Notes from a very Ghanaian festival
Saturday Diary with: KWESI GYAN–APENTENG
If ever Ghana decides to adopt a new national motto, one that describes our reality instead of aspiration, we can do no worse than select: It will Be All Right on the Night.
This is a tribute to the resource that has some times been described as the Ghana magic. Deep from an unknown and unknowable reserve, a rabbit is pulled out of a hat and, accompanied by star dust, drums roll, colour bursts like new stars from the horizons, voices sing and there is applause all around. This is the way things happen in Ghana.
The National Festival of Arts and Culture currently going on in Tamale is a very Ghanaian event. The magic is in the “now you don’t see it, now you do”.
The festival opened last Saturday, but on Friday it was difficult to imagine, let alone believe, that anything would take place either at the Jubilee Park, where most events take place, or at the Cultural Centre, which is the exhibition hall. Exhibition panels had to be trucked in from Accra. They arrived late and a couple of local carpenters struggled to keep pace with the demand for exhibition stalls.
The faint-hearted and those of little faith imagined the worst as exhibitors jostled for space and tempers flared when participating troupes waited a bit too long for accommodation and officials appeared a little rattled by it all. But by mid-morning on Saturday, not only had a glorious sun appeared over a colour-festooned Jubilee Park; there was a splendiferous splash of colour in the Exhibition Hall as all 10 regions had mounted beautiful displays of their art and crafts, especially in textiles, wood and jewellery. Once again, applause all round for a very magical Ghanaian show.
And another very Ghanaian side show was the President’s no-show. According to old NAFAC hands, by tradition the festival is almost always opened by the President and for the hundreds of artists, artistes, administrators and “culture people”, a presidential tour around their stands in the Exhibition Hall would have been the big payoff for all the preparation and hassle to be in Tamale for the event.
All day of Friday, the anxiety had been to show the President the best of Ghana, and by Saturday, with most things in place, the anxiety had given way to prideful anticipation.
Of course, as has been reported in the media, the President did not attend the opening or grace the Exhibition with his presence, as the saying goes. It was a curious but very Ghanaian thing. Why were hundreds of honest Ghanaian folk made to believe that the President would come when in fact he had no such intention? Even more curious, why did the President not attend the festival or even the exhibition when he was in Tamale for the funeral of the late Chairman of the ruling NDC at the same time? Even more curious, why couldn’t the Vice President, who was also in Tamale for another event, not attend?
But let us not spoil the fun. The Chairman of the Council of State, Prof. Kofi Awoonor, a writer and a “culture man” stood in for the President at the opening, and later toured the exhibition. In truth, by Sunday, artists and exhibitors appear to have put the President’s no-show behind them, although as Ghanaian, people gave all kinds of “reasons”. Once the show got underway, it became clear why NAFAC deserves more support than it enjoys from various stakeholders, especially the government and the business community.
The festival more than achieves its broad objectives of uniting our people in the splendor of our diversity. It puts on display the full panoply of talent, creativity, beauty, art crafts, theatre and pageantry. The week passes by swiftly in an avalanche of activities that leaves one breathless. There are the “Regional Days” which from the core of daytime activities at the fiesta. Two regions, working and planning together, are showcased every day. Their regional ministers and assorted state functionaries in the region in addition to chiefs and Queens from the selected regions attend as do scores of performers across the artistic genres brought in for this display. It is therefore a collaboration and completion between two regions every day.
Mornings are devoted to symposiums, colloquium and other academic-type activities which have been a huge success here in Tamale. The first one, staged at the University for Development Studies, discussed the Universities endogenous approach to development and development studies, said to be unique in Africa. The next symposium, on traditional herbal medicine, held at the Regional Library, was oversubscribed as standing room was at a premium.
Evenings are reserved for entertainment, and so far, they have been enthusiastically embraced by Tamale residents, tourists and NAFAC people. A highlife dancing competition, which was won by the Central Region, followed by Eastern and Northern in that order, was a very popular event. The choral night and theatre performance evenings have been equally well received. As at this writing, a beauty pageant in the works promises to be a huge hit.
Taken these activities together, there is nothing like this in the national calendar and therefore deserves to be supported more bountifully by the government. This year, according to sources, the money was too little too late, which accounted for the last minutes rush to build stalls and organize thing. But the business community should take this opportunity to support the country’s culture in a more meaningful way. Indeed, this must be sponsor’s paradise. Where else would you find such an array of artist/artistes gathered in one space at the same time with one purpose? For some reasons, the business community is not falling over to grab this chance to be part of something that is equal, if not greater than football, in the esteem of our people. Furthermore, by Ghana Television’s generous broadcast of this event live and in bulletins, sponsors would receive more than they usually would expect from an event outside Accra. It is also a surprise that the cultural civil society groups such as the Musicians Union, Actors Guild, Ghana Association of Writers, are absent. They would bring other dimensions and even their won sponsorship to this event.
My one big advice would be for the festival to be held annually instead of every two years. At this rate, it would take 20years for the festival to return to a regional capital, and longer when more regions are created. Given that one of the ambitions of such festivals is to improve the local infrastructure (although this has not happened to the very dusty driveway leading to the Tamale Cultural Centre), 20 years is too long between shows.
Furthermore, our traditional festival calendars are annual, for very good reasons, including recalling the deeds of the departed and celebrating the achievements and harvests of the past year. There appears to be no philosophical reason for the two-year rule.
And now, let us give praise where it is due. The Ministry of Chieftaincy and Culture, under Mr. Alex Asum-Ahensah, Minister; Mrs. Rebecca Aboagye, the Chief Director and their staff; Mr. Michael Attipoe and the Staff of the National Commission on Culture and the regional directors of the Centres of National Culture and the national and regional planning committees have all done very well to get this show on the stage. This is a very Ghanaian festival: Events have not always started on time, schedules have been missed and the lights in the exhibition hall have not always worked, but, overall, this is a success, despite the well-known challenges of running things in our republic.
Daily Graphic Page: 10 Saturday, November 27, 2010