Music education in Togo

Music has always been a part of Togolese daily life. Well before colonization, the Togolese, just like other Africans, passed on their musical knowledge to their descendants through the process of enculturation. This term, first used by the American anthropologist Margaret Mead, defines the process by which a group teaches cultural norms and values to a child from birth.

A Pentecostal choir in Togo (Ph)
A Pentecostal choir in Togo (Ph)

Children learn the songs hummed by their mothers as they carry out housework. Wedding celebrations, religious rites and funeral ceremonies are other occasions where music is passed on to children.

The griots are the guardians of traditional songs in Togo. In the North and center of Togo, griots are repositories of the history of many ethnic groups. They teach oral and musical art to their descendants and are generally accompanied by the tchimou (a traditional lute) or ngoni(Malinkéinstrument similar to the kora).

Voodoo convents were the first structured teaching environment where music was taught in Togo. The initiated learned religious songs as well as how to play instruments like the gon or the rattle. This way of learning music is selective and does not allow the sharing of music knowledge to the masses.

Music education in schools and universities

Contact with westerners profoundly transformed the musical habits of the Togolese people. The first German missionaries introduced their hymns and choirs as well as the harmonium in the 19th century. The missionaries from Bremen and Basel encouraged the "natives" to give up their musical culture. This is how the first Christian Togolese learned western songs and how to play their instruments.

Music was added to the curriculum together with arts and crafts, physical education, agricultural and domestic science following the education reform of 1975. Music was considered important to develop a sense of discipline through rhythmic exercises.

In reality, music and other disciplines were introduced as optional subjects in middle and high schools. Music is however not taught in all schools as there are no instruments or qualified music teachers. The denominational schools of the capital (Collège Notre Dame desApôtres–NDA-and the Collège Protestant), are the only exceptions.

The theoretical content of music education is limited to the western history of music. Singing, solfege and music theory are the only areas covered. Despite the lack of equipment and teachers, music is taught in almost all secondary schools through choirs. They are generally open to voluntary pupils and music education is not necessarily taught by a qualified teacher. Singing is usually informally taught by teachers who developed a passion for music.

None of the two public universities (Lomé and Kara), have a department dedicated to music. This explains the lack of qualified music teachers. The few music teachers in Togo are trained either in Ghana, France or Germany.

The University of Lomé offers music education exclusively through the Avenirchoir. Only the best have access to the choir which regularly performs at national celebrations.

Music education, private institutions, and churches

There is no state music school in Togo. However, private tutors teach music at their place of residence or in training centres like La Belle Mélodie. Its founder David Coquerelfirst started by teaching music from home. He decided to create a school in October 1992 following the increasing interest in music from learners.

La Belle Mélodie offers piano, saxophone, classic and modern guitar as well as singing and music theory {1}. Thanks to a partnership with the Conservatoire d’Angoulême in France, the school regularly receives sheet music and other didactic documents. The academy sends a music teacher to share his/her knowledge with the young learners of Loméat least twice a year.

Non-profit organizations have invested in music education focused on traditional instruments over the past decade. InKpalimé, a tourist area situated 120 km from Lomé, Carrefour international des randonneurs au Togo (CIR Togo){2} has offered internships in percussion and traditional dance since 2012. Its trainees are generally western college sophomores. AmecaaAssociation {3} also offers similar services in the capital.

Churches have significantly contributed to music education in Togo since the colonial times. There is a choir in almost every church and they essentially teach singing. The Presbyterian churches teach brass instruments (French horn, trumpet, bugle, euphonium, slide trombone). New,so-called charismatic churches established music groups where the members learn how to play modern instruments such as the piano, guitar, and drum.

The challenges

Togo does not provide a cultural policy whereby musicians can live from their music. The Togolese Ministry of Culture lacks financial subsidies which explain the absence of a proper music school which would train music professionals.

The "Westernization" of Togolese music has led to the abandonment of traditional music. Traditional instruments and songs are not taught in schools or at the La Belle Mélodiemusic school.  To remedy this, research on cultural wealth, which defines the identity of the Togolese,is essential.
{1} La Belle Mélodie music school
{2} CIR Togo Association
{3} Amecaa Association


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