Category: Features


A Servant of Rhythm From Ghana, in Texas

On the morning of the 20th annual African Cultural Festival at the University of North Texas here, Torgbui Midawo Gideon Foli Alorwoyie, the festival’s founder, was doing last-minute errands. There were drums to gather, programs to pick up from the printer, costumes to procure. For these annual events, he is his own promoter, his own publicist, his own street team.

“I do everything myself,” he explained from the driver’s seat of his minivan. Deep blue scars on his cheeks — marking him as a Midawo, or high priest, of the Ewe cult of Ghana’s Volta region — bent as he glanced between two different cellphones. A thick chain with a gold medallion in the shape of Africa glinted on his chest.

Mr. Alorwoyie leading a rehearsal at the University of North Texas in April. Credit Allison V. Smith for The New York Times

Mr. Alorwoyie (pronounced al-or-WO-yee), 71, is a rarity in American academia: a master drummer from Africa who is a tenured professor of African drumming and dance, disciplines that are difficult to categorize within Western musical theory. And in his own country, he is one of the few musicians working arduously to pass on traditions in danger of disappearing.

Mr. Alorwoyie also carries the title of Torgbui, or paramount chief, in his region of Ghana, responsible for administrative decisions and rulings on certain judgments; an herbalist (a large bottle of gin at his home, stuffed with long roots, was repeatedly offered to a visitor for its healing properties); and a stern taskmaster to his performers and students.

He has a key link to the evolution of American Minimalism: In 1970, the composer Steve Reich traveled to Ghana and studied with Mr. Alorwoyie for a month. “Drumming,” Mr. Reich’s groundbreaking piece for nine percussionists, was written after his trip.

At several rehearsals on the University of North Texas campus earlier this month, Mr. Alorwoyie guided a student drumming and dance ensemble that, for the festival concert, would be accompanied by five Ghanaian percussionists as well as Mr. Alorwoyie’s wife, Memunatu, 46, a former principal dancer in the Ghana Dance Ensemble in Accra; several former students who regularly return to dance at his events; and their daughter, Gloria, 11, who has been under her mother’s tutelage since birth.

Lither and quicker than many men half his age, Mr. Alorwoyie exuded a fierce calm during rehearsals. For many rhythms, he stood next to the atsimevu, a massive drum played with sticks. Tapping against its hull to establish a beat, Mr. Alorwoyie called drummers and dancers into action, activating changes in the patterns and movements with nods or shifts in expression. When not playing, he paced like a general, hands on his hips.

Some Ewe rhythms have a slippery, collapsing quality, an amorphous relationship to any easily recognizable downbeat. Mr. Alorwoyie’s lead patterns directed the dancers, but when another

Memunatu Gariba Alorwoyie, the former principal dancer of the Ghana Dance Ensemble, during a rehearsal with the University of North Texas student ensemble. Credit Allison V. Smith for The New York Times

drummer took over the atsimevu, Mr. Alorwoyie stepped into a dance with his wife; their playful steps around each other were like marital shadowboxing. As complex as the rhythmic patterns are, they go hand-in-hand with movement and song — the dancers and drummers serve one another.

“African music is not something you just listen to,” Mr. Alorwoyie said in an interview in his office, its walls covered in awards, degrees and newspaper articles about him dating back decades. “The answer is the dance.”

Mr. Alorwoyie left Ghana in 1976 and took a position as a visiting lecturer at SUNY College at Brockport. After stints at the American Conservatory of Music and the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, he joined the North Texas faculty in 1996. The School of Music there is one of the nation’s largest, with an extensive percussion program. According to John Scott, the chair of the search committee that hired him, Mr. Alorwoyie is the first — and still the only — tenured African drummer at an American university.

“The first year he was here, all of a sudden he says he needs money to buy cloth to make clothes for the ensemble, so they look like an African ensemble,” Mr. Scott said. “‘O.K., where are we going come up in the budget with clothes money for an ensemble?’ But you manage to do it.”

The rhythms Mr. Alorwoyie plays and teaches belong to a language that has been stored in generations of memory, rarely recorded or preserved. Ewe songs are forms of communication; in some cases, phrases like “the lion is coming” are reinterpreted as drum patterns, part of an alarm system that existed among villages. (Some songs, Mr. Alorwoyie says, routinely contained criticism of different families in a community.) Without a written history, traditional Ghanaian drumming (of which there are thousands of tiny variations) is part of a family of African song forms that don’t fit easily into Western pedagogical models.

Mr. Alorwoyie with the atsimevu, a tall drum that is used as a lead instrument in many Ghanaian songs and rhythms. Credit Allison V. Smith for The New York Times

“There was a time when ethnomusicology was in some places not really integrated into music programs,” Mr. Scott said. “It was sort of the bottom of the pecking order; there’s a whole strata of musicians who looked down on ethnomusicology and ethnic music: ‘Oh, we don’t want to deal with this, it’s not art music.’ Just like the people who looked down on jazz and said, ‘This is not real music.’”

Kobla Ladzekpo, who taught for 38 years at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Abraham Adzenyah, who was at Wesleyan University for 46, are both master drummers from Ghana who enjoyed strong support from their academic communities, but neither ever had a title above adjunct professor.

