We can do more with our traditional music and dance
Ghanaian traditional music and dance has taken him to many countries across the globe and multi-instrumentalist, Nii Tettey Tetteh, remains convinced that the nation is foregoing huge amounts of foreign exchange by not paying adequate attention to that sector.Follow @Graphicgh
Typical of him, he publicly alludes to that issue whenever the opportunity crops up. When he received the Traditional Artiste of the Year trophy at the 2022 Vodafone Ghana Music Awards (VGMA), he boldly reiterated the view that our traditional music and dance formats could take us higher on the international market than we envisaged.
A key requirement, he believes, is the commitment of the state to tap the best-performing acts across the nation and work closely with our diplomatic mission abroad to help organise regular workshops and performances wherever they are.
“Traditional music and dance are items we have complete ownership of. We don’t need any so-called strategic investment partners to help us mine or refine them. We don’t need to go borrow anything to help us understand what those natural assets can do for us,” says Nii Tettey.
Born and bred at James Town in Accra, Nii Tettey in his teenage years played flute and percussion with the Ebaahi Sounds and had the chance to perform and act alongside Fleetwood Mac in The Visitor film.
He was a founder member of the Pan-African Orchestra and worked with the Kakatsitsi Master Drummers before forming his own Kusun Ensemble in 1996.
A former President of the Ghana Dance Association, his Kusun Ensemble has shared stage at major music events globally with names such as Miriam Makeba, Angelique Kidjo, Lucky Dube, Joseph Hill and Stevie Wonder.
His contention is that with a serious business approach, Ghana’s missions abroad, especially those in Europe and America, should be able to make inroads into the school systems where they are and get institutions interested in African music and arts.
“It should be possible to organise African drumming and dancing workshops for schools in the Winter months. The schools can book for lessons and pay for the services through the missions. There are Cultural Attaches who should spearhead those initiatives.
“There are many festivals in the Summer months. Autumn and Spring months can also be explored for various cultural expositions from Ghana. In addition, different drums and other musical equipment from Ghana can be sold at the workshops and festivals. They will all add up to getting some income for those who make the equipment back home.”
Apart from music composition and performance, Nii Tettey also, through his Kusun Productions outfit, organises study tours for Australian, American and European students keen to learn about music and dance in a Ghanaian environment.
So he wears his businessman cap at those times and says it is important for creative folks to develop a good understanding of business to enable them to succeed. Having grown up in an environment where there wasn’t much regard for musicians of all sorts, his ambition when growing up was to play music and earn respect for doing that.
“Music is all I have done in my life. I think it should be seen as a respectable field just like other professions but we all know how things pan out in this our system. That’s why I work hard and inspire up-and-coming ones to also put their hearts fully into it and stand tall for what they do.”
Nii Tettey lives at Nungua in Accra and is a keen observer of the traditional music and dance scene in his community. Off the top of his head, he mentioned groups such as Adepa, Efeee Noko, Anunyam, Salaka, Akuma, Tsooboi and Suomo Dance Afrik, all of whom he said were pushing on to gain firm creative and financial grounding.Follow @Graphicgh
“I see them, engage with some of them and admire their zeal. Things are, however, so tough these days that they are not able to always fully bring out what they can do. Acquiring appropriate costume is hard sometimes. There are times when due to transportation costs, they are not able to take along all the equipment needed for a first-rate performance. But they are still around and hopeful of better times ahead,” he said.
His contention is that there are many groups in other corners of Accra and across the nation who are doing fantastic stuff but not getting noticed due to monetary constraints. They don’t have people with sound financial muscle to hold them up and that’s where he believes some state support could be useful.
He said the traditional music and dance terrain cuts across fields such as education, trade and foreign affairs as well as tourism, arts and culture. So, those arms of Government must collaborate and help lift up the groups to bring glory to the nation at all times. To him, Ghanaian traditional music and dance can be packaged in many different ways to sell anywhere in the world.
He observed that some typical Ghanaian musical instruments were being modified and sold under different names in music shops across the world. He said there was no way of standing up to that because there’s apparently no central authority here interested enough to follow up and possibly demand royalties.
What he can demand of himself for now is keep up the crusade for the state to show more interest in the forward march of traditional music and dance to earn more money to support national development.