Highlife: A Vehicle for the Creation of a National Vision
Nana Kobina Nketsia V
Omanhen, Essikado (British Sekondi)
Sanaa ...
a West African who had left a farewell note for his family in case he did not return. The note
stated simply:
‘I have take...
indigenous way of life, dancing, for instance, serves as a tool for the transfer of ideas,
principles and values through b...
an organic, qualitatively new style that retains expressive continuity with the traditional
musical system.’1
The music re...
Songs, and Sonnets, William Byrd stated as far back as 1611: ‘That song is best esteemed
with which our ears are most acqu...
dancing serves as a tool for the transfer of ideas, principles and values through body
movement, rhythm and song. In the s...
heritage of feudalism which are class based and have a vertical structure of relationships.
From within it repairs and res...
from the conference and also propose to set up a website to give guidance to adherents and
prospective followers of Highli...
of 8

Nana Kobina Nketsia V, Omanhen of Essikado, gives a fundamental view of Highlife Music.

Presented in 2009.
Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Published in: Education      

Transcripts - Nana Kobina Nketsia V, Omanhen of Essikado, gives a fundamental view of Highlife Music.

  • 1. Highlife: A Vehicle for the Creation of a National Vision Nana Kobina Nketsia V Omanhen, Essikado (British Sekondi) Sanaa Lodge Cape Coast 29th May, 2009 Mr. Chairman Distinguished guests I know I am not the only person in this room worried over the future of our nation. The present is too troubled. The gross and subtle forces tearing at the socio-cultural fabric of the nation are many. There seems to be an absence of a socio-cultural direction. We do not appear to be in charge of our destiny. It is only a slave who is not in control of its destiny. And yet, we claim and celebrate our independence every 6th March. I sometimes muse to myself – independence from what? As Kwame Nkrumah stated: ‘A state in the grip of neo- colonialism is not master of its own destiny.’ It is as if we, as a people, have been programmed to dance to tunes composed for us from without. And the radio waves are filled with foreign sounds. As puppets we seem to be in cultural disarray. It is increasingly becoming difficult to have confidence in any person placed in any position of trust from the ebusuapanyin upward. We appear to have dumped the values of responsibility, duty and obligation into the sea. Selfishness, hypocrisy, greed and gross materialism are becoming the inherent principles of an indefinable hybrid culture which is neither African nor European. There is a creeping mentality that life itself is commoditized. The ecology is in a rapid state of decline and our cities wallow in filth and squalor whilst endemic poverty colours the horizon. In fact we seem to be a nation moving toward an implosion. This is evident in the weakening of social cohesion as can be perceived in the exhibition of ‘tribalism’, pervasive corruption in governmental and judicial systems, burgeoning unemployment, drug addiction, malnutrition, rabid individualism, violent crime, access to weapons and a loss of cultural referral milestones as we get rid of our African Ancestors and borrow other peoples Ancestors (most especially from the West) as our sources of reference and inspiration. We seem to cherish imported life-styles. Mr. Chairman Probably, in disgust at the state of our society, the youth vote with their feet. They risk their lives to embrace servitude in the Western world. A tragedy occurred a few months ago which could have been the story of young man from this territorial space. Some Africans were seized off the coast of Spain. Among the majority who had perished in the boat crossing was
  • 2. a West African who had left a farewell note for his family in case he did not return. The note stated simply: ‘I have taken this decision to risk my life. If I succeed, I do so for myself, my family, and my nation because my nation needs my success to help the many of my compatriots who are in a much hopeless situation than I find myself. But if I die, I do so for myself and my family, and not my nation because there is nothing in it worth dying for.’ Pathetic! Really tragic! All the same, it provokes one to seek an understanding of the underlying reasons for a young man to voluntarily take the risk of dying in order to embrace a life akin to slavery. We are all aware of the fact that illegal migration into Europe, in the main, condemns a Black African to a state which may be analogous to modern enslavement. Obviously, for the young man, the hope of making a life in one’s own country appears to have died. Hope should not and must not die. Mr. Chairman Obviously, we need a direction. We need an adhesive that will give and maintain hope. We need a proper social adhesive – an adhesive which will build our strength in such a way that for us to leave this territory we may have to be dragged in chains just as our Ancestors. We need to search for the epistemic protocols and knowledge systems that anchored the African firmly and deeply rooted in their own soil. They were truly independent. Independence