Agbadza at Tufts

Howard Woolf


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Interview Participants
So let's just start by asking how did the project begin, what are the origins?
The origins of this Agbadza project, I guess we would start. With my relationship with Gideon Foli Alorwoyie. In the time of his grandfathers It used to be that a song would get, raised up for a performance and then the drummers would hear the song and would, play rhythms whose language that they're saying on the drums augmented or enhanced the meaning of the lyrics.
He shared with me his goals of doing research on drumming language of the Ewe people. And part of what he had done was a research project on the music and drumming language of the item of repertory called Agbadza.
So I went to talk with Professor Kirsch. Jamie said hey are you interested in learning this stuff? And maybe doing a project where we combine the Kiniwe ensemble and my research with the chorale. And he really liked the idea.
Within a day he had deposited, the scores and the recordings. He had everything set to go and I had this big stack of stuff that I needed to go through and I, I put on the recording first and listened to it and it was really it was very interesting totally new sounds to me not music that I had been trained to do, but knowing that we someone like Prof Locke here, I obviously jumped on it right away.
So this sort of rhythmic drive is gonna be one of the things to do, so there's always a little bit of a forceful edge to sort of timing. Some of the short ones have trickier rhythms.
There's that first one.
So it’s…
So the piece is called Agbadza. Can you all say Agbadza?
Agbadza.
Agbadza.
Agbadza.
Agbadza.
Agbadza.
Good.
Okay so that's the name of the piece that we are doing and it consists of instrumental ensemble music, singing by a large group of people, and a dance movement that goes along with it. The, every accent of the performing tradition is-timed according to the first thing that I'm going to teach you. There is an instrument that has a sound like a cowbell there is an instrument that plays a, a, rhythmic pattern that has a certain duration and certain pattern to the notes within the rhythmic pattern.
And then it cycles over, and over, and over, again. Sort of, like, in a movie. So learn this rhythm. And understand it and how to feel it, and how to get your temporal orientation from this rhythm is the most important thing.
So clap your hands together on the beat that I’m going to play here.
Right? So say matikbo. Which means I will jump. Matikbo.
Matikbo.
Now say that twice like this, matikbo matikbo.
Matikbo matikbo.
Pleh.
Pleh.
Pleh.
Pleh.
Kooja.
Kooja.
Pleh kooja.
Pleh kooja.
Matikbo matikbo pleh kooja.
Matikbo matikbo pleh kooja.
Play this: Matikbo.
Matikbo.
And then do that twice with the hands like this. Matikbo matikbo. Ready, go.
Matikbo matikbo.
And then pleh kooja was this. Giving us: matikbo matikbo pleb kooja. Why did I teach you this? So that you could feel the bell rhythm in four. One two three, two two three, three two three, four two three, one two matikbo matikbo pleh kooja. Matikbo matikbo, four and one. Matikbo matikbo pleh kooja. Because what we are really going to be really working on, and it’s the most single challenging thing in the entire project, is to be able to stay on the right rhythmic place.
And then everybody sings together. And Kevin this is a very very classic form, where you have an opening that repeats and has call and response.
Mhm.
And then you go to the next part of the form, and everybody sings together. So this is a classic Ewe song form. And there are other variations on this form. This is the classic one. So then, when people sing together, it’s…
The style doesn't use vibrato, so, that may be a habit that's hard to break but it makes it sound stylistically so incorrect when vibrato comes. And another stylistically challenging thing is is to not sing with a kind of pretty voice. And, it always works the best if things get sort of introduced correctly the first time.
Well that's what we were, I was gonna ask if we could talk about it. I had this thought that I thought you would, you would maybe disagree but is there value in teaching them the pitches first? If they knew the tunes, cold, from memory, and then you taught the words perfectly, I think that might be helpful but I don't know if you think, if the words are essential. That's how I would teach a normal piece of music to them.
With uh?
I always, for me personally, I'd start with pitch. So, I'll have them sing on a neutral vowel and, or count.
Yeah, that's fine with me.
And this way I'm not making, ‘cause I'm going to make errors even if I think I know it perfectly.
Yeah, just…
Because I'm not accustomed to making these sounds.
Yeah, and I do it better than you but I, compared to say Ralph, I know that you're a native speaker, I also cringe a little bit.
Sure.
When I sing them also.
There's a hierarchy. So since I'm at the low end maybe it's, but I'm positive that I can teach them the pitches in perfect rhythm.
Yeah.
And so maybe the next layer… that would be helpful, okay, that makes me feel better. That takes…
That's fine.
That takes a little pressure off of me to do that.
Okay so, here we go. We're starting now to learn these Agbadza songs, okay? And it is gonna be a process unlike anything we've done together or anything I've done together. So, what's going to happen, is there are eight songs. We're gonna learn them all. First, we're gonna learn them without the words, okay? With no words at all, on just a neutral syllable.
Once we know them really well on a neutral syllable, Prof Locke will come and teach us the language, all right, the diction. And so Agbadza, it's the Ewe's main type of music and dance, is what we're doing. The songs have lots of themes that are repeated, such as life and death and war and heroism.
