Archive for story

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

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Tellers.

Posted in Of Stories And Their Telling with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 26, 2010 by elisabethefuasutherland

Today I was wandering around an antiques shop in downtown Greencastle, when I met a guy who calls himself Rocky. He’s not from here, he doesn’t like it much, he’s from Indianapolis and he wants to move down to a town in Florida, but his ex-wife moved there before he could. Anyway, that’s not my tale to tell. What was interesting about Rocky is that he started to talk about stories.

He had a couple, he apologized for keeping me so long with old people stories, but I said, “No, old people have the best stories” ( I was proud of that one, came up with it on the spot too), and so he told me. He told me about Eddie and his friend who were in the Royal Canadian Air Force together, and how he tried to convince them to write a book. They thought no one would be interested, and so he told them about a book he was reading, about an ex-serviceman who was in the Air Force but couldn’t fly a plane because his eyes were no good (he was a navigator). He branched off about the book a bit ( “so this guy, right? Was raised by an Indian woman in the desert, and when he’s a young lad she takes him out and she says you see this? This is buffalo turd, and this? This is coyote poop, and this? This is donkey s***. So I grew up knowing my s***”), but he says, these two guys, Eddie and his friend, they never did write that book. And that story’s gone. Then he gets really philosophical and starts talking about telling your own story: “then it’s like an autobiography and you expound on certain things, and we don’t get an objective picture. I mean, who’s gonna talk bad about themselves?”

I see Rocky’s point here, but it took me back to my previous post and my concerns about having someone tell your story for you. I think that having several points of view is important in order to get a rounded view of a situation, also, one cannot take the opinions of outsiders to be hard, cold truth. In a sense, we need people to tell their own stories, or as Rocky put it, the story is gone when they die.

On a slightly different note, I wanted to talk about the people we pick to tell stories, especially in the theater. It is easy to make people who are less than stellar performers appear decent on screen, since there is so much new technology that allows one to edit and cut and insert film as needed. In theater, you need people with magic in their voices, people who are nothing short of captivating. Have you ever heard poetry being read, not by the overdramatic, sporadic ‘poets’ of today, but by someone with a deep, rich voice, with careful enunciation, someone like Maya Angelou?

Listen to this reading by Nobel Laureate Rita Dove http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCiinhPzxXc

Then to a reading by some of the self-proclaimed spoken word artists. There are a gifted few who are good at this, but many people who attempt this genre end up sounding more like today’s rap scene than anything else: an excess of rhyming words bundled together, and I know people are embracing new art forms, but I do believe that poetry requires much more careful composition and execution than the latter. Any sort of writing should strive to achieve more than just rhymes at the end of each line, or multiple rhymes in a sentence. I could say “bananas, havanas, cabanas” off the top of my head but that doesn’t mean anything unless I insinuate a meaning around it with careful diction.

It is my dream that we will tell our own stories and we will weave captivating, enlightening tales from them.

Stories…

Posted in Ghana, Of Stories And Their Telling with tags , , , , , , on May 21, 2010 by elisabethefuasutherland

In my first post, I talked a little about storytellers who tell stories that are not their own, but this is not the entire problem. There is also a problem with storytellers who do not share their own stories.

The average Ghanaian is a very private individual. We as a people tend not to share details of our private lives, in fact, avoid this as tenaciously as possible. People who can write also tend to keep their work to themselves and close friends/family, probably because of a fear of exposing inner thoughts and emotions to outsiders. We love to play the blame game and gossip about an ‘other’, the government, politics. There are those things that are ‘safe’ to talk about, the problems that everybody has, the ‘normal’ things, problems with ECG, NPP or NDC all the three letter acronyms we use in our everyday life. Also, the arts have never had the best reputation as a “serious” area according to most Ghanaian parents. The image of the starving artist has very much been propagated in Ghanaian society by the cautious parent who wants their ward to go into more “reputable” professions: medicine, law, accounting.

You cannot be a good writer without exposing yourself or your values; good writing requires vulnerability, and in my opinion, this is why most Ghanaian mainstream works are dry and generic. Ghanaian writers are not prepared to invest themselves in their books. This is also probably why there are more textbooks, guidebooks and how-to’s than there are actual novels. Even memoirs or biographies are very specific about what is in included in order to preserve as much of the person’s personal life as possible. I am not saying that one should divulge every itty bitty detail, but there is a need to invest some of one’s self into a work.

There is a separate issue with the film industry stealing the storylines of Western works or reproducing inane screenplays, and being over-celebrated for this, a la Shirley Frempong-Manso. Strides have been made in the Ghanaian industry with regards to picture quality and directing but stories remain fundamentally surface-level. We seem to have lost the depth and cultural values evident in much older movies, such as is evident in the work of Kwaw Ansah and older TV series (shows).  The movies being produced now, particularly the English-speaking ones, have a distinct lack of character, following after the international (Hollywood) scene’s gravitation towards stories that require minimal thought to process.

It is my dream that Ghanaian storytellers will begin to tell their own stories instead of copying the international trend.

Story Tellers…

Posted in Ghana, Of Stories And Their Telling with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2010 by elisabethefuasutherland

The Danger Of A Single Story

I just ended my freshman year in college and am about to spend my summer working on designing costumes for an original play, which is sure to be a highly educative and rewarding experience, albeit slightly depressing, since after all, it is based on a Holocaust memoir. The thing about Holocaust memoirs is that, usually, everyone except the author dies. The plots are heartwrenchingly predictable; you know that this person’s friends and family are probably all going to die, the main variable is just the order in which this happens. Yet there is a burden placed on me, on us as a design team, to capture the story presented in as objective a light as possible, and present it through the lens of the woman who chose to share it. I feel strongly bound to this undertaking because I have a personal vendetta against the international media and their portrayals of my beloved continent, Africa, which has only grown stronger since I have attended school in the United States and come into contact with people from all over the world who have a very skewed and largely incorrect picture of the African continent. I myself have tried to educate the people I come into contact with, but it is a painstaking and often infuriating process. In my reading, I have come across stories told by non-Africans, and even foreign-born Africans, who have not done adequate research, and write pieces that build up the stereotypes surrounding the continent. This makes me mad, simply because it is not the whole picture. Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie addresses this in a speech she gives, titled “The Danger of A Single Story”. I am not saying that Africa has no problems. I am just saying that the international media should make more of an effort to portray Africa in its entirety.

It is my dream that African and international media will start to show the world how far the continent has come, instead of showcasing its problems.

[Link to Chimamanda Adichie’s speech on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg ]