Okyeame Kwame Blog: 57 years after Independence; is our music independent?


Two months ago, I was part of a ceremony organized by the University of Ghana in honour of Professor Joseph Hanson Kwabena Nketia. On his part, Professor Nketia elaborated the concept of Selection, Originality and Dualism. It was in his speech that I learned some brief history of Ghanaian Pop music.

The now popular Ghanaian music has gone through several evolutions. It is actually important to state that the music industry has over the past years demonstrated impressive arts that we can boast of as being original to us. Talk about High Life, Hiplife and the current Azonto craze.

Let’s get back to history to learn a few things. High life used to be known as “Konkoma”.

It is a genre which syncopates drums and sweet guitar melodies. ‘Konkoma’ evolved to High life then to Burger High Life. This genre received a huge acceptance within the country and beyond. We can however point to Ghanaian musicians who through this art travelled to Germany and further developed Ghanaian music which hit the shores of Ghana with a blast. With all these forms of Highlife music came the birth of the well known Hiplife.

Highlife music is known to have been a fusion of military musical instruments like the horns and local Ghanaian music that were syncopated on European guitars. It used to be music for the upper class society in the olden days. The inability of the lower class individuals to indulge in musical get-together of the upper class society would stare as the upper class individuals danced to the tunes of ‘Highlife’ music. The term ‘Highlife’ was then coined from the notion that the lower class individuals considered the music as reserved for people of High Class Lifestyle.

Burger Highlife, as mentioned earlier, came up when some Ghanaian musicians who had traveled outside Ghana because of the 1970s coup d’état came back with a fusion of Pop music, European Jazz and Highlife music.

Burger High Life in turn evolved into Hiplife, which was mainly a fusion of Hip hop music and Highlife music.

Now we have the ‘Azonto’ termed music which is also a fusion of Pop music and Highlife music.

We cannot overemphasize that Ghanaian music is always influenced by foreign music. Therefore the independence of our music in my view will be measured by selection; when the percentage of indigenous rhythms, melodies, visuals and philosophies in our music are selected more than the percentage of its foreign influence.

It is true that for our music to travel to the rest of Africa and make the same influence as it did in the past, it must go through foreign media. However, there is a section of the art industry that believes that the owners of these platforms have an agenda of increasing demand for their arts.

But they are right; wouldn’t you do the same? And for the fact that it is their platform, they take other forms of art and ideology similar to theirs in order to perpetuate their agenda. This is to opine that our musicians will now have to select according to the agenda ignoring originality, because the more original you are, the more alienated you will be from these platforms that can promote your music.

Until we create our own international platforms, the success of our music depends on foreign platforms.

The Middle East has a platform, Aljazeera, to push their agenda. The British have BBC; Americans have Voice of America. In fact the internet comes from the West. They have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. What do Africans have? Where are the African platforms on which African artistes can spread and perpetuate the African culture and make Africa compete in this global village?

There should be a platform where people who select from originals will have that international opportunity to push their music and arts.

We must have our own medium to propagate our agenda. We must ensure that we orient our guests on our good nature and originality. So if we will ever choose, we must confidently select originality.

TV Stations must marry each other so that we can share Pan African contents. Does ‘URTNA’ a broadcast of programmes from other African countries which became popular in the 80s come to mind? In like manner, a TV station in Egypt for instance could show items from Ghana and vice versa. We must make a conscious effort to reunite our people through the media so that we can select and promote ourselves. This means that when I select from Egypt I have still selected from Africa.

Where is URTNA – Union of Radio and Television Networks of Africa? Why was it not sustainable? Why didn’t Africa embrace it? Was it assassinated by the usual African canker of poor management? What team of devoted, creative business oriented African investors can rise to take this up?

We must bring up more youth Pan African activists and create a network of Pan African Activists who are role models and local leaders to remind our youth of the importance of selecting originality. We need to establish a Pan African television network that seeks to put Africa in the same light that BBC put Britain, and also seeks to correct the negative perception created by Western media about Africa and Africans. It will also be in a position to always remind us of the rich cultural heritage because without the media we will not have an artistic independence even after 57 years of independence.

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