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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New York University & University of Ghana – Legon Launch MAARA

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.

From left: Judith Opoku-Boateng, Mona Jimenez, Dr. Kwame Amoah Labi, Kara Van Malssen, Chris Lacinak. Photo by Hyriana Amakye.

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).

From left: Chris Lacinak, George Gyesaw, Dr. Kwame Amoah Labi, Mona Jimenez, Judith Opoku-Boateng, Kara Van Malssen, Nathaniel Kpogo, Fidelia Ametewe, Selina Laryea. Photo by Hyriana Amakye.

“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.

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