Preparation and FAQ

As I await my departure for Accra in November, I thought I could answer some of the most common questions I receive, rundown some of my preparation and detail what I hope to do. I am lucky to live in the Bay Area, home to many organizations built for the preservation of the arts and arts education. I have spent the last months meeting with teachers, employees and heads of music programs of all kinds. It has been a fantastic time to learn, gather resources, make contacts and gain insight into the world I hope to join.

Why Ghana?
Narrowing down what country to create a proposal for was a difficult process. The path that lead me to Ghana began with The Jazz Ambassador Tours and specifically Louis Armstrong’s experiences in Ghana. Ghana was also the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to achieve independence, standing as a role model for the first Wave of Independence through Africa in the 60s and the Civil Rights movement in America.

What is the music like there?
I’m going to find out! I know that Highlife is traditionally popular and that more recently a hip hop and Highlife fusion genre has come to be known as Hiplife. To my understanding, in the clubs, you’ll probably find a lot of reggae, dancehall and music of that type. Below are some of the artists I have discovered recently, and I will definitely continue to post more throughout my time abroad.

Do you play an instrument?
Another one of the first questions that I am asked when discussing my Fulbright-mtvU Fellowship. No! Despite my love for music that goes back at least to age 6-7 (my earliest memory: discussing music for hours on the phone with local DJs on 107.7 off air during their shows). I have a background in commercial/college radio as well as concert production/promotion and I love to write about music, but I have yet to pick up an instrument.

What kind of music program?
This is a tough one because I do not want to bring plans for a program only to find the exact thing exists there already. I am trying to stay open and flexible to whatever will be thrown at me. Ideally, I will work with local musicians and educators to help provide music education to those who may not have had access. However, I feel very strongly that I should not show up with an attitude that ‘x is important’ or ‘y needs to happen’. Instead, I want to bring as many skills and resources to the table as I can, find out what needs to happen and what is important, then try to achieve that.

What will you be researching?
My undergraduate degree is in International Political Economy. Throughout my academic career, I had the opportunity to write about music’s role in society from a political economist’s perspective. Focusing on systems and the interconnectivity of a country’s make up, music finds its way into culture, politics and even the economy. Similar to the music program I plan to set up, I do not want to be inflexible about my research topic and will try to allow it to flow naturally. I intend to learn as much as I can about the roles that music plays in Ghanaian culture, history and contemporary life. I will be working directly with Dr. John Collins, a professor in the music department at the University of Ghana-Legon and the chairman of the Bokoor African Popular Music Archives Foundation (BAPMAF). This will result in a paper that combines primary and secondary research in the same vein as my prior paper, “Music in Madagascar: A Political Economist Perspective on the Music Industry and the Actors Within,” and my thesis, “Music’s Role in Society: a Legitimate Factor in Enacting Change in Developing Countries.”

Where will you live?
Through my network in Accra and contacts at the U.S. Embassy, I have secured an apartment.

Are you worried about Ebola?
Short answer, yes. It is a scary, serious situation for all of those in the at-risk areas. That being said, there are still no reported cases in Ghana or its neighboring countries, and the Fulbright program will operate based on guidance from the State Department and local U.S. embassies. It is certainly something on my mind but for much more than any personal risk.

3 thoughts on “Preparation and FAQ

  1. Ben, you are going to make a difference! You have so much to give and with your open mind and attitude, great things will be accomplished. I am so proud of you. Know you are in my prayers, for your safety, health, and what you can accomplish there.

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  2. Ben – so proud of you and very interested in following your work. I would love to connect you with my friends who run Afropop Worldwide (www.afropop.org) if you are not already connected; they are writers, musicians, and ethnomusicologists and have spent time all over the great continent of Africa researching and writing about music. Message me if you’re interested before you leave and best of luck!

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  3. What a fascinating, perspective, Ben. I admire both your thought process and your desire to engage in an open process. You are definitely putting yourself in a great position to learn and reflect your insights back to the musicians in Ghana and around the world. I can’t wait to follow your discoveries and accomplishments.

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