“African traditional performance arts have no conventional place in higher education schools of music or music conservatories,” said David Locke, the chair of the music department at Tufts University, who has known Mr. Alorwoyie for four decades and collaborated with him on a research project on the Ewe drum language that resulted in a 2013 book. “I wouldn’t necessarily think that bias is actually capturing that, it’s more of a historical condition that seems to make natural sense. On the other hand, there is a lot of prejudice and misunderstanding of African arts and performance arts and African ways of life.”

Without a notational system, the rhythms must be passed directly from generation to generation.

“There’s not a classroom that’s going to teach you,” Mr. Alorwoyie said. “In the villages and towns and cottages, you’re not going to see nobody teaching nobody how to drum.”

He and the performers he brought to Denton for the festival are part of the group trying to transmit this fragile knowledge. “It’s here,” said Godwin Abotsi, 37, a Ghanaian drummer and dancer who lives in Fort Collins, Colo., pointing to his head.

In December, Mr. Alorwoyie and several of his students traveled to New York for a performance of “Drumming” with the ensemble Mantra Percussion at National Sawdust, presented by World

Mr. Alorwoyie, center, dancing at National Sawdust in December 2016. Credit Stephen Speranza for The New York Times

Music Institute. The Ghanaian ensemble presented traditional compositions and dances, alternating with Mantra’s performances of works by Mr. Reich. For “Drumming,” the two groups played in tandem, with Mr. Reich’s piece fitting like a skin over a complex rhythmic skeleton led by Mr. Alorwoyie. The staggered bell pattern that anchors many Ghanaian rhythms became a beacon amid the phased bongo cycles of Mr. Reich’s composition — an indigenous form cradling a modern one. (Through a publicist, Mr. Reich declined to comment for this article.)

Even in Africa, the sacred songs and rhythms that Mr. Alorwoyie teaches are struggling, with the drummers and dancers of Ghana’s national ensemble earning salaries that barely sustain them. Hiplife, a form of popular music heavily influenced by reggae, has some strands of traditional drumming, but in general those traditions are not highly valued by younger people.

“It’s associated with the past, it’s associated with rural areas, you don’t make money from it,” Mr. Locke said of the traditional style. “You go to a funeral, and the D.J.s have their sound systems, and they’re blasting the music at very, very high volumes, and the traditional folk are playing their traditional drums right next to where the D.J.s are set up. It’s like the Industrial Revolution versus the preindustrial world.”

Mr. Alorwoyie Credit Allison V. Smith for The New York Times

Mr. Alorwoyie travels to Ghana several times a year to attend to affairs that concern his chieftaincy, but he also is attempting to pass his library of music on to people who can sustain it. Rather than update the old patterns, he said that at this point in his life, he must return to the rhythms he knows; history demands it.

“If I am trying to teach something else creatively,” he said, “I’m going to lose those very important messages.”

With this sense of reverence comes a teaching style in which anything less than what is expected is unacceptable. At a dress rehearsal for a festival performance, Mr. Alorwoyie gave a thorough dressing-down to both undergraduate students and veteran Ghanaian drummers.

“Why are you talking?” he asked sharply, after entering the backstage area and finding his dancers and drummers joking around at a moment when he wanted them to be entering for a procession.

The ensemble fell silent. Mr. Alorwoyie — who is said to have been born with his fists curled tightly, marking him for life as a servant of rhythm — led them onstage, his body bouncing lightly to the beat of the squeeze drum under his arm, his eyes fixed intensely upon his charges.

Article via The New York Times

Esther Afua Ocloo: Ghana’s inspiring businesswoman

Esther Afua Ocloo launched her entrepreneurial career as a teenager in the 1930s on less than a dollar.

She quickly became one of Ghana‘s leading entrepreneurs and a source of inspiration around the world. Yesterday, on what would had been her 98th birthday, Google dedicated to her a ‘doodle’ illustration.

In addition to her own business, she taught skills to other women and co-founded Women’s World Banking (WWB), a global micro-lending organisation.

On its website, the WWB microlending network says it lends to 16,4 million women around the world, managing a loans portfolio of over $9bn.  Known as “Auntie Ocloo”, Esther dedicated her life to helping others like her succeed.

“Women must know that the strongest power in the world is economic power,” she said in a speech in 1990. You cannot go and be begging to your husband for every little thing, but at the moment, that’s what the majority of our women do.”

How she started

As a high school graduate with only a few Ghanian shillings given to her by an aunt, she bought sugar, oranges and 12 jars to make marmalade jam. Ocloo sold them at a profit, despite the ridicule of her former classmates, who saw her as an “uneducated street vendor“.

Soon she won a contract to supply her high school with marmalade jam and orange juice, and later managed to secure a deal to provide the military with her goods. On the basis of that contract, she took out a bank loan. In 1942, she established a business under her maiden name, “Nkulenu”.

Ocloo then travelled to England to take a course in Food Science and Modern Processing Techniques at Bristol University. In 1953, determined to grow her business with her newly acquired knowledge in food processing and preservation, she returned to her homeland with a mission to help Ghana become self-sufficient.

Nkulenu Industries still makes orange marmalade today and exports indigenous food items to markets abroad. In 1962, the company relocated to its present location at Madina, a suburb of the capital city, Accra.

Award-winning leadership

Besides working on her thriving business, she also set up a programme to share her knowledge with other women who cook and sell products on the streets.

