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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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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