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

INSTITUTE OF AFRICAN STUDIES 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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)

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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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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.”

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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.

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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).

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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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