Monday, December 17, 2007

A Day at Cape Coast Beach

By Ololade Adewuyi

(first published by Graphic Showbiz, Accra, Ghana 13 Dec, 2007)

Fisherman Eugene and colleagues pull fish from the sea in Cape Coast. Photo by Ololade Adewuyi

A quiet old town with small winding streets, Cape Coast lies on the Gulf of Guinea, about two hundred kilometres from Accra. It is dotted by a large number of hills which the residents have found as a good abode for their homes. A first time visitor to Cape Coast will be astounded by the many beautiful homes set on the hills.

The town has traditionally been a fishing community due to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. It also served as home for the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade with the many castles situated along its coastline being reminders of slavery’s cruel past. The most famous of them, the Cape Coast Castle, has become a World Heritage Site and a tourist attraction for many who throng its eerie slave cells daily.

But the town’s fishing community still thrives even to this day. Fishermen can be found at all times of the day dragging in nets filled with fish along the white sandy beaches of the town. Like egrets to grazing cattle, one can always find the pervading presence of fish mongers eagerly awaiting the next hoard of fish so they can go selling in the markets.

Cape Coast’s major market is located near the centre of town at a place called the London Bridge. It is so called because of the pride of place it held among the people during the colonial rule of the British. Near the London Bridge is the town’s symbol of a crab called Koto Kraba. It is to this market that all the fish, shrimps and crabs go to be sold to the town’s sea food restaurants and connoisseurs.

But the fish does come at a heavy price to its catchers. The fishermen spend more than twelve hours daily on the sea before making any considerable catch.

Fisherman John Dadzie, 36, spends all day on the sea setting his nets while his colleagues try to pull in the fish from the sea. He works six days a week and rests only on Tuesdays, a day considered a taboo by the Fante to go on the high seas. So he mends his nets. It is a folklore which has been made popular through a stage play titled The Lost Fishermen by Ghana’s foremost artist, the late Saka Acquaye. It tells of a group of men who set out for the high seas on a Tuesday and the trouble that befalls them.

Another fisherman who simply gave his name as Eugene is part of the group that pulls in the fish from the sea. He tells of how the fish have become rare to find these days, hence, the length of time spent at the shore. So when the fish don’t come to the shore they go after them.

“The fish no dey come so we take long here”, he told me matter of fact.

The men have to set their nets as early as 5 O’clock in the morning and wouldn’t be getting any fish until well past midday. It is a frustrating cycle for these men who have several dependants. Not least for the fish sellers who have to wait much longer than before for the fish to arrive.

Abigail Thompson, 22, is a seamstress but she comes out to help her mother buy fish from the men at the shore.

“Now we stay longer before we can sell at the market. The fish are scarce”, she complains.

When the fish is finally pulled in, a flurry of activity engulfs the beach. The many women who have been waiting to get their consignment and the more than two dozen men who have been pulling the nets all day all heave a sigh of relief. So too are the sea gulls that have been hovering all day to pounce on hapless fish through the broken parts of the nets. Everyone is happy to see the fish arrive on shore.

But the joy is short lived when it is apparent that the catch is little and the men have to throw back the eel caught into the sea. The sea has been milked dry of its most impressive assets in this part of the world.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

“West Side” is Music’s “Best Side”

West Side connection- P Square perform with Kweku T at Joy FM's Night with Stars. Photo by Ololade Adewuyi

By Ololade Adewuyi
(first published by Graphic Showbiz, Ghana on 6th Decemeber, 2007)

As he looked into the eager crowd, Paul Okoye, one half of the duo popularly known as P Square held the microphone to his mouth and told the audience in no mean words; “When I say West side, you say the best side, okay?”. Feeling he needed to make them realize the import of his words, he went on to regale them of some famous performers who had emerged from his new found idea of the West side, the west coast of Africa.

And as he mentioned the names of musical icons like Reggie Rockstone, 2 Face, Fela, Osibisa, Samini, VIP among many others, one could see the crowd light up with the excitement of knowing that all these people were West African products. Hence, when he next said “West side”, the capacity audience at Joy FM’s Night with Stars all screamed “the best side” in an attempt to pull down the roof of Accra’s International Conference Centre on that night of December 1.

It was a sentiment that melted the heart of the crowd as Nigeria’s P Square turned up the heat during their second ever performance in Ghana, home to a considerable number of their worldwide fan base. Their brand of Afro hip hop laced with Pidgin English has become quite popular since they released their first album Get Squared a few years back with the hit tracks Busy Body and Temptation becoming an anthem among young and old alike. Their rising profile has seen their latest album with the single Do me already selling upwards of two million copies since its release three weeks ago (according to artistes’ figures).

The almost identical twins, Peter and Paul, interestingly could not only sing but they had great choreographed dance steps as well. Armed with good looks and a great dance routine, they have wormed their way into hearts and homes with their quality music videos which are done by their brother, Jude who also doubles as manager. Talk about keeping all the money in the family!

The duo P Square is another addition to the incredible growth of West African music in recent years. They are adding their voice to a line up of music greats that have emerged from this side of Africa since after political independence in the middle of the last century. Though not claiming to be a music scholar, West Africa surely has produced some of the most profound musicians ever to come out of Africa. Names like Fela, Baba Mal, King Sunny Ade, Osibisa, E.T Mensah, Youssou Ndour, Angelique Kidjo, Prince Nico Mbarga, Lagbaja, Ismael Lo, Magic System, Femi, Daddy Lumba and so many others have become household names no matter the language divide all over the world.

In West Africa, music is a common ingredient of everyday life. It is the soul of our societies. No event is performed without the sound of music and drums accompanying it. From the ritual music of secret societies to the more popular rhythms of commercial singers, our music has evolved through time. Call it what you will, high life, soukous, juju, afro beat, hip life, afro hip hop, music has served in no mean way to keep our society sane.

From the home grown talents of Samini, 2 Face, D Banj, Tic Tac, KK Fosu, King Nee, P Square, Obrafour, etc to the Diasporan blends of Seal, Sade, BB Brew, Tunde Bayewu, Akon, Chamillionaire, Lemar, etc, it is obvious that West Africa is the home of quality singers, musicians and performers. Hence, it buttresses the point of branding West Africa as West Side if only one can remove that inner feeling of the realization that the phrase has been a part of the bigger American hip hop movement which is widely known for its gangster struggle for supremacy with the East Coast of the USA. A struggle which often turned violent and resulted in the untimely deaths of rappers Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace a.k.a Biggie Smalls.

West Africa has got a lot going for it in music at the moment with a lot of young people embracing the art and business of music production if only to see their videos shown on continental music channels MTV Base and Channel O as well as new entrants Soundcity. Superstardom beckons on so many with promises of good money no wonder the vibrant nature of the industry at the moment with artistes now making CD sales into the millions. But above all, good quality will stand out the best from the also ran, therefore, West Africa must continue to blaze the trail on the African continent with its unique musical traditions.

One looks forward to seeing greater collaborations between artistes of different countries of the sub region in the near future. Collaborations are one way of bringing cultures and singers closer to a wider audience. It was good to see P Square perform with Kweku T, Ghana’s representative at the recently concluded Big Brother Africa. It is the West Side connection already in progress.