Saturday, April 28, 2007

A night on the town

People here generally don’t go out at night. They’re on the streets at dawn, but back inside by dusk. Janet and I are very Ghanaian in that way. At home most nights by sundown, we prepare dinner, chat about our day, and then read before bed.

So I was surprised (and amused) Monday night to find myself in a car with a police escort speeding through the streets of Accra, chatting with a jet-setting soprano.

It all began a week ago when a friend of mine told me that New Brunswicker Measha Brueggergosman was coming to Accra to perform with an Italian chorus and orchestra, Teatro alla Scala.

I’m not a classical music fan, but thought it would be a good opportunity to see her perform (the only time I had heard her sing was at the wedding of a childhood friend). I also thought CBC might air an interview with her.

I e-mailed an interview request to her management company. Her husband wrote back, saying she’d be pleased to do an interview, but I didn’t receive it until a couple of hours before the show. He had asked that I contact her at her hotel but it was too late for that now. Janet and I decided to go to the show, hoping I’d be able to conduct a brief interview after the performance.

This performance was a big deal here. It was part of the events celebrating the country’s 50th anniversary of independence. The tickets were very expensive by Ghanaian standards ($30 - $50); most of the people who attended were foreigners and the country’s rich and powerful, including the president, John Kufuor.

We arrived late and the main doors were locked. The side entrance was manned by armed police officers (by armed, I mean they had semi-automatic rifles, not handguns). They said the president had already arrived and was seated for the performance. This meant that no one else could get in now, which greatly angered several Ghanaians who had arrived late but had tickets.

They left the door that was guarded by police and went back to the main entrance; they banged on the locked doors, and demanded to get in. Eventually, someone opened the door and let them into the lobby. Janet and I, who didn’t have tickets, snuck in behind them.

A staff member told them they had to wait in the lobby until intermission; otherwise they would disrupt the performance. They all began shouting at him, demanding to be let in. One guy made an angry gesture at a police officer, so a security guard kicked him out.

It was only when the theatre staff realized that there would be no intermission that they decided to let us in. Janet and I walked upstairs to the balcony and took our seats.

What we saw of the performance (Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9) was lovely, though I’m no judge of classical music. They got a standing ovation at the end, and Measha took centre stage when they bowed to the audience. I noticed she had a digital camera in her hand, and watched her turn to take a picture of the crowd just before she left the stage for her dressing room.

I hurried downstairs because her husband Markus had said that she would be catching a plane to Israel right after the performance. An orchestra member led me back stage, though he warned me that it would difficult to do an interview because she was changing and her car was waiting to take her to the airport. When she emerged from her dressing room, she smiled and said, “We’ll have to do the interview in the car on the way to the airport. Is that ok?” I ran to the lobby to tell Janet where I was going, and then ran out to the parking lot; Measha was already waiting in the car.

It wasn’t until we left the lot that I realized we had a police escort. The police motorcycle led us through the streets of Accra, the red light flashing and siren occasionally blaring when we had to cut through lanes of traffic.

Both of us were distracted, though amused, by the police escort, but we managed to get the interview done. We spoke about her performance and thoughts on her short stay in Accra. It turns she went to a popular market in the city core; she said that wherever she travels she tries to get the pulse of a place by going to marketplaces.

The interview ended when we reached the airport. At this point, the reporter became a porter. I helped carry her bags into a VIP lounge. At this point we were turned away; airport staff said she had to go through normal security first. We loaded her bags back into the car and drove to the regular departure gate. As we stepped out of the car, Measha said, “Can you get me a luggage cart?” I found one nearby and wheeled it over to the trunk of the car. We lifted her bags onto the cart and said goodbye. She stepped through the entrance to catch a plane to Tel Aviv. I stepped off the curb and walked to a nearby tro-tro stop to get a ride back to my apartment.

I sent the interview over the Internet to CBC the next day; it arrived two minutes before the show went to air.

- Mark

P.S. The interview aired on shift April 24. I’m going to try and post it on the blog. I don’t know how to do that yet so it could take a few days


Anonymous said...

I read you "A night on the town". I would be interested in reading or hearing your interview with Measha Brueggergosman. I know her parents well and it was her mother who printed off your blog mentioning her performance in Ghana. This is my first time to comment so I don't know how you will respond. My e-mail is

Janet & Mark in Ghana said...

Hello - I'm still trying to figure out how to post it to my blog. It's a very big file. I will e-mail you when I post it. Unfortunately I don't think CBC put it on their web site. - Mark