Africa: Ghana wants the world to hear it

By Stacey Knott

The West African country's using music to pull in tourist cash, writes Stacey Knott

Ghana's first Music Week drew traditional performers and international headliners. It's hoped the event will also attract tourists. Photo / AP
Ghana's first Music Week drew traditional performers and international headliners. It's hoped the event will also attract tourists. Photo / AP

Your knowledge of Ghana may be limited to the cocoa in your Whittaker's bars, but this West African country has something else bubbling away ready to be exported en masse.

Ghana's music has a legacy of slick dance moves, memorable polyrhythms, perfect gospel pitches and effortless freestyle raps. Like its smooth, addictive cocoa, Ghana's music is crossing borders and oceans. This year, it held its first Music Week in which its artists, fans and industry players celebrated the variety of music this nation produces.

The week, set at the National Theatre in its capital city, Accra, kicked off in early March with a day of traditional performances by cultural troupes from around Ghana. There were young boys defying gravity on stilts, acrobatic whistle players, handkerchief-waving women in beautifully fitted traditional dresses chanting to drums, then more intense, grass-skirt-wearing, hip-shaking, foot-stamping, face-painted performances that looked as though they'd stepped straight from the pages of a National Geographic magazine.

With the government's support, Bice Osei Kuffuor, of the Musicians Union of Ghana, says bolstering the creative industries is a sure-fire way to increase tourism, and the aim is for Music Week to become an annual festival.

"The country is already carving a niche for itself as far as culture is concerned. There's diversity here. Music Week is another invitation for people to come to Ghana if music is their thing, to learn more about our country," says Kuffuor.

Music is definitely my thing, and the week proved Ghanaians do it well. I saw more variety in musical styles than at any European festival I've been to.

A highlight was a performance by musician M.anifest, who performed a history of Ghana's musical landscape, perfectly executed in slam poetry. He moved from traditional, pre-colonial chants to the smooth croons of Ghana-originated highlife (a fusion of western melodies, soulful singing in local dialects, and African rhythms). From here he segued effortlessly to politically conscious reggae, on to hip-hop's influence from the 90s, to today's hiplife (highlife fused with hip-hop), which is teamed with Ghana's obsession with Azonto, a dance that originated here and which, thanks to YouTube, has managed to capture a global audience.

The biggest event of the week was the Ghana Unity Concert, on March 6, to celebrate 56 years of independence from British rule. Against a backdrop of symbolic Ghanaian images projected on massive screens, the concert confirmed the diversity of the country's music: praise songs belted out by one of Ghana's premier gospel singers, Gifty Osei, patriotic reggae by Blakk Rasta and, at the other end of the spectrum, loud, aggressive hip-hop in local dialects. The speakers boomed and the crowd was amped.

The week closed with a star-studded awards ceremony. There were more stand-out performances - reggae star Rocky Dawuni was incredibly energetic. He was awarded an International Act honour for promoting Ghanaian music globally, having played with Stevie Wonder, collaborated with U2's Bono and toured the world extensively. He'll perform in New Zealand next year.

I asked Dawuni why we should pay attention to music from his homeland. He says there are plenty of obstacles to getting tunes from this developing nation out into the world, because of a lack of music institutions and distribution networks, but he hopes his success shows his country is worthy of international recognition.

"As a Ghanaian musician, my success is a testament to the potential of the music industry here. This is a spring of great talent that, if nurtured and given the opportunities and platforms, can impact far and wide."

So, search "Azonto" on YouTube and get practising: if this first Music Week was anything to go by, there will be many more Kiwi performers heading to Ghana in years to come.


Info

Getting there

Flights from London to Accra cost about NZ$900 return. Try skyscanner.net for deals.

Where to stay

Hansonic Hotel: Quality budget hotel in Accra, about 10 minutes drive from the city centre. Book through www.hostelbookers.com

Afia African Village: Pricey, but on the ocean
and central to big cultural attractions, afiavillage.com

Getting around

Penny-pinchers should try tro-tros – deteriorated vans packed full, running on set routes and incredibly cheap, about 50 cents between landmarks. Private taxis within Accra should not exceed $6 but be prepared to barter.


Stacey Knott paid her own way to Ghana and stayed courtesy of hostelbookers.com. Keep an eye on musiga.org.gh for details of next year's Music Week.

- Herald on Sunday

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