Ghanas Cultural Heritage: Our Patriotic Songs

March is a significant month in the life of Ghana. It marks the month of our independence, so also does it mark the era when our forbears signed the Bond of 1844, to hand over the affairs of the Gold Coast to the British. March 6, 2015 marked the 58th anniversary of Ghana’s independence. A notable aspect of the celebrations, over the years, has been the marching of school children and the security services. May be that is why a number of people associate 6th March to marching.

The Celebrations were held with the theme “Achieving Transformation through National Unity”. And significantly the same period also marked Ghana’s hosting of the 8th Pan African Congress. The congress, according to a GNA report, is a forum through which people of African descent have articulated key agendas for the liberation of Africa and the assertion of the dignity of the African personhood.

And how was Ghana showcased on the day of our independence, with the world’s attention on us? I need not over emphasise the fact that the creative arts saved the day- from music, to poetry performances (by Prof. Atukwei Okai, and the drum appellations that heralded the President’s speech) to the masquerades, to the colourful red, gold green that adorned the independence Square and the ceremonial streets.

Thus, March evokes the Ghanaian cultural heritage, or so it appears. Anything Ghanaian- from songs to costume becomes prominent. But do these necessarily emit that cultural identity of the Ghanaian? In my last week’s letter to His Excellency in this column, I sought to find out the Ghanaian image. So, in this month, I focus on aspects of the Ghanaian that hold or break us as a people. One of such are patriotic songs.

One of the most cherished legacies that Dr. Ephraim Amu has left Ghanaians is his music compositions, particularly Yen ara asaase ni. This song evokes the virtues that Ghanaians need most today, presenting us with the realities of having done away with the values that should have become the foundation of a better Ghana than we have at the moment.

Our nation needs healing, and the politicians who seek to govern must have the sense of nationalism as the lyrics of the song portray. The message here is Patriotism. And an avenue of raising consciousness of a patriotic citizenry is through our songs- songs that evoke nationalism and a call to duty!

Growing up, what made me feel Ghanaian were these songs; these beautiful compositions from the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Who wouldn’t feel nationalistic singing the following: Yen ara asase ni, Ghana nyigba, Mo nsom, Ma oman yimu nsem, Ma oman yimu nhia wo, Mo ma yen ye, Ghana akuafo, Adikanfo mo, Asem yi di ka, Arise Ghana youth, among others.

I won’t attempt to classify these songs as a genre of music, but it is a body of our national culture; a special music type that is more ‘spiritual’ than aesthetic. That said can any song that fits the description be termed a ‘Patriotic Song’?

What makes a song patriotic?
Songs that have such themes are often termed ‘patriotic’. Such songs are believed to extol the struggles, traditions and history of a particular people. These songs are often recognised either by the state as a national song, or by convention through use by the people. Patriotic songs also tend to advance the morale of a nation even in times of crisis.

John von Rhein, a Classical music critic in an article in the Chicago Tribune, July 3, 2010 sums it thus: “[Patriotic] songs speak to us as only music can, evoking feelings of national fervor … More often than not, what makes a song patriotic is what also makes it popular. But to have genuine popular appeal, that music should conform to certain guidelines…the song should be tuneful and memorable, and easily singable, even by non singers. The text should have vivid metaphors and images that transcend time and place…the lyrics should capture basic sentiments and not bunch up on the tongue.”

What happened to the songs?
Apart from Yen ara asase ni (which has renditions in Ewe, Ga, Dagbani and other local languages), it seems patriotic songs are dying in Ghana. Schools no longer take interest in evoking civic responsibilities in students by using patriotic songs. National events hardly consider patriotic songs. If they are honoured at all, the instrumentation versions are played. Has anyone heard a patriotic song sung during Independence Day? Not even the National Anthem. What one hears always are the bleats of a sound that come from the various brass bands!

How do Ghanaians learn these songs when we are all aware that the attempt to instill nationalism in Ghanaians died with Kwame Nkrumah and to an extent Acheampong? The National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE), the state body mandated with such civic responsibities is also yet to wake up from their slumber. I wonder what happened to the NCCE’s ‘Festival of Civic/ Patriotic Songs’, patriotic song competition launched in 2004 to resuscitate the effort of imbuing Ghanaians to defend and uphold the tenets of the 1992 Constitution?[ref:GNA, April 30, 2004].

The Contemporary Scenario
It is evident that for any song to be classified as ‘patriotic’ should have the capacity to stand the test of time. This sets me thinking. Can any of the current genres of music in GH pass for a patriotic song? And are our current musicians capable of holding the forth by evoking nationalism using their songs?

I know certain musicians in recent times have sought to evoke such nationalistic calling. Songs that readily come to mind include brilliant compositions like Nya ntetie pa and Kwame Nkrumah by Obrafuor, Biakoye and Wogbe jeke by Amandzeba, Medo me Ghana by Bradez, Oman yi beye yie a by Uncle Ato and Mefri Ghana by Trigmatic. But can these songs pass for patriotic songs? How many Ghanaians even know these songs? And what effort did these musicians put into pushing these songs? Were they purely for commercial gains? And what did state institutions do to adopt these songs and use them during national events?

Of course trying to match or ‘fill the shoes’ of the Ephraim Amus, the Philip Gbehos and the Pappoe Thompsons will be an arduous task for current musicians, more so when our leaders do not consider the creative arts as a national tool capable of effecting change.

But there is hope. The hope is in individual musicians who believe that they genuinely owe Ghana compositions that reflect the ethos of the country, and not to win a dollar from the World Bank in the guise of Music for Development. The hope is in a country that can give some 2 million dollars to musicians to undertake research on the importance of music to the economy. The hope also is in the fact that if songs like African Girls, U go kill me, and Alunguntugui could have so much national appeal, and even traverse the borders of Ghana, then I have abundant hope that a hiplife song will soon be adopted as a national song!

And what if the national anthem God blesses our homeland Ghana was rendered in hip-life. I mean a hip life version. Or the anthem is too ‘sacred’ to be tinkered with?

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