simply means indigenous dependence. Independence ensures or is underpinned by indigenous self-dependency. Inherent in the meaning of independence therefore is being free from foreign concepts; foreign knowledge forms and protocols; and foreign goods. Thus, truly independent people know freedom. Freedom is to be mentally liberated. Mental liberation is to have a deep understanding and insights into the culture one is situated and have the ability to express the self through that culture. And in Africa one gains the understanding that one of the major threads that wove the society together was music. Music preserved, advanced, expressed and transmitted our values, our principles, our worldview. Our music stated our identity. It was a part of the mysteries of African Spiritual energy (soul) which explained the notion of the extended self and the natural orientation of African peoples to insure the survival of the tribe. Briefly it must examine the elements and dimensions of the experiential communalities of African peoples. Ladies and Gentlemen From a perspective one may state that our music was because of our Ancestors; and our Ancestors were because of their music. We were our music and our music was us. In our
  • 3. indigenous way of life, dancing, for instance, serves as a tool for the transfer of ideas, principles and values through body movement, rhythm and song. We sang and danced through life. We encoded our humanity through the musical arts and used the logic of the art as a vehicle to transact life, health, mores and disciplined society. Rhythm was an inextricable part of our existence and it was in the search for harmony and balance that Highlife emerged. If our society is diseased today then our music too is diseased. Our diseased musical arts are the expression of a diseased society. If hope is missing from our society then our music does not embody hope – it is hopeless! Our classical music is firmly tied to our ethnic structures together with certain types of folk music such as boboobor, bosoe, apatampa, adaha, odonson, opem, osode, ntan, osibi, asiko, adowa, adesim and kpanlogo. Giving the centrality of Highlife as a music genre in Ghanaian life, which cuts across all the ethnic boundaries, it certainly becomes important to examine it to see how it may be used as a vehicle for national vision, cohesion and a national direction. Highlife must have a nationally creative purpose. Highlife must have a sense of direction. Mr. Chairman That is why I commend the organizers, the Highlife Institute, for convening this Conference on the Future of Highlife. I also thank those who instituted the European Cultural Initiative Programme for funding this discussion on ‘The Future of Highlife’. There are times when people like me have to swallow humble fufu and accept the necessity of foreign support, although, I keep wondering about when we shall be self-dependant. Be that as it may, I see this particular assistance as progressive because it is a form of support toward self-reliance since it aims to help us meditate and revitalize Highlife as well as sustain and maintain its distinction. The gravity of this conference is confirmed by your presence. As a symbol of our indigenous existence and its epistemic protocols I urge you to seriously consider how Highlife emerged. Going back to the roots will always give this conference a sense of purpose and a sense of direction. In our history creativity has always emerged when we returned to our roots. To return to one’s roots is to go into one’s origin and when one returns or is conscious of his/her origins there tends to be originality in what one does. When you revitalize or nurture the roots i.e. your originality, definitely the tree will produce healthy fruits. Obviously we have forgotten our roots. Mr. Chairman Distinguished Audience Highlife must point the way to our roots. It is through a return to our roots that this nation will find strength. Unfortunately, the various music forms today are not an answer to Europe. They do not express creativity or originality. They are just imitation forms. So long as our soul, which music is supposed to express, is expressed in imitative musical genres we shall live fake life. We shall not even live human lives again because only apes imitate. It is always worth recollecting that Highlife, both the dance band variety and the guitar band genre, emerged when Ghanaian musicians transposed western chordal structures and instrumentation on African indigenous melodies and rhythms. Without the indigenous melodies there will be no Highlife. It was innovation but an innovation that had its roots in the culture of the innovators and thus it had its grounding in a people. As David Coplan, for example, wrote: ‘Highlife modifies and integrates both Western and indigenous elements into
