Part Four Of The Ewe Heritage Defined
Dr. Ephraim K?ku Amu was born on 13th September, 1899 at Peki-Avetile in Ghana's Volta Region. He grew with a love for music and agriculture and also developed a strong interest in crafts and preaching. His father was a traditional drummer, singer and carver. He was a music teacher, teaching many of Ghana's pioneering highlife stars and music legends. He had particular interest in the instruments Atenteben - flute (for which he wrote music) and Seprewa. He was also very keen on writing music that reflects Ghana's native languages. In his compositions, he used various music genres to reflect the times, mostly highlife, pop, choral and Asafo music. Some of his famous songs include Fare thee well, Maw? d? na Yesu, Nkwagye Dwom, Dwonto, Yetu Osa, Israel Hene, Onipa da wo ho so and Yaanom Abibirimma, Yaa Amponsah. His most famous song is Yen ara asase ni (also known as Miade nyigba lolo la and Wo dientse wo shikpon ne) which has pretty much become a national song. There have been calls for it to be adapted as a national anthem as well. He was given an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Ghana for his services and contribution to Ghanaian music. He was instrumental in the building of the school of music in Legon. He also led a group from the school in Legon to play at the Lincoln Center in New York where he received a standing Miade Nyigba Lolo La Miade nyigba lolo la, enu wonye woafo asia Mia togbuiwo tso wofe agbe gbledeta xoe nami Edo nye kpliwo ha dzi be miawo miato sinu Nuvevie nyanya, didodo kple amedokui to didi Gble mia zoli hegble miade nyigba ale gbegbe Chorus Denyigba wo nyonyo, denyigba wo gbegble Alesi nele ko sigbe ko woano daa © Dr. Ephraim Amu Ephraim Amu’s fame in Ghana rested, in part, in his ability to rescue local songs from a stockpile of neglected native lore, and work them skillfully into new compositions. He pulled into the Akropong Presbyterian church a tremendous body of local songs built on different scales, rhythms, melodies, and harmonies such as the Adenkum (Fanti), Adowa (Asante), and others. An old song, Yaa Amponsa, happened to be one “naughty” example, but a fine piece of music that craved an empathetic advocacy and a new hearing. (It was a love story of a young man attempting to woo back an old flame). One may choose to call the lyrics of Yaa Amponsa a street song named desire, or a tantalizing ballad whose caresses possess teasing spasms. But Amu saw two possibilities about the revival of such songs into the church: one, once the lyrics were cleaned up, the tunes, the melodies and the rhythms were perfect for worship; and two, more gusto could be brought into church services in contrast to the flock’s aloofness with the imported hymns. Amu must have thought deeply about this particular leap. Finally, it happened. The new sanitized Yaa Amponsa which he taught his students made its debut on the grounds of Akropong Presbyterian Training College. The new version rippled steadily, and caught the delight of the neighbouring communities. It touched base with the freer days of highlife. The success of this effort nudged him on, and he re-introduced other familiar upbeat tunes into the church through the Akropong Church Singing Band which he led. Soon, the illiterate, timid, self-conscious congregations that had shied away from the foreign hymns, dropped each inhibition, put their own moments into the spotlight lifting up their hearts, guts and voices in triumphant hosannas. Had there been prizes for the best methods of proving Christianity to the masses, Amu would have won the awards “hands down” as the late dear Dan Lartey would say. Only an interfaith superstar could have achieved such successful crossovers. But you never know how people see things. As with most innovative causes, some sized up the situation cagily, and a time-bomb was planted. At the onset the European missionaries couldn’t tell the source of the congregation’s new vigour. But, the local pastors smelled a “rascal”. They got frightened by a false fire, took offence, and pronounced Amu’s songs and drums “heathen” and “pagan.” The “papists” set to work, mongering a rearguard action. What had started out benignly as a renaissance turned into a subliminal tussle over who’s afraid of Yaa Amponsa. Such was the attitude, dictated by small jealousies, perhaps, but also by a sincere conviction that Amu’s successes with the illiterate flock might turn asunder the church’s modus operandi. With the local clergy having re-defined themselves by excluding or demonizing their own culture, Amu’s net had cast grave suspicions on the purity of their own souls. But the new faith the pastors thought they were about to lose turned out to be rather like the loss of a hefty crate, which one discovers afterwards to have been full of scrap. The clergy wouldn’t care to look to see that Amu was merely “domesticating” church music, and that he wasn’t at war with Christianity. He was now not merely opposed, but the clergy warned him, and kept him at an arm’s length. But, like a karate contest where the opponent’s strength was used against him, the vilification motivated so much of Amu’s best works. Untamed and undeterred, he poured out from his muse song after song, notably, Onipa da wo ho so; Yaanom abibiri mma; Biakoye; and the epic - Yen ara asase ni - now regarded as a most appropriate national anthem for Ghana (played by GBC television to conclude nightly telecasts). Amu’s Yen ara asase ni served as the living metaphor for one nation, one people, in a covenant of loyalty, incorruptibility, diligence, progress, and love. Regardless, Amu’s ways at Akropong continued to be suspect. But to him, fads were slippery creatures; and imported fads that created lifelong dependency, were likely to be more slippery than most. To him, the by-heart copying of all things foreign were silver-lined absurdities he’d rather avoid (and