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Live from the Union

Each voyage, Semester at Sea invites guest lecturers to board the MV Explorer and provide their own intercultural perspective to a segment of the journey. The Spring 2012 voyage was happy to host the latest lecturer, Ghanaian musician Sheriff Ghale, on the MV Explorer’s 10-day trek down the Amazon River and across the Atlantic to Tema.

Ghale, an acclaimed musician from Tamale, Ghana, performed nightly to a packed audience throughout his stay, rotating through music discussions, original songs, presentations, student sessions, and a popular night of Bob Marley covers. One night even featured a faculty jam session with a Carnegie Foundation Professor of the Year on guitar and a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet on backup cowbell.

International music partnerships play a big part in Ghale’s influences, and Semester at Sea merged his interests in cultural collaboration with music education. Ghale’s non-profit organization, SABABAS, promotes cross-cultural music collaborations and provides opportunities to artists in northern Ghana, where venues, studios, and even instruments can be hard to find. “The whole idea of SABABAS was to explore the power and energy of the arts through social change in our various communities,” he said. “Towards peace building, towards development, and towards critical social issues.”

Ghale has already used his music for positive change, having worked on a public health campaign through the Carter Center to stamp out a local worm disease. Ghale performed in infected areas, drawing crowds together to hear his music, but also to learn about health and prevention. The incredibly effective program began in 2006 and, by 2010, Ghana was free of the once-common plight. There have been no new cases in nearly two years. “It’s a huge success for all the partners and we’re very proud of that,” he said.

Student collaborations filled Ghale’s 10-day tour with SAS. He performed alongside two Brazilian studentsРand some of their American and Mexican classmatesРin a student-led jam session that melded the music of two continents. “We’re trying to draw a connection between Ghanaian music and Brazilian music as we travel from Brazil to Ghana,” he said of the experience. These opportunities couldn’t easily happen in Brazil or in Ghana, but a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean made a perfect setting for this unique musical collaboration.

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In addition to cross-cultural music, Ghale cites his hometown of Tamale as a source of inspiration. “I love the area. The geography is a level ground, so you can stand and see far. For me, I say it symbolizes freedom,” he noted. “I hate to be in a place where you can look to the end. The land reminds me of inspiration and freedom, that’s why I love being there.” Most of the Semester at Sea trips in Ghana take place in the bustling, populated southern end of Ghana, but Ghale is happy he could share his side of the nation. “They’ll experience northern Ghana with my music, and they’ll experience the rest when they arrive. They will be the judges of what they take away.”

Academics and advocacy take up most of Ghale’s time back in Ghana. He is currently working towards a Masters of Philosophy in Music at the University of Ghana, continuing work with his non-profit, and finding new opportunities to use music in public health. His music career continues to grow in Ghana, but he already has an international audience of over 700 new fans from the Spring 2012 voyage.

Click the audio sample above to listen to “Neeimaya,” which means “Wake Up” in Dagbani, the local language in Tamale.

Click here to see a list of previous voyage lecturers and world leaders.

Click here to listen to more of Sheriff’s music on iTunes.

  • Arts
  • Culture
  • Education

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