I just returned to Kumasi after a two week trip to Benin. The music of Benin had always fascinated me, both the traditional drumming music with infamously complex "24/8" bell patterns, and the contemporary creative musicians like Gangbe Brass Band, Lionel Loueke, and Angelique Kidjo who hail from Benin and have achieved international success.
Determined to see the country with my own eyes, I travelled by road from Kumasi, passing Accra, Aflao, Lome, and Hillacondji before finally arriving in Cotonou, Benin's largest city. In Cotonou, I commissioned a recording session of traditional music, collected CDs and DVDs from the market, visited contemporary musician Jah Baba at his Africa City Sounds studio, took Sato drumming lessons, attended an all night-wake keeping, danced at a funeral, and even managed to go swimming and drink a few beers at the beach.
I visited Ouidah, the historic home place of "voodoo" traditional religion, where I learned about the strong connection between Benin and Brazil. Finally, I travelled inland to Abomey, where I toured the sprawling museum at the ancient Dahomey palace, and took a lesson in Sakpata drumming.
Just as I had heard, traditional culture is strong in Benin. Traditional music, dress, and religion still seems to be the way of life in this West African nation. Overall, I can say that I learned a lot about Beninois music and culture, I got the experience of visiting a new African country, and, got to enjoy some French baguettes.
Big thanks to my friend Bernard "Sola" Kwashie from Accra who travelled to Benin with me, introduced me to his family, and translated French and Ewe for me!