I am delighted to be rounding off Black History Month 2022 with a fabulous interview with Nathan Holder, the author of Where Are All The Instruments? West Africa, illustrated by Charity Russell. The best-selling music educational series Why Books encourage kids to ask questions, learning about music alongside diverse characters and a diverse range of musical styles. The latest book in the series is launching in November and introduces young children to many traditional instruments from West Africa!
The Why Squad are four friends named Olivia, Zaki, Phoebe and Callum, who are curious about everything and eager to learn and explore. The Why Squad are in music class, but there’s a problem…They don’t know any instruments from West Africa! Join The Why Squad on an adventure as they visit countries in West Africa and learn about some amazing instruments. From djembes to cimboa, kakaki to koras, children will delight in discovering all the instruments hidden on each page.
Now it’s over to Nathan to tell us all about this fantastic book and series…
Hi Nathan, thank you so much for chatting with me. Firstly, can you tell us a little bit about the book and the inspiration behind it?
It’s a pleasure to speak with you! I was inspired to put this book together after seeing a gap in how music from West Africa is talked about. It often centres around drumming and djembes, and young children are rarely exposed to not only other instruments, but the countries which these instruments come from. So in the book, our four friends (The Why Squad) travel around West Africa to learn about various instruments and real monuments and buildings in the region! By the end of the book, the hope is children can not only name 16 different instruments, but can identify places such as Black Star Square in Accra, Ghana and Lake Retba, a pink lake in Senegal!
Did you always want to be a published author?
Not at all! It was always a dream that I think many people have, but I never thought it would actually happen.
What is your favourite West African instrument?
That’s a difficult question. I think the instrument I’d most like to be able to play would be the kora. The variety of sounds and rhythms you can create by yourself with this one instrument is amazing. There’s something soothing about the music of people like Sona Jobarteh which really speaks to me.
Can you tell us a bit about your publishing journey? How long did it take from idea to publication day?
My first book which was published in 2018 took about 6 years from idea to final product, mainly because I kept deleting everything and starting again! Now I’m clearer about what I want a book to be about before I start, and with the help of my amazing illustrator Charity Russell, we are able to put a book together in a few months. The journey has forced me to learn a lot, research and make mistakes but overall it’s been incredibly rewarding. There are so many authors I admire, and I hope to inspire any other aspiring writers out there in the same way others have inspired me.
We love the pages at the end of the book that show all the amazing instruments and give questions to spot hidden things in the book. How did you find researching the book?
One of the challenges was realising that because of colonialism and the constant movement of peoples in the region, it can be difficult to say that one instrument is specifically from one country. Many of these instruments are found around West Africa, called different names and shaped differently, so I had to make decisions based on, in some cases, very limited information. It gave me insight into so many things, but especially the richness of West Africa, and how music is something which is constantly evolving and growing.
What advice would you give to someone trying to publish a picture book?
Seek advice! There are so many little things to be aware of, especially when thinking about books for children. Also, it’s very easy to be so focused on a book that you don’t recognise your own grammatical mistakes. It’s very important to ask others with experience to read through your work, and listen to their opinions and suggestions.
Thank you so much for talking with me Nathan. What a fantastic series! Where Are All The Instruments? West Africa will be published by Holders Hill on 8 November 2022
More about Nathan:
Prof Nate Holder is a musician, author, speaker and music education consultant. He leads CPD training and workshops for schools, hubs and universities; helping to address bias, underrepresentation in music classrooms, departments, hubs and boards internationally. He has performed or recorded with Ghetts, Emeli Sandé and The Arkells, and he has consulted or worked with the BBC, Hal Leonard Europe and Collins Music. He is currently serving as a Professor and International Chair of Music Education at the Royal Northern College of Music. He has written seven books including, ‘I Wish I Didn’t Quit: Music Lessons’ (2018), ‘Where Are All The Black Female Composers’ (2020) and Listen and Celebrate (2022)
I am very grateful to the author for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book. This voluntary feature contains my honest opinion.