”You know what we found? We found that a woman selling rice and stew on the side of the street is making more money than most women in office jobs – but they are not taken seriously,” she said.

In 1990, she became the first woman to receive the Africa Prize for Leadership. She proposed alternative solutions to the problems of hunger, poverty and the distribution of wealth – championing the development of an indigenous economy based on agriculture. In 1999 interview  she said:

Our problem here in Ghana is that we have turned our back on agriculture. Over the past 40 years, since the beginning of compulsory education, we have been mimicking the West

Esther Afua Ocloo

“We are now producing youth with degrees who don’t want to work in the fields or have anything to do with agriculture.” She added.

Ocloo died in 2002 after suffering from pneumonia. At her state burial in Accra, former president John Kofi Agyekum Kufuor said: “She was a creator and we need many people of her calibre to build our nation”.

She was a real pillar… worthy of emulation in our efforts to build our nation. Her good works in the promotion of development in Ghana cannot be measured.

Former Ghanaian President Kufuor

Google also recently celebrated  Jamini RoyHassan Fathy, and Abdul Sattar Edhi with their own doodles.Yesterday would have been Esther Occlo’s 98th birthday. In her honour Google changed its homepage logo in the United States; Ghana; Peru; Argentina, Iceland; Portugal; Sweden; Australia; Greece; New Zealand; Ireland and the UK to a “doodle” – or illustration – of her empowering the women of Ghana.

Article via Aljazeera

YƐN ARA YƐ KASA NI: LEARNING TWI, FANTI, ITALIAN AND ENGLISH

I was speaking about languages the other day, and it was interesting to see how people approach language and the reason behind it. I said I speak four languages. Truth! But I can read and write only two of them – English and Italian. I can speak and understand Fanti and Twi, but there’s so much work to be done around them because I don’t understand all things – i.e. proverbs.
My knowledge of these languages has been subject to needs and circumstances beyond my control for the most part.

Take English for example, I learnt it because I needed it for university. When I got accepted to study in England, that was a necessary move. When it comes to Italian, I had to learn it because my parents moved me to Italy when I was 8 years old. I had to go to school and live there (against my will lol) so I had to learn it. Before the age of 9, Twi was the only language I spoke fluently. I started learning and understanding Fanti properly when I started living with my dad (he’s Fanti, he refuses to speak Twi lol). I’d speak to him in Twi and he’d respond in Fanti! Some people argue that Fanti and Twi are the same, but they are not, although they are both Akan languages. I often think about them as Spanish and Italian: they both come from Latin, but have evolved differently. If one speaks Italian, one can kinda figure out some Spanish and be alright.

I think from the age of 10 or 11, in my household we spoke all four languages interchangeably (I had a little English going because my parents spoke it to my sisters and I sometimes).

In all this learning, credit goes to my parents for making sure I did not lose our native language. I have friends whose parents chose to speak only Italian or English to them. Some parents were tapping into their children’s knowledge to learn the language themselves – i.e. Italian. I believe the intention was great, but the result not so much because some friends ended up losing the ability to speak and/or understand our native languages.

I definitely want to work more on my Akan – Twi in particular. There are concepts that can never be translated into a Western language, because Western philosophy and ontology are different from Akan ways of being; and I think, because language is the medium through which concepts and ideas are formed, one can never understand a culture fully, unless one knows the language. I think Twi sounds fun and hilarious, Fanti sounds sweet, maybe that’s why some Takoradi boys got girls for days but anyway I digress.

Interesting fact: I don’t know how to count numbers in Twi. I’m learning now.

By Benjamina E. Dadzie

Greed and corruption as corporate bodies and top executives in Ghana siphon off state funds

During the Atta Mills-Mahama led administration, there was massive back-log in non-payment of salaries of workers in Ghana. More than ten thousand nurses and teachers remained unpaid for more than two years. Doctors and pharmacists were also victims of non-payment of salaries. Many more workers are weeping for similar reasons. There is a problem of non-payments of monies meant for national health insurance scheme (NHIS) drug providers and also service providers and food suppliers for school feeding programme for so many years. Yet huge salaries paid to top executives each month get to their accounts without fail.

Indeed under the previous NDC government, a lot of financial wastage occurred in the system. Millions of Ghana cedis spilled like leaked oil and no action was taken by Mahama’s administration to retrieve these monies squandered by individuals and companies.

Former CEO of Cocobod Dr Opuni

Mahama’s government voted GHc1.8 billion to Cocobod to purchase 800 tons of cocoa beans. Dr Opuni, who was then the Chief Executive Officer, bought only 300 tons. He was never queried about what happened to the rest of the money until the NPP came to power. He was immediately relieved of his appointment and corruption charges were preferred against him. His dismissal led to a startling revelation of amazing salaries received by certain CEOs in Ghana. Some of these are more than three or four times the salary received by the President.

