As Ghanaians Go To The Polls 3

THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY

It seems our music and movies are behind Nigeria’s in terms of quality, technology, aesthetic appeal, and international reach. This controversial statement takes into consideration our keen acknowledgement of genre differences in musical compositions from the two countries, as well as of marked differences in market and population size characterizing the two friendly but competitive nations. For instance while a number of music genres—Hiplife, dancehall and Afro-pop—have evolved over the years in Ghana, most of the music videos accompanying them are poor in quality, lacking a touch of aesthetic and sensual appeal and demonstrating uncreative instances of anachronistic directorial buffoonery. Some artistes use ordinary phones to make music videos. One might be quick to conclude that some of these music videos parading as serious works of art are directed or put together by parietal or cave artists!

With regard to music, Kumawood particularly requires marked technological and artistic investment for enhanced viewership or patronage. Our English movies are not significantly better. One major problem why our movies are generally aesthetically poor might be the internal architecture of movie scripts, whose rhetorical and kinesthetic delivery lack natural spontaneity of artistic or aesthetic finesse and structural cohesiveness in mortal translation in the makeup of many a Ghanaian actor and actress. We have not done enough as a people to address these professional lapses in the creative arts. Our movie directors, producers, and film makers can also learn from the trailblazer, Kwaw Ansah, an artistic genius who detests the name “Ghallywood” to the extent that he will not either submit to its authority or have his films reviewed under or associated with that label.

Nigerians, on the other hand, have resorted to tapping into a large pool of talents from around the world, particularly across Africa, to address encroachments of unprofessionalism in the creative arts. Ghanaians can learn from them.

THE CONCEPT OF CREATIVE COLLABORATION

One instance of this creative approach to eliminating or minimizing unprofessionalism in the creative arts is what some prefer to call “collaboration.” Some creative collaborations have a touch of internationalism or global appeal. We see the duo P-Square going international with Rick Ross (“Onyinye”) and Akon (“Chop Money”). D’Banj scored one collaboration with Snoop Dogg (“Endowed”) while Wizkid appeared on R. Kelly’s “I Just Want to Thank You.” We may also chip in Wizkid’s highly publicized collaboration with Drake and Skepta (“Ojuelegba”).

Clearly, we see how these gifted Nigerians are pushing the boundaries of musical artistry on the world stage. These artistes are merely following in the footsteps of Fela Kuti, who went international with his music genre of Afrobeat, so too were Majek Fashek and Sade, though the latter two did not necessarily achieve their international stardoms via collaborations. However, we are not implying one is necessarily gifted only when one goes international. Rather, we are addressing our concerns to artistic expressions of natural or acquired gifts via the medium of creative internationalism with an assortment of professionally mature and gifted acts in complementary terms.

Neither did these artistes achieve their international stardoms by feigning foreign accents, otherwise called “locally acquired foreign accent,” and uncritical adoption of English-American gesticulatory idiosyncrasies as Shirley Frimpong’s cast is known for. Fela Kuti’s sons Seun Kuti and Femi Kuti have achieved international commercial success by retaining Fela’s musical trademark based on a sheet music of pidginized lyricism and Africanized rhythmicity, two important facets of their father’s musical pedigree. In another example, we see Wizkid in a creative mode of pidginized delivery and seeming gesticulatory or kinesthetic scatterplot in “Jaiye Jaiye” against a backdrop of sinusoidal saxophonic whining from Femi. All these go to underscore the aesthetic momentum of creative essentialism regarding local or nativist content in advancing the creative arts on the international stage.

This is not to say Ghanaians in the creative arts do not value the role of local content in advancing the cause of the creative arts on the international scene. Azonto achieved that feat. King Ayisoba and Wulomei are another. The legendary Ephraim Amu developed his unique blend of Western sheet music and Ghanaian music traditions. Hip-life is international but in a limited sense. Notwithstanding, our young artistes have not religiously followed in the footsteps or managed to achieve the international stardom Osibisa chalked, though a few exceptions exist in the musical careers of artistes like Rocky Dawuni, to mention but one. It may be that Dawuni’s international success should be attributed to his association with a music genre, reggae, which is already international in aesthetic and commercial appeal.

