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How music is helping to build a school in Ghana.

SONNY Johns has built his life on a foundation of music.

And now the 33-year-old producer and guitarist, from Mirfield, is using a new collaboration with a fellow musician to raise funds to build a school in the northern Ghanaian town of Kalba.

The road to Kalba began in faraway Guatemala where Sonny met Tim Becker, who runs the German festival Rut'n'Rock. The two travellers bonded over their love of world music and, last October, Sonny found himself in West Africa where Tim was building schools.

What Sonny never expected was to stumble across someone with extraordinary musical skills. That person was xylophonist Isaac Birituro, 35.

Now the duo have recorded 40 minutes of music that they intend releasing on a CD. Revenue from the sales will be put towards building a new school in Kalba next year.

"Isaac is not a star, at least not yet," says Sonny. "He's a regular guy who plays in a dance band and builds xylophones by hand for a living.

"I heard him tuning up and I was astonished. It was just instantaneous. Then we got his xylophone with my guitar and it was just 'Wow!' "West African music has almost a folk tradition, and I grew up on the folk revival of the 1960s.

"So there is a shared sensibility. I wasn't expecting him to be as pleased with my guitar playing, but he was. He was tuned in to what I was doing. It was a meeting of minds."

An electrical storm, which knocked out the village's power, meant the initial jam session wasn't recorded.

But the following day Isaac and Sonny did record together, completing sufficient tunes to form the basis of an album, as yet untitled.

Sonny is now crowd-funding to raise 5,000 Euros to complete production and it's going so well he's only another 750 Euros to find.

The Grammy-nominated producer has recruited British-based musicians to augment his element of the music, and wants to be able to return to Ghana so that Isaac is able to use Ghanaian talent to complement his work.

"I've sent tracks back to him to have a listen to because the album is equally our work. It's of both our music and I think it's something that's brand new. It's hard to say that something is unique in terms of music because everything has its influences, but this comes close. I'm delighted. For Isaac, it's beyond his wildest dreams.

"These are stories that people speak of, but it's happening."

For Sonny, life has come full circle. Born in Dewsbury and raised in Mirfield and Lepton, he lived and worked in London for a period, honing his craft as a music producer.

Later he segued into education, becoming primary school teacher at Crossley Fields J&I School in Mirfield and Salterlee Primary School in Halifax. His itchy feet took him travelling on a five-month trip to Central America, spending time in Cuba and Guatemala. Meeting Tim Becker was the catalyst for the road back to music.

To support Sonny's project, visit here:

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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Feb 19, 2018
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