blood drum spirit is a jazz quartet from the United States. In January, I had the opportunity to travel throughout Ghana with them as they strived to fulfill their goals and motivations; essentially, “to help others and [themselves] to develop positive human connections and visions of the world through music and dance teaching, performance, and sharing.” Basically, my Fulbright proposal summarized in one sentence.
I was introduced to royal hartigan through Daniel Fennell, the Public Affairs Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Accra. royal needed extra camera work for a music documentary he was working on. Fulbright has sent me here to study music and thanks to mtvU, I have a state-of-the-art camera and video recording equipment; we were a perfect fit.
royal is a phenomenal drummer, pianist, and tap dancer who has studied music from around the world his entire life, and Ghanaian music specifically for decades. As part of fulfilling his own Fulbright Fellowship in Kumasi, his jazz ensemble – blood drum spirit – arrived for a 3-week tour of Ghana to create a video that “honors the deep structures of African life and thought across the Diaspora through music, dance, and culture.” It was an opportunity that I had to jump at and one that I will never forget. blood drum spirit’s vision of their music as “a vehicle to express the human spirit, the African American heritage, the musics of the world, who [they] are, and what [they] have been given from [their] ancestors” instantly hooked me!
For three weeks we traveled around Ghana, including, but not limited to, Accra, Medie, Kopeyia-Aflao, Anyako, Kumase, Ntonso, Mampong Asante, and Penteng, as they blended Western jazz music with the traditional African rhythms found regionally around this country. blood drum spirit consists of royal hartigan on drums, saxophonist David Bindman, pianist Arthur Hirahara, and bassist Wes Brown, who also plays the atenteben flute. They were joined by Ghanaian master musicians who continue to keep their cultural traditions alive, including Kobena Adzenyah, Helen Mensah, Emmanuel Kwaku Agbeli, Olu Nudzor Gbeti, E. K. Yevutsey, Tijan Dorwana, Sulley Imoro, Daniel Annan Sackey, Eric Owusu, Yaw Daniel Okyere, Nana Obeng Gyasi, Mr. Henry Asare Baah, and Agya Koo Nimo. They played in every type of venue imaginable from small villages to jazz clubs to the middle of a market and even a royal banquet for one of the most powerful people in Ghana, the Asantehene Otumfo Osei Tutu II. Wherever we went, people were touched by the musical combinations they had never heard before and responded with reactions ranging from a small thank you to an impromptu dance accompaniment.
Given jazz music’s African American roots, this fusion was seen less as a blend of two different genres but rather a return of music that had been separated and developed within a different historical contexts. In the coming weeks I am looking forward to breaking down the 3-week itinerary for you, with more detailed explanations of the musical styles you will hear and background information on the villages and musicians you see.