The Music of Beah

Im age of A Long Way Gone book coverMara Scanlon’s Ethics and Lit freshman seminar has just read Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, a memoir chronicling his story of being a 12 year old soldier/murderer in Sierra Leone. A particularly cold-blooded look at the political unrest raging throughout Sierra Leone and Liberia in the early 90s.

In one particular part of the memoir, Beah talks about being freed by a band of angry villagers thanks to a few rap cassettes he learned to mime and dance to, with songs by Run DMC, LL Cool J, Naughty by Nature, among others. A skill that grants him reprieve from their vengeance for horrific acts he sanguinely narrates his part in. Like the following: “We walked around the village and killed everyone who came out of the houses and huts.” Or: “After every gunfight we would enter the rebel camp, killing those we had wounded.”

So, what one student in the class decided to do after reading Beah’s memoir was to collect and share a number of the songs on the tapes for the rest of the class to hear. And what’s more, he cut them over footage from the BBC of the actual reportage of the situation in Sierra Leone during this period.

How very cool is this, “just a little video to talk about the music in the book.” Exactly, why not? And cut some relevant footage on top of it, and what we have a cultural frame for the reading that is both alive and creative all at once. Bully for you!

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3 Responses to The Music of Beah

  1. Ryan says:

    Absolutely amazing. Just sent this out to the Oberlin twitter community … I’ll be interested to hear the responses. 🙂

  2. Mara’s work (and the work of her students)is an inspiration to me, an absolute inspiration. I’ve used it here to explain the difference between teaching openly and becoming fluent in teaching openly.

    Mara and her classes speak fluent Open…..

  3. I can honestly say as well that this student has taught me something. I know that rap was (and is) popular in Africa, and that many of the militias identified with american gangster rap, but the experience of watching this mashup brought that home in a real way, and made me realize the weird cultural intersections which place these events which seem so distant on a common global timeline.

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