  • 4. an organic, qualitatively new style that retains expressive continuity with the traditional musical system.’1 The music reveals the dynamism of a culture which in spite of innovations does not lose its soul. Mr. Chairman In conversations with C.K. Mann, for example, it was educating listening to his narration of how he learnt to play the guitar and started with Kakaiku and how he communicated tunes and rhythms to Rex Lawson of Nigeria. An examination of the ‘Western’ educational levels of the early Highlife musicians, such as Jacob Sam (Kwame Asare), E. K. Nyame, Kakaiku (M. K. Oppong), Appiah-Agyekum and Kwaa Mensah, reveals that that their consciousness and world view was rooted in African-ess - in the world of afrikyiwa, pempesiwa (box piano), nnawuta, sraka and asratoa. These creative men knew who they were as Africans and their life-styles had the inherent simplicity of African existence. They were steeped in their culture. It makes one recollect Nana Ampadu’s statement that ‘since Highlife is Ghanaian you need to go to our roots to research.’ It is elevating listening, for example, to the description of ‘Serwa Akoto’s beauty than the contemporary vulgar and lewd statements made about the female anatomy which actually debases womanhood. For the Akan, for instance, women are the basis of nationhood and when you demean or dishonour the woman you degrade yourself. ‘Serwa Akoto’ brings out the reverence given to womanhood and thus serves to glorify the female principle of self. The ‘power’ of the words used psychologically uplifts the ‘individual’ and re-affirms the symbolic in the cultural crucible. Musical texts were self-censored by the culture. Now anything goes. Now as a people we can see where anything goes leads. It is the destruction of our culture. Without your own culture you cannot envision the future. It has been responsible for the young man who left the statement that ‘there is nothing in (my nation) worth dying for.’ The lack of the conscious use of music in building and maintaining Ghanaian indigenous culture is a major contributor to the cultural disarray in Ghana. This has led to a nation where hope is less. In our culture, songs serve as the basis for the expression of social values. What values are presently being extolled by the music scene? Mr. Chairman Whereas Highlife emerged out of a creative dialogue with Europe, our airwaves are presently filled with escapist music as well as musical genre which has either abdicated its responsibility and duty to African culture or simply capitulated to Western popular music genre in form and contents contributing to our existence in a state of neo-slavery. The airwaves are indeed a big tool of the cultural imperialism which is leading us toward cultural genocide. Kill a people’s culture and they cease to exist as a people. Our elders left several sayings behind such as: Wo awo fo gya wo mpanyin kasa a, wongyae nkasa no nkefa mbofra kasa (i.e. when your parents bequeath you with the language/vocabulary of the elders, who do not leave it to take the language/vocabulary of children); adwin tse de haban; se andow mu a n’bu (i.e. the mind is like a garden; if it is not cultivated, it cannot be harvested). Pharoahnic Egyptian culture bequeathed The Book of Kheti which advised us to: (i) Be skilled in speech so that you will succeed. The tongue of a man is his sword ... truth comes to him in its essential form, shaped in the sayings of the ancestors. If we take our classical music, for example, because it is rarely, if ever, played on our airwaves it is becoming unfamiliar and hence foreign to our ears. In the preface to Psalmes, 1 David Coplan Go to my Town Cape Coast: The Social History of Ghanaian Highlife Eight Urban Musical Cultures ed., Bruno Nettl. University of Illinois Press, Urbana
  • 5. Songs, and Sonnets, William Byrd stated as far back as 1611: ‘That song is best esteemed with which our ears are most acquainted.’ When you inundate your ears with foreign music genres definitely you end up alienating your indigenous music genres. The Book of Ani reminds us: ‘(vii) Protect what is yours and you will always find it. Be watchful of what you own lest you end up as a beggar.’ It will be interesting researching into the number of times European stations play African music in comparison to European music in Africa. It will be really informative to our consciousness. Distinguished Audience, You have set yourself an unenviable task and I see in this task the possible re-construction of this country according to our indigenous culture so that we may embrace new ideas and forms toward our endogenous development. One does not need to emphasize the statement that: ‘Highlife musicians have come to be regarded as the symbolic barometer of the social, political or cultural thinking of the masses and their music has been used in supporting the people to voice out criticism and dissent or enhance stability by promoting ideals and values of the society.’2 That is the consciousness you must bring to this conference. Consciousness is the awareness of existence, truth, or fact of something at an instant. It is being aware of how you affect the culture and the natural ecology you are a part of and how they affect you. Awareness of these variables affected your ancestors, and their interpretation of that experience has to come into the African’s consciousness to instruct and serve as the basis of viewing reality. The reality of Ancestral wisdom in Africa has preserved in symbols and indigenous Africa wallows in symbols – both animate and