You cannot discuss Emeritus Prof. J. H. Kwabena Nketia’s intellectual and personal life without mentioning African music. He’s one endowed with the pure knowledge about world music but the unique aspect of his career and lifestyle is to live the music he’s been born with or known from his culture even though he’s had the privilege to travel around the world and studied from other sources.
“The main thing is to preserve the development of our creative legacy even in contemporary contexts.” he says, at a seminar organized by DreamOval Foundation, an institution which has the aim to bridge the knowledge gap through the creation, sharing and utilization of knowledge with Education and Technology being their key focus areas. This was at Paloma Hotel on the Spintex Road near Sakumono junction.
It’s no wonder that Emeritus Professor Nketia has also been described as the ‘Grandfather of African Music’. He goes on to mention how he wrote 49 musical pieces in just 3 months short stay in Tanzania once. “I pick from wherever I go. It’s not wrong to learn from other people and places. Do not copy and paste, but rather apply the knowledge from your cultural traditions.” “You don’t have to wait till forever. Some things can be done as a part of our everyday life and you’ll become better with time.” He goes on to share a story about a friend who proposed to a lady at his could-be in-law’s but was denied. He created a song after his friend had told him about the experience “minn ny3 d3nn po na ay3 yie, Kwame ei minn ny3 d3nn mpo na ay3 yie., atekyrema ma fro pata hunu, Kwame ei nipa nyinaa k)) adihw3 minkwaa mi k)) y3 aa adi3 no etu k) (what should I do? Kwame, I am a cat who’s climbed the wrong roof. We all went to view something, I only got there when it had flown away.)”
He shares a few of his works; Mmoatia Sankuo, Ewe-fon, Volta Fantasy, etc and admits that he loves the rhythmic Anlo bell patterns and cadence, that’s how come “you find most of my works fusing ewe agbadza tones or Anlo music because I’m so much in love with their tradition of music.” Though he has millions of works, he as well confesses that Volta Fantasy (circa 1967) happens to be his favorite work of all. Somebody in the audience talked about how his music “is like a story on its own and can perfectly work on cartoon productions or background of movies” and that’s definitely true.
He talks about how passion comes first for him and that “it was never about the commercial aspect of the work that kept me in the career. Things have always been happening in time to keep me not to worry about money at all, and I remember how UNESCO aside Nkrumah and Kofi Busia “funded my projects to develop and document traditional folk music.” He goes on to say, “I started University of Ghana’s school of Performing Arts and Dance Ensemble because Nkrumah liked the idea. Institute of Language Study too.”
He mentions his new project of creating the Professor Nketia archive where generations to come can gain access to his rich musical content, books and articles as well as his collections from other composers as accrued throughout his travels. You can find the Prof. Nketia foundation here: http://www.nketiamusicfoundation.org. and the objectives include:
- “To promote the conservation and development of our creative legacy in contemporary contexts and
- To assist in the curatorial and promotional aspects of the Nketia collection of archival materials in the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana and other locations.”
He was a member of the International Music Council once. Literally having traveled around the world with the legend to share his music, his associate tells us; “The software we have on the market today are not made for African music. It was difficult coding Prof. Nketia’s music. We bought computers and spent nights trying to create these notations.” Pointing at musical notes on the projector screen, he goes on to mention, “Even still, it’s not that right.”
In the diverse complex field of music, Ghana must be very proud of well accomplished legends like Prof. Nketia and kudos to DreamOval Foundation for putting together such a relevant seminar for young artists, visionaries, students and thinkers to meet and share under the umbrella of a great legend and voice of Africa. Next month’s DreamOval seminar is on the 27th of March with host Professor Kofi Agyekum, Dean of the College of Performing Arts, University of Ghana. Join in as he shares his thoughts on Our Language and National Development – The Case of Ghana.. Watch this space for details soon.