Bizung School of Music and Dance

Tamale, Ghana

The second PFCF school constructed on the continent of Africa is in Tamale, Ghana, hometown of Mohammed Alidu, who has played percussion with the Playing For Change Band. Alidu is a descendant of a long line of talking drum chiefs known as the "Bizung" that have lived in the area for more than 1,000 years. In his family's honor, the school has aptly been named the Bizung School of Music and Dance.

The school offers music and dance classes that are rooted in the traditional style of Northern Ghana. The school provides the children of Tamale a safe environment to learn in, as well as the opportunity to share their cultural and musical traditions with other children around the world.

Construction of the Bizung School was completed in February of 2010, and after hiring teachers, planning curriculums, and enrolling 150 students, classes began on May 17, 2010. Courses are currently offered in drumming, dance, xylophone, gonje, and vocals. For many students of the Bizung School of Music and Dance, taking classes here is their first time attending a school of any kind, as there are currently no other tuition-free schools in the northern region of Ghana.

The recent addition of a passenger van has made it possible for more students who live far away from the school to attend, as well as transport students to performances around the region. A music studio has been opened nearby for the students to learn how to use recording equipment and editing software--skills they can use in the future once they have moved on from the school. 

Click here for more photos from the Bizung School on flickr!

  • Bizung School creative director, Mohammed Alidu, invites us into the school and speaks about the musical history of the region 

  • Interview with Halik, a student at the Bizung School

  • Welcome to Tamale! Meet the teachers & students of the Bizung School

  • Opening Day at the Bizung School: February, 2010

  • Students from the Bizung School of Music and Dance, Tamale, Ghana, perform on PFC Day 

OTHER WAYS TO GIVE

$15

Djembe repair

Allows local craftsmen to replace the head of a djembe (hand drum)

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$50

Building Materials

Buys materials to repair and expand the school building and outdoor classroom

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NEWS

Aug 17, 2014

Lunga, Dondon, Talking Drum

by Shauna Murray

The Dagomba people of Northern Ghana have a long tradition of using music as a way to pass down the history of the region and its people from generation to generation. The primary musical instruments of the Dagombas are drums, specifically the lunga (often referred to as the dondon or “talking drum”) and the gungon.

The lunga is an hourglass-shaped, double-headed tension drum carved from tree wood and fitted with animal skin over each end and leather strings along the sides that can be tightened or released by the player to change the pitch, creating a spectrum of high and low sounds.  The pitches can vary over an octave with many variations in between. The “talking drum” name comes from the way that the drum can be tuned and the manipulated to carry tones and inflections that sound similar to the human voice.

LIFE IN THE COMMUNITY

Tamale is a city with more than 300,000 inhabitants and is the capital of the Northern region of Ghana. The main languages spoken in the area are Dagbani and English, and most of the inhabitants are Muslims.  The people of Tamale live by the sun. They wake at 5:30AM for morning prayers, and go to sleep shortly after sunset.  The Bizung School of Music and Dance is located in an area of town called the Norrip Village. Every afternoon from Monday to Friday, dozens of kids attend classes at the school to study music and dance. Most of the students live in the area but some of them come from other parts of Tamale to attend classes traveling by bicycle, walking or carried by one of the teachers.

  • Traditional Music and Dance

    The Bizung School of Music and Dance offers classes in traditional music, focusing on traditional instruments such as talking drum, djembé, palogo, gonge and xylophone. Classes are also given in dance, chant and keyboard. The kids also learn how...

    … more

  • The Jera Dance

    Jera is a potent dance.  As with most dances in the North, the history of Jera is deep, obscure and mysterious.  Most sources trace the origin to one particular hunter called Nanja who, while in the bush, came across an ill omen: group of dwarfs. ...

    … more

  • The Adowa Dance

    Surely one of the most stately, graceful, dances in West Africa, the Akan “Adowa” takes its name from the impressive animal, the antelope.  With its silent, swift movements, the antelope is evocative of the ideal warrior, and that is how this...

    … more

  • Xylophone

    The xylophones at Bizung are not indigenous to the tribes of the Northern Region.  We brought them here from Lawra in the Upper West region of Ghana, close to the borders of Burkina Faso and Cote D’Ivoire.  The big frames and the dangling gourds...

    … more

  • Gahle

    Gahle refers to traditional maracas. The gourd accompanying the gonje is called gahle, although popularly the instrument is referred to as “Zabia”, the name of those who play the gahle. This instrument, with little black seeds hidden inside, is...

    … more

  • Guŋ-Gᴐŋ

    The hefty cylindrical bass guŋ-gᴐŋ carved from cedar, called brekete in Southern Ghana, has a slender hide snare (chahira) strung right across the top portion of both broad leather faces. When the curved stick strikes and the left hand slaps above...

    … more

  • Kpanlogo

    Kpanlogo is a type of drum that is associated with kpanlogo music. The drum originates from the Ga people of the Greater Accra Region in Ghana. The drum has a tapered body carved from a single piece of wood that is similar in shape to a conga. The...

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  • Dagomba Lunga

    The Dagomba lunga is an hourglass shaped tension talking drum, variations of which are known more widely across the subcontinent as don-don. Fastened on the shoulder with a scarf, the lung is fitted beneath the armpit and beaten with a curved...

    … more

  • Gonje

    The gonje is a mysterious instrument—strange and uncanny even to those among whom its playing is commonplace. The sounds, the technique, and the crafting of the gonje all make for an intensely singular aural experience. Decorated with scarves and...

    … more

  • Abdul Rahman

    Abdul leads the school and teaches percussion, dance & chant. He got into music at a young age & studied in Ghana & abroad, then began work as a music instructor & traveled the world to perform music & dance. He is a project manager at the Youth Home in Tamale & chairman of the Dance Association of the Northern Region of Ghana.

  • Mohammed Alidu

    A descendant of a lineage of drummer chiefs from the North of Ghana, Alidu has resided in the U.S. since 2005 where he formed his own band, and toured with the Playing For Change Band. Alidu came to PFCF with the idea to build a music school in his hometown and has taught there several months per year since it opened in 2010.

  • Benedict Ali Kolaan

    Benedict Ali Kolaan is a music teacher and ethnomusicologist specializing in African music. He teaches rudiments and theory of music--one of Bizung’s more formal course offerings--as well as traditional folk songs from around Ghana. B.A. Kolaan received an award for his voluntary service to help send blind children to school.

  • Suali Seidu

    Suali teaches percussion and dance at the school. His natural authority and experience with music allow him to teach different instruments to our students. Suali has been a music instructor for almost fifteen years and currently combines his work at the school with a position of music instructor at the Youth Home in Tamale.

  • Ahmed Abdul-Samed

    Abdul-Samed is a gonje musician—first learning this traditional horse-hair violin as a child from his grandfathers. He is a master in his field & regularly performs at traditional ceremonies and festivals around Ghana. Samed has released two albums in Northern Ghana which blend the sonorous gonje with Western Instrumentation.

  • Prince Mahama

    The legendary Prince Mahama got his start as a member of the Adom Professionals, an all-blind band that traveled extensively around Ghana. He has the honor of being the first musician in the Northern Region to sing originally composed songs in the Dagbani language with a Western band. Prince plays guitar, keyboard, bass & drums.

  • Christiana Kofi

    Christiana Kofi has been working at Bizung since it opened as a secretary. She is a trained singer in church choirs and enjoys gospel music. Since she began at Bizung, Christy has also developed an interest in traditional music and enjoys many Dagbani songs.