About Musical Memory

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I grew up in a house where music was really important to us, to the extent that, from what I've heard, my mother sang for us even while she was pregnant. I guess you could say that music is a part of my life in general. I've had a variety of musical experiences, but one in particular sticks out because it altered the way I thought about music: my family and I went to an African wedding of a couple who were close acquaintances. Although I was still quite young, this wedding was undoubtedly one of the best ones I have ever been to, and I have been to many. I cannot pinpoint the exact date but it would have to be about three to four years back. From what I can remember, the couple was both born here but their parents had originally migrated for job opportunities. Even though this was the case, they, the couple, would constantly say that their parents would ensure that they travel back home whenever they could; something they too would do with their children. This is all to ensure that from one generation to the next, they do not forget their African roots even though they live in a different country with a western culture.

For the wedding, we were all invited and the one reason I really wanted to go was that they told us to be ready to dance. They made it very clear that dancing was necessary for their wedding and that it would be helpful to wear comfortable shoes to the event. They did have a church wedding, which was typically the traditional style where scared songs were sung throughout. The bride also walked down the aisle to the famous "here comes the bride" tune that has been played in almost every other wedding. It is important to note that for the church ceremony, I did recognize all of the songs that were played.

From the church, we had to go to a local ground that they had hired for the entire afternoon. This was a first for me given that the past weddings I had attended, the reception was most likely to be in a hall. At this point, we were asked to serve food and wait for the couple and their bridal team to return from a short photo session. As we ate, I remember that the music being played by the DJ was largely African. I had never heard such sounds before but they were captivating and one could not help but either node their head, tap their fingers or feet.

The reception area was large and almost full to capacity as family members from both sides were in attendance. I can recall that on our table, there was an aunt from the bride's side who had flown from Africa just to witness and attend the wedding. A good percentage of them worn African attire that was beautifully colored and well accessorized. This was mostly true for the women than the men. The food also, even though there were some western cuisines, some African dishes were also served in plenty.

The part I loved the most was when the couple returned. Most people had already finished with their food as dishes were being cleared when the music was stopped and all women asked to go receive the bride. At first, I did not understand this but we were lucky enough to get an explanation that with most African customs, it is a way of welcoming more so the bride into the family of the groom. Additionally, even though it is women from the groom's side that would sing; by the two families coming together, it symbolizes the acceptance of the union. The music that was played from this point was pure folk given that they were traditional songs. One woman would lead as the rest joined in and at the same time, they would dance going round in circles.

There were drums to help synchronize the tune and at different points of each song, the vocal would stop and it became instrumental with only drums. What I loved the most about all this is that they all somehow danced and made musical sounds in a systematic rhythm that one would think they had months to practice. The wedding guest was the audience to this music and the general response I got was that everyone was allowed to join in the singing and dancing. Consequently, I too joined for a moment just to experience this magical event as it unfolded right before my eyes before stopping to record before it all ended.

I would not say that the performance was limited to a few trained musicians because as the above was going on, different women would start different songs. However, once the dancing stopped and everyone took to his or her seats, there was a performance by a young girl. As we sat, I asked the bride's aunt what it all meant to sing and dance like this and apparently, the songs were traditionally sang to give thanks to God and mostly to appreciate both the wife and the groom. Although, most songs were in regards to the bride because it was a day to celebrate her the most.

The larger context of the musical event was the welcoming of the bride and groom to the reception area. This was the only point of the wedding where people sang the most and almost everyone was up on their feet dancing to the tunes. The significance as mentioned above was to symbolize that the groom's side of the family welcomes the bride to their home and in recognition and acceptance of the union, the bride's side would join in the celebration. Therefore, it signified the coming together of the two. If I were a performer, it felt extraordinary to experience a new culture and way of celebrating a wedding. The emotions I experienced at first were rather confusing but eventually, I was happy and just wanted to dance for it felt like nothing else mattered in that exact moment.

My personal reaction to the music was this is all new to me. It was all special because it allowed me to witness a side to our friends and more so the African culture that most people are not aware of. The music is somehow different from what I was used to but simply listening to it, even though you cannot understand the words, one can easily get the emotional connection it is trying to portray. I would, therefore, say that what made it special for me was the uniqueness of the sound and how one's body could easily respond to it through simple dance moves.

I definitely did enjoy it and participated in it, though only singing the phrases that were heavily repeated in different songs. I did remember the tunes for the first few months after the wedding but somehow I have forgotten them completely. The recording I made was also lost with the phone some years back. It is a shame that I never made contact with the women who were leading in the singing and our friends, the couple, relocated to another distance location soon after the wedding. Keeping in touch with the couple thus become a bit difficult especially with the life changes we were all going through.

Given this experience, I would say that my enjoyment of the wedding was mostly enhanced because of the music. I feel like it gave it a different perspective to experience a culture like never before. If it were not for the music, the wedding would probably be just like any other that I had attended. However, from the vocals, lyrics, instrument, and rhythm the music was able to create an ambiance for people to interact and particularly have the most fun at the wedding. This musical memory has made me remember a time in life when I felt the world needs more of African music and to some extent; today we can get to experience a modern form of it through international platforms that promote music from various countries. However, I still maintain that the traditional songs played at an African wedding are an experience one has to explore if they ever get the opportunity.

April 13, 2023

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