The CEO of Cocobod, Dr Opuni takes home a whopping amount of GHc77,000 which is 770 million old cedis monthly! This does not include allowances, free fuel supply and free accommodation. The CEO of Bank of Ghana earns GHc89,000 every month, allowances and other benefits excluded. Let us see the monthly salaries of other CEOs in other corporate organisations: the CEO of Ghana Revenue Authority takes home a cool GHc85,000 each month plus allowances and other benefits. The Boss of SSNIT is paid each month GHc76,000, while the Director and CEO of Agricultural Development Bank (ADB) pockets GHc85,000 as his monthly salary excluding allowance and other benefits. The boss of National Investment Bank (NIB), takes home GHc65,000 and the CEO of BOST receives GHc62,000. The list continues with the boss of Tema Oil Refinery (TOR) also receiving GHc52000. The CEO of Ghana Commercial Bank (GCB) is paid “only” GHc55000. The list is just endless. These above-mentioned CEOs have top security men in their homes who are either policemen or staff from top security companies. They have three or four cars at their disposal. They have cooks, drivers, gardeners and cleaners. This group of people are paid by the companies. I believe you all agree with me that with such huge salaries allotted to top executives, it is not surprising that the government was unable to pay certain groups of workers like doctors, nurses, teachers and others who have not been paid for more than two years.

Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC) is a licensed distributor of petroleum related activities in Ghana. It is an agency responsible for the importation of crude oil and petroleum. When the GNPC was established to replace the Ministry of fuel and power, it was the objective of the government of Ghana to supply reliable and adequate supply of petroleum in Ghana and the discovery and exploration of crude oil in its territories. GNPC grew steadily in the area of oil production. However, after five years of the corporation’s existence, there was vast misuse of Ghana’s oil revenue on a large scale. There was complete absence of transparency and accountability in awarding oil blocks among others and denying Ghanaians the full use of the oil resource. A big chunk of the money accruing lands in the pockets of top executives. The top executives turned GNPC into a den of robbers, grabbing whatever money that came handy. Consequently, the chief executive of the corporation was arrested and tried at the fast track court on three counts of wilfully causing financial loss to the state to the tune of GH¢230,000 which he, on behalf of PNDC guaranteed a loan for Valley Farms a private company, and one count of misapplying public funds. He is said to have misappropriated GHc2million of GNPC funds to buy shares in Valley Farms. He was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to five years in prison.

Greed and corruption by the board of trustees at the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) have put the future of both formal and informal workers in jeopardy. According to the Association of Accountable Governance (AFAG), they foresee a bleak and miserable pension benefit for retirees. This is because the current board of trustees of SSNIT have sold and are aggressively selling off what is left of their investments. Where a chunk of the money will go is anybody’s guess.

Not long ago, workers shares in First Atlantic and Merchant banks were sold. The Trust hospital was sold and SSNIT Guest house was also put for sale. It is a known fact that National Trust Holding Company (NTHC) is a company that has been blacklisted by 2007 auditor’s report as unfit to manage public funds. It is, however, very unfortunate and disheartening that SSNIT has sold the scheme of the informal sector to NTHC, a blacklisted company. AFAG organized the workers in a mammoth meeting to protest against the board at SSNIT who are selfish and self-seeking at the expense of workers livelihood.

Indeed greed and corruption among top executives and corporate bodies have condoned corruption for a very long time. Ghanaians are waiting to see if greed and corruption will persist under Nana Addo‘s government or be relegated to history. Bribery, over-invoicing, gargantuan salaries and sole-sourcing are difficult problems hanging on the heads of Ghanaian governments like the sword of Damocles. Those guilty of such greed and corruption includes DVLA, the Police and customs and passport office. Very often, monies paid at these places are not backed by receipts. This means such monies land in the pockets of the personnel. A survey conducted by Ghana Integrity and anti-corruption consortium confirmed the afore-mentioned bodies as worst off when it comes to bribery and corruption. DVLA and the passport office deliberately delay the issue of driver’s licenses and passports. They have created around the offices those they call, ”goro boys.” These boys are working for the top officials. A driver’s license that will take you three months or more to get is obtained for you within a day or two by a ”goro boy” at five times the normal cost. Guess who gets all these monies. The top officials, of course.

Will the surprise visit by Alhaji Mumuni Bawumia to the passport office help to reduce corruption? Is Nana Addo eager and fully prepared to fight greed and corruption? Is he willing to prosecute the corrupt officials of the past government? Nana Addo’s government is just three months old and I believe all he can achieve or do to get all stolen monies into state coffers lies within the womb of time.

By Stephen Atta Owusu
Author: Dark Faces at Crossroads

Seth Dei, the Ghanaian investor behind fruit exporter Blue Skies

The businessman and art collector on helping create an economic success story and why Ghana has failed to fulfil its potential
Hidden behind high walls and the dusty, traffic-laden chaos of modern-day Accra, Seth Dei sits in pensive calm in his office. A cup of late afternoon coffee and three mini chocolate-chip cookies lie untouched in front of him as he studies his next move in a protracted chess endgame with his computer. “I’m winning, but I’m not sure how to finish,” he sighs.

Dei’s home in Accra © Jordi Perdigó

On the walls are a few pieces from the extensive Ghanaian art collection he has built up over more than three decades. Outside, a neatly trimmed garden with a verdant lawn and brightly coloured tropical plants offset the white walls and clean lines of his modernist house.

The building in which he is sitting was built in 1957 for an English businessman. Dei found it too big when he bought it, and turned it into the now mothballed and sparsely furnished Dei Centre for the Study of Contemporary African Art, complete with a small library, and corridors and staircases lined with some of the 500 paintings he has acquired.

He hauls himself to his feet, and gestures to a picture opposite his desk of a market scene by Adiama that is part-painting, part-fabric collage. “He was part of the old school of artists in Ghana, who were timid about selling their works and not business-like,” he says. “They didn’t put much value on art.”

