OVERSEAS OVATION: CHAMBER SINGERS OF HAVERFORD AND BRYN MAWR MOVED, INSPIRED BY TRIP TO GHANA
The Chamber Singers of Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges—under the direction of Associate Professor of Music Thomas Lloyd—are a well-traveled group; they’ve been to Poland, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, and Venezuela. This year, they participated in their fifth international inter-cultural exchange during winter break, traveling to Ghana Jan. 13-23 for a series of performances with local Ghanaian choirs.
In addition to Lloyd and the 27 bi-co student members of the choir, the trip included eight other students and four other faculty and staff: Haverford Associate Professor of Religion and Africana Studies Tracey Hucks; Bryn Mawr Associate Professor of History and Africana Studies Kalala Ngalamulume; Haverford Dean of Multicultural Affairs and International Students Sunni Green Tolbert; and Program Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs and International Students (OMAIS) Samantha Ivery. The group’s travels were supported by grants from Bryn Mawr College, the Haverford Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, OMAIS, the bi-college choral program, the offices of Haverford’s provost and president, the John B. Hurford ’60 Humanities Center, and the bi-college Africana Studies program.
The Chamber Singers performed three public concerts with five different Ghanaian choirs. In each three-hour show, the group sang eight songs in African languages with their host choirs, and always ended with what appeared to be the traditional Ghanaian singing of the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah. After this, says Lloyd, “the drummers and keyboard players would break into Ghanaian ‘high-life’ dance music for another half-hour or so of dancing among the performers and audience members.”
One memorable trip highlight was the group’s opportunity to meet Chief Nana Prah Agyensam II from the Assin Kushea Traditional Area, at an event arranged by Juliana Imbeah-Ampiah, mother of Ronke Imbeah-Ampiah BMC ’06. During a special ceremony, the students shook hands with the community elders and witnessed the entrance of the Chief (“Nana”) on a ceremonial stretcher (usually called a palanquin) carried by the king’s attendants in traditional dress and flanked by ministers wearing Kente cloth robes with gold ornaments. Once the Nana had been seated on his royal “stool,” the students were invited to greet him one by one as dictated by protocol.
The Chamber Singers performed several songs for the gathered crowd, processing in to “Dinpa sen ahonya,” a song in the Asante language of Twi which means “A good name is better than riches,” and ending with “Stan’ Still Jordan,” an original arrangement by Lloyd combining an African-American spiritual with a traditional Ewe ceremonial song. At a dinner following the ceremony, the Nana welcomed the group and informed them that his nephew, Richard Jonah ’98, had graduated from Haverford. “He felt the students had made a very strong and positive impression on the children in attendance about the importance of education,” says Lloyd.
Undoubtedly the most moving parts of the trip were visits to the final bath-houses of the slaves on a riverbank outside of Cape Coast and to the slave castles of Elmina. “Experienced guides and our trusted Africana faculty members helped the students absorb in a more personal way than ever a sense of the terrible price paid by 60 million African people over more than four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade,” says Lloyd. “As faculty, we were so moved by how this representatively quite diverse group of students managed to offer each other both support and personal space through an intense experience that affected all of them deeply, but in different ways.”
“Never in my life have I ever felt as intrigued and affected by my black heritage as I was at Elmina Castle,” says John Bower ’07. “The whole experience made me question so much about myself, my family background, and how I see myself as an American.”
The tour ended on a high note, with a concluding concert in the capital city of Accra. American Ambassador to Ghana Pamela Bridgewater and French Ambassador Pierre Jacquemot were in attendance, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ghana’s independence. The Chamber Singers also dined with 20 students from University of Ghana, Legon, and Professor of African History Takyimaa Manuh, who had given the students a lecture on Ghanaian history and culture earlier that week. The Ghanaian students, says Kate Tomascovic BMC ’09, were surprised when they learned that “the majority of Americans can only speak one language and that our school system did not talk about the history of many African countries. They thought it was unfair that they knew more about their own history and our history than we did.”
The Ghanaian students were affected by the group’s positive and perceptive impressions of their home country, says Lloyd. “One Legon student pleaded, ‘I don’t know what plans you have, but don’t keep this experience to yourself! Say something positive about Africa to counter all the negative images people in the West see.’”
Since returning to campus, the students have found numerous opportunities to share their experiences. Many have enrolled in Africana studies classes, such as Tracey Hucks’ “Slavery, Catechism, and Plantation Missions in Antebellum America” and Kalala Ngalamulume’s “Urbanization in Africa.” Two students presented a slide show for Haverford’s recent Alumni of Color Weekend final dinner. And on Friday, March 23 at 4:30 p.m. in Aelwyd House on Cambrian Row at Bryn Mawr, and Friday, April 13 at 4:30 p.m. in the Union Music Building at Haverford, the whole tour group will share their experiences through slides, video clips, discussion, and a live performance by the Chamber Singers.
As a result of this journey, Joel Kwabi ’07, a resident of Tema, Ghana, realized that his own knowledge of his home country isn’t as broad as he’d like it to be, and plans on further travel and exploration throughout his birthplace. Also, “I have come to a better understanding of the state of the African race in the diaspora,” he says. “There’s so much reading that I need to do and I am on a personal mission to keep in dialogue with the people on the trip about this issue.”
For additional photographs and accounts of the tour, see http://www.haverford.edu/musc/choral/csingers/cshome.html.
— Brenna McBride