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Ghana's Concert Party Theatre

Catherine M. Cole

Publication Year: 2001

Ghana's Concert Party Theatre

Catherine M. Cole

An engaging history of Ghana's enormously popular concert party theatre.

"... succeeds in conveying the exciting and fascinating character of the concert party genre, as well as showing clearly how this material can be used to rethink a number of contemporary theoretical themes and issues." -- Karin Barber

Under colonial rule, the first concert party practitioners brought their comic variety shows to audiences throughout what was then the British Gold Coast colony. As social and political circumstances shifted through the colonial period and early years of Ghanaian independence, concert party actors demonstrated a remarkable responsiveness to changing social roles and volatile political situations as they continued to stage this extremely popular form of entertainment. Drawing on her participation as an actress in concert party performances, oral histories of performers, and archival research, Catherine M. Cole traces the history and development of Ghana's concert party tradition. She shows how concert parties combined an eclectic array of cultural influences, adapting characters and songs from American movies, popular British ballads, and local story-telling traditions into a spirited blend of comedy and social commentary. Actors in blackface, inspired by Al Jolson, and female impersonators dramatized the aspirations, experiences, and frustrations of their audiences. Cole's extensive and lively look into Ghana's concert party provides a unique perspective on the complex experience of British colonial domination, the postcolonial quest for national identity, and the dynamic processes of cultural appropriation and social change. This book will be essential reading for scholars and students of African performance, theatre, and popular culture.

Catherine M. Cole is Assistant Professor in the Department of Dramatic Art at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She has published numerous articles on African theatre and has collaborated with filmmaker Kwame Braun on "passing girl; riverside," a video essay on the ethical dilemmas of visual anthropology.

June 2001
256 pages, 26 b&w photos, 3 maps, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4, notes, bibl., index
cloth 0-253-33845-X $49.95 L /

Published by: Indiana University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Without the generosity of Ghanaians artists who shared their knowledge about the history, practices, and cultural significance of the concert party, this project would not have been possible. Several performance groups were particularly instrumental to my research, including the Adehyeman Concert Party, the Jaguar Jokers, Kakaiku’s Concert Party, the Kumapim Royals, and the members of...

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Note on Orthography

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pp. xi-xii

The Akan language of Ghana has several dialects, two of which feature prominently in the concert party’s history: Fante and Asante Twi. The most authoritative Akan dictionary is J. G. Christaller’s Dictionary of the Asante and Fante Language, first published in 1881 and later revised in 1933. Orthography and spelling of Akan have changed in recent years, as the language is still in the process of standardization. Thus, for advice on...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-16

The Ghanaian concert party is a form of traveling popular theatre that is a tradition of twentieth-century West Africa. Beginning in the 1920s, African actors trekked the length and breadth of the British colony then known as the Gold Coast, performing comic variety shows that combined an eclectic array of cultural influences. Performers appropriated material from American movies, Latin gramophone records, African American spirituals, Ghanaian asafo, and “highlife” songs.1 They wore minstrel makeup inspired...

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2. Reading Blackface in West Africa [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 17-52

I first encountered the Ghanaian concert party in the Northwestern University library in 1992. It was there I found Efua Sutherland’s small booklet The Original Bob, a biography of the famous concert party actor Bob Johnson (1970). On the cover was a picture of Johnson in top hat and tails, wearing a plaid tie, his beaming smile broadly painted in white, his hands extended outward at his sides: a...

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“The Rowdy Lot Created the Usual Disturbance”

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pp. 53-77

Akan culture is highly performative and has long been so. Some Akan performance modes such as Ananse storytelling, adowa dancing, and odwira festivals have deep historical roots, far predating the advent of colonial rule (Amegatcher 1968, 11–30; Lokko 1980; McCaskie 1995, 144–242; Nketia 1965). However, theatre as it is known in Europe and North America is a fairly recent innovation. Playwright Efua Sutherland claims that prior to the European presence...

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“Ohia Ma Adwennwen,”or “Use Your Gumption!”

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pp. 78-103

Whereas concerts from 1895 through the mid-1920s were consumed largely by Western-educated audiences residing in coastal cities, concerts from the 1930s onward attracted working-class audiences and farmers from coastal, inland, and northern areas. The most formative years for Ghana’s popular theatre were between 1927 and the end of World War II. It was during this period that Bob...

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Improvising Popular Traveling Theatre

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pp. 104-132

Concert parties occupy a nebulous position in Ghana’s cultural hierarchy. Lacking the prestige of scripted dramas written in English and the “authenticity” of so-called traditional cultural practices such as odwira festivals or adowa dancing, concert parties fall into that vast, amorphous terrain of African popular culture that has fallen outside the purview of dominant cultural paradigms (Barber 1987, 1997). The concert party’s historical roots in cultural syncretism are in part...

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“This Is Actually a Good Interpretation of Modern Civilization”

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pp. 133-158

For West Africa in general and colonial Ghana in particular, World War II was a watershed experience. The war stimulated capital and administrative development, increased communication, and exposed Africans to other parts of the continent and the world. Perhaps the most dramatic and least quantifiable outcome of the war was the extent to which it revolutionized the social imaginary, the ways in which individuals conceptualized the larger collectives and communities...

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pp. 159-162

Though my study stops in the mid-1960s, the concert party continued through subsequent decades and was still active, if not thriving, in the mid-1990s when I did my research. The 1970s and 1980s saw an increase in the number of women in concert parties, and highlife music continued to dominate, for no troupe could be successful without a good band. The late 1970s were a particularly rough time for concert troupes. Political instability, drought, and famine took a toll...


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pp. 163-172


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pp. 173-186


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pp. 187-198

E-ISBN-13: 9780253108982
E-ISBN-10: 0253108985
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253338457

Page Count: 216
Illustrations: 26 b&w photos, 3 maps, 1 bibliog., 1 index
Publication Year: 2001