Three wise men: In memory of Francis L. Bartels, K.B. Asante, and Prof Kwabena Nketia

BY: Anish Affar
 Prof. Kwabena Nketia
Prof. Kwabena Nketia

The American poet, Walt Whitman [1819 -1891], is noted to have said that “The whole theory of the universe is directed unerringly to one single individual – namely to You.”

And I may reiterate that since no man is an island it pays to identify certain mentors for leverage so that one’s singularity is stretched in exponential doses for effect.

Of purpose and mentors

There’s something about human behaviour in how people tend to unconsciously retard their own growth.

Once they reach a certain age, or attain a certain qualification and position, they begin to subsist in comfort zones.

They stop learning and their minds continue to run on idle.

They may progress at work; they may be eager and mean well; but they learn no more!

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It helps to seek meaning in life, to seek a sense of purpose, to seek that which drives one daily.

However, more significantly, one needs to feel the experience of being alive, to feel the rapture of aliveness.

The ultimate is to live for a purpose larger than one’s measly self.

For spiritual and emotional guidance, then, we need to beg, borrow, and banter – but by all means we need to have in life an inspirer, one who provides a leverage – the one you escape to for a polar compass for growth, by their examples.

On that note, I’m humbled to cite these three key mentors:

 Francis L. Bartels

Francis L. Bartels

Once, the dais with him [in his 90’s or so] as he was escorted to the microphone to deliver a speech at Mfantsipim School, Cape Coast, he had his second daughter, Carlien, ask me to come stand behind him so that were he to fall, I’d catch him.

These reminiscences bring tears to my eyes.

At another time, delivering a speech at the Methodist University College, Accra [where he spoke in English and translated the remarks in Fanti] he asked me to escort him to the washroom.

On the way he stopped, looked me, and said, “Haffar (he always called me by my last name) … I don’t want to fall.

I have a metal rod in my back that supports my spine.” I loved the grand old man heartily. He was everything to me.

I remember Mr Bartels inviting me to write a paper to deliver on his behalf to celebrate his 100th birthday at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Accra.

He was in Paris at the time. He said assuredly to loosen my grip on fear, “You know me!” and, for guidance, directed me to a chapter, “Build your monuments in the hearts of men”, in one of his books.

For Bartels, “Strongly incorrupt institutions are the key factor for development and growth along [with] an increasing number of men and women who prize honour and integrity above the external advantages of rank and wealth.”

He lived by that code and raised his students at Mfantsipim the same way, including notably Kofi Annan, Dr Francis Poku, Dr A. Arkutu, and many others.

K.B. Asante

I recall K.B. Asante [during the 25th Anniversary Seminar of Faith Montessori School in 2013 at the British Council] where Mrs Emma Amoo-Gottfried, the proprietor, asked me to escort him – then about 90 years old – to the dining area.

Holding his hand I noticed how frail he had become. He took one uneasy step after another.

I could truly appreciate a great man still alive to his commitment to the nation’s education.

He was a determined man, fearless, self-assured, and secured in his core. Such wonderful traits I learned to love about him.

As I said about him back in the day, you don’t choose a mentor by his shifting postures! Mr Asante’s conviction to speak his own truth reminded me of the daring French philosopher, Denis Diderot (1713 – 1784) who wrote: “I press myself; I wrest the truth from myself.

Then it seems to me that I have a gay soul, tranquil, honest and serene.”

I learned from Mr Asante that everyone has a genius, a potent spirit: but it lay latent, to be discovered to bloom through the clarity of purpose and persistence.

And what a reward for his life! His spirit served him well.

Prof. Kwabena Nketia

Prof. Nketia and his dear wife, Auntie Lily, were dear friends of my-wife-to-be and I way back in our student days when he taught music at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

In “A profile of Kwabena Nketia – Scholar and Music Educator”, the author, Eric A. Akrofi, noted the following about him: that since music is an integral part of social life in African communities teachers should treat it as such in classrooms in Africa and stop giving undue prestige or importance to elements of foreign Western cultures. The music of Africa – the music of the child’s home and environment – should be made the starting point of music education especially in primary schools in sub-Saharan Africa.

Music education should provide a link between the school and the community

For the great musicologist, “Folk music should be used as a basis for the musical education of children.

Music educators should have intimate knowledge of it.

Folk music cannot be studied in isolation, hence the need for an interdisciplinary study of it with movement, language, arts and crafts, and drama.

Music educators must be aware of the social dimension to music education – the study of music in terms of the context of society and the context of culture.”

With discerning mentors like these, what excuses do we need not to live the exemplary life?

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