What Makes An Artistic Piece Ghanaian?

One chorus that made the most ‘noise’ last week when Sarkodie released his ‘New Guy’, which features American rapper Ace Hood, was that the track was not Ghanaian. That school of thought argues that they cannot relate to the song, and that Sarkodie could have portrayed Ghana in the song, having gotten that opportunity to collaborate with an American.

The arguments and counter arguments that still rave enthusiastically on the ‘New Guy’ bother on identity. Sarkodie’s use of his native language Twi is not even identity enough; neither is it cultural? And by ‘culture’ the genre of the song, hip-hop is not Ghanaian, but hip-hop is said to be a culture.

This begs the question? What is cultural? What is Ghanaian? What is uniquely ours? And what identity resonates Ghanaianness?

Culture is dynamic. Fact! And everyone has culture. However, while we are born into cultures, we are not born with culture. Culture is learnt, and humans adapt to the changing circumstances that come with it.

Culture can also be used to describe the way of life and the values, beliefs, and attitudes that a group of people live their everyday life. Culture embodies art, religion, eating habits, rituals, humour, science, law, sports, ceremonies, among others.

It is worth noting that there is as much variation within cultures, and that individuals express their cultures in various ways depending on the circumstances at hand.

Every Ghanaian will readily identify Ghanaianness when the national flag is sighted, when the coat of arms is spotted, when a cedi note or coin is held, because these are uniquely and exclusively Ghanaian. There aren’t variations to them.

What then of our clothing, food, shelter, way of speaking, music or film? Can we attempt a definitional exercise of tagging any as Ghanaian? And by Ghanaian, what is the focus? What traits of Ghanaianness do we envisage? And do those traits represent Ghana as a whole, or some part of it, traits that every Ghanaian can identify as such?

The issue of identity particularly in our films and music has become one contentious issue for some time now. Cultural protectionists have always lamented the loss of Ghanaian identity in our works of art. In music, anything without an essence of highlife is unGhanaian. Hiplife, even struggled to resonate in the souls of such because of the element of rap, and the hip culture attached to it, though some even contend that the much touted highlife is not even Ghanaian. Rap has African roots, some also say.

The arguments are many. Academics have also had their fair share of disagreements on defining what is even African, before focusing on national identities. In literature, as to what constitutes an African or Ghanaian literary piece has come with a lot of interpretations.

In cinema, the arguments are even more contentious. But for television or movie lovers, an African film is not lost to us, at least as shown by television stations in Ghana. I once asked a friend if Deadly Voyage (the 1996 Union Pictures and Viva Films) was African. He said it was because it told a Ghanaian story and it had Ghanaian actors, and by extension it was an African film.

What then makes a film African? Can there be an ‘Africanness’ attributed to films from Africa or of Africa? For some researchers, the whole notion of ‘Africanness’ is abstract, hence it is very complex to deal with because within ‘Africaness’, there are many national, ethnic and tribal diversities.

Georges Sadoul, a film researcher believes an African film must be produced, directed, photographed, and edited by Africans and star Africans who spoke in African languages. By extension therefore, African cinema would be cinema made by, made in, and made for African people.

However, the definition alienates many African films such as those from some Francophone countries and even Leila Djansi’s productions where most of the technical work, such as the cinematography and editing are actually done by non-Africans. But will anybody disqualify Leila’s film as non African based on those technicalities?

By extension, understanding African cinema also involves questions of ownership. Due to the reliance on foreign funding and other film production resources, there are African filmmakers who do not own the rights to films they produced. An example is Ghanaian filmmaker King Ampaw, who is believed to have no ownership rights to two films he wrote and directed in Ghana- Kukurantumi- Road to Accra (1983) and Juju (1986). Yet both films tell Ghanaian stories with Ghanaian actors and a largely Ghanaian technical crew. Rather his production partners, Reinery Verlag & Film Produktion of Germany, in association with North German Television own and keep the films.

Some academics also treat the element of identity by looking at the cultural aesthetics of the films. They argue that an African film should get its inspiration from oral literature. This opens up a set of questions as to whether a film that is not informed by oral tradition can claim to be an African film.

The aspect, however, of African and Ghanaian films especially, drawing inspiration from myths and folktales raises another important debate about marketing. The films may be popular in Africa, but can they attain the same popularity with international audiences? This question becomes vital considering the fact that international audiences may not identify with the myths, folktales and the film narratives as a whole.

With music, it may be argued that one need not understand the lyrics to appreciate it. Does the same go for film? Will Africans or Ghanaians best sell the continent with an identity that is exclusive? And what is that?

So what was Sarkodie’s motivation in coming up with the ‘New Guy’? Was he looking at an international audience, using local elements that he best appreciates in an international manner? The artistes on the song are Ghanaian and American. The owner of the song is Ghanaian or Ghanaian-based. The producers of the song are not Ghanaian. The song and the video were both done in the United States. The song is a blend of Ghanaian language and English.

Is ‘New Guy’ an American or Ghanaian song?

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