Under the Baobab Tree

Every year, during Black History Month, I ask nursery staff of African and Caribbean heritage if they would like to share songs during our music sessions.

Come with me under the baobab tree, I’ll tell a story. Come with me under the baobab tree Iya and the Kuumba Kids

Every year, during Black History Month, I ask nursery staff of African and Caribbean heritage if they would like to share songs during our music sessions.

I’ve been doing this ever since I started teaching and, over the years, I’ve been privileged to hear and learn songs from Morocco, Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Malawi, South Africa, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, Haiti, Brazil, the US and more.

There is such a rich heritage of Black children’s music and Black music that children love – from Yellow Bird (which started life in the 1890s in Haiti as Choucoune and gained its English title and lyrics in the 1950s) to Fanga Alafia (a traditional welcome song sung in many parts of Africa and brought to a wider audience by Iya and the Kuumba Kids on their album, Ooh Kuumba!).

I often use this song to introduce Black History Month but, this year, I wanted to continue the theme I’d started in September – Trees – so I went hunting for tree songs from Africa and the Caribbean and, lo and behold, another song by Iya and the Kuumba Kids came up – Under the Baobab Tree!

Baobab trees (photo courtesy of BBC)

The idea of sharing songs under a tree seemed perfect so I brought in pictures of baobab trees to show the children and set up a tree – made from an egg box, a cardboard tube and a branch – for everyone to sit under.

It worked well. The children loved looking at the pictures and learning about the baobab tree’s other names – the Tree of Life (because it stores water in its trunk) and the Upside-Down Tree (because its branches look like roots).

I set up a tree for everyone to sit under

As always, staff were incredibly generous in sharing songs.

Kemi sang Labe Igi Orombo (a song in the Yoruba language about playing under an orange tree); Caroline sang Ibu Ezi Onyimo (a song in the Igbo language about friendship); Gay-Ann sang Long Time Gal (a Jamaican folk song made famous by Louise Bennett); Trishana sang Linstead Market and Vinette sang Emmanuel Road (two more Jamaican folk songs) and Abina sang Kofi (a traditional Ghanaian song about a boy called Kofi).

This last was particularly heartwarming. I’d been asking Abina, who heads up a group of preschoolers, if she would like to share a song. Every week, she would say, ‘Next week, please!’ (which is fine – there’s no pressure to share).

Then one week, Abina had a brainwave.

Kofi!’ she shouted. ‘I just remembered a song called Kofi. It’s sung by the village ladies in the countryside in Ghana. They stand in a circle in their best outfits and they call out to the Friday-born boy to come and join them!’

And she burst into song.

Kofi bra yendi agoro, agoro ye de X2
Hori bonsem (oh ya) X2
Kofi bra agoro ye de! X3

The song was accompanied by rhythmic clapping and soon all the children in Abina’s group were up and dancing. I asked Abina if she would share Kofi with the other groups in the nursery (babies and toddlers) and we ended up having the most amazing session singing, dancing and clapping together!

This kind of moment is what makes delivering music in early years settings so rewarding. I am indebted to all the staff and children in the nurseries I visit but, this month, I particularly want to thank Kemi, Caroline, Gay-Ann, Trishana, Vinette and Abina for sharing these wonderful songs from their heritages.

And the last word goes to Fatima, who told the following story about a baobab tree in her village in Ghana.

‘I know this tree. If you go close, you will hear buzzing. That’s because the bees love it. They build their nest there. But don’t go too close or you will have to run because they will chase you!’

Header photo: Thanks to Crystal Nurseries staff for sharing your beautiful music and traditional clothing!