Music of Sunday, 4 April 2004
Acappella Music, for those who do not know what it means ?is music without instruments?. Encyclopedia, the root word for this form of music is Cappella, which is 17th Century usage meaning ?Music Unaccompanied?.
Later the word changed to Alla Cappella and then Acappella as we have it now. It was then in reference to choral music done without the accompaniment of artificial musical instruments. It is important to note that the emphasis was not the choral nature of the music groups who use instrumental accompaniment, but the emphasis was on ?music unaccompanied? as the definition has it.
In contemporary times, Acappella music has moved from just being choral in nature to being an institution of excellence where hand-picked vocally skillful individuals form duets, trios, quartets and more to deliver unique versions of old songs and some new songs. Many choral groups across the world also do have small acappella groups among them.
One such world acclaimed choral group with several small acapella groups is the Oakland Inter-faith Gospel Choir in Oakland, USA.
Modern forms of Acappella Music could be traced to the hold Negro spirituals, where our enslaved fore-fathers, finding themselves in the land of slavery, usually grouped in threes, fours, fives or more and sang songs of sorrow and sometimes of their hope of deliverance without instruments.
Indeed, as slaves, they did not have what it took to acquire expensive musical instruments, but they had their beautiful voices, with which they entertained themselves and sometimes even their slave masters.
Over the years, small-group Acappella Music has grown alongside full force choral music and has become a force to reckon with.
In the United States, there is a fully-fledged Acappella recording label called the Acappella Company, which is a label that records several Acappella groups both in the West and in Africa. The company holds annual concerts and festivals to promote Acappella Music. The company has an uncountable number of albums to its credit.
In Ghana, Acappella Music used to be associated with Liberians and South Africans. The reason being that some of the most dynamic acappella groups this country witnessed in the past, came from Liberia and from South Africa.
One can easily remember the Trumpets from Liberia and also the Lady Smith Black Mombassa from South Africa, whose music have stayed with us for a long time. Interestingly all these groups have come and passed, but there is yet a new generation of Acappella groups rising strongly in the country, who need to be encouraged to reach the height that the likes of Black Mombassa and the Trumpets reached.
Some of the Ghanaian Acappella groups that come to mind are the Kumasi-based New Era, 3AM, who later become Blacappella, The Shepherds (defunct though), Chief Charles and the Missionaries and in more recent times the award-winning Alabaster Box.
There was also Soul Black from Liberia resident in Ghana, but who are now playing blues with musical instrumentals as well.
Some of the younger groups coming up strongly include the Disciples, The Kings Jubilee based in the Budumburam camp, The Pilgrims, Mega Voices, Inspirers and more. All these groups have hopes of reaching the top in their chosen field of music, which is acappella music.
But the sad thing in this country is, no one is willing to associate with the small beginnings of a thing until that thing has become big and yielding substantial financial benefits. The culture of supporting small things to grow is not part of our national and individual principles. People are more likely to watch a small group with great potential struggle to make it and when they have, then you see everybody trying to associate themselves with that group, apparently with the motive of reaping where they have not sown.
For crying out loud, locally made acappella music, for which the leading acappella group, The Alabaster Box, has coined the name ?Afroppella? is growing strong in the country. Several other groups have started composing and recording songs along those lines.
The sad thing is that most producers would rather stick with the status quo, that is, music accompanied with instruments rather than acappella, because as they put it, ?there is no money in acappella.?
I know one acappella group which was woefully turned down by the producer with these words ?your songs are good, but I can help you if you add instruments.?
Must the battle to make Acappella music a locally loved thing, be the responsibility of only the acappella groups? What role can the producers and promoters play? What role can the media and organisers of award schemes play? Let?s remember that when Acappella Music becomes tick in Ghana, it adds to the kind of music we export to the rest of the world and we will be noted for the many acappella musicians we have produced.
A typical example was the two opportunities Alabaster Box had to feature in the Commonwealth People?s Festival in Brisbane, Australia in October 2001. The group was the toast of the thousands of Australians who attended the festival. The Australians audience would follow Alabaster Box to every performance spot, though there were other performances going on at other places.
The group?s Akwaaba was equally the toast of almost every occasion during the festival.
At the close of the festival, Alabaster Box?s Goodbye song, Nante Yiye, was the real climax of the festival. Indeed the Brisbane Plaza almost caved in when the group moved into the arena and sang the Royal song Abladei and the good bye song.
To put it bluntly, response from foreign audiences for the group has been phenomenal, which is indicative of the fact that if we could package acappella music, especially in the Ghanaian unique style, which Alabaster Box calls ?Afroppella?, it will be a major source of income on the foreign market.
And believes me, in no time, the local patronage for acappella-afropella music would shoot and match the rest of the other forms of music.
Alabaster Box has a least one music album and working on the second one, with loads of songs made ready for subsequent albums. Chief Charles and the Missionaries recently released their debut, The Disciples have also released their debut and many acappella groups are working on their albums with help from nowhere.
It is about time these young groups were acknowledged and supported by the music producers and organisers of national awards schemes, especially Ghana Music Awards so that at least if they are able to win awards they could be put on contract to be recorded and promoted.
It is refreshing to note that Alabaster Box was nominated to three categories for the 2003 Ghana Music Awards.
The positive thing about these nominations is that for the first time an acappella music was nominated alongside other music forms, unlike previously when a category like Best Choral Group was created for acappella and choral music, which has been scraped from the scheme anyway.
It is important a separate category is created for acappella music, just as has been done for hiplife, despite the many criticisms it suffered when it first emerged.
Today, a look at the music charts indicates that the hiplife artistes are reigning high, dominating categories in the Ghana Music Awards and Our Music Awards.
I suggest that award scheme organisers consider a category like Acappella Group of the Year to encourage acappella groups to reach for excellence and in no time, we will have to expand the categories to include Acappella Song of the Year and Acappella Album of the Year.
The groups have taken the initiative to write their own songs, produce themselves and sought assistance from radio presenters and DJs to promote the songs. It has been a difficult task. It is time for them to be supported and I am of the view that an award scheme that offers Acappella groups the opportunity to have recording contracts and some financial support will go a long way to give Ghana another form of exportable music.