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Opinions of Friday, 19 March 2010

Columnist: Awuni, Manasseh Azure

GMA Awards: No One Merits Artiste of the Year

If there is one reason, apart from the church’s sound biblical doctrine, I will never leave the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, then it is because of the Presbyterian Hymns. In fact, those hymns inspire me more than sermons and going to church without my hymn book is like leaving my Bible at home. There was, however, one day that I had to fumble painfully through one of the hymns.
It wasn’t one of those popular hymns I sing without opening the hymn book. But the tune was popular and since I read Twi at church, I should not have found it difficult singing that Twi hymn. But that was not to be. It was only at the third verse that I realized my mistake. Those pairs of slanting lines at the end of some of the lines meant that those lines had to be sung twice. Yours truly didn’t know.

What am I driving at? My knowledge of music is limited. Very limited. All that I can remember of what Mr. Adorsu Mathias taught us at Henkel Memorial JHS (Kete-Krachi) is the G-Clef.

But this is not to say that I don’t know what good music is. Beauty, they say, lies in the eyes of the beholder but there certain beauties you cannot deny. My mentor, Chinua Achebe, says if you meet such ladies on the way and do not turn back to look at them then you are either blind or stiff-necked.
So it is with music. Music is more than the food of life. To me, it is life. Who can imagine what the world would be like without music? What would our radio stations offer without music? The best of film producers and scriptwriters would never be able to have the needed effect without music. Our churches? It’s just unimaginable!
Everything aside, music is business. It is a serious industry that is raking millions of dollars for those who know its value.
Unfortunately, the Ghanaian music industry is dying (or is rather dead). There is no creativity and whether it is secular or gospel, the value is the same. I’m not that old but my two and a half decades of life in Mother Ghana has exposed me to some of the best compositions of my time. Gospel music is my favourite, if you force me to push borborbor music aside for the sake of this piece. Names such as Helena Rhables, Comfort Annor, the Late Bishop Michael Osei Bonsu, Rev. YABS, Getty and Friends, Daughters of Glorious Jesus and Tagoe Sisters come up readily when gospel music that drills into the innermost part of the soul and heart is mentioned. Suzy and Matt cannot be forgotten while golden voices such as Cindy Thompson, Esther Smith are Mama Esther are still fresh. Well, the list is endless. I’ve not forgotten my first time favourites, Stella Aba Seal and Bernice Offei.
I remember how I was once rebuked by my father and described as dim-witted because of Stella’s spell-binding music. He had sent me to buy penicillin at Spy Glass Chemical Store in Kete-Krachi but on my way, I stopped to listen to the best Ghanaian gospel track ever, in my objectively subjective judgement. It was Stella Dugan’s (that was the name I knew and which came with the song) Gyem Tata. It was played on the Volta Star Radio and I had to listen behind someone’s window. When the song ended, the only thing I could remember I had been sent to buy was pencil. I was certain that it was medicine I was sent to buy and not pencil. I had no option but to run back home and ask again. And I paid dearly for that. But it was worth it.
In those days, four out of every five gospel musicians were forces to reckon with. Today it is one out of ten. Gospel music has been reduced to noise. Take a few names such as Bernice Offei, DSP Kwesi Sarpong and the others out and there is no gospel music. The rest don’t touch even the skin let alone the hearts and souls of believers.
The secular music industry is even worse. When someone witlessly misses no opportunity remind you that civilization was born in Africa, what you must ask them is: So what went wrong? Highlife music was born in Ghana and as a nation; we would be better off if we packaged it well and marketed it to the rest of the world. Every young artist wants to rap. I don’t condemn hip life or rap music. Rap music is good. When Obrafuor first appeared on the scene and still possessed his sense of purpose, even old men enjoyed it.
But today, rap has been reduced to unintelligible mixture of instrumentals and human noise. The lyrics are as incoherent as the writings of Vasco da Gama, that mad sign writer in Krachi. He did not work for pay, but woe betide your beautifully painted building if arrived in your house. Armed with his writing stick and the black paint he produced by melting chippings of the only tarred road at the old pontoon landing site he did what he knew best.
“kofabrakotobbincomebeetwenemedadidikodanabraskulladam…….” That’s how he writes, combining English alphabets and other alphabets from the local languages. That is also how most of our rappers sing and I do not understand why we should be awarding mediocrity.
The organisers of the GMA should do the honourable thing the Ghana Journalists’ Association did three years ago. The GJA said no journalist was outstanding enough to be awarded the highly coveted Journalist of the Year award. They courted a barrage of criticisms for taking that infamously famous decision, but I thing they did the right thing. The names proposed for the topmost award are 4x4, Wutah, Ohemaa Mercy, Sarkodie, Becca and Bradez.
If the Artiste of the Year award is anything to be held in high esteem, then I don’t think these artistes have been outstanding enough in the year under review to win it. It is only Becca who I think is somehow close but if compared to previous standards, the topmost award should be shelved for another year.
Ghanaian musicians should know that their competition ought to go beyond the mediocre shores of our land. People like Kojo Antwi and his predecessors who specialized in our own highlife music have shown the world that Ghana has a lot to offer and those standards set must not be lowered.
To the gospel artiste, I say collaborate and form mass choirs to revive the dying gospel music industry. After all, the Remission Choir of Bubuashie has proved that many voices are better than solo. Where are the Gospel All Stars? Did their all-time best, W’aseda Nie fail, and which has discouraged others from following suit? I need an answer!
Ghanaian musicians should learn and improve upon their performance else, we (my elder brother and I) will still be going for South African music. Even though you do not understand the meaning of South African music, you will still listen enjoy it. Good music, like a truly beautiful woman, is appreciated by all who have no hearing impairment.

Credit: Manasseh Azure Awuni [www.maxighana.com] The writer is the SRC President of the Ghana Institute of Journalism and the Press and Information Secretary of the Northern Students Union (NSU). To read more of his works, visit www.maxighana.com