inanimate. ‘Symbols are usually visual entities, they also take the form of speech, or can be found in activities – such as games. Symbols . . . are the entities that carry highly compacted messages pertaining to origin, identity and survival of individuals and collective peoples. . . . Once the symbol evolves in a person’s subconscious, that person uses the symbol with high frequency and has little or no unnecessary conscious understanding or meaning. A shared symbol speaks volumes ... (they) communicate from one person’s subconscious to the subconscious of another who shares the same identity and survival necessity.3 A symbol such as the so-called ‘Independence Arch’ in Accra is meaningless to indigenous Africa. It reveals the confused or subtly un-African mental state which led to the usage of the symbol of Roman imperialism to signify freedom from colonialism and imperialism itself. This confirms that freeing a person without freeing the mind is no freedom. Real freedom lies in mental liberation. It is my fervent hope that those of you here gathered will appreciate and see the role of Highlife as an instrument of mental liberation without which we will die as a people. Mr. Chairman Among the Akan, for example, life is structured in symbols and all activities are immersed in the symbolic and contain complex philosophies about life and human co-operative existence. Serwa Akoto’s creator used metaphor to express the divine beauty of womanhood. The consistent mis-understanding of the living parable of the chieftaincy institution, for example, by Euro-centric and mis-educated intellectuals is making a major contribution toward the unravelling of indigenous communities. The principles inherent in existential and relational concept of being in my culture, for example, have been enshrined as a fragment of the allegorized living symbol of the Nana being - the living heart of my culture. In this culture, 2 Nanabanyin Dadson citing Prof. Agovi in ‘We are the Artists of Ghana’ The Mirror Saturday, June 22 1996 3 Frances Cress Welsing (1991) The Isis Papers: The Key to the Colours Third World Press Chicago p.xi
  • 6. dancing serves as a tool for the transfer of ideas, principles and values through body movement, rhythm and song. In the symbolic Dance of Creation by the Nana, most especially, when the Nana is ritually carried by four in a piece of hollow, canoe-shaped facility known as apakan, he throws his arms to express: ‘I am you and you are me; the whole universe is me and I am the whole universe; when a plant is broken it is a part of me that is broken’ etc. The implied metaphorical stress is in the understanding that this dance is at the very beginning of life. Among other lessons, the equalitarian Dance of Creation serves to remind us that we are all co-creators imbued with the responsibility, duty and obligation to maintain and sustain life on this planet. Further, among other connotations, the carriage of the Nana is also a social affirmation and upholding of its values and truth above everything else.4 If you are mis-cultured through mis-education such humble thoughts preserved in the simplicity of the allegory of chieftaincy will definitely elude your ‘cultural’ understanding. Distinguished Audience, No nation can develop without the peoples’ knowledge of themselves, their heritage and their culture. Self-knowledge lies within and creativity lies within. This is probably one of the reasons why Kweku Ananse was left behind to guide us into the future and I strongly advise conferees to take a cue from this symbol. A cursory attempt at interpreting Kweku Ananse, reveals the importance of symbols in the indigenous society. Ananse has Kweku as his kra dzin (soul name). Wednesday, the fourth day of the Akan week under the vibrations of the star, Wuku, is the day of Wisdom. His female counterpart is Ekua ba (i.e. Ekua/Wisdom’s daughter). She is shaped in a more expressive form of the ankh. When Ananse is broken down it becomes Anan (four) se (speaks). Kweku (4) plus Anan (4) adds up to eight (i.e. 4 + 4 = 8). Eight is perceived as a full cycle in the Akan calendar and activities. The full cycle is eternity and hence Kweku Ananse represents Eternal Wisdom. Ananse (the spider) is shaped like eight and has eight legs. Although one could go on with the Akan mathematical reality and numerology of Ananse, for the purpose of this conference, it is worthwhile studying the activities of the spider in spinning a web and its mode of survival. Ananse knows its world. It knows its enemies. Its weapons come from within and are based on the dynamics of its world. Whatever the season Ananse is self-dependent. It relies on its wits. The spider goes within itself to bring forth its means of survival - the web which it spins patiently and skilfully based on innate knowledge – self knowledge.5 Distinguished Audience The web itself is an allegory of the world of interdependence. It gives an indication to ‘a consciousness of omni-connectedness, a consciousness that the natural sciences open up for a non-dualistic view of the world and provides the path for the perception of the commonality of humanity and nature.’6 The spider is usually at the centre of its web giving an indication of a non-hierarchical concentric philosophy of existence unlike the societies nurtured on the 4 Nana Kobina Nketsia V The Re-Emergence of Ananse: the Re-inventing African Universities through Indigenous Knowledge Systems. 5 ibid 6 Hans-Peter Durr We Have to Think in a New Way (Max-Planck-Inst. Fur Physik, Munich. In Bertus Haverjort and Coen Reijntjes eds. (2006) Moving Worldviews: reshaping Sciences, Policies and Practices for Endogenous Sustainable Development Compas series on Worldviews and Sciences 4 Leusden, Netherlands p. 105
