It's been an amazing week already, and it's only Tuesday! This week I have been participating in the Pangea music program that Peace Corps put together in conjunction with the CFPM (Centre some french words Music). It's called Pangea because it's the idea that we're bringing the continents back together through the universal languages of music and dance. Kind of cheesy, I know. Don't ask me, I'm just helping.
For the most part the idea of music for entertainment isn't really widespread in Niger. Most of the traditional musics are based in spiritual rites and any given rhythm or melody is supposed to summon a specific spirit. Well, when Islam came they kind of snuffed out Animism and much of the music. There are still many musicians but making it as a professional musician in Niger is very hard. Especially trying to introduce other influences such as blues, jazz, or reggae.
The CFPM is the main music centre in Niamey. They have a recording studio and basically just provide a place for musicians to hang out and play and share. It's facilities are fairly modest but it is still one of the most amazing places I've ever been. It's great to watch random people who all love music, just sit down and start jamming with instruments both modern and traditional. The atmosphere is one of inclusion and sharing. I have learned so much just from hanging out there with my guitar.
So I'm staying there all week to help out with Pangaea, really the brainchild of Ginger, one of our volunteers. We've scheduled many classes being taught by both PCV's and Nigeriens. I myself am doing sessions comparing the Goje (traditional one stringed viol) and molo (one or two stringed lute) to the modern violin and guitar respectively. Kurt and I are also doing a session later in the week on American folk music. Mostly, so far, we've just been hanging out and learning reggae and blues from real Rastas. It's awesome.
Last night, several of the schools brought their students and we were going to have a Gormantche dance group come and teach us some dances. But they didn't show up so instead we ended up with some of the local musicians playing calabash, drum, and flute and all the kids taught us
how to dance, Africa style. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The kids were totally encouraging. The one who took me under his wing was even named Ali (my Nigerien name). Some of those kids can really move.
There's this one guy who, every time Kurt and I have our instruments out, gets us started playing the same 4 chord reggae sequence. Initially it's just the three of us playing that, until he starts adding a little intro part. Once Kurt and I know what we're doing, and are well on the road to killing our hands, he'll start to improvise over our chords. Gradually more and more musicians will come by until we've got a full on jam session. Today, one of the main guitarists there basically took me under his wing and starting showing me things. Eventually (cause he was only speaking French and mine is not great) I realized he was showing me the A minor pentatonic scale. Well I know of
it and knew it's shape, but hadn't really been practicing. But he showed me some licks to play over the reggae chords and it was like something clicked. I finally started to understand some of the basics of guitar solos. Despite not really speaking each other's languages he taught me a ton, and I learned even more just from connections I made to stuff I already knew. I love music!
It's events like these that make me love it here. Last night with the dancing...that's what I imagined Peace Corps to be like. I've heard that "as hard as your first year in PC is, that's how awesome your second will be." So far I would say that's the case. All of my top Peace Corps experiences have been in the past couple of months: the trip to Kirtachi, Easter in Gotheye,
live-in with one of the newbies in Gotheye, Pangaea, even just the last few months at post. I feel like I've finally gotten to see the real Peace Corps experience. Yes I have my frustrations with the way things are run and the difficulties they cause, but I'm also starting to really have fun here, when I'm not dying of the heat.
Labels: Music, Pangea