U.S. Fulbright

Living the ‘High Life’: Studying the Music of Ghana

October 8, 2015
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Benjamin Cohn, 2014-2015, Fulbright-mtvU Fellow to Ghana (right), with friend and colleague Ba-ere Yotere on the coast of Accra, the country’s capital

My name is Benjamin Cohn, and I recently returned to San Francisco after a year in Accra, Ghana on a Fulbright-mtvU Fellowship researching the roles that music plays in society, its power to enact real change, and Ghana’s educational infrastructure. These research interests quickly led me to the Bizung School of Music and Dance in Tamale, the Northern region of Ghana. While a big portion of my grant was focused on conducting interviews, writing, and engaging in more theoretical practices (described below), my goal has always been to put my Fulbright grant to good use, which is why I am currently running a campaign for the school.

Although I am not a musician, I have worked in various aspects of “the industry” from radio to concert production and promotion. I maintain a hip-hop website and have contributed articles to many sites including Afropop Worldwide, TeamBackPack and KevinNottingham. Through my Fulbright Fellowship, I was able to immerse myself in the Ghanaian popular and traditional music scenes completely. I did camera work for educational documentaries, created a web series featuring episodic video profiles of contemporary musicians, wrote a video treatment for an up and coming artist and even found my way into the music video of the 2015 Ghana’s Best Rapper (The Ghana Music Award Winner). All of these relationships, and more, led to a serious cultural exchange any time we got together.

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Kids at the Bizung School of Music and Dance pose with a visiting band’s guitar

Applying for any Fulbright grant can be an overwhelming process. My greatest overall suggestions would be to remain open, flexible and practical and to use as many different sources of help as you can. If you take one thing from this article, please MAKE SURE that the last question you ask EVERY single person you speak with is: “Who else should I speak to about this?” This will grow your network exponentially and keep you from hitting dead ends. Choosing your host country does not have to be the first step. You can start by narrowing down what type of work you want to do, what connections you may already have and where that type of work may be most helpful. Build your network while working on your proposal. It will help your application AND make your entry into your new country just that much smoother.

Even though I had a feeling it would, my Fulbright year flew by way too quickly; I already miss Accra and the people who made my time so memorable. I don’t know how or when, but I am sure that I will be back in Ghana again! Maybe I’ll start working on a new Fulbright application.

I wholeheartedly believe that music is beneficial to children’s development. I was lucky enough to visit the Bizung School of Music and Dance’s founder, Alidu, and his staff throughout the year and each time I was more impressed with the operation that they are running. While I cannot play an instrument, and therefore cannot teach/help in that fashion, we discussed ways for me to get involved; a fundraising campaign is the perfect opportunity! I have set a lofty goal of buying new guitars AND a van so that kids outside the immediate surroundings of Bizung can also experience the power of music! Furthermore, this campaign is a bridge from my friends in Ghana back to my networks in the United States so that we can continue to interact even after I have returned.

For more information about Ben’s Project, visit this link here.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Dave Rhody, aka BA October 30, 2015 at 7:33 pm

    Ben, thank you for your passionate commitment to people and music. The human race needs all possible ambassadors of peace and understanding. Those reading Ben’s Ghana blog, please make a contribution to the Bizung School, so they too can bring beauty and positives to our world.

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