Opinion

Message from the Morning Man: And the Beat Goes On

In 1962, the children of Achimota School engaged in all manner of extra-curricular activities.

One of them was cultural music and dance.

The students would line up according to their year groups, to sing and dance to the songs of different Ghanaian tribes and traditions.

The youngest girls led the procession, followed by the older girls, and then the younger boys.

First and second-year boys were not allowed to play instruments, so they sang and danced with the girls.

From third year upwards, the boys were allowed to play the instruments, but only the sixth-formers – the oldest boys in the school – were allowed to play the huge percussion drums.

Not every student got the chance to join the Cultural procession. Not every student wanted to. But one young fourteen-year old boy certainly did. Let’s call him John.

Every time the culture train paraded by, young John would watch wistfully as they sang and danced.

He would gaze admiringly as the older girls wiggled their ample African assets, and look on enviously as the big, tall sixth-form boys skilfully thumped out loud, complex rhythms on the huge animal-skin drums. John longed to be like them.

He wished with all his heart that they would let him hold those L-shaped drumsticks, so he could raise them high above his head and bring them crashing down on the drums over and over again, to produce the intricate rhythm that everyone loved to dance to.

But he was only in Form two, and so he would have to wait several years before anyone would let him near those drums.

But that didn’t stop him from dreaming. Every time the culture troupe performed, he would repeat the drum beats under-over and over, until he had them memorised. Silently, he continued to pray that his day would come.

And it did, sooner than he expected. It’s not clear why, but while he was still in his second year, John got called up to join the troupe. And they wanted him to play an instrument!

He was overjoyed. He had dreamt of this day for so long, and it was finally here.

All his memorized drum beats were suddenly going to become useful. They were going to hand him the L-shaped drumsticks at last!

He first smelled a rat when he was given only one drumstick instead of two. Then somebody handed him the smallest drum he had ever seen, and John knew he was being swindled.

They placed him at the front of the procession and instructed him to play one rhythm, and one rhythm only: “ko, ko, ko, ko, ko, ko, ko, ko, ko, ko, ko, ko….”

Just that.

Two beats per second, in perpetuity until the end of the performance. John was livid.

Did they not know what he was capable of? Did they not know how many drum beats and rhythms he had memorised?

How dare they underestimate him like this! How dare they waste his enormous talent! He would show them what a terrible mistake they had made.

Once everyone was in place, the teacher signalled for young John to start playing his little drum. The boy began to whack out the prescribed beat with his single drumstick.

One by one, the other instruments joined in, all of them in time with John’s. He could hear his beloved big drums cracking out the beats he had memorised.

The beats he should have been playing at that moment, if there was any justice in this world. Instead, they had him playing this… what was he playing?

John noticed with horror that he had missed his beat, and as a result, every other instrument in the procession had missed their beat too. He tried to concentrate and bring the beat back, but each time he heard the other drums, he would get distracted and drop the beat again, throwing the whole procession into disarray.

Eventually, everyone reached the end of their tether, and the teacher in charge just grabbed the tiny drum from John’s teenage hands, thanked him for his service and asked him to leave.

And that is the story of how a teenage Jerry John Rawlings got kicked out of the Achimota School Cultural Troupe.

Now, I tell you this story because of the very important lessons I learnt from it. First, regardless of what you think, every job is important. So what if you sweep the streets? So what if you clean toilets? So what if you sell credit by the roadside?

Do you have any idea the kind of chaos that would ensue if you suddenly stopped doing your job? This nation is made up of 30 million people, all doing different things to make Ghana work. If you cease to do your part, Ghana ceases to work. We are only as strong as our weakest link. Don’t let that weakest link be u.

Second, concentrate on your job, and not the jobs of others. We all like to think we are experts on everything. We invite plumbers to our home to fix a leak, and then try to instruct him on how to fix it. We all have important work to do in building Ghana, and we can’t waste time and effort trying to do other people’s work for them.

And finally, if you are given a gift and you don’t utilise it, guess what; it will be taken away from you. Young JJ didn’t realise the importance of the job he had been given. His little drum was supposed to provide the timing for the whole cultural performance, but he was too busy complaining to realise he had been placed at the front of the procession for a reason. By the time he realised the importance of his task, it was too late.

The late President Rawlings loved my Messages from the Morning Man – especially this one, which I wrote from a story he told me one long, memorable night in Vume, in the Volta Region.

He liked the idea that I would spend hours every day, thinking of a positive message to share with the nation, and I’d like to think that wherever he is right now, he is enjoying my message to you this morning.

And it’s a simple one: whatever your task, do it as if the whole country’s survival is riding upon it, because – guess what – it is.

My name is Kojo Yankson, and every morning, I play my beat. Join in with your own rhythm, and let’s build this nation together.

GOOD MORNING, GHANAFO!