Ghana's Concert Party Theatre
Publication Year: 2001
Published by: Indiana University Press
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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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...
Note on Orthography
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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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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...
2. Reading Blackface in West Africa [Includes Image Plates]
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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...
“The Rowdy Lot Created the Usual Disturbance”
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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...
“Ohia Ma Adwennwen,”or “Use Your Gumption!”
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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...
Improvising Popular Traveling Theatre
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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...
“This Is Actually a Good Interpretation of Modern Civilization”
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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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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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Page Count: 216
Illustrations: 26 b&w photos, 3 maps, 1 bibliog., 1 index
Publication Year: 2001