As independence unfolded across Africa beginning in the late 1950s, visionary African researchers used audiovisual tools to record the rich cultural forms that had been so devalued under colonial rule. Pioneering scholars from Ghana made audio and video recordings of oral and visual expressions, encouraged their dissemination and study, and personally safeguarded them; these collections formed the foundation of the extensive audiovisual holdings of the Institute of African Studies (IAS) at the University of Ghana – Legon.
These recordings and the many that followed hold new information of tremendous value not only for creators, researchers and audiences of culture and art, but also for those engaged in contemporary scholarship in numerous fields in the humanities and social sciences. For many years at IAS thousands of audiotapes containing these rich cultural resources have been trapped on obsolete media and unable to be heard and used.
On Monday, July 28th, IAS and New York University’s Audiovisual Preservation Exchange (APEX) officially launched the project Making African Academic Resources Accessible or MAARA. Ghanaian and American teams have joined forces to create a digital archive of these unique materials through a new audio preservation lab equipped to transfer 1/4″ audio reels, cassettes, and digital audiotapes. Very soon researchers will be able to access selected recordings through computer listening stations at the IAS Archive.
Professor Akosua Adomako Ampofo, the Director of IAS states:
“What better way to democratize knowledge on the peoples and cultures of Africa than through an organic, state-of-the-art audiovisual archive? We are truly delighted that our work with our partners from NYU has born such rich fruit!”
The comprehensive IAS audio collection contains recordings of festivals, funerals and other events; oral traditions; poetry and other forms of spoken word; music; and oral histories of prominent Ghanaian creators of arts and culture, past and present. The oldest IAS Archive materials, dating to the 1950s, were acquired from the acclaimed International Centre for African Music and Dance and were created through the vision and extensive research of musicologist and Professor Emertus J. H. Kwabena Nketia. IAS also holds audio documentation of story-telling and artistic interpretation by the late Ghanaian dramatist, Professor Efua Sutherland.
On the NYU side, APEX Ghana is led by Professor Mona Jimenez, Associate Director in the Moving Image Preservation Program, part of the Department of Cinema Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts:
“This project will have immediate benefit for educators, students, scholars and programmers at our respective universities here in Accra. For MIAP, the partnership has enriched our curriculum, strengthens MIAP’s knowledge of international archiving practices, and allows us to collaboratively solve preservation problems that stand in the way of access.”
NYU has a global site in Ghana – NYU Accra – and the two universities have a longstanding educational partnership, facilitating students and faculty connections through classes, research and special programs.
Dr. Kwame Amoah Labi, Deputy Director of IAS has shepherded the project on the Ghanaian side:
“This is the best thing that has happened to our audiovisual archives. We are applying the latest technologies to make the collections accessible. We expect other archivists and researchers will come and check out what we are doing.”
The team got right to work on their first day together; one group began unpacking boxes and configuring equipment while another worked on expanding the Archive’s database to include new information that will be generated through the digitization process. The US team includes Founder/President Chris Lacinak and Senior Consultant/NYU Professor Kara Van Malssen, both from Audiovisual Preservation Solutions, and audio preservation specialist Seth Paris. Archivist Judith Opoku-Boateng, who oversees the IAS Archives, has brought together the IAS archive staff including George Gyasi Gyesaw (Database Administrator), Fidelia Ametewe (Video Editor), Selina Laryea (Photographer), and Nathaniel Kpogo (Research Assistant – Audio).
“For me, it is a dream come true”, says Judith. “The project will be a model for other archives in the region.”
Keep checking back to our blog as we report on how our work together develops. We expect to post many practical tips and much documentation produced through the collaboration.
MAARA has received support from NYU Provost’s Diversity Initiative and the Global Research Initiative; the Institute of African Studies, UG – Legon; the NYU Tisch Dean’s Technology Grant; the NYU Department of Cinema Studies, and Audiovisual Preservation Solutions. Other APEX projects have been organized with colleagues in Argentina, Colombia and Uruguay.