The Archive “Speaks” for Itself – Speeches from Convocation Week 1965

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.”

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-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.

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Seprewa Discoveries – Access In Action

The Seprewa, a stringed lute once traditionally used to sing praises in the court of the Asantehene, fell out of common use with the adoption of the guitar in Ghana in the 20th century. Osei Kwame Korankye, a Seprewa Instructor at the University of Ghana, learned to play from his grandfather in the late 1970s. He is one of the very few living masters of the instrument. Thanks to the digitization efforts at the J.H.K. Nketia Archives, Osei has access for the first time to audio recordings of Seprewa music from the 1960s. In the video below, Osei discusses the impact of listening to AWG-A-93 “Seprewa history and Atumpan” on his musical development. Just prior to the filming of this video, Osei told me that this was the first time since his grandfather passed away that he’s has a “new mentor” on the instrument.

A search in the Archives online catalog reveals twelve other audio tapes in the collection that include recordings of the Seprewa. These works are now accessible as academic resources at the University of Ghana to Osei, his students and scholars for the first time in decades. That’s truly what “Making African Academic Resources Accesible” (MAARA) is all about.

More information about the Seprewa and it’s relationship to Ghanaian Highlife music can be found here.

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IAS Archives named after Emeritus Professor J. H. Kwabena Nketia

The Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana, has held a ceremony to name its archives section in honour of world-renowned Ethnomusicologist/composer and authority on African music and related arts, and first African Director of the Institute, Emeritus Professor J.H. Kwabena Nketia. The ceremony drew crowd from the University community and beyond.

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The Deputy Minister for Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts, Mrs. Abla Dzifa Gomashie, who was the guest of honour, in brief remarks, stressed on the importance of archives. She noted that archives ensure that the records of today are preserved for future generations, adding that archived records are useful materials for study and help in understanding the life, ideas and thoughts of their original creators, thus linking the past, present and future. Mrs. Gomashie expressed the hope that the archives can help foster and promote the sense of community and identity among the people of Ghana.


The Director of the Institute, Professor Akosua Ad omako Ampofo, acknowledged the work of Professor Nketia and his research team which actually gave the basis for the establishment of the Archives at the Institute. She stressed that the Institute and the university authorities deemed it necessary to name the after no other person than Prof Nketia, because he deserved the honour. She called on researchers and other people to donate their research holdings to the archive to expand the collection.


The Archivist in charge of the archives briefed that the audience that the archive serves as one of the resource units of the Institute, and facilitates the research, teaching and related activities of the six units within the Institute (Music and Dance, Language and Literature, History and Politics, Media and Visual Arts, Societies and Cultures, Religion and Philosophy). She further stressed that the Archive enhances the educational and cultural role of the University of Ghana, in the preservation and dissemination of the world’s music, dance, history and oral traditions. She emphasized that the earliest recordings by Prof. Kwabena Nketia are the largest and the most systematic set of recordings made by an African Musicologist, spanning forty years of field research. She further recounted the milestones that the Archives has covered over the years and called on researchers and students in performance studies and related disciplines to make good use of the archive.


On his part, Prof. Nketia, thanked the Institute for the honour bestowed him. He recalled some memorable moments during his infancy, school days and working life, and acknowledged some people who had impacted his life. Prof. Nketia mentioned in particular the role the late Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia, (former Prime Minister of Ghana and a former head of Sociology Department at University of Ghana), played in his life when he was collecting the field materials. He recounted how Prof. Busia provided him with a car, a driver, a tape recorder and a technician at the beginning of his career, to collect the historical materials. He also paid tribute to his grandmothers for imparting traditional knowledge to him which he said had served him well in his career.
He encouraged the guests to visit the archives frequently so they can be abreast with relevant historical records.
The Pro-Vice-Chancellor in charge of Academic and Student Affairs (ASA) Professor S. Kwame Offei who chaired the function, later cut a tape to symbolically open the newly named archives.


Professor S. Kwame Offei, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (ASA), cutting a tape to symbolically open the newly named archives. Looking on are second from left Prof. Akosua Perbi, (Department of History and Daughter of Prof. J.H. Kwabena Nketia), Prof. Akosua Adomako Ampofo (Director of the Institute of African Studies), Mrs. Abla Dzifa Gomashie, (Deputy Minister for Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts), Prof. Samuel Agyei-Mensah, (Provost-College of Humanities), Prof. J.H. Kwabena Nketia and Mrs. Judith Opoku-Boateng (IAS Archivist)

The Archivist in charge of the facility, Mrs Judith Opoku-Boateng, took the guests round the facility to see the on-going project and the repositories.

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Dancing to the Reality of MAARA – The success story

In the early 1950s, research fellows like J. H. Kwabena Nketia started capturing important ceremonies/events on sound and photographic media. This collection, according to an oral history by Nketia (2013), formed the basis of the establishment of the Institute of African Studies (IAS). As part of IAS developmental plan in 1974 the Media Centre was set up to compliment the already existing Sound and Photographic Archives to capture cultural events on sound, photographic and moving image media. This expanded the collection.

Far along in 2008, IAS inherited the audiovisual heritage collections from the renowned International Centre for African for Music and Dance (ICAMD). The ICAMD audiovisual archive was founded in 1992 by Professor J. H. Kwabena Nketia. The aim was to serve the needs of scholars, researchers, and artists by collecting and producing audiovisual documentation on Ghana’s unique dance and music traditions as well as other attractive cultures around the world. The audiovisual carriers containing this rich collection spanned from quarter inch open reels, digital audio cassettes, micro cassettes, U-matics, Beta tapes, VHS, S-VHS, 78 rpm shellacs, LPs, Video8, Hi-8, audio cassettes, Mini-DVs, CDs, to DVDs. In terms of notable content, story-telling, songs, dances, and other oral and performance traditions formed part of the heritage materials that had been documented.

