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Institutionalise Professor Nketia, Dr Amu and the others 9/4/2007
The recent celebration of the musical compositions of four Ghanaian musicians of genius, namely, Dr Ephraim Amu, Professor J H Kwabena Nketia, Dr Gyima Labi and Rev. Robert Gaddiel Acquaah as part of the country’s half-century of independence festivities, while encouraging, did not go far enough.

Then again, this is Ghana where cultural icons routinely go unrecognised till they are no longer with us. Such abject neglect of its heroes and icons is unbecoming of a nation bent on taking its rightful place among the enviable ranks of cultural and civilisational pioneers.

Several years ago, while reviewing the late Fred Agyeman’s remarkable biography on Dr Ephraim Amu, I suggested that the government ought to promptly act to institutionalise the sterling likes of Professor Nketia and Dr. Amu by naming the music departments of the country’s leading academic institutions after these cultural luminaries.

Annual achievement awards, for example, could also be established in their names. Likewise, significant and other landmark institutions of cultural promotion and preservation could also be named after these great nation-builders.

Back then, I even suggested that the National Theater should be named after Efua Theodora Morgue Sutherland, the undisputed matriarch of contemporary Ghanaian theater and founder of the experimental Ghana Drama Studio, the very first of its kind in the West African sub-region, if, indeed, not continental Africa as a whole. I made this call on Radio-Universe, on the campus of the University of Ghana.

Needless to say, other equally significant names that were left out of the programme include Rev Dr Otto-Boateng and J T Essuman. And of the four recently celebrated cultural greats, or luminaries, at the Accra International Conference Center, I can readily recognise two, namely, Dr Amu and Professor Nketia. I also vividly remember my maternal grandfather, the Rev T H Sintim, an accomplished musician in his own right and Professor Nketia’s third-grade teacher, fondly mention the name of Rev Robert Gaddiel Acquaah while I was growing up.

Interestingly, both Dr Amu and Professor Nketia have also distinguished themselves in other equally significant ways. The late Dr Amu first did so as a “Cultural Nationalist,” a full-generation before President Nkrumah appeared on the Ghanaian political landscape touting his retooled version of Dr Edward Wilmot Blyden’s landmark concept of the “African Personality,” and got fired from the Akuapem-Akropong Presbyterian Teacher-Training College, where “Owura” Amu served as a tutor, for proudly refusing to wear a blazer jacket to preach in the pulpit.

And for a considerable length of time, Dr Amu was also the one-man Music Department of the African Studies Institute at the University of Ghana.

Earlier on, during the 1950s, Dr Amu had pioneered the Music Department of the erstwhile Kumasi College of Technology, now called the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.

But what makes Dr Amu stand head-and-shoulders above his Ghanaian compatriots in the discipline of music is the fact that Dr Ephraim Amu was also the very first continental African to have composed sheet music in four - singing – voices.

No other known African had done so before him; and after his groundbreaking achievement would emerge the sterling likes of Professor Nketia and Dr. Otto-Boateng, both of whom had been students of Dr Amu.

I personally knew Dr Amu, the sprightly petit old man who always wore Khaki shorts and shirt and open, buckled leather sandals to match.

He also owned a prison-like, green-coloured truck; perhaps a Ford or Bedford, with wire-netting where glass windows ought to have been. What was also remarkable about Dr Amu was the fact that nobody messed with his parking spot, under a big tree adjacent to his office at the Institute.

And for me, in particular, the good, old man from Peki-Avetile was a no-nonsense man. It was also quite obvious that Dr Amu was fond of my father, and the latter appeared to reciprocally envisage Dr Amu as an avuncular figure.

Maybe this had something to do with the fact that the world-famous composer of “Yen Ara Asase Ni” (This is our native land) had been two or three years my maternal grandfather’s junior at the Abetifi Ramseyer Center, then an elite teacher-training college.

Dr Amu was a no-nonsense old man because in spite of his advanced age, even in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he would hotly chase me around the then well-manicured lawns of the Institute if I so much as plucked one of the cat’s tail-looking red plants that blossomed in front of his office. He never once got a hold of me, though.

And he soon had to wistfully resign himself to warning my father to rein me in, else the petit old man from Peki-Avetile would set my little buns on fire!

Professor Nketia, for his part, has spent most of his academic and professional life researching, teaching and explaining the intricate dynamics of traditional African music, continent-wide, to both Africans and the non-African world at large.

He has also had a profound impact on the Institute of African Studies in a way that no other director, before or after him, could lay credible claim to. I guess the most accurate parallel comparison would be to liken the man and the Institute to Egypt and the Nile.

Interestingly, as W E Abraham attests in his seminal classic treatise The Mind of Africa, Professor Nketia is arguably the best Ghanaian poet of his generation. Unfortunately, he left the field of Anglophone African poetry in the 1950s, as he was peaking, to concentrate on traditional Akan poetry and music.

And today, he is largely known as an authoritative musicologist, perhaps the foremost musicologist on the African continent. His influence, however, reaches across some five continents. Professor Nketia is also regarded as the Shakespeare of African musicology, which means that he is fairly equally authoritative in the discipline of Social Anthropology, having been mentored by Dr K A Busia, the first Ghanaian and African to be named “Professor” at the University of Ghana, Legon.

In sum, institutionalising the preceding cultural icons would enhance our knowledge of Ghanaian history and culture. Even more importantly, it would also facilitate the salutary preservation and development of our collective identity as a sovereign nation with a rich culture and an enviable place under the sun.

*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., teaches English and Journalism at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is the author of “Paa: A Tribute” (iUniverse.com, 2005), a collection of poetry in memory of his father.


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