hoped his compatriots would too), and stay African, pure and simple. Other rebellions lay in his way. He questioned the need for “the warm European clothes with starched collars and tightly knotted ties” worn by the so-called educated who should know the tropics better, and wondered why the elite saw nothing strange in the situation. So stuffed for church, he queried, how could priests lift up children in faith, and embrace them like Jesus, the great teacher himself? Given that the pastors could, understandably, not walk on water, nor convert water into wine, nor heal lepers, but the miracle of hugging little children they could perform; could they not? He asked yet again, why the learned lawyers and judges not appear professionally and comfortably in the local ntama at High Court, instead of the hectic cloaks and the monstrous wigs of medieval Europe? What sticks were the elites and the church waiting to part the seas with? The time was out of joint, and he was determined, a humble son of the local river, to set things right. His fame preceded him as one not about to be thrown off his freedom horse and be reshackled, and one who would not suffer his essence to be diluted by some holier-than-thou pranks. The large support he was gathering opened up a question for a sweeping survey of the country. He thought aloud that while the local elites looked to bourgeois Europe for their religious and social examples, the threads of native wisdom could knit the Gold Coast together. One good day, sporting a defiant spirit, he mounted the pulpit modeling a Kente cloth and a jumper, against the backdrop of a ready choir with native fire in its belly. With such a delicate provocation, he placed the podium close to the nearest exit, with his good foot by the door. He wasn’t about to suffer a papal ambush. Like a Biblical prophet in the fashion of Isaiah, his admonitions and posture were spreading out like burning bushes. Amu qualified for ordination into the church, but his “devil” image was the African dress in the pulpit, and the “heathen” songs and drums in his heart. The Synod committee, the highest Presbyterian court in the land, cautioned him, and coolly gave him time to go figure the risks. This was a monopoly, they warned, and not a game two sides could play. Amu was now too conspicuous for brawny egos to ignore, and way past prayers. His begotten ways and means peeved the tougher patriarchs. But his mind was well mapped: faced with a thorny dilemma where the flock were either bludgeoned into believing or bullied into disbelieving, he opted for a simpler medium, namely “domesticating” the church on his terms. His full poetic substance was reserved for posterity. Cast upon the waters years ago, this idea has today come home to roost like a prophesy, and pastor-preneurs are cashing in with relish. What could he compare the clergy of his generation to? He played their songs, they didn’t dance. He sang a dirge, and they didn’t mourn. As for the Gold Coast Presbyterian church, her flock had tasted forbidden songs, and lost their innocence. The synod was decided. They had come to the very point in a temptation trial where Amu must now quit. And to quit, he refused. To Amu the African culture needed resurrection, and he was prepared to be crucified for it. And nailed he was! In the crowning irony, Amu was sacked (in 1933) in a letter signed, Your brother in Christ. It was said that the reasons piled in the note were absurd enough to make a grown man cry. Stormy protests were raised but to no avail. But, after Amu, it took three new tutors to fill his shoes at Akropong: single-handedly he had taught music, religion, (the feed-yourself-type) agriculture, and Ewe. He had come out of the squabble with greater pride. It was hard not to know who was in a sorrier state. Merit - like water - finds its own level, though it may have to meander through rugged loops before it settles. His flame did not flicker out. Vaster doors began to open up. Before he had left Akropong following the dismissal, and without applying for a job, Rev A.G. Fraser of Achimota College snatched him up, “You may come as soon as you can.” One man’s poison had become another man’s venison. The sparks flew out and lit a brighter horizon. The Reverend Robert W. Stopford later assigned Amu to build a music school there, perhaps an earlier (1920) dream of Governor Gordon F. Guggisberg. At Achimota, Amu found a ready school poised with resources and privileges. Taking a grip of the new turf, he continued to advance his bold world of African music. Somehow it was not only natural but ordained that the man and his quests be joined together as one. He was about 35 years young and, as if by a covenant, another 60 years lay at his feet. As it was, (to mimic the eminent Lytton Strachey) being born in the baby years of the last century, coming to maturity within a humble Christian environment, and living long enough to witness the victories of science and technology, yet Amu, strangely enough, seemed to revive in his own person, in his own initiatives, and never needed to pull rank. Western acquired vanity make no impressions whatsoever on him. Ephraim Amu entered his village in his sleep, Monday 2nd January 1995, at age 95. In considering his legacy, the title of one of his Twi songs served as a sacred epitaph: Meko makoda na mada preko; I will rest in peace. The biography - Amu, The African: A study in vision and courage - by Fred Agyemang, published by Asempa Publishers (1988), is a must read. The late Mr Agyemang, a former director of the Ghana Institute of Journalism, has provided leads to revive the essence of this amazing Ghanaian teacher. It always causes shivers to hear the Winneba Youth Choir, and others, do justice to Amu’s compositions, especially, Yen ara asase ni, the very symbol of Ghana’s spiritual future.
Source: Samuel Adjei Sarfo
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