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Opinions of Monday, 6 August 2018


Obituary; Gboya company claims the late Jewel Ackah as its property

Many readers will remember an old time TV drama of the Adabraka Drama Troupe led by Ataa Mensah centred on the Gboya Company.

The protagonist had recently established a coffin making business, hoping to get sales.

All cash and much resources had gone into making the first three coffins.

The number one client who walked in was a close relative, announcing the death of a common relative.

And in Ghana this means you have to give out the coffin for free.

The number two client who walked in was another relative announcing the death of a closer relative.

As if the agony was not enough, a third client came in just after the second funeral and announced the death of one of the closest relatives of the coffin maker.

It was wailing for the protagonist and comedy for TV viewers.

Writers and Shakespeares Ghana Limited has been established for business.

One of its advertised services is writing of tributes, obituaries and biographies.

Pure and simple.

Then I got a whatsApp message from Bessa Simons, the vice president of the Musicians Union of Ghana (Musiga), whom I had met at a previous workplace and has thus become a relative in the Ghanaian sense.

His mission?

To promote the funeral and life story of the late Jewel Ackah, a highlife musician prominent in the 1970s, 80s and 90s!

I have never met Jewel Ackah but, I must admit, just as you should, that many of us Ghanaians don’t pay to go to the theatres or watch live music.

We always hope and pray that it will be broadcast for free viewing.

But in the case of Jewel, I felt an honour- and an obligation to be called upon by none other than the vice president of Musiga, to promote this music legend.

Remembering the circumstances under which I had enjoyed free music and entertainment from Jewel on TV and radio, I felt obliged to claim him for Writers and Shakespeares Ghana Limited.

If Jewel was rich, it was because he had a lot of free music and entertainment to give away and his music was reproduced on cassette by pirates.

He was rich because he had more than enough goodies to share with Ghana and the world.

If he was poor, it was because he didn’t receive his due from all those who used his music and entertainment for free.

In order to do justice to Jewel’s obituary, I asked Uncle Bessa to provide answers to just four questions.

But I guess he was too occupied with the funeral to respond.

I had hoped to fill in the rest with veritable online sources and my public recollections of his illustrious career.

So I googled and yahooed Jewel Ackah.

There were just a few Ghanaian websites giving information about him; recent stuff.

In fact if you searched right now, Wikipedia mentions Jewel Ackah only once in a one-pager on highlife – but that is in German.

The Wikipedia page written in English on highlife does not list Jewel Ackah!

To the extent that we couldn’t promote and maintain our highlife music, we couldn’t promote Jewel Ackah.

If I type highlife in Microsoft Word, it is accepted as a word but if I type the same highlife in my email, it gets underlined in red, unless I hyphenate it, which suggests highlife is not so popular.

Reggae is not underlined, certainly salsa wouldn’t be and pop is just popular music.

The Oxford Advanced Learners English Dictionary (AS Hornby, 9th Edition. 2015) defines highlife as ‘a style of dance and music from West Africa influenced by rock and jazz and popular especially in the 1950s and 1960s’.

This suggests highlife is no longer popular.

Maybe it died with its associated dance and live performances, and we’re now observing the final obsequies.

Jewel Ackah, born in 1945, died on Friday 27 April this year, aged 73.

His funeral is being held at the Tema Community 11 Complex Park today.

Musiga and Ghana Music Rights Organisation (Gamro), who are among the chief mourners, were expected to join family and fans to keep wake last night at the same venue.

The mortal remains will then be taken to Axim, his hometown, for burial.

But as you know, the gbonyo party continues on Sunday at the Tema Community 11 park anytime on Sunday from when your church service closes.

President Akufo-Addo has assured, reported on 20 June, 2018, that the government of Ghana will support the funeral.

This means there will be enough to eat and drink, no worries.

This is the real Gboya Company, not the wailing one the Adabraka Drama Troupe highlighted in Showcase in Ga, the TV drama series.

The Gboya Company is one of the veritable and properly maintained Ghanaian institutions; they never fail to mess up a funeral with noise, lack of protocol and over eating.

Jewel Ackah belonged to the classical highlife genre that worked with live bands.

This ensured that the instrumentalists also had their say and play time, thus enhancing the arrangement of the music harmoniously, bringing to life every instrument- conga, guitar, keyboard, maraca- and every crew member, whose role may have been toggled into the background by the lead singer.

I’m no music expert but, it seems to me that since the highlife greats came into prominence through years of apprenticeship, they learnt the ropes of team building and were once on the same level as say, a keyboardist, who is heard through his instrumentation, not his voicing.

In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, author Susan Cain, bemoans the American extrovert culture that presents a one-sided view of humanity.

Not everyone is a good public speaker but, they communicate nonetheless.

What did Jewel Ackah do when his instrumentalists had their say?

He danced and danced and danced to the rhythm and allowed his body and soul to soak every musical instrument.

I love the Fante rendition of the funeral announcement.

After listing the chief mourners announcing the funeral, it ends thus, ‘Jewel Ackah, international Kopanga, Da yie’!

Gboya is a Ga term which means die early and gbonyo means dead body.

Da yie is a Fante term which means rest in peace.

Kopanga is perhaps some ad-libbing to create an internal rhyme with Ackah.

In Ghana, a funeral announcement is called obituary!

OK, hands up. What’s in it for us?

We aren’t stepping there but we hope you do enjoy this obituary and if you do need one written, do please bring it to us!

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