Dei, 72, is a posterboy for business in Ghana. He helped create Blue Skies, a fresh fruit-packaging

Sitting room of Dei’s home in Accra, Ghana © Jordi Perdigó

factory, which has become a frequent attraction on tours by dignitaries seeking symbols of the country’s economic success. He is now scaling back his involvement in a business with £90m in annual sales, supplying supermarkets in a dozen countries (including Waitrose in the UK) from its original factory in Accra, as well as others opened since in South Africa, Egypt, Senegal and Brazil.

His latter-day activities belie much of his working career and longstanding passion for supporting local artists. That is evident in the residential quarters next door, where he lives with his second wife. “Everything is made locally,” he says.

Born to cocoa-farming parents in the then Gold Coast and witness to independence from Britain during his schooldays in 1957, his focus was long on the US. He won a scholarship to Buxton, a boarding prep school in New England, and moved there aged 16.

He recalls his thrill at seeing the red autumn colours in his first September. In winter, “everything was white with snow, which I had never seen”.

With Ghanaian government funding, Dei studied at Columbia and Cornell in New York, before working in the life insurance sector. “I dealt with CEOs and CFOs. I observed the habits of American chief executives: they knew their businesses, kept fit, worked hard, had admirable self-confidence. You learnt from them,” he says.

Garden room © Jordi Perdigó

He married an American and spent much of his career in the US, but never forgot his roots. “I had always intended to come back to Ghana, or at least to Africa,” he says. “I realised it was difficult to be poor here: there are so many opportunities. You only have to drop a seed and in two weeks you have a plant. Depending on your ambition you can become a millionaire.”

When he returned at the start of the 1990s, his first ventures drew on his US financial expertise. “There was a gold boom and a lot of mining companies, and I figured they needed equipment and leasing services. But that required central bank supervision, and the rules were terrible. I could see it would not grow, so I sold the business.”

Then in 1997, he was introduced to Anthony Pile, a Briton who wanted to open a fresh fruit-packaging plant. “He was keen to find a local partner. Somebody told him to talk to me. We started chatting and he had convinced me within three minutes. It’s been a very good investment,” Dei says.

Asked to list the difficulties of operating, he quotes transport — perishable fruit must be shipped

Jazz Play’ (1997) by Glen Turner © Jordi Perdigó

by plane — as well as the erratic local electricity supply, something which, in the humid dusk, also presents a challenge for the preservation of his artworks.

And corruption? “We have not come up against it, and we would not participate,” he says. “We are doing a lot for the economy.” Blue Skies employs 4,000 local staff, pays substantially above the minimum wage, offers free cooked meals, medical help, maternity and paternity leave, and social responsibility programmes in local communities.

With Ghana just celebrating 60 years of independence, he reflects: “I feel we should have done better. We had many more assets than Malaysia or South Korea, with a lot more natural resources. But I see a slow realisation from the president down that we should have done better. Coups d’état were getting us nowhere. Democratic practice has introduced competition to government.”

He says he never had any interest in politics. “I cannot say something is blue when it is in fact red.” Instead, during his spare time, he threw himself into art collecting. He befriended many of the country’s artists, buying their work and sometimes being offered it. He points to a long canvas by Larry Otoo of a brass band in a remote village. “He came to me and asked if I wanted him to paint me something. This is it.”

Paintings by E Owusu Dartey and Adoley Nmai among others © Jordi Perdigó

Settling into an armchair in the entrance hall, Dei pauses before answering the question of why he loves art. “First and foremost, I look on it as history: what’s happened, what’s happening,” he says. “The artist is able to freeze-frame and look carefully at things you don’t normally pay attention to when you are walking around. You never noticed something, and, seeing the picture, you realise it’s beautiful. It makes you pay more attention.”

He gets to his feet, and walks across a courtyard, into the street and next door, where at the end of a small garden decorated by large stone sculptures, he had an Italian architect friend modify the former maid’s quarters into his living accommodation. Settling down in the study, among piles of CDs and videos, Dei says he still receives weekly management reports from Blue Skies, and is excited about new projects including a planned range of dairy-free ice creams in chocolate, mango, coconut and lime.

On the lounge table, flanked by sofas, are a series of antique wooden-carved slingshots from

Baule sculpture from the Ivory Coast © Jordi Perdigó

Ghana, Ivory Coast and Cameroon, which have been converted into ornaments. A full-length window opens on to a tiny, tranquil courtyard. Yet Dei craves still more space and light, and is completing work on a new home in the hills with a view over Accra. “I want more calm, where the air is cool.”

He is also winding down his art collection, expressing frustration that American academic partners did not provide any funding. He closed the centre to the public three years ago. “I got tired and I’m taking a pause,” he says. “If I kept doing this, I’d be broke.”

He says all options remain open, and recently discussed the sale of works in a meeting with Sotheby’s. His dream is to donate his collection to a new state museum of modern art, but for now, he questions the competence of government officials to take charge.

“We need a new museum of modern art. I think we can use the diaspora to build a nice little museum,” he says. He would like someone to approach the architect David Adjaye to prepare a preparatory sketch for a new venue, “to embarrass big institutions into contributing and building it”.

