How the years fly when you are not counting! That was what went through my mind when I watched the Ghana Music Awards (GMA) on television last weekend.
The style of music was different from what it used to be when live music performances, complete with instrumentalists, were in vogue. It looks like these days nobody cares about musical arrangements, melody and others anymore. Gone are the days of the Entertainment Critics and Reviewers Association of Ghana (ECRAG), later renamed Arts Critics and Reviewers Association of Ghana (ACRAG), whose awards were based on solid professionalism.
Among its award winners were Asabea Cropper, Gyedu Blay Ambolley, Amakye Dede and many other serious musicians like the late Kofi Ghanaba and the late King Bruce. Of course ECRAG awards were not limited to music alone. Some of its award winners in other categories of the arts were Professor Nii Yartey, Professor Atukwei Okai and Professor Emeritus J.H. Kwabena Nketia. It seems only like yesterday when Chikinchee’s (real name is Gilbert Amartey Amarh) Let’s Do The Highlife album took this country by storm. The year was 1990.
The hit singles Sakora Kose and Kese Menim from that album still bring back sweet memories even though many of the people I have heard singing those songs do not remember who the artiste credited with the songs is. berA decade earlier, the late Faisal Helwani had put together a group of talented musicians who became known as Edikanfo and whose Roots Of Highlife album was such a sensation that it had the music of Ghana knocking loudly on the door of world fame. It is probably not for nothing that Edikanfo to this day remains the only band from this part of the world to have recorded with the world famous Fleetwood Mac!
Those were the days when this country was awash with talented instrumentalists, singers and composers and they probably would have given to Ghana what Mori Kante and Salif Keita gave to Mali or what Youssou Ndour and Baaba Maal gave to Senegal if the coup detat of the last day of the year 1981 had not taken place.
The years of curfew imposed on the country as a result of the coup made many of those talented musicians leave Ghana for greener pastures elsewhere since their trade is largely a night-time activity. For a large part of the decade that followed, this country saw a virtual absence of live band music and the introduction of what came to be known as spinning groups.
In my opinion this affected the quality of music that was offered even though some Ghanaian musicians living abroad tried to keep the Ghana flag flying in the world of serious music. On the home front, this country saw compositions both secular and gospel, that clearly could not match internationally.
The effect of this situation has been with us to this day. It is against this background that I find as useful any awards to encourage musicians to come up with good quality music. I did not see that last weekend. What I saw was the making of mediocrity a standard and honouring it.
Sadly, many a young musician will be striving toward this mediocrity and the music of Ghana will be the loser. When ECRAG or ACRAG used to award artistes, and in spite of the many attacks it had to endure, one thing was certain: nobody quarrels with who is chosen as the Flagstar.
The Flagstar award, which was ECRAG’s highest award, was given to those who had lifted high the name of Ghana in the world of arts for a long time and were worthy cultural ambassadors for Ghana. If the question be asked: what has the person who won the highest award last weekend done for the music of Ghana? Long before the awards night, there was what looked like a complete orchestration in the media to project an individual as the best among the lot.
It was therefore, too much of a coincidence that the same individual became the eventual winner. Let us get serious in this country; music is serious business. It was; the music of the Swedish group ABBA that at a point was the leading foreign exchange earner for Sweden. The same could be said of the music of the Beatles and what it did for Britain.
Again, it took the music of the late Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and others to firmly plant the tiny island of Jamaica on the world music map and today reggae music has become international music. Ghana needs something similar and not some of the furious cacophonies that are receiving all the praise and which radio stations are bombarding us with.
Have we forgotten that we still could listen to and learn from the vintage highlife music recorded by the likes of E.T. Mensah, King Bruce, Jerry Hansen, Uhuru Band, Sweet Beans, Sweet Talks, Kofi Ani Johnson, Hedzolleh and others?
As I have stated above, music is serious business and we must begin to see it as such. That is the reason why I like the New Music Ghana project and the effort to unearth talent for the enrichment of the music of Ghana. It is in these young and talented musicians in the various regions of Ghana that the future of this country’s music lies for they are the people who can break onto the international scene.
By Baba Abdulai