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Pay attention to traditional African folk songs  —George Mensah Essilfie to stakeholders
Pay attention to traditional African folk songs —George Mensah Essilfie to stakeholders

Pay attention to traditional African folk songs —George Mensah Essilfie to stakeholders

FOUNDER of multiple award-winning choral group, Winneba Youth Choir, Dr George Mensah Essilfie, has bemoaned the lack of interest in Ghanaian folk music, labelling it a dangerous situation that would ultimately result in the extinction of the genre.

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The popular composer posited that the decline in the popularity of folk music in recent years was due to how globalisation and its accompanying factors, such as urbanisation and religious activities had affected indigenous peoples' perspectives on traditional music and urged an immediate call to action to change the course of events.

In an interview with Daily Graphic, he emphasised the need for increased attention and initiatives by relevant stakeholders, including musicologists, historians and music enthusiasts to capture, digitise and archive traditional music and historical sounds to help reverse the situation.

 “It's incredible how frequently foreign tunes are played on our airwaves. Our artistic area has already been overrun by these songs, leaving barely any room for our own compositions. Making conscious steps to protect our native music will help us maintain it in the face of all these challenges and ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy the magnificent legacy of African folk music.

 Already, some people feel our traditional music is evil and do not want to associate with it but traditional folk songs are not evil because they possess elements of our very existence as a society and speak so much wisdom to us.

If we do not exercise sufficient caution, there will come a time when we will have little to say about our traditional music, which would entail utterly eradicating what defines us as a people," he told Daily Graphic.

Traditional folk music

One of Ghana's long-established musical genres is traditional folk music, which has its roots in orally transmitted works, the majority of which are by unidentified composers and are typically played on traditional instruments about cultural or national identity.

Dr Mensah Essilfie, who is credited with choral arrangements of folk songs, including AgorƆ YƐdƐ, Tutu Gbovi, Kpanlogo YƐdƐ, Everybody Bring Your Calabash, and Senyiwa (Pete Pete), among others, stressed how crucial it was to preserve this space, emphasising that traditional folk songs were essential to the fabric of a community as it defined who the people were and where they came from.

“Folkloric dance and music are the cornerstones of many Africans. Traditional African musical sounds and songs are in an unsafe position right now. Even decades after the end of official colonial rule, many historical music practices are still repressed by colonialism since capitalism commodifies music as pure pleasure rather than a cultural tool for preserving tradition and community. It's time we stepped up our game to reverse the trend.

“Traditional music has to be encouraged and preserved for upcoming generations because it has a rich history but has received very little attention.

“We can preserve traditional music and dance by going on research excursions with indigenous musicians to learn from the elders and by setting up programmes in schools to transmit the traditions down to the next generation,” he said.

Digital space

He urged composers and interested groups in the traditional music space to tap into the numerous opportunities the digital platforms offered to reach out to a vast audience and help build a catalogue of traditional music presence in the digital space, which could make way for easy accessibility to the wider community.

“Traditional African music is a gem! And it holds the foundation on which today’s music is built and thanks to technology, we can bring life to our traditional folk music. As streaming on digital platforms become the way of the future for music distribution, the vast, rich and distinct sound of traditional music can also be digitised.

The digital space is huge and if we tap into it and build a digitised catalogue for our music; we can at least make a headway towards preserving the African folk music heritage and inspire up and coming artistes through the musical storytelling of their past,” he said.

Upcoming Musical

As part of efforts to put traditional folk music in the forefront, the renowned composer is getting ready to enthral audiences once more with his musical, Kalabashi Concert - "Songs of Akotam," to be staged by the award-winning choral group, Harmonious Chorale Ghana on Sunday June 11, 2023 at the National Theatre.

He is hopeful that the musical modelled after worldwide musicals, such as Moana, Frozen and Sound of Music, would contribute towards keeping Ghana's traditional folk music vibrant and accessible.

The musical will highlight the outstanding talent and rich cultural heritage of Ghana's music scene.

The Kalabashi Concert marks George Mensah Essilfie’s grand return to his home country after an extended period of international performances and collaborations, and the concert is expected to be a celebration of Ghanaian music and creativity.

The Harmonious Chorale Ghana, known for their impeccable vocal harmonies and soul-stirring performances, will lend their exceptional talents to bring “Songs of Akotam” to life on stage.

The musical, which will be staged in an African traditional setting, promises to transport an audience on an exciting trip by fusing beautiful melodies, potent storytelling and dynamic choreography.

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It is anticipated that George Mensah Essilfie's distinctive musical style, which is firmly anchored in Ghanaian traditions and infused with modern elements, will provide a harmonious blend that will speak to audiences of all ages.

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