Even if he is frustrated with the slow progress, Dei has not lost his enthusiasm for art. He has just bought two pictures in a new high-end gallery nearby, itself a sign of changing attitudes. “It has opened the eyes of Ghanaians and encouraged younger artists to up their game. There is a buzz about art in Ghana now. I’m very happy.”

Favourite thing

© Jordi Perdigó

Dei picks out a 2006 painting of a saxophonist by Ghanaian artist Hacajaka. “When I look at this picture, it brings back lots of memories,” he says. “I listen a lot to jazz. It reminds me of when I graduated from college. When I was studying in the US, I heard some of the best jazz musicians: John Coltrane, Miles Davis.

“Miles Davis is my favourite. I heard him in Boston once and asked for his autograph, though he pretty much told me to get lost. There was a lot of experimentation with music . . . It puts me in a good mood. I’ll put this in my office in my new house.”

Articke via FT

Black Queen by Adwoa Asiedu

Poet Adwoa Asiedu’s ‘Black Queen’ has been featured in Ten2teens Magazine-Inspiring to change perceptions. Read the full version below. The poem can also be found in From Within Volume 1 available on Amazon

Black Queen Copyright© 2013 Adwoa Asiedu All Rights Reserved

Say Hello to a black Queen who is proud to be who she is.

I’ll tell you why I love being a black woman:

A black woman is full of beauty

A black woman is full of fire

A black woman exudes boldness

A black woman has inner strength.

She isn’t afraid to speak her mind

But she is wiser than what your eyes see

A black woman is a fighter

A black woman is a warrior

A black woman is powerful

A black woman is complete

Yes it is who we are.

We are all that.

Embrace being a black woman.

You were made to be great,

You were destined to be influential,

Destiny calls;

Now is the time to manifest our presence

Raise your hands up in the sky

And declare:

Now is my time. Now Go.

 

Marwako saga: Chef Elijah’s reflections

For the past two weeks radio stations, TV stations, friends, colleagues and pals on social media have been calling and mailing me for my opinion on the Marwako issue, given the fact that I have been working in commercial kitchens since I was 14 years old and have had the opportunity to rise through the ranks of a kitchen cleaner to the manager of commercial kitchens.

Earlier, I had decided to be mute on the issue but now I think sharing my reflections will go a long way to educate people who don’t know what goes into the food they enjoy  in restaurants and hotels within our hospitality industry.

We live in a world today where social media has made it possible for people to easily share their sympathy for the problems of humanity  with the touch of their mobile devices. Flood explosion at Circle and  social media  is flooded with millions of  sympathies and solutions. Someone commits suicide and we share sympathies till another thing happens. This and many other  social issues that society face will always trend on social media. Social media is a good tool for us to express our emotions but we must remember that there is life beyond social media and it is called “reality”.

Our world today  needs people who will step into the problems and pains of our world to offer solutions rather than stand outside of the problems .We have tried sympathy for so many years, now let’s try empathy.

There is this secrecy pact most chefs and cooks can identify with. “What happens in the kitchen stays in kitchen.” Right from the day I took the job of a kitchen cleaner in  Lagos, Nigeria at  the age 14 years, I  became familiar with  flying plates, knives, forks, pepper and all kinds of things in a kitchen.

I remember a particular Sunday night –  I was in a rush to go home to prepare for school on Monday and in my haste threw away the sauce my headchef had prepared. He insulted and threw plates at me, and at that poin  I started crying and shouted out “do you think if my mummy was alive, I would be a cleaner here whiles my mates are in school?” Did my chef care? No, but the following day he invited me to his office and apologizes for his actions because I reacted to his actions immediately and that was how he became the mentor who helped me to realize my potential as a scientist in cooking. How many Ghanaian vocational schools teach the realities of commercial kitchens? “You don’t prepare an antelope for a battle and put it into the midst of lions in a jungle.”

I never understood why chefs and kitchen supervisors across the world are so heartless until I became a Sous Chef at Chase Restaurant in 2011. The pressure and silent psychological trauma that the profession came with can turn -45 degrees to 20 degrees in 5 minutes.

Away from the kitchen, I am the Elijah you know but back in the kitchen I’m a different kind of creature. All chefs and cooks are synonymous with that law of nature. The pressure of ensuring consistency in food quality to beat competition from other hospitality companies, meeting your monthly G.P on food costing to ensure profitability, dealing with the failures of ingredient suppliers, dealing with staff  problems, buying and maintaining very expensive kitchen equipments, meeting health and safety standards in the kitchen are a few of the many hurdles kitchen managers have to deal with daily.  In an attempt to address the stress, employers will tell you that is why you get two day’s off work every week to overcome the stress, but that is not enough

Management and customers  will not accept any of this as a excuse if there’s problem with the food they ordered. Most times chefs have had to sleep over in the kitchen to be on top on issues  and that is why most chefs turn to smoking, drugs and alcohol as a way of  overcoming stress.

This is why some hotels and restaurants in Ghana will go the extra mile to bring in expatriate chefs to manage their kitchens with the perception that local chefs can’t handle the pressures in a kitchen.  I remember while serving as secretary of the Greater Accra Chefs Association, I suggested at a  tourism forum that Ghana Tourism Authority should help the association to have a counseling unit that works with hospitality companies to support kitchen staffs to overcome pressures associated with the profession.

