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SOUNDING BOARD

Commentaries on issues relating to African Music


Clemence Kosi Adom:
Tribute to a Friend

By Segun Leramo


Clemence, my friend, when I got your last email in February entitled "Long time no hear" little did I know then that it would be the last I would hear from you.

Adom and I usually communicated by regular mail, snail mail. But sometime during my annual visit in August 2001, he pleasantly humored: “Doc, you have the worst doctor’s handwriting I have ever seen,” and added, “sometimes it took me at least 2 weeks to decipher each of your letters!” Shortly after, he provided an email address to facilitate our correspondence. Since then we have exchanged e-mails regularly—him in Ghana and me in California.

Back in November 2002 I began to feel a very strong urge to return to Ghana. My usual annual visits had been in the summer months, but this urge was overwhelming to the point that I contemplated a visit in February or March. Eventually I confirmed ticket reservations to visit in March. The reason was not clear to me at the time.

Thus when I received your momentous 'Long time no hear' e-mail I decided to surprise you with the announcement of my upcoming visit. I even sent several follow-up emails, one on March 3rd to confirm my flight number and time of arrival in Accra.

Alas, I waited, and waited, but no reply came from you. Rather it was the early morning wakeup call from our mutual friend FredO, Founder of the African Chorus Project, on March the 5th, twenty-four hours prior to my departure, with the sad news: a bus accident has taken your life along with 13 members of your famous singers.

Adom, gone? Impossible… I literally froze on my bed in shock. My mind went blank. I actually thought I was having a horrible dream. But a long silence, and FredO’s voice, now seemingly distant asked, “Doc. Are you still going to Ghana?” I knew the news was real. I quickly replied in the affirmative: yes. After all, my bags were already packed, including pictures of Adom I had taken during my last visit. There was no turning back at this point. I cried throughout the entire flight from Los Angeles to Accra.

In spates of hoping against hope, I even relished the thought that I definitely would meet my dear friend at the arrival hall of the Kotoka International Airport. Then I arrived, and Adom was not there, as he had been during previous visits. C.K. was gone. Really gone!

Clemence, I now know the reason for the strong urge to return to Ghana in February/March 2003. I believe your spirit first had the premonition of what was to befall you! And that should not surprise me as I always knew you to have a way with communication! Life is a journey, and it’s humanly impossible to predict how and when this journey ends.

Friends, please oblige me to share with you, in this issue of the Voice of African Music, the loss of my dear friend, C. K. Adom. Consummate choral director and clinician, composer and arranger, artistic director of the famed Hewale Sounds of Ghana, and administrator extraordinaire, Mr. Adom died February 15, 2003, along with his wife and 13 members of one of his choirs in a bus accident at Akpafu-Todzi in the Volta region of Ghana. The group was returning from a performance.

I first made Adom’s acquaintance in 1998 when I traveled in the company of the St. Louis African Chorus, on their first African Tour to Ghana. This was my first time back on the African soil after my departure in 1973. Political intrigues in my home country Nigeria was rife in the 70s and had alienated and exiled me like many other professionals to opportunities abroad. But thank goodness the love of the music and culture remained and pulled me back to Africa. I could not have asked for a better home coming trip. It was a trip filled with music and dance and lots of cultural exposition.

Adom, then a fellow of the International Centre for African Music & Dance (ICAMD, founded by the venerable Prof. J.H.K. Nketia), was assigned to guide the touring American group. Early in the tour the choice of Adom became immediately clear: if anyone was more conversant with the choral music landscape in Ghana it was C. K. Adom. His knowledge of existing styles was profound, so was his rapport with performing groups in Ghana evident. In and around Accra and Kumasi, and into the hinterlands of Ghana we got a good sample of a rich and varied choral tradition of Africa, Ghana in particular.

That trip was historic, not only for the St. Louis African Chorus as the first foreign group to visit Africa with an exclusive repertoire of music in African languages, but for me personally as a Nigerian professional in America who for almost 25 years had shied away from going ‘back home.’

Ghana became my adopted home, thanks to the friendship of Adom, and other associates of the ICAMD. I have since returned annually and always looked forward to meeting Adom and spending time with his choirs and other musical groups. We had become very close friends and shared mutual interests. He really was special. His death definitely is a sad loss, an immensurable and irreplaceable loss, one that will be felt for years to come.

Several memorials were held in honor of Clemence Wogbemase Kosi Adom. The last funeral rites took place March 28-29, 2003 at Hohoe, his hometown in the Volta Region of Ghana. He was 48.

Reminicences

My visits to Accra will never be the same again. No never! I remember vividly Sunday August 25th 2002 when I visited the church. After service Kosi took me home to meet his family. Actually, him, Louis (the conductor of the choir), and myself. With his family we all shared a meal of banku with okra soup and tilapia fish, one of Ghana's favorite dishes. Afterwards, he took me to my hotel, Wintata Lodge at Adenta, where we exchanged our usual goodbyes. Little did I know that that would be our last parting.

I recall a conversation during my first visit in June 1998. Adom grumbled and was apologetic for the deplorable condition of the roads in Ghana, and the high fatalities from motor accidents. Little did I know that he would become a victim five years later!

Adom embodied humility in every sense of the word; he was almost self-deprecating. He cared for others before he thought about himself. He gave of himself endlessly. As guide to the St. Louis African Chorus entourage in 1998 he cared for us like a hen would her chicks, spending many sleepless nights in the process. In the end he wouldn’t hear about being paid for his labors, being content with the safety and wellbeing of the visiting group. FredO had to insist! On the day of the ill-fated trip his sister had suggested that he took a separate car in other to make a diversion after his choir’s performance to attend a family meeting in another town. Adom declined, opting to remain with his choir and cater for their wellbeing. For years he was the brain behind organizing choral groups to participate in the annual Ephraim Amu Memorial Lecture, but you never once heard him recognize himself as such. He was artistic director of the Hewale Sounds, Africa’s premier traditional instrumental ensemble, but he always operated behind the scenes, allowing the group’s members to self-direct and showcase their talents. He was Choirmaster of the Madina EP Church, Trinity Parish, but you only knew this when you attended his famous church and saw him directing the choir or playing the organ.

However, those who knew Adom knew his worth. FredO, of the African Chorus, in particular, who last year personally recommended him as one of the African lecturers to the 6th World Choral Symposium in Minneapolis, MN. In fact, but for logistical difficulties the St. Louis African Chorus almost finalized plans for a second American tour by Adom and his Hewale Sounds. The dates? February 11-23, 2003!

Kosi was my repository of Ghanaian choral music. Visiting Ghana became a perennial ritual for me. I longed for moments to hear his choir practice or sing during worship services. In fact, I got to know the choir members, the catechist and some of the church elders. They in turn came to know me as the visitor from America who loves to hear his favorite anthem, Mida Akpe Na Mawu.

The mystery is now unraveled. My urge to travel to Ghana was for a purpose. I came, I saw, and I cried. But one endearing consolation: that the music did not die at Akpafu Todzi on that fateful day of the 15th of February 2003. Instead it transcended into a higher realm. Sun re o! Rest calm, my friend!

Segun Leramo is a neurological surgeon with the Bakersfield Neuroscience & Spine Institute, Bakersfield, California.
He is a fervent patron and serves on the advisory board of the St. Louis African Chorus.

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