My Ghanaian guitar teacher recently asked me to write some thoughts for inclusion in his memoir. A great honor, and difficult to accomplish in a way that held all of my feelings for him. Here’s what I got, and I am happy:
To write about Koo Nimo is a humbling experience–what can I say that would not be echoed by hundreds of other musicians? Ghanaian musicians call him Papa, and they speak of him with an unquestioned respect and love for this man and for his musical authority. To me, a white American guitarist, he is a connection to another land and another age–and to the roots of the African guitar music I love. I met Koo on his visit to Chicago where I’d helped arrange concerts and masterclasses for him. We sat down for a lesson, and he asked me to arrange a band to accompany him at the concerts, announcing that I would play second guitar for him. This was a great honor, and I would stay at his side as a fellow teacher during the masterclasses. The entire Ghana community came out for the concert, and my students filled out the rest of the audience. This was a frigid, snowy week in January in Chicago. The next time we met it was August in Koo’s home town of Kumasi.
His car pulled up to collect me at the circle, and his bandsman ushered me into the back seat of his car where he was sitting dressed in the elegant and austere black kente that the Ashanti wear for state affairs and funerals. I felt intimidated by his authority–now my real lessons would begin. I stayed with him for a week, living in his guest room as many students had before me, sharing the meals prepared by his wife, Comfort, and conducting long lessons on his front veranda which unlike most Ghanaian compounds has no exterior wall. His house is open to the street, and open to the world. Our sessions there were a mix of guitar technique, history of Palm Wine music, reflections on his childhood hearing the Kumasi Trio play, brief interruptions when he would call the children in the street over for some grandfatherly discipline, and conversations on President Obama and modern politics. While I write here of his authority, he is warm and welcoming–keen to share the music, his home, and keen to listen. I was sad to leave. While I call him teacher, I also call him Papa, and friend. I long to sit on that porch on a bright morning again.