Punishing the management and supervisor of Marwako as a deterrent will not bring to an end the occurrence of kitchen manager’s “boiling over their staff” incidence in the hospitality industry. It happens in every hospitality company across the world. In regards to this issue what I think all stakeholder’s within the hospitality industry in Ghana should do are as follows:

–          Chefs, cooks, kitchen staffs and managements of hospitality companies in Ghana should come out and accept that it is a problem that happens in the profession and form a consensus towards addressing it

–          The Ghana Tourism Authority and Ghana Tourism Federation should work with the Chefs Association of Ghana and other stakeholder’s within the hospitality industry to establish an anger and emotional management unit that gives training to people who work in the industry

–          Management of hospitality companies in Ghana should allow their kitchen staff especially young cooks and chefs to join and attend programs and training of the Chefs Association of Ghana

–          Ghana Tourism Authority and it’s partners should make it compulsory for all expatriates who intend to work in commercial kitchens in Ghana to register with the Chefs Association of Ghana as members in order for them to be giving  support and training on working with Ghanaians.

–          Stress management in Africa should be a core principal focus of all stakeholder’s in society

 By Chef Elijah Amoo Addo

‘My Ghana’ – a refelctive poem on Ghana’s 60 year journey

6 March is here again, and with Ghana celebrating 60 years of independence today, many of us will undoubtedly at some point pause to reflect on how far our motherland has come, and where we are heading.

There are many who view Ghana as the beacon of Africa, but despite being recently classed as a middle-income country, several years of mismanagement by corrupt government leaders has propelled many Ghanaians into difficulties. Unemployement among the youth stands at 48%, the public debt stock stands at 73.3% of GDP and almost 9 million Ghanaians live below the poverty line.

These are just a few things that Jones Awuah touches on in ‘My Ghana’, a poem reflecting on Ghana’s 60 year journey since 1957. Have a listen below:

Ibrahim Mahama presents a portrait of Ghana at his first exhibition in London

The Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama, 29, has joined White Cube in London. He is the first artist born and based in Africa signed by the gallery. His arrival follows the departure of the British duo Jake and Dinos Chapman, who left White Cube earlier this month after 20 years with the gallery to join Blain Southern, and shows the continuing internationalisation of the White Cube roster.

The memory of objects

Mahama’s debut exhibition at White Cube, and his first solo show in the UK, opened to the public on 28th February. It includes five wall hangings made from the jute sacks which are used to transport goods in Ghana. Their history illustrates the complex trade networks of the global economy and post-independence Ghana.

Made in Bangladesh and India, the sacks are imported to Ghana and used to move cocoa beans, one of

Ibrahim Mahama, Crop Estate (2016) (Image: © the artist. Photo © White Cube (George Darrell))

the country’s leading exports, to the ships which will transport them to international markets. Because cocoa beans are a fragile luxury export, the sacks will move the product first and only once. They are then used multiple times to take crops such as rice, millet and maize around the country for domestic consumption. Finally, they are used to shift coal. Mahama and his collaborators acquire the sacks at the end of their working life, sewing them together to create massive tapestries which the artist has draped over buildings in Ghana such as theatres, museums, luxury apartments, and social housing projects, among others, and abroad (for the 2015 Venice Biennale he covered two external walls of the Arsenale with 300-metre-long hangings).

On some of the wall pieces at White Cube, Mahama has also added fragments of the tarpaulin which is first used to cover food transport trucks in Ghana and then recycled to protect metal objects such as engines. In another tapestry he has added discarded leather seat covers from trains, alluding to the deterioration of the railways in post-independence Ghana.

“I’m interested in looking at the artistic and political implications of these materials. What happens when you pick several different objects from different places with specific histories and memories and put them together to form a new object?” Mahama asks.

Shoe repairmen

Another cycle of work focusses on the wooden boxes used by shoe repairmen in Ghana to hold their tools. Working with a team of collaborators around the country, Mahama has assembled thousands of these boxes, exchanging them for new ones built by his assistants. At White Cube, Mahama has constructed a massive wall out of these boxes, carefully slotting them together with no external supports. Every time the piece is dismantled and re-assembled elsewhere, its “composition will change,” explains the artist.

Ibrahim Mahama, Diesel Room. Non Orientable Nkansa. Sekondi Locomotive station 1901-2030 (2016) (Image: © Ibrahim Mahama Photo: Ibrahim Mahama)

The boxes contain a multitude of objects such as the original tools used to repair shoes and the slippers worn by the repairmen to do their work as well as new objects inserted by Mahama’s assistants, for example, old issues of the Economist magazine. “The wall contains a narrative of post-independence society,” explains the artist, and deals with issues such as political crises and gentrification: many of the boxes were originally made with materials found on building sites or in houses slated for demolition to make way for new developments. “A lot of residues come out of those spaces,” says the artist.

“The boxes represent the failure of a system, a failure we haven’t yet acknowledged. The structures of global capitalism shift things such as the cosmopolitan life of the city and the structures that are built around it.” Now they have a new life as a work of art in a high-end gallery. “The potential of these structures when you look at them beyond the chaos and the crisis is also interesting,” says the artist.

