Archive for June, 2010

Cantata

Posted in Ghana, Of Stories And Their Telling with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 15, 2010 by elisabethefuasutherland

Main Entry: can·ta·ta

Pronunciation: \kən-ˈtä-tə\

Function: noun

Etymology: Italian, from cantare to sing, from Latin

Date: 1724

: a composition for one or more voices usually comprising solos, duets, recitatives, and choruses and sung to an instrumental accompaniment

According to an article by John Collins in the African Quarterly on the Arts (Vol. 4), “Ghanaian concert party artists are professional groups of itinerant artists who stage vernacular shows for the rural and urban audiences that combine slapstick musical comedies, folk stories, acrobatics, moral sermons, magical displays, and dance-music sessions”.  Everybody knows Concert Party, whether sitting in a live audience at the National Theater or watching on GTV at home, or at least they used to. One hears less and less about this amazing, Ghanaianized art form and more and more about Western-style reality TV shows and singing competitions.

Although the art of the concert party started out as heavily influenced by the West in the early 1900’s, it became a unique part of Ghana’s culture and spread influences over neighboring Togo and other parts of West Africa. I am glad that playwrights such as Ebo Whyte have started to put Ghanaian stories on the Ghanaian stage, and I was happy that the University of Ghana, Legon managed to stage, from what I hear, a decent musical (Beauty and the Beast), but I would much like for our more unique and/or traditional methods of theater to get more attention, first on our own stages, and subsequently, hopefully, on other stages around the world.

There are several benefits in this. A uniquely Ghanaian, cultural entertainment industry would serve to interest and retain regular visitors to the country and could even serve as it’s own tourist attraction. People travel to engage themselves in foreign culture and if one provides a culture-rich scene instead of a pathetic mimicry of whatever they have back home, they are more likely to return in a hurry.

It also helps to reinforce a sense of national identity and national pride because it demonstrates very literally that Ghanaians have stories worth telling, even ordinary Ghanaians, and draws away from the wildly unrealistic drama that goes on in many of our films and towards the wildly realistic drama that most Ghanaians experience on a day-to-day basis as they go about their normal lives.

I realized just how dramatic Ghanaians, indeed Africans are when I came to the United States for school. We are a pretty loud bunch, very spontaneous and can amuse ourselves with hours of animated conversation about anything and everything. Older comedies such as The Blinkards and The Marriage of Anansewaa capture this energy, but I would very much like to see more of it captured rightly in the performing arts and in film. I believe in this respect that films produced wholly in local dialects (Twi, Fanti etc.) manage to capture the complexity in our speech and relationships better than films made in English.

John Collins does an excellent job of describing the Concert Party movement at its prime, and you can read his work at the links below:

The Ghanaian Concert Party, African Popular entertainment at a Crossroads, John Collins, Thesis submitted to Graduate School of the State University of New York at Buffalo in partial fulfillment of requirements for a Philosophy Doctrate

http://www.bapmaf.com/books/JC%201994%20Ph.D%20African%20Popular%20Entertainment%20at%20the%20Crossroads%20A_%20chpts%201-15.pdf

The Ghanaian Concert Party, John Collins for the African Quarterly on Arts Volume 4

http://archive.lib.msu.edu/DMC/African%20Journals/pdfs/glendora%20review/vol1no4/graa001004022.pdf