by David Rogers
from Jumbie Journal, April 2005
For the second year, Jumbie Records has joined with our artists to support xylophone traditions in northwest Ghana by sponsoring the Fielmuo Kukur Bagr Festival. The festival, in the northwest region of the country, provides competitions to develop the next generation of gyil players and dancers in the Dagara community there.
The festival was initiated in December 2001 by the local chiefs and the Fielmuo Area Development Association (FADA) as a harvest festival to support economic development in the region. This kind of community event is popular in Ghana as a forum to meet with government and appeal for development projects in a local area.
Jumbie artist Bernard Woma is a native of Fielmuo and member of FADA, as well as the solo xylophonist and master drummer of Ghana's National Dance Company. He appealed to FADA to add a cultural component to the new festival, in order to support traditional music and culture in the region. With Jumbie sponsorship, the festival expanded to 3 days to incorporate a cultural mission.
On the first day chiefs and local government officials meet to discuss development goals for the area. On the second day, parliamentarians and regional ministers are invited to speak to the community about their plans to improve living conditions for the district-which is fighting to attract electricity and a secondary school. On the third day, cultural competitions attract young area groups to perform bewaa and binne styles of xylophone music as well as kaare, a women's style of singing and dance. (Click here to see photos)
"This is so important that we have this festival to make sure that these traditions continue," says Bernard Woma. "The influence of other cultures around us is making people lose the sense of their own traditional music and culture. I grew up in this area. We used to go out and play xylophone in the moonlight as kids. Now, as the electricity and television are coming, people are turning to the information age and forgetting their own culture. Are they going to hold onto these things?"
With the help of the Fielmuo Kukur Bagr Festival, Woma hopes that they will hold on to them. The festival provides a forum where people can come and practice the Dagara music of bewaa and binne and compete for prizes. Once given an incentive to perform, Woma says his people have shown they will spend time practicing music they might otherwise be forgetting. The Jumbie sponsorship pays for construction of a new xylophone as the top prize, and cash prizes for other competing groups. Woma is thrilled by the response in the first two years of the cultural festival and now wants to use it to re-introduce games that youth and older people used to enjoy in his community.
In December 2003, Woma attended the festival with his own Dagara Dance Troupe, and with Mark Stone, a co-founder of Jumbie Records. Woma spoke to the festival attendees about his passion for continuing their musical traditions and the importance of involving the youth. "This is your tradition!" he told them.
Woma also spoke of the promise of cultural tourism for the Fielmuo area. "There is no tourist potential in this area," he told the crowd gathered in this remote rural region far from the beaches of the capital. "The only thing people will come here to see is the amazing culture of our people. The xylophone is our gold. If we can promote it, tourists will like to come and see our music, and will help with the development we want for our lives."