You'll see when we do the texts, the first one that we are gonna do, it says, you all open the gate, I will go brave ones, and so there are, a lot of them are war songs. What this is not gonna be is an 80 voice choir standing up in tuxedos still like this and singing this music like it was Bach or, or whatever piece we did last semester. It’s not the right, you have to completely wipe out all of that idea. So everybody, please count one, and a two, and a three, and a go.
One, and a two, and a three, and a four, and a one, and a two, and a three, and a four, and a…
Keep it going.
One, and a two, and a three, and a four, and a one, and a two, and a three, and a four and a one…
Okay. So, you start singing on big beat number three, okay? So, you sing three and a, and then four and a, quarter eighth quarter, or eighth quarter to quarter eighth.
So measure one is: one and a two and a ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba. Can you feel the swing? Okay. Without me talking anymore, let's just start that and sing them on, sing on da, da, da. Da. Da da da. Okay, here we go. One and a two and a:
Good, good good. Just so I can say I told you this, I will just remind you that he has asked us to be singing not very pretty like, okay? It's probably, if he saw this tape, he would say it's out of character, it's not really the way it's supposed to be.
I’m just, the rest was pretty good, all right, for the first time through. Now, let's divide. Let's have the basses and tenors be the leader. Leader is the Heno, right? The H-E-N-O at the beginning, and then the group comes in. You see where the group comes in? And then in your story, in measure eight, I think I wrote all. Did I write all, and then I copied that for you?
Mm-hm.
Okay. All right, so that means, and that means both groups sing. All right? Everybody sings at that moment. Okay, here we go, so tenor and bass, you're gonna start this thing. Here we go, ready? Da da. One and a two and a:
Women.
Repeat guys.
And measure eight would be.
Mm-hm.
The divided bp and a of ba. You more or less say it as ga or ba. I'm talking about…
Measure… oh, I see.
Measure seven.
Okay.
You don't have to say b, a. You say ba, bya, ba, ba-ho. It's almost like the e hardly sounds.
Bya?
It's, you could almost sing it like b a.
Ba.
In measure three, the d with the tail on it. Half de. That d is a retroflex tongue move. De, de, de.
De, de.
Like a Spanish r.
Another unfamiliar sort of sound would be, there are certain consonant clusters, that, or diphthongs that are not common in most of the languages that we would know but are present in the Ewe language. So, things like g b, you don't say them ge ba, you say it as one sound: Gb, gb, gb, gb, gb.
Gb, gb, gb, gb, gb, gb, gb.
It sort of has a pleasant vibration in the back of your throat. So this you have to say gi po.
Gi po.
Okay. Those this is your two layers:
Gpo, gpo, gpo, gpo, gpo, gpo.
Okay.
Uhm, so let's take it from whoa-oh-oh. Ready, and:
Beautiful, okay, the melodies are sounding great, the rhythms are sounding great, you're picking up the words really quickly, so I think we're gonna nail it for sure.
So, the way we arrange it is, I sing by myself, without the bell and the drums. And then after that, the bell starts, the hand clapping starts, and the string instruments come in, then the song raises up, I will raise it up to where she is able to see you.
For number two, we are going to start with first, is going to be these ten guys as the leader, and then the rest of the choir, and I will try and work with everyone and let you know what the new arrangement is:
Okay, sing with me.
Okay, my prediction is the drums are gonna drown out all this number of voices.
I don't have to predict, I can tell you that that bell by itself drowns out most of the noises with out any drums. Would you like to do that one again?
And then you hear this: you can have several people playing that. And then you have this:
What?
And then you have two other drums.
No, you don't have a choice, this is the way it's going to be, sorry. For this next one I need a group of eight. I need four sopranos and altos, and four tenors and bases. The verse is everyone else. Let's go for the back. Here we go. So one two, one two, or one two. Sorry, I didn't see you, one, yes, okay, one two, one two, you got it? And then I need two tenors, two tenors, maybe two tenors we need to go before.
So, four sopranos and four tenors, basses versus everyone else. The four plus four is the leader. Everyone else is the group. Here we go.
Difficult to hear the group.
Yeah.
Difficult to hear the group, but hey, it's possible that the small group versus big group thing will simply not work because of sound. If you just can't hear, even if I put you all together, I'm not sure it's gonna work unless you put me front and center.
Which may happen. I mean, maybe for every song, someone, you could have sort of-
Right. But right now they're getting buried. I don't blame the group for not knowing exactly when to come in.
Can we just have two, two, two, and two? Be brave, be brave, and just come in a line. Two, two, two, two, just stand right here. Ready, set, go. You have ten seconds. Go.
Yeah, I'm not happy with losing contact with everybody back there.
Yeah.
Well will be standing right?
Uh… maybe.
One of the challenges in doing world music, in sort of new culture environments is the, what you might say, the familiarity of the listener.
Oh, there were times when I thought, what if they can't count it? What if they can't come in right? What if they don't like it? What if… all these things go through your mind.
Some people come to chorale with they want to sing certain things that they love, and know, and look forward to. And this is kind of new and outside their comfort zone.
Okay, thank you. That was great.
Okay that was by far the best one in terms of balance, and just, well it was just by far the best one.
All right, so that was very good you all. Congratulations.
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