  • 7. heritage of feudalism which are class based and have a vertical structure of relationships. From within it repairs and restores its web (its world/cosmos) whenever it suffers damage. It is the indigenous epistemic protocols of Ananse that the African has to seek and restore. And Africans do not have to look far. The spider lives in the omnipresent silence. One does not have to travel in search of the ‘golden fleece’. There is a saying that: se i ku Ananse a na e ku nyimpa (i.e. when you kill a spider you kill man). From a perspective, Highlife is a reflection of Ananse – the creative wisdom. Wisdom is about power. Highlife must empower. It must be the vehicle for the national unity, national development and a national vision. We cannot develop in disunity. Highlife is an expression of our culture. Power as Ananse teaches lies within and Highlife has been an expression of our national creative power because it has been centred within the consciousness our indigenous world. Its umbilical cords are firmly rooted in this socio-cultural space. Its identity is Ghanaian. Mention Highlife and you think Ghana. Mr. Chairman It is claimed that at a point in history, the British group, Beatles, were the highest income earners for Britain as a country. Further one re-collects Paul Simon’s rendition of Yaa Amponsa which grossed millions in three days. As the saying goes: wo adze aye yie na woara na aye (i.e. only you can better yourself/existence). No one is going to develop Highlife for us but ourselves. Only we can develop Highlife in our national life. In Highlife, entertainment is education. In our classical traditions there is no entertainment for entertainment sake. All entertainment is education. And Highlife’s educational analogy is that: ‘The dog that learns how to bury bones and to hunt more effectively for meat to feed himself and his family – that dog is educated. When that dog learns how to stand on its two hind legs and wear a dress and dance to music that dog is simply trained. He is mis- educated.’7 A dog worthy of the dog community is educated to survive as a dog with a dog culture. It has the dog character. The dog relies on the experience of his dog ancestry to live as a dog and survive as a dog. Here, one may agree with the fact that Highlife as a genre of music helps manifest who we are. Still in the instructive framework of the dog analogy, a dog is trained as a dog by a dog to be a dog. A dog which has anything to profess will profess the doggishness to make a better dog-world. That training results in an educated dog. It is a cultured dog which knows the dog culture and lives in the dog culture. This is the indigenousness of the dog-being. However, any form of training which results in a dog behaving as a cat and professing as well as displaying the characteristics of cattiness is not education. A dog living culturally as a cat is a living lie. It deceives itself. It also raises the interesting point that a society – even if it is ‘modern’ – should be powered by its own indigenous knowledge system and this, in turn, leads to endogenous development.8 Highlife is our culture and thus the proper tool to use for our national vision. We cannot develop as a people by borrowing exogenous cultures. Mr. Chairman Personally, I am thrilled by the fact that the University of Cape Cast is creating a Centre for the Study of Highlife. This must be commended and supported. I am also aware that a major shortcoming of such conferences has been the lack of continuity and application. Conferences usually end up as mere talk-shops. I am tired of them. I am glad that the organizers are planning to set up a committee to monitor developments ensuing from the resolutions arising 7 ibid 8 Nana Kobina Nketsia V The Re-Emergence of Ananse op.cit
  • 8. from the conference and also propose to set up a website to give guidance to adherents and prospective followers of Highlife. I strongly share in the view that such a website will also serve as a forum for further contributions and debate on the issues arising from the conference. As Positive Action displayed, our independence was the result of the struggle by African culture against Europe. Highlife emerged as a reaction by indigenous culture to Europe. We must now return to our roots in order to survive and Highlife must not only show us the path but lead the progression. As ancestors said: Ansa na Odomankoma bo bo ‘wiadzi no, na Ananse Kokrooko tsena n’ eguamu (i.e. Before Odomankoma, then great Benefactor created this World of the Sun, the Great Ananse, the Infinite Intelligence, was already seated. Have a fruitful conference. Thank you.