Great West African Music from 2017

Americans have this bad habit of lumping all non-English music into this one big genre called “World Music.” This year (as is the case every year), if you glance at “2017 Best World Music” lists, you’ll see that West African musicians dominate the genre.

Here are a few of my favorite West African albums that came out this year. There are a couple longtime favorites of mine (Amadou et Mariam, Tinariwen), but I was introduced to a lot of new artists in 2017.

Another trend I noticed this year is West Africans who are immigrants (or children of immigrants) making music that is a fusion of their family’s traditional tunes and their new homeland’s.

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Genealogies of Kings

Now that we are in the midst of the Christmas season, Christians are focusing on the first few chapters of the gospels of Matthew and Luke where the events surrounding Christ’s birth are detailed. In churches around the world, congregations sing beloved Christmas carols proclaiming the Savior’s birth and pastors wax poetic about that singular event’s eternal implications.

However, you don’t find many carols or sermons delivering the details of Jesus’s lineage. One hymn that I know of – “Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming” – briefly mentions that the Christ is “of Jesse’s lineage coming” but it doesn’t go into nearly as much detail as Matthew 1:1-17 or Luke 3:23-38.

The fact that Matthew opens his gospel with that genealogy is a big signal to the fact that this is very important information. In the cultures of that time, one’s heritage was very important. In contemporary Western cultures, we don’t put much stock in one’s pedigree. That’s probably a result of our history of deposing the aristocrats of old and embracing republican ideals.

However, just because West doesn’t care about genealogies doesn’t mean the rest of the world is over them too. And nor should they be. It’s important to know your history.

The Mamprusi, among whom I live, treasure the genealogy of their kings. The center piece of the annual Damba Festival is when the king’s praise singer and all the drummers sing through the current overlord’s genealogy. The process takes over an hour because it isn’t just listing the generations over several centuries. The singer praises each king with song stories and proverbs that describe the attributes and events of his rule.

Damba occurs around December every year and it always brings me back to the genealogies of Christ in the gospels. If you read over the names in Matthew 1, there is a story behind each one. Often you can head over to the Old Testament and read about the events. Some are exciting and others quite shocking (I’m looking at you, Tamar!).

Genealogies can remind us that God is in control and that our lives have purpose. God ordained the lives of every single ancestor of yours and guided events leading up to your own arrival in the world. He created you and put you here – at this time and in this place – for a reason.

Jesus’s genealogy is evidence that God had a plan from the very beginning of the Hebrew nation (Abraham, Matthew 1:2) and even the beginning of mankind (Adam, Luke 3:38) to send a Savior. And that Savior, to quote the aforementioned hymn was:

True man, yet very God,
From sin and death He saves us
And lightens every load

* UPDATE * My friend and church music genius Kenny Peters pointed out that the less-known Christmas carol “While Shepherds Watched” mentions that the Savior is “born of David’s line.”

A Thank You Message for Southern Baptist Churches

If you’d like to download this video to share with your church family you can use this Dropbox link.

Harmattan Haze

During our dry season we get northeasterly winds called harmattan that bring dust from the Sahara. Sometimes it causes clouds of dust to descend upon us and linger for days. It obscures the sun and coats everything in the house with a fine layer of dust. The worst we had seen to date in Nalerigu was back in early January 2015.

This past weekend set a new record for our time here with an incredible haze that filled the air.

Our house from 30 meters up

I flew my drone up and recorded some video along a route I filmed back in August when rainy season was nearing its end and everything was green. Keep in mind that this footage is of the same place (east of Nalerigu towards the creek) and at the same time of day (late afternoon) only four months later.

2017 Family Photo & Prayer Card

It’s been a year since our last family photo and we need to update our family’s prayer card since the kids are growing fast!

You can download a hi-res version printable 4×6 version of the card via this link:

If you’d like to just download a hi-res version of our 2017 family photo, it’s available here:

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Gaba, the “Adulterous Widow” Charm

Before I get into the story behind gaba charms, I probably have to explain what I mean by an “adulterous widow.” In Tony Naden’s Mampruli dictionary, he defines the unique Mampruli word gaba as “a widow who has sexual relations with another man before her late husband’s funeral.”

Heidi visits with women at a final funeral performance.

In Western cultures we usually hold funerals soon after the deceased passes so the idea of “cheating” on your unburied husband seems a bit absurd. However, the Mamprusi hold two funerals (or three, depending on how you count) for their deceased. The final funeral can occur months or even years after the deceased has been buried. That extended length of time makes a widow’s impatience a bit more understandable but it is, nonetheless, considered an immoral act by the Mamprusi. She must show her late husband honor by abstaining from sex until his final funeral has been performed.

If a woman commits this taboo (and is caught) she is labeled a gaba and considered to be so wicked that her mere gaze can cause harm. The most commonly held superstitious belief about a gaba is that if she looks at a sick person then he or she will die. That is terrifying considering that you never know who might actually be an adulterous widow.

But wait! There’s a cure!

It is believed that if one takes a scrap of cloth belonging to a gaba and ties it to his wrist or ankle when he is sick, then he will be protected from the evil gaze of an adulterous widow. This magical charm is also called a gaba.

This belief is seen in practice every day at the Baptist Medical Centre of Nalerigu, Ghana.

Trey’s friend Latif was sick with typhoid and wore a gaba in the hospital.

Look closely at patients’ wrists and ankles and you’re likely to see a scrap of cloth tied as a bracelet or anklet. Usually a relative brings the patient the gaba when they visit him or her in the wards.

I’ve asked around to find out how people get these in the first place. No one sells the scraps of cloth (seems like an untapped business opportunity if one were a gaba) but instead people have a habit of stealing cloth from known adulterous widows when they are washing their clothes or bathing. Those cloths are torn into scraps and shared among friends and family who hold onto them until the day comes when they are needed by a loved one who has fallen ill.