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Question of telenovelas

BY: Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng

The other day, my friend Nana Awere Damoah wrote this on Fac those who come on TV to discuss telenovelas and give advice to the characters.’ It got me chuckling…and thinking.ebook: ‘The whole Ghana, the people I envy most are

I have no issue with the presence on our television screens of foreign dramas, popularly known as telenovelas, even though I have only casually skimmed across one episode of ‘A Love to Last’, on Max TV, in a fit of utter boredom.

A few of my friends have had occasions to rail against them and claim that these programmes stifle the growth and promotion of local content, and that it is a manifestation of the fact that we cherish all things foreign over and above all things local.

TV landscape

When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, GBC-TV, as it was then known, featured excellent local programmes such as Villa Kakalika, Showcase, Osofo Dadzie, Koliko, Children’s Own and many others.

But it also featured great foreign programmes such as The Saint, Hawaii 5-0, Skippy The Bush Kangaroo, The Old Fox and others.

 In my view, these foreign programmes helped a great deal in improving one’s world view beyond Ghana and Africa. I learnt a great deal about Australian culture and wildlife from the Skippy programme. I believe I travelled the world from the comfort of our living room through our rather charming black-and-white wood-panelled television set, a far cry from the ultramodern, glitzy, dazzling LCD sets that grace many a living room in the land today.

Truth be told, on today’s television landscape, there is or has been a fair amount of local production to deflect any arguments some may hold, that telenovelas and other foreign programmes dominate and necessarily damage our local programming. Taxi Driver and Efie Wura series for instance were not only hugely popular but also refreshing and a testament to the fact that we are not necessarily hooked on to all things foreign, and that a creative, innovative, well-presented local production can hit the right local nerves. However the witchcraft, juju and other superstitious, retrogressive yet prevalent themes that hog our local movie industry are enough to drive one into the arms of anything foreign.

 For a country that lives on multi-paralleled linguistic conveyer belt, one of the challenges of Ghana has been how to avoid focusing too much on the official language of English and thereby excluding the vast majority of our people who are not formally educated and whose sole language of communication remains their local dialect. In the process, it has appeared that the crossover effect has been a difficult one.

Peace and UTV

One of the groundbreaking, innovative streaks on our media scene was the arrival of radio stations such as Peace FM.

By focusing exclusively on the widely-spoken Twi language in its news and other programmes, it gave, in my opinion, a full voice to the hitherto dispossessed and excluded in terms of the national agenda. For the first time, the uneducated who spoke Twi had the news broken down to them by an exclusively Twi station in a language they could understand, and suddenly, an inability to speak and understand English no longer was the debilitating barrier it once was as far as the news was concerned. Prior to this, GBC had made some inroads, but not in such a pervasive manner.

Its news presenters, drawing in from the Akan public speaking skills set, dish out the news by garnishing it with hyperbole, proverbs and artistic licence, thereby provoking amusement and chuckles while making serious points.

Its midday news bulletin remains my favourite source of news to this day. And of course, because of the sheer numbers of those who tuned in, the station became an advertiser’s haven, even though there were some who snottily referred to it as ‘too local’— a sickening manifestation in the minds of some who look down on our own and consider it backward. On the telenovela front, UTV simply did Twi voice-overs on their telenovelas and brought them home in a compelling manner to their viewers.

They were hooked. The snobs sat up bolt upright when the station and its proprietor, ‘Kwame Despite’, started laughing all the way to the bank as the advertising revenue rolled in. He had identified an opening in the market and had hammered on it, inspired by a clear vision.

I wonder whether there are lessons to be learnt here by politicians, advertisers and social policy makers.

National anthem

I have always struggled with the fact that our national anthem, which is supposed to embody the soul of this nation and inspire and motivate us, is written in English. In one fell swoop, the majority of our people are excluded from singing and understanding this important embodiment of the nation, and thereby being inspired and motivated by it.

 They are merely reduced to either humming the tune, or at best, making up their own words from a convoluted repertoire of their own, with the results hopelessly divorced from anything close to the reality of what is being sung.

 In fact, many reasonably educated people struggle with the lyrics. I personally find Yen Ara Asaase Ni, a patriotic song, more soul-stirring.

  Before one protests that the matter of which local language to use will create more problems than it will solve, it is important to note that South Africa’s national anthem, Nkosi sikelel' Afrika, beautifully blends five different languages spoken in the country. It is not beyond us to also think boldly.

We need to do more, as a society, to bring into the national conversation those who have not had the benefit of formal education.

 And the state, through officialdom, has a huge role to play. True, English is our official language and in the world we live in today, it is of huge significance on the global platform. It would be madness to jettison it. But we cannot sacrifice the bulk of our people on the altar of international expediency.

 UTV offers useful lessons and guidance in this direction, whatever one’s misgivings about the whole telenovela television genre.