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Opinions of Wednesday, 27 December 2006

Columnist: Allotey, Henry Kpakpo

Please Don't Kill The Music

(THE BENEFITS OF HINDSIGHT)

In the early 1990's the Ghanaian movie industry began experiencing an accelerated growth. It's rate of growth-about fourteen movies a week-was unprecedented in the history of the industry. Directors could not keep track of scripts; artistes did not have enough time to change costumes for the next set; cameramen were shooting several movies simultaneously; editors wished a day lasted more than twenty-four hours; and producers were making a decent living. In short, business was booming.

Even though critics were unanimous in their opinion that most of the movies were mediocre, long queues at theaters all over the country was ample evidence that movie goers had a diametrically opposed point of view.

It must be noted however that at such an embryonic stage mediocrity, even though unacceptable, was understandable. Ghanaians wanted more and producers wanted to expand their market beyond our borders.

A 'genius' came up with a very bright idea:' Why don't we collaborate with our Nigerian neighbors?

There are millions of them!' Well, we did just that.

The result was that they swallowed our market and showed us who was the boss. Suddenly our audience began to see flaws in Ghanaian movies which they had hitherto enjoyed. Paradoxically, the same flaws seemed acceptable when they occurred in Nigerian movies. Our artistes lost their roles to more popular Nigerian artiste; our cameramen went back to shooting weddings and outdoorings; our editors started looking for teaching jobs; and our producers became buyers and sellers of Nigerian movies. Infact, Ghanaians developed a phobia for Ghanaian movies. The industry became paralyzed. It became more profitable to distributing cheap Nigerian movies than making Ghanaian movies. Our whole culture was affected: Our people began to speak and act like Nigerians. Words like IGWE and TOFIAKWA became household words. Money that should have propelled our industry went to help build NOLLYWOOD. We were culturally colonized by our neighbors.

Our music industry has either ignored or not learnt from the dilemma of her sister-the movie industry.

They are about to thread the destructive path that almost killed the Ghanaian movie maker. They have started by rekindling the insatiable Ghanaian appetite of 'foreign things thirsty' Ghanaians by inviting already successful stars (WHO DO NOT NEED OUR ENDORSEMENT ANYWAY) like Sean Paul and Jay Z to perform live in Ghana. Let us be careful because we have not consolidated our musical place on the planet yet! For example, If Sean Paul and a local star are performing the same night at different locations, who do you think will have the most patronage. Your guess is as good as mine. In Japan and China local artiste always have an edge over their foreign counterparts-they can afford to invite foreign stars because it will make very little impact. What we have started will come back to bite us a few years later when our musicians are out of business.

I have never seen a hiplife or highlife music video on mainstream American M.T.V.- M.T.V. Base was created to quell this ambition thereby protecting their local market because all creative markets, including the American market, can be very fickle indeed.They are smart so should we.

In order for us to be in business we need to keep our core local audience who are the only people who really understand and appreciate the nuances of our lyrics in the way it is intended to be understood. Our audience need to be protected from acquiring foreign taste because, taste, once acquired becomes a bad habit that cannot be dropped.

The leadership of the Ghanaian music community will have to look beyond the glamour, instant gratification and the euphoria of seeing a foreign artiste perform and see the bigger picture. There are consequences when we make bad economic decisions by ignoring the mistakes of the past. It is not by accident or any extreme talent that some artist sell more CD's in Ghana than in their countries of origin. These stars have savvy managers behind them who know exactly what they are doing so let us not let them do it to us.

No country in the world allows people to come in and sell special services which could potentially change the taste and unduly influence the purchasing choices of their core market. The only Japanese movie I ever saw in a mainstream American movie theater was called THE LAST SAMURAI starring Tom Cruise, a full blooded American. Think about that. Why do you think 'The Deadly Voyage' (SHOT IN GHANA A FEW YEARS AGO) had Omar Epps play the lead role when it would have been one hundred times cheaper to use a Ghanaian actor? Every country has a policy on how to protect and keep their core audience.

We almost lost the movie industry because we naively introduced our audience to Nigerian movies. We are about to start the same trend which could potentially kill hiplife and highlife. Their industry is developed and we have to develop ours for our people. Our RockStones, Kwaadees and Mzbels will only become crossover stars if we make them big here. Don't get me wrong, I love foreign music but business cannot and should not be mixed with pleasure. Jay Z made that abundantly clear when he came to Ghana.

KPAKPO ALLOTEY
NEWARK N.J.
U.S.A.


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