Also on display are archival photographs of a paint factory set up by the Ghanaian State, then privatised

Ibrahim Mahama, Exchange Exchanger (still), (2013-16) (Image:
© the artist. Courtesy White Cube)

in the 1990s, and later abandoned. Mahama found the images in the factory when he set up a studio there for the shoe box project. Also at White Cube, a two-screen film shows the installation of Mahama’s massive jute-sack tapestries on buildings such as the National Theatre in Accra. Drone footage surveys the sites from above while hand-held cameras follow Mahama’s collaborators as they laboriously carry the massive objects up to the roof.

This ongoing project has often been compared to the work of “wrap” artist Christo. But, Mahama finds the comparison lazy. “You can’t reduce art just to aesthetics and what you see. There is a deeper, political meaning to it.”

Ibrahim Mahama: Fragments is at White Cube Bermondsey until 13 April

Article via The Art Newspaper

Victims of Necessity: The Kayayei & The Sexual Health Minefield

There is a saying that starts off by claiming ‘necessity compels a butcher to kill a cat’. For many underprivileged girls from Ghana’s Northern region, necessity has pushed them to leave their homes to head for the bright lights of the cities – a move they have theorised would give them a better shot at life. And yet, for many that move turns out to be a case of necessity fuelling a jump from frying pan into fire. Necessity powering a jump into a situation of increased stress and pain for negligible gain, a situation of homelessness and vulnerability. In Accra, over 50,000 such stories roam the streets. These young ladies are called Kayayei.

The term ‘Kayayei’ (a conjugation of the Hausa word ‘Kaya’ which means load/burden and the Ga description of females as ‘Yei’) is a term which describes groups of young women who traditionally have migrated from a rural community to one of Ghana’s urban hotspots in search of work and better employment prospects. These women tend to be used for manual labour, as porters exploited to carry goods to and from markets and lorry parks in Ghana’s cities.

Despite their desire for better prospects, they often work in poor conditions, for minimal income. asfafaMigration from home usually means a young girl finds herself propelled into a new surrounding without her community ties, cut off from the channels of family assistance which may have otherwise helped to support her. This lack of support leads to many Kayayei sleeping on the streets, despite having largely migrated from the North in search of a better life.

It is this precarious lifestyle, this tragedy of circumstances, which leaves many of the Kayayei vulnerable to the vagaries of urban life. Without a roof over their heads, many are taken advantage of. Studies and investigations have regularly found these young ladies vulnerable to rape and gender-based violence. Some inevitably fall pregnant, while some contract STIs. The urban dream quickly descends into a metropolitan nightmare for many of the Kayayei, creating a situation which is a black mark on the fabric of a country which can pride itself on being one of West Africa’s success stories when it comes to contraception and female reproductive rights…

1268589_546764448712806_163300384_oAs pregnancy takes you out of the earning game, many resort to underground illegal abortions in an attempt to preserve their earning potential. Others take matters into their own hands, by attempting self-termination using various concoctions and items such as herbal mixtures for oral ingestion, leaf insertion into the vagina or even drinking things such as detergent or a solution of ground glass mixed with sugar. Reading that would have made you wince, thus removing any surprise you may have otherwise felt when you hear a director of a Kayayei association claimed approximately 25 Kayayei died from unsafe abortions between January and July 2016. That is 25 too many in 21st century Ghana.

Those are just the reported numbers – how many more have died anonymously and mysteriously due to unsafe abortions, or as victims of sexual assault? In a country where maternal mortality remains a monumental problem, the lack of protection of this community and the lack of education leads to risky behaviours and even riskier consequences. Many do not have the financial means, or the educational background, to appropriately deal with the card they have been dealt in this world. Dina, a 27-year-old Kayayei in Accra, told VICE’s women’s interest channel Broadly, “I have had so many abortions and I did all eight on my own. You feel severe pain when you take the medicine. One time I felt like dying, my body was so weak, I couldn’t move and I lost so much blood I thought I would die. I am too afraid to tell anyone when I’m pregnant so there was no medical attention.”

Though Kayayei life remains arduous, there are still hopeful signs for one of Ghana’s most marginal marie-stopes-international-photo-story-body-image-1477061187female communities. Marie Stopes International, a reproductive health charity, is working with the Kayayei community in Accra to provide contraception, education on sexual health, and family planning advice, as well as HIV/AIDS treatment and gender-based violence support. For Kayayei like Gifty, the support has been invaluable. “I said to myself that this will change my life and it has. I had a five-year implant fitted,” she said.“Now I can take care of my existing children.”

Another initiative Marie Stopes International has piloted involves holding weekly community-based shows which help inform the Kayayei about their rights, while offering education on contraception and the need for testing for sexually-transmitted diseases. The Ghana Police Service’s Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) has also begun to meet Kayayei informally via small group discussions, to encourage the reporting of violent crime in their community and educate them on their rights.

Education is power, and it is this sentiment which seems to be the most effective way of helping the Kayayei take back control of their destinies and make the most of their current situation. The outlook may be bleak – but collaborations between this forgotten community and organisations with the resources to make a difference, can help make that outlook brighter. Bringing the issues of this marginalised group to the forefront will help towards Ghana meeting the new development goals. Many find themselves in this community not by way of desire, but by way of necessity. For this group of hardworking young ladies, access to contraception and adequate support will not only save lives, but it can form some sort of foundation which can help give them a better chance at building a better future. And that’s something every single woman in Ghana deserves. This is a right which the government should recognise as a necessity.

By Dr Jermaine Bamfo (@Dr_Jabz27)