Gyedu-Blay Ambolley: An Independent Ghana


Today, Ghana celebrates its independence. In 1957 led by Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the country peacefully separated from Britain. Nkrumah is a legendary figure on the continent, a man who dreamed of African unity. He helped other countries gain their independence over the course of the next few years, and promoted the continent’s rich heritage wherever he went. In his lecture at Red Bull Music Academy in 2011, the godfather of hiplife, Gyedu-Blay Ambolley, spoke about the day that his country became independent.

Ghana is a very beautiful country. The population is about 25 million now. Ghana became dominant because of our first president, Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, he was the one who put Ghana on the map. Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah had the chance to study in Europe, as well as travelling to America to study. When he came back to Ghana he brought with him pan-Africanism.

Back in the States there was already a revolution going on with Malcolm X and W.E.B. Du Bois, all of them. They were all speaking about the emancipation of the African people, so Kwame Nkrumah, when he came back to Ghana he brought the same concept back. When he came back we were under British rule at the time, and Kwame saw it fit that we became independent. We had our independence back in 1957.

The morning we heard Ghana had at long last obtained independence, jubilation was everywhere, in the city, the suburbs, everywhere, because the radios were pumping it out. [sings] Ghana, we now have freedom. I was at school at that time but they gave us the Ghanaian flag and all of us were waving. [sings] Ghana, we now have freedom. Ghana land of freedom. It was jubilation everywhere, everywhere. I remember at school when they gave us the flags, we went through the streets to a park where all of us met. The band started playing, playing the music of independence. I’ve never seen a day like that in my life, never, because what I have seen, everything was connected to the happiness of being independent.

W. E. B. Du Bois and Kwame Nkrumah in 1962 AP Photo

When we became independent in 1957 within a short period of about six, seven years, almost eight, nine, ten other African countries obtained their independence. Kwame Nkrumah invited them and taught them how to obtain their independence and that opened the door for Africa to be for Africans and for Europe to speak for Europeans and America to speak for Americans.

Kwame Nkrumah sent up-and-coming musicians away to England on scholarships to go and learn the rudiments of music and all that. When they came back they brought with them what they’d learned. When Kwame Nkrumah travelled anywhere he would go with traditional musicians, contemporary musicians, and he would tell them, “Play, and let them feel the African personality.” It was a huge time because Kwame Nkrumah was the only president out of Africa who put time into music, who travelled with musicians. He saw that we have a culture that is very, very strong that we don’t need to let pass away. He saw that.

People from the western world think Africa is a safari, jungle, no streets, no cars. Even when I went to America, some of the black people who had their own roots in Africa, when you talk about Africa, they’re, “Africa? Africa?” Because they’ve been told that Africa is a place of jungle. But that’s a disservice because Africa is the cradle of mankind. All the music we play in the world came from Africa. Any rhythm you want is in Africa. Africa has different kinds of ethnic groups and every group has its own form of music and rhythm. But what the western world – I’m talking about the disservice the western world has done to musicians coming from the western world – is that because they painted Africa as a jungle, the rhythmic side of the music has been neglected.

When I look at the music coming from the western world, they’re too much into playing scales, arpeggios, all that. The scales and the arpeggios you’re playing have to be based on a rhythm. If the rhythm isn’t there, it’s like the music you’re playing is hanging. Whatever you’re playing you’re doing wonderfully – you know your instruments and you play them perfectly well. But, if you come to Africa, that’s when your music will become complete, because the rhythms that will make you experiment with what you know and add it to what you have. It’s not yet done.

Save some money and see Africa yourself and come and mingle with African musicians, because there’s a lot to learn. Me, coming from Africa, when I went to America, there were so many things I didn’t know. Whatever I saw and learned in America, it helped me to be complete. This is what’s gonna make you complete. Until you come to Africa you’re never gonna be complete.

By Gyedu-Blay Ambolley on March 6, 2013

On a different note