Interviewed & written by Isao Tokuhashi
Mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Winchester Nii Tete (Ghana)
(He’s been in Japan since ’04)
Nii Tete was playing percussion while she recited her poems. We just felt “WOW!!” as soon as we listened to his sound. We were really overwhelmed and riveted by that. We felt that his play was quintessential “art”. So we got interested in him.
Rome was not built in a day – Nii Tete has been playing drums (called “Kpanlog”) for about 20 years since he was 5 and he has accumulated his own techniques that are matched by none.
We love of course his sound, but also we love his smile. He always smiles even when he plays drums. He seems to feel really happy to play music with other musicians. We think he has survived in a foreign land thanks to his “smile”, his natural charm.
Japanese TV show.
I came to Japan in 2004. Before that, I was involved in making a Japanese travel TV program in 2002 over there in Ghana. My Japanese friend who had a long-term relationship with my family was working as a coordinator and researcher there so she introduced us to the TV crew members. A Japanese actor stayed in our house for a week and learned about drums and Ghanian culture.
Even before it was aired in Japan, many foreigners came to our house to buy drums or learn how to play. (*His family members played drums and also made drums by themselves) But Japanese who came to us were fewer than Americans or Europeans.
I also learned about Japan from Japanese people who visited our house. Japan is very far from Ghana. The image of Japan we had is much different from the real one. I asked them many questions like “What kind of food do you like?” They said sushi but we don’t eat raw fish in Ghana.
After the TV program was aired, many Japanese came to our house. One day, a Japanese lady came. She is my wife now. I taught her how to play drums and we fell in love with each other. That’s why I came to Japan.
Ghanian traditional drum called “kpanlog”
Learn, work & play.
I got married with a Japanese lady then I came here. But I was supposed to go to Germany or US to play music with my family because some of them are living in those countries. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t want to come here. I was not planning to come to Japan. I’m the first person who came to Japan among my family members. I’m the only person in Japan so it was not easy to live here.
When I came here, I wanted to play music with someone. But I didn’t know anybody else. I didn’t know where to find other musicians at all.
I had to enter any company and work to survive here but I had to learn Japanese to find a job. So I entered a free Japanese class and learned from the very beginning.
Then I started working in a factory to make some money. When I play drums, I use four, five drums or more at one time. I couldn’t carry them on trains. I needed to rent a car in order to carry them. So I needed money. I worked from 9PM until 9AM six days a week. I took days off only on Sundays. I worked there for a year.
I practiced drumming in a park near my house. I didn’t play with others for one and a half years after I came here. But my uncle’s girlfriend introduced me to some jazz musicians so I started to play with them here in Japan.
And later, I met a Japanese who had stayed in my uncle’s house in Ghana for a year. I taught a lot about Ghanian music to him here. Then he became my supporting member so we could start to play in live houses. I started my musical activities little by little.
People saw me play and they felt, “This is a great guy!”. Then I met a lot of musicians. They were not only Japanese but also Africans and Americans who were playing jazz and soul music. I also met Brazilians and Japanese musicians who played Latin music.
With Robin, a very experienced and skillful vocalist.
Everyone laughed at their dialogues but once
they started to play, everyone got excited!
Reunion with an actor.
Five months after I came to Japan, I wanted to go back to Ghana. However after I started to work in a factory, I met some Ghanian guys there. So I made friends with them and felt relaxed. But before that, I felt kind of lonely.I didn’t know any Ghanians and any Japanese people besides my wife and… an actor.
I met him in Ghana when I was involved in making a program over there. I looked for his phone number but I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t have a contact with him for almost two years.
But one day, he appeared on a TV talk show. Its host asked us to send messages if we had something to tell him. So I sent a fax to them. “This is Nii Tete. I’m in Japan now. This is my phone number so please call me”.
Two days later, I got a phone call from him. He said, “I received a fax from you!” We wanted to meet each other but he was busy. So he said, “Please wait until we meet” But later, we could meet each other at last. He was so surprised. He asked me why I came to Japan. I answered, “I followed you!”.
It’s natural that people forget their traditional things.
I want to tell Japanese people about Ghanian music through my activities. I want to introduce them to Ghanian traditional drums. And I want to play with many kinds of professional musicians in Japan. I want to play with any kind of music, such as wadaiko (Japanese tradiitional drum).
Live performance with Isaku Kageyama, a Japanese taiko drummer.
It’s natural that people tend to forget their traditional culture. Even some Ghanian people don’t know about our culture. They listen to only Western music such as hip-hop, soul music or classical music. I know some people who try to keep their traditional one but they don’t stick to their style. They try to learn about other kinds of music even if they don’t listen to enka (演歌: A kind of Japanese popular music which suggests a more traditional, idealized, or romanticized aspect of Japanese culture and attitudes, comparable to American country and western music).
I also keep my traditional music but I listen to a lot of kinds of music to get stimulation from them and learn their rhythms. That’s why I like to play with many kinds of musicians. I welcome any musician who wants to play with me.
I don’t like natto, sushi and people who kill each other.
Japan is a safe country. Some people kill other people but it’s still safe. In Ghana, we don’t kill each other like in Japan.
But Japan is safe because people can walk around anytime, even midnight. We used to do that in Ghana but now we can’t. There are some places you can walk in the midnight but there are still areas where you cannot walk around in the midnight.
On the other hand, I don’t like natto and sushi. I don’t like raw fish because we don’t eat it in Ghana. Also when I couldn’t speak any Japanese, people ignored me even if I asked them about something. SOME people did it, not all of Japanese people. I hate that kind of Japanese characteristic. Even if I asked them some questions, they didn’t reply.
Also I hate that someone kills someone else when he/she feels stress. Like a murder case in Osaka (16 people were killed in an arson at a video parlor on October 1, 2008). I don’t like someone killing someone else.
Ghanians don’t kill each other. Ghana is less safe than Japan, but it’s peaceful. Japan needs to restore peace. Japan is safe, but there is no peace.
October 11, 2008
What are drums to you?
Drums are my life.
Because drum playing is my God-given talent. I can play drums for 10 hours a day. Even if I’m in Japan, Ghana or the U.S. or wherever I am, I play drums.
Drums are my everything.
What is Japan to you?
Japan is a country which I like.
Because it’s a safe country. I hated it when I couldn’t speak Japanese. Even if I asked people something, nobody listened to me. But once I could speak some Japanese, they listened to me. And they try to help me. That’s what I like about Japan.
Japanese people try to help others from bottom of their hearts.
Winchester plays at TEDxTokyo! (May 21, 2011)
Nii Tete’s Link
His homepage (Japanese): http://www.niitete.net/