24 to April 30, event organizers such as Buur Dali Productions held a number of public events throughout Dakar. These included lectures and live musical performances with the participation of talented local and foreign artists and musical groups.
One of the high watermarks of these celebrations was the presentation made by Mrs. Freddy Williams Evans on her celebrated book: Congo Square, African Roots in New Orleans (University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, 2011). The book is an impressive documentation of the origins of black music in America and its flourishing in New Orleans, particularly in the section of the city called Congo Square. From the musical instruments used to the various rhythms produced by players, the author aptly demonstrates that Africa has always been the source and fount of black musical expression in America.
The celebrations also included a showcase performance featuring several talented jazz players from Senegal and abroad, hosted by the West African Research Center on Saturday evening, April 26.