Friday, September 4, 2009

Dead men don't dance, so let's dance

My wife reminded me today that I had left the story of her father's Homegoing celebration in Accra, Ghana, dangling in the middle, which wasn't my intention, but life has a way with us. Anyway, I was paused at a really great moment - after the food at the reception following the graveside service, just as the music was kicking in. And what fine music it was - The Silver Wings, the working highlife band for the Ghana Air Force!

I enjoyed seeing the bandleader Emanuel Teye, frame the poster of my father in law, Kpakpo Mensah, that waved in the wind behind his head.

I think you see everywhere in West African funerals these traces of the old religion of ancestor veneration. Kpakpo was literally watching over us.

And The Silver Wings rocked! Actually, they highlifed! This is a pop music form that grew out of military bands, bringing European instruments to bear upon local rhythms and intonations, singing in local languages.

It was a funeral, but the people were feeling it.

As so often, I was reminded more of marriage celebrations in the U.S. than funerals. The reception became a vast party that felt public because the number of extended family (and friends) is so huge.

The dancing was made more vivid by the local textiles worn by the dancers, for which West Africa is justly famous.

Fragments of traditional dance forms emerged from time to time, then faded back into the party mix.

I couldn't keep my eyes off this man, who danced better with his disability and cane than I ever could with my even legs and feet.

He had a clown aspect to his dancing, but was very serious all the same.

Like I said, I couldn't keep my eyes off him - and complimented him as he was leaving.

He used that cane as a kind of pogo stick out there on the dance floor.

The reception was held at the Catholic church in Nima, the shantytown in the heart of Accra where my wife's family is based. The childish painting on the wall is for the church school, where many of our family members were educated.

I didn't just watch, I danced too, though thankfully I have no photographic evidence of that. I was widely photographed by others, who don't see many Buronyi ("corn-colored person") attending their family functions.

These guys in the white shirts were really clowning - a phrase for dancing I learned in the all-black Mississippi Hill Country that applied perfectly in Nima.

Like they say, dead men don't dance - so we aught to dance at funerals, those of us who are alive.

Let's dance and enjoy every moment we are provided that is not given over to work and struggle and illness and death.

Had to get a snap of Christine, my wife's dear friend who lived in the Bronx when we lived in New York, and her sister. Christine loves to call people "darling," and she is very darling herself. Their mother, who lives outside Accra, also is one of our very good friends and attended our wedding in New York.

As always, I was proud to share this vivid experience with our daughter, Leyla Fern, shielding her eyes from the sun there, watching the band. I can only imagine a life where at age six I attended a Homegoing for my African grandfather in West Africa and stood this close to the Ghana Airforce Band as they pumped out the jams for hours ...

* Pictures are by me; click them and they get bigger.*

More in this series

Reception for Kpakpo at the Catholic church in Nima
'You cannot tell the goat story without the cow'
Libations to the dead man, down in his grave
A light was going out, A Light was shining
The flag, the casket, and the cross
One last journey to his final resting place
Blood on the threshhold and on the butcher's shoes
"Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him"
A fine farewell to a father in law
Family and friends at Kpakpo Mensah's Homegoing

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