One year has passed since the new audiovisual preservation and digitization lab was installed on August 2014 at the University of Ghana at Legon in joint efforts by the Institute of African Studies, the NYU MIAP Apex program and AudioVisual Preservation Solutions. In that time, the J.H. Kwabena Nketia Archives has busily become a model institution for audiovisual preservation efforts in Africa. Through the leadership of Judith Opoku Boateng, the cataloging efforts of George Gyesaw, and physical preservation and digitization work by Nat Kpogo, in just one year 245 at risk historic audio recordings are now accessible to researchers and musicians for the first time in decades. The contents of these recordings have already yielded advances in scholarship and musicianship at the University of Ghana and the amount of accessible materials continues to grow every day, despite the unique challenges faced by an institution working in West Africa. During my follow up visit this summer (to bring a new tape player for 3.75ips and 1.875ips tapes, provide additional training and perform quality control checks) I was ecstatic to find that the partnership I helped start over 7 years ago was finally yielding such tangible results.
One day, while I sat updating Workflow Documentation and contemplating how I could express the meaning of the efforts of the past year on our blog an incredible thing happened. Nat was digitizing asset AWG-W-52, a recording of a 1965 concert organized by the Music Department as part of the cultural activities of Convocation Week. The performance was proceeded by two incredible speeches by Prof. Nketia and the Minister of Arts and Culture J. Benibengor Blay. Their words, ringing out to us from 1963, perfectly embody the purpose and value of the work being done today at the archives and the international partnership that enabled its success. So on this, the one year anniversary of the installation of West Africa’s premier audio preservation and digitization laboratory at the JHK Nketia Archives of the Institute of African Studies of the University of Ghana at Legon, we take this opportunity to let archive, quite literally, speak for itself:
“We in the school of music and drama are deeply committed to African culture, and more especially to the performing arts of Africa. We believe that African traditional arts should be recorded, they should be preserved, they should be studied. But we believe also that they should not merely be studied, recorded, preserved, but practiced as living art. We believe also that the art must develop and that the study of African traditions should inspire creative experiments in the African idiom. We believe further that there is room for creating new cultural synthesis out of African traditions, new cultural synthesis out of both African traditions and new techniques and resources from other areas. A happy synthesis, however, can only emerge when the creative and sensitive artist is sufficiently and intelligently exposed to the traditions that he brings together in a new artistic synthesis. And, while emphasizing African traditions as a foundation on which we build, we don’t ignore other traditions which might help the student to enlarge his resources or acquire new techniques or broaden his outlook.”
-J. H. K. Nketia
“The will of the people however revived and the lamp of fate began to shine. The cultural reawakening began to assert itself. This reawakening was marked by the rise of a new spirit generated by our leader Asagefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah which revealed itself not only in a struggle for political emancipation but also for a more complete expression in the different fields of culture. The people quietly reorganizing themselves under the leader and calling forth from their ancient heritage new sources of strength were enabled to revitalize their spirit and finally to reassert their independence. The achievement of independence is most likely due to the cultural reawakening of the people of Ghana, marked with a conscious effort to maintain intact their cultural heritage. It is Ghana’s glory that there was sufficient faith and vision left even in this period of the greatest darkness to enable her to recover. The attention that has been given to our cultural heritage since independence stems from the fact that this heritage has been found to be of intrinsic value for national development.”
-J. Benibengor Blay
A complete audio recording of these speeches and the entire concert, featuring performances of compositions by J.H.K. Nketia, is available at the archive. Complete transcriptions of the speeches are also available.