It’s taken me up until this point to realize that my time in Zambia is coming to a close; I have one more month of work with the Ngoma Dolce Music Academy remaining. It’s hard to believe that five months have come and gone so quickly. By this point the bizarre and foreign are now the norm. Sometimes I forget that Lusaka is not home and that, as far as I know, this routine of walking under the African sun to teach jazz drumset at a Zambian music academy will not be my future schedule. In just five weeks, here’s what I’ll [all too soon] be without:
The new Kabulonga location of the academy is really starting to take shape. Every day that I arrive at work something else has been added or improved. It is still a long way from complete, but the progress is promising and exciting.
Most relevant for me: the percussion room has finally been completed. As the biggest room in the academy, construction of my temporary office has been quite the challenge (especially sound-proofing a room with a lot of reverb and even more loud instruments). I’ve also played a key role in literally building this room. My manual labor has made me all the more attached to room 5 of Ngoma Dolce. Simply put, I love my new room.
I can’t tell if it’s my love for my room or for practicing that brings me into work two hours early every day. Either way, between training Chax (my Zambian drumset instructor protégé) and teaching far too many lessons, this seems to be my only quiet – probably a poor choice of adjective – time.
Speaking of Chax, things are moving along with him … slowly. Whereas initially the majority of our problems were predictable (the expected difficulties of teaching an adult and reviewing basics with a talented musician never exposed to them), I am now faced with, for lack of a better word, very Zambian issues. Malaria has kept him away from training for a week. The heavy rains of the wet season make the dirt road leading to the academy often impassable. Public transportation is unreliable to say the least and often to blame for his inability to make a session. Unfortunately I have also run into problems rooted simply in the mindset of many Zambians. All too often the excuse “this is Africa” is used to explain far too many deficiencies. Teaching a Zambian a Western approach to music education is sometimes seemingly impossible when he truly believes that his African mindset conflicts with our expected rate of progress, commitment, priorities and professionalism. All things considered, we have still made tremendous moves in the right direction. I am confident that the academy will be left with a more-than-capable drum and percussion teacher.
If I haven’t made it clear already, formal music education is lacking tremendously in Zambia. The fact that it is so tough to come by even in Lusaka (the country’s capital and most populated area) should speak volumes. For that reason schools in different provinces of the country even look to Ngoma Dolce Music Academy for the rare chance to musically educate their students. Once a week, three teachers and I are sent to Martin House Trust School, an international primary school in the middle of the Zambian bush, in Chisamba, Central Province. There is an overwhelming demand at this school for us four teachers. In just one day we give about 28 private lessons. Once we are finished, we walk a half hour and board public minibusses for about four hours until we are back in Lusaka – exhausted and accomplished.
About a week ago I was put in charge of finding and purchasing three Zambian ngoma (traditional indigenous drums) for the academy. Because of my connections with the few local traditional drummers, especially a drum and dance troop, I knew exactly where to go. My rhythmic friends and I ventured into Matero Compound, one of Lusaka’s biggest slums/ghettos.
We spent the next chunk of time testing dozens of drums.
Once I found the three I was happy with, we had them tuned and shaved in front of us.
After this, two of the drummers and I returned to the academy to place the drums in their new home. While we were there we decided to experiment. I hopped on drumset and they on ngoma: we combined American jazz drums with Zambian ngoma while playing a traditional rhythm. The result was something else.
To showcase the quality of musicians teaching at the Academy, one only needed to look to the Zambian Music Awards (ZMA) held on February 22nd. This is undeniably the country’s biggest award ceremony. It took place in a sold-out venue and aas broadcast live to about 100,000 television viewers. At the ZMAs, my protege Charlie Chax took home the award for the best drummer in Zambia. It is an honor to be teaching and working with the country’s most rhythmic man. I really am leaving Ngoma Dolce Music Academy with the best possible drumming future. The piano teacher at the Academy was also seen at the event; he was performing with the winner for best R&B artist, Roberto. And then somehow I found my way on stage. I performed in the climax, the finale of the show. I was playing traditional ngoma with three other drummers. We accompanied gospel artist of the year Mag44, nominee Pompi, triple-nominee Abel Chudnu Musaka and Seya. The opportunity to perform live on TV at the Zambian Music Awards is one I will never be thankful enough for.
With all of this excitement and progress, I’m sad to see this trip slowly disappear in front of my eyes. However, I’ve accomplished quite a bit already. I am looking forward to seeing how everything wraps up in the next few weeks. Until then I guess I’ll just keep on drumming…