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  • Voices of Ghana: Literary Contributions to the Ghana Broadcasting System, 1955–57 ed. by Victoria Ellen Smith
  • Jesse Weaver Shipley
Victoria Ellen Smith, ed., Voices of Ghana: Literary Contributions to the Ghana Broadcasting System, 1955–57. London: James Currey, 2018. 296 pp

Voices of Ghana: Literary Contributions to the Ghana Broadcasting System, 1955–57 was first published in 1958, a year after Ghana's independence from British rule. The collection was put together by Henry Swanzy—an Anglo-Irish radio producer who had a long career in the BBC's General Overseas Service, where he worked to foster the careers of numerous globally significant writers. The book reveals how, in the lead-up to independence, Ghana's first leader, Kwame Nkrumah, remade colonial media, and radio in particular, to foster strong national and pan-African sentiments. At the time of its first publication, it was a groundbreaking volume highlighting how verse and prose had created a multilingual national voice. Indeed, in a review published at the time in International Affairs, C. E. Carrington noted that the volume marked "the first appearance of a Ghanaian national literature." To commemorate the anthology's 60th anniversary, historian Victoria Ellen Smith has produced a meticulously annotated scholarly edition of the original volume and written a comprehensive introduction.

This new edition resituates original poetry, plays, stories, and essays by some of Ghana's literary and creative giants, including J. H. K. Nketia, Efua Sutherland, Richard Bentil, Kwesi Brew, Frank Parkes, Cameron Duodu, and Amu Djoleto, within contemporary debates about the importance not just of print culture, but also of broadcast media in constructing national and pan-African imaginaries. In this sense, the volume shows how radio, performance, and literary genres were mutually constitutive in independence-era African nations. Broadcast radio fosters and legitimizes new genres of theater and literature, and creates platforms for new artists to become nationally recognized figures. The collection of authors reveals the logic of culture in Nkrumah's Ghana, in which creative artistry was linked to scholarly research on various sociohistorical expressive traditions. Research into established genres, styles, [End Page 230] and technologies, in turn, shaped Ghana's rising national artistry broadcast over the airwaves.

Smith's introduction contextualizes the collection of original texts as not simply examples of vibrant creative work but as emblems of rising voices that would shape a national conversation. She details the early history of radio in Ghana as a medium of creative expression and traces the development of its technological infrastructures, the cultural life of working in radio in independence-era Ghana, and the cultural-political logics that link the oral medium of broadcast radio to other written and performance genres.

The volume's sections reflect the logic of culture that underlay the new nation and shaped how Ghana Broadcasting organized its programming. The book is divided into urban and countryside and by the languages Ga-Dangbe, Twi, Fante, Ewe, Dagbane, and Hausa, reflecting the different services and departments of Ghana Broadcasting. Nkrumah argued that the various linguistic and cultural traditions of the new nation needed to be showcased together to show the unity in linguistic and performance diversity. Radio broadcasting has been key to shaping a national voice by linking dispersed, rising publics of rural and urban listeners.

The authors demonstrate the complex ways that notions of modern creative art and traditional culture are intertwined in the making of a Ghanaian national voice. The work of the recently deceased poet Atukwei Okai, who wrote the foreword to the new edition, demonstrates this, as he was someone who came to national recognition through the radio. He had a passion for the oral poetic traditions of West Africa. He went on to study literature and poetry in Russia and upon his return to Ghana became one of its leading poets, a radical politician, and a staunch pan-Africanist. The thrust of this edited volume is perhaps best exemplified by the work of composer and ethnomusicologist J. H. K. Nketia, author of the volume's first piece. Nketia conducted research on music, dance, and other theatrical forms across the subregion. He recorded and analyzed multiple styles of music and performance as a way to understand...


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