Agobaya mefoanu dzro o. Yae doa nofu ne.
The palm does not speak by itself, it is the wind that causes it to do so.
If you’ve come across this website you have probably come in contact with, or have heard of, J.S. Kofi Gbolonyo. If you have happened on this website without any knowledge of Nunya Music Academy’s founding director I highly recommend you find a way to learn from him as it will change your life - it surely changed mine.
I met Kofi Gbolonyo in 2007 in Hong Kong. He was a visiting artist at the Hong Kong International School and I was working there as a music teacher in the second year of my career. In the fledgling years of my life as a teacher, I was aware that my worldview was incomplete, it was why I became an international school teacher, to experience it firsthand.
During an afternoon jam session in his first week at my school, Kofi put me on the gangokui, the Ewe name for a double bell, and he proclaimed that this would be my instrument for the rest of his visit. My job was to keep the repeated patterns going, patterns that often held all the other instruments in the percussion ensemble together. At first look, the bell seems like a harmless, low-stress job. Little did I know, Kofi would challenge my musicianship with West African rhythms that make you feel like you’ve turned your brain inside out, scrubbed it clean and, in doing so, lost all concept of the placement of the downbeat.
More challenging than picking my musical ego up off the floor, during our time together Kofi would also expand my definition of what perseverance looks like. Kofi works tirelessly to maintain and preserve the traditions of the Ewe people and, in doing so he hoped to improve their quality of life. He is determined to bring the world to Ghana and bring Ghana to the world. Little did I know, almost ten years ago, I would have a part in his mission.
Kofi’s time as a visiting artist in Hong Kong would be the first of many opportunities that we would have to learn from each other. Each time, I would be in awe of his ability to balance sharing and translating Ghanaian music, dance and culture to a Western audience without sacrificing its richness and authenticity. His tenacity for giving context and meaning in a way that is digestible for your average Western musician is invaluable for music educators worldwide.
In 2014, in collaboration with the San Francisco Orff Summer Course, Kofi hosted the first ever Orff-Afrique master class in his home village of Dzodze, Ghana. I quickly signed up to be a part of this experience, excited by the opportunity to finally learn from Kofi on his “own turf.” The course was amazing, but what made it so remarkable, beyond the games I learned, the fabric I bought or the newfound connections to other music educators, was my interaction with the students from Kofi’s school, the Nunya Music Academy.
Located in the Volta Region in southeastern Ghana, the Nunya Music Academy is an institution that provides free Western and traditional Ghanaian music education to any willing child. The students who attend Nunya Music Academy, which is currently hosted in the Gbolonyo family home and runs as an after school activity, are a vibrant example of the value and potential this educational approach can bring to a community. These students not only possess awe inspiring musicianship and abilities in movement that are natural component to the Ewe culture, but they also possess an inspiration to use these abilities to go further, to connect to the world through their music and dance.
Kofi and the students who attend Nunya Music Academy belong to the Ewe ethnic group, which is one of the largest in Ghana. In the Ewe language you will often hear their greeting “Woezo” which translates to “you are welcome.” The common response of the visitor is then “yo” which means "yes" or “thank you.” Kofi enjoys pointing out that Western communication often involves giving thanks first and then responding with “you’re welcome,” whereas the Ewe people do it the other way around.
A decade into my teaching career, I’ve learned that my worldview will always be incomplete. There would always be more to learn and new places to explore. However, watching children from the Nunya Music Academy perform with pride and connect to foreign educators so earnestly, moved me to find out what I could support and contribute to what I did know. They had welcomed me so warmly, I wanted a way to give them my thanks.
I found my role in giving thanks for Nunya in creating this website. My intention is to use it to amplify Kofi’s message and that of the students of this school to digital citizens everywhere. It is my hope that this blog will serve as a forum for the plentiful voices surrounding this institution. A place for people to share their stories of how they too were moved by Nunya or how they contributed to help this community build something truly unique. Every other month we will have a guest blogger including students, teachers, volunteers and donors telling their story of how Nunya brought the world to them or how they helped to bring it to Nunya.
We look forward to your return, but for now, weozo, you are welcome.
Ashley Benusa is a Performing Arts teacher at the Canadian International School of Hong Kong. She is currently serving as the webmaster and Director of Technology of the Nunya Music Academy.