NOTES FROM joe sheehan


Songs of Lake Volta presents nine traditional songs from Ghana, surrounded by original music influenced by contemporary jazz and classical chamber music. At its heart is Ghanaian song: songs of beauty, sadness, and war, sung in different indigenous languages and styles representative of Ghana’s ethnic diversity. Songs that, when I first heard them, astonished me with their elegance, sophistication, and beauty.


I first traveled to Ghana in 2008, largely naïve to its music, people, and culture. However, I possessed an unbounded curiosity and eagerness to learn. What followed was a complete immersion in Ghana’s music and culture for over six months. I lived alone amongst Ghanaians, studying traditional music and dance with several outstanding traditional musicians. Days were filled with hours of practicing, followed by unforgettable nights attending and performing at traditional music events. This experience transformed my understanding of music, and I left in 2009 forever changed as a musician and person.


After returning to the United States, I searched for ways to integrate this inspiring musical experience into my background as a classical composer and jazz pianist. Songs of Lake Volta is the culmination of this search, and draws from years of field research and return trips to Ghana. It seeks a wisdom that, in my opinion, unites the three music traditions it draws influence from: West African traditional, classical, and jazz.


Songs of Lake Volta shares joy, admiration, and knowledge for Ghanaian music in what I hope is an honest, respectful way. However, by explicitly quoting Ghanaian folk sources, crucial questions of cultural integrity and appropriation arise. Sensitive to these issues, I initially questioned the ethics of the project. However, I proceeded in part because of the trust and encouragement the Ghanaian musicians I worked with accorded me. Also, by celebrating Ghana’s folk songs, I hope to challenge persistent notions of drumming being the sole outstanding feature of traditional African music. Finally, I believe the album promotes values of open, critical cross-cultural dialogue. I hope that Ghanaians who listen to the work hear their music in a new, inspiring context.


Songs of Lake Volta was supported by 2014 Rev. Alphons Loogman, C.S.Sp., Faculty Research Grant from Duquesne University Center for African Studies, and a 2015 Duquesne University Presidential Scholarship Award.





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