The greater part of the collections were essentially locked away on obsolete media formats, affected by mold and the inherent vice of sticky shed syndrome, whereby the tape becomes gummy and sheds the magnetic particles – the very particles that hold the content. The condition of the tapes is very common for archives in tropical areas and presents very real obstacles for preservation.

As the Archivist appointed to manage this important collection with such rich history and research value, but with inadequate staff, my task was a tough one. The archive had limited intellectual control over the contents of its collections and most importantly there was lack of awareness about the collection by potential users.  (more…)

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Database Modification

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After the arrival of Mona, Chris and Kara, the launch of MAARA was about to start on Monday. An in depth lecture, which lasted for about an hour by Mona paved us the way for a step by step plan. As Mona stressed on ACCESSIBILITY, it prompted me to think of how our accessible is our database system for the archive? Yes, it is accessible but researchers don’t really find it comfortable going through the layouts of the various data fields because of its few errors and unattractiveness it looks. We receive complaints and question because people think there are problems with it. I explained to Kara about how it should be to the user – friendly and easily accessible. We also later found out that there would need to be new fields added for the digitization technicians so that they could track their work.

This called for modification of our FileMaker Pro database which is using a template by Independent Media Arts Preservation (IMAP) and updated by Kelly Haydon, a former NYU MIAP student, during her summer internship at IAS in 2012. Even though I was the one who called for modification of the database which experts in the field had already designed, I was quite scared I might destroy it because am not of the same level of experience as Kelly and the people who designed the template itself.


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IAS digital files to become part of UGSpace

The IAS Archive arranged a series of meetings with Nana Barfi Adomako, Head of  Academic Computing Unit of the University of Ghana Computing Systems (UGCS) to explore the possibility of leveraging UGCS ‘s infrastructure to support storage, back up, and access to the IAS collection. Nana Barfi provides support for digital projects at the Balme Library and other libraries at the university.

The meetings were fruitful on two fronts. One, we were made aware of UGSpace which is the institutional repository of the University of Ghana, an open access electronic archive for the collection, preservation and distribution of digital materials. The UGSpace was established to facilitate the deposit of digital content of a scholarly or heritage nature to ultimately share, preserve and promote the intellectual output of the University in a managed environment. This actually answered one of our questions on how the digitized materials coud be accessed widely.

Nana Barfi reported that the university is well underway in developing digital projects, and recently held a three-day workshop to inform the broad university community about progress on UGSpace. The tapes digitized through MAARA will be the first audiovisual materials to become part of UGSpace.

The policies and procedures for adding IAS materials to UGSpace will be worked out over the coming months. In the meantime, Academic Computing has generously provided the IAS Archive with temporary dedicated storage/backup of 200GB  on the Balme Library and Academic Computing Storage. This will help ensure that the digital collections are stored, replicated and backed up.  The solution for permanent storage/backup is also being handled by UGCS infracstructure.

The other good news which answered our second question on access was the mapping of our IMAP database unto the University of Ghana Library Catalogue.  MAARA calls for information about the digitized IAS materials to be available in the Balme Library catalog (UGCat); in other words, in a recognized research network. Initially, the IAS Archive will create collection level MARC records, which will refer researchers to contact the IAS Archivist, who can then provide reference services and support through access to the IAS Archive database. Even this small step will go a long way toward reaching broader audiences until the UGSpace collection can be established.

From left: Kara Van Malssen, Judith Opoku Boateng, Nana Barfi Adomako, Mona Jimenez, Chris Lacinak



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Professor Nketia: “The memories I lived are in these boxes”


On Wednesday July 30 we were honored to have a visit from Professor J. H. Kwabena Nketia, ethnomusicologist.  He was so amazed at the level to which the archive has reached and what is now happening to the materials he collected in the 1950s. The first materials to be digitized are from the AWG (Africa-West Africa-Ghana) series that were collected by him. 

Professor Nketia talked about his first interviews with indigenous performers, 62 years ago. He made a remark about the fact that he is 93 years old and even when he dies he has something to take with him – knowing that his materials will be put to use.

He said “Now it will be used how it was intended to be used. Not just hidden away in boxes.”


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First tape transferred! Listening station set up!

Congratulations Nat Kpogo, Chris Lacinak, and Seth Paris for your first successful transfer! The tape transferred was AWG-E-25, Ewe Songs and Rites, Totoeme, Gbelehawo, Puberty Rites, 1960.

AWG-E-25_outside  AWG-E-25_inside

And a big thanks to Ekow Arthur-Entsiwah, Principal IT Assistant, for setting up our listening station! We are all grateful for his generosity – he brought the monitor from his own work station and swapped it out for an older one. 

Ekow Arthur-Entsiwah

Two milestones in one day. We’ll tell you about the zigzag road it took the transfer team to get to this point in later posts and we will give you some longer listening. But right now we are just all thrilled!


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Degradation and obsolescence comes in the smallest forms

When installing an audio lab with older equipment, ensuring that everything works can be more complex than it might first appear. This week, we are setting up capabilities to digitize 1/4″ open reel audio (as well as cassette) at the Institute of African Studies Archive. We were fortunate to start with two open reel decks: one that they had in house for some time, and one which had been donated by University of Ghana Professor Esi Sutherland-Addy for her current research project, “Shall I tell You or Shall I Not Tell You A Survey of Ghanaian Tales and Storytelling Tradition.”



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