This example immediately recalls the international success of South Africa’s Lucky Dube and Ivory Coast’s Alpha Blondy. The situation is uniquely different from Nigeria’s Ras Kimono and Ghana’s Felix Bell. On the other hand, Senegal’s Youssou N’Dour and Benin’s Angelique Kidjo have equally achieved enviable international stardom by pursuing another creative detour of music genres from that of Dube’s and Blondy’ s, reggae.

Having acknowledged the artistic and aesthetic deficits of Ghanaian music, we should be quick to endorse Sarkodie’s collaboration with America’s Ace Hood (“New Guy”), Becca’s with South Africa’s Hugh Musekela (“I Love You”), Reggie Rockstone’s with Jamaica’s Beenie Man, M.anifest’s with America’s Eryka Badu…These teachable collaborations are commendable though more of such are required to breathe professional versatility and internationalism into Ghanaian music. Our primary concern is expanding the global reach of Ghanaian musicians and their music and revenue brackets for artistes in general and Ghana. There is a high probability for sophisticated technology transfer and innovative ideas in creative collaborations.

ORIGINALITY PROBLEMS

Beyond these general considerations, we should not overlook the specificity of originality problems in the creative arts as far as Ghana goes. Teachable examples abound. Thus, we cannot make any headway in reforming the creative arts if we ignore these statements of fact! Here are some notable examples:

We have Wanlov da Kubolor and Mensa (“Broken Language”) copying the “Broken Language” rap track of American rappers Smoothe Da Hustler and Trigga the Gambler. Kodwo Antwi copies Gerald Levert’s soulful ballad “I’ll Give Anything” merely by dissembling the lyrics under a shady cloud of reggae beats, in other words giving it an appearance of lovers rock, yet fails to emulate the elastic vocal range Levert displayed at the close of the ballad where a semblance of lyrical and rhythmic syncopation required a stretched tuning of the vocal cords (folds). Finally, the dapper lyricist Guru is one such gifted musician or talent widely associated with theft of intellectual property controversies. Yet he is not alone in this regard. Our Hip-life artistes steal and copy American hip-pop videos with reckless abandon, without the benefit of attribution. This reinforces originality problems in the creative arts.

There appears to be no moral direction from the leadership of the Musicians Union of Ghana (MUSIGA) in terms of sanctioning artistes who flout conventions protective of intellectual property. More so, we have reliably been informed that Nigerian media—radio and television—pay Nigerian artistes for using their work and we wonder aloud if this is the situation in Ghana! Where does the Ghanaian political leadership, specifically the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts, stand in these matters? There is a divided opinion as to how much Ghana’s contemporary government let by President John Mahama has done for the creative arts, with David Dontoh in once instance claiming that theater has imploded under the president. But there is so much the government can do.

For instance, the popularity of foreign soap opera on private television channels denies locally produced movies of the needed local commercial patronage and revenue. Thus, opportunity for showcasing the talents of local actors, actress, directors, producers, and filmmakers suffers on this account.

SOME ADDITIONAL IDEAS

Even our concept of modern videography itself derives heavily from the hedonistic and pornographic materialism of Western hip-hop videography. There is therefore not much originality or creativity here. It is sometimes disheartening to see our contemporary musicians clad in heavy black leather jackets and hoods in sweltering heat in music videos in patent endorsement of the visual appeal of meteorological anachronism, just because African-American hip-hop artistes do it is right irrespective of meteorological actualities in Ghana. Still, it turns out sex appeal is largely what seems to drive the lyrical and choreographic vehicularity of contemporary Ghanaian videography. In other words, sex appeal is tied to a perception of increased patronage and to a possible commercial success of contemporary genres of Ghanaian music.

What becomes of the situation is when contemporary Ghanaian music genres begin to show a lack or absence of progressive traditionalism in the compositional architecture of Highlife. We are here referring to the emotional and psychological conservatism of Highlife and palm-wine music. Also, the lyrical content of Ghanaian Afro-pop, Hiplife, dancehall, and other contemporary music genres generally lack the allegorical richness and exhortatory folksiness of Highlife and palm-wine music. There seems to be a ready market for and popular uncritical acceptance and appreciation of anatomic vulgarity and distaste for progressive traditionalism in Ghanaian videography and lyricization.

