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

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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.”

He talked to us about how the recordings were helpful to bring about reconciliation and a national identity at the end of the colonial period, but stressed that traditional music is useful in the contemporary context.

Professor Nketia started out as a research fellow in the Sociology Department at the University of Ghana. He had much support from Dr. Kofi Abrefi A. Busio, the head of the department, who later became the Prime Minister of Ghana. He was given all of the equipment he needed, a driver and a Land Rover, and a technician from the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation.

He praised his assistants who helped him with the field recordings and said they were all often so engaged they forgot to eat. He said the people being recorded were also very excited when they heard themselves for the first time.

Based on this work, in the late 1950s he received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to travel to the US and present his recordings at Columbia University, Northwestern University, and the Gilead School of Music. He later was instrumental in the establishment of the Institute of African Studies and the university and became its first African director.

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