This is not a launch of emotional appeal or cultural jeremiad against modernizing tendencies in the diversification of Ghanaian music genres. Critical fusion of music and art forms between tradition and modernity is what we desire. This is why we endorse the comeback of Ofori Amponsah and the rich music of Kwabena Kwabena and Bisa Kdei. What this also means is that pioneers of Highlife and contemporary representatives of Highlife like Bisa Kdei can learn a lot from each. Koo Nimo’s association with the tutelage of guitar in an American university is a case in point.

It is however unfortunate that the creative productions of the likes of Bisa Kdei, arguably, lack the muscular punch of emotional and psychological longevity we sometimes associate with traditional Highlife! In our opinion, contemporary Ghanaian music genres lack the soulful spiritual materialism of traditional Highlife and palm-wine music. It could be as a result of the synthetic nature of today’s music. Samplers, drum machines, synthesizers, and sequencers make synthetic production of relatively easier. The potential for undermining creativity or originality is high for many a musician. We need to encourage our contemporary artistes to move past artisanal hipsterism!

A good artiste should not suffer the curse of aesthetic primitivity because he or she incorporates traditional choreographies or dance forms, like Agbadza, Bamaya, Adoa, or Kpanlogo, into any genre of modern Ghanaian videography.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Nigerians have successfully used the concept of creative collaboration to advance their movie industry beyond the shores of Africa. Some of these collaborations have involved Africans from Ghana, Gambia, Cameroon, South Africa, and other African countries. Thus, by involving other Africans in their movies Nigerians bring the continent of Africa on their side. In doing so, they give non-Nigerian Africans the tactical impression that they are part and parcel of Nollywood. There are excellent implications for wider patronage and revenue for Nigerian film makers, producers, directors, and the country as a whole. Revenue from Nollywood made a significant impact on the rebasing of Nigeria’s GDP, which helped propel it to the forefront of buoyant economic metrics as Africa’s largest economy, in the event displacing South Africa. Nigerian culture has thus become a popular institutional currency on the world stage.

This cultural projection has no parallel on the African continent. American has likewise exerted a great impact on the world stage through a projection of its popular culture, a feat it did not achieve necessarily via military prowess and economic hegemony. Culture therefore becomes a commodified assertion of values and projective hegemony of sorts and, importantly, a foreign exchange earner. The Japanese visit Harlem, New York, every year to learn American music, for instance. Regardless, no institution has used this concept of creative collaboration better than Hollywood. For instance, by assigning John Boyega, a British-Nigerian, a prominent role in the newest edition of Star Wars, Hollywood in just one tactical sweep of ingenious calculation has potentially laid the groundwork for expanding Nigerian, African, British, and general black viewership and patronage for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Djimon Hounsou and Idris Elba are household names in Hollywood.

This may attract other non-black American minorities toward movie theater destinations. The implications for a potential larger revenue-generating capacity for film makers need no sugary elaboration. This is why diversity is such an important concept in management science and ethno-race, human, and international relations. Diversity provides a relatively wider pool of talents from which candidates are tapped. But diversity is not all. Management, intrinsic individual talent, and image also count.

The exposed genitals of Wanlov da Kubolor and Wisa in the public domain does not speak well of the creative arts industry. These misguided entertainers somehow think the concept of artistic competitiveness and drive for the advantage of increased commercial patronage are realized by developing a maverick public personality, a fictive one at that. Such artistes purposely court public controversy as a means to raise their profiles and to give a force appearance of artistic relevance in the public eye. In this way, regarding why our music and movie industries may be lagging behind Nigeria’s, it could be that Ghanaian managers are not working as hard as their Nigerian counterparts.

Finally, there should be a way to encourage Ghanaians to patronize artistes’ creative productions by buying them rather than by burning CDs for personal possession without paying for them or bootlegging them. This sends a signal to those in the creative arts that consumers appreciate their creative efforts and to artistes that they cannot take consumers for granted. We need tougher intellectual property laws to protect the works of our artistes. The School of Performing Arts and our psychology and management schools have a lot of work to do.

We shall return…

Francis Kwarteng

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