The Ewe Heritage Defined (Part Six)
Philip Gbeho is best known for his composition of the Ghana National Anthem. He was born on Saturday, 14 January 1904 in Vodza, a fishing village in the suburb of Keta in the Volta Region. He attended the Keta Roman Catholic Boys School where he was introduced to the organ, which he learnt to play in a short time and even became a pupil organist until he left the school. His father, Doe Gbeho, was a fisherman. The mother, Ametowofa, of the Gadzekpo family, was a trader who was also reputed to have musical talents and was a leader of the female singers in the village drumming and dancing group. It is acknowledged that Philip Gbeho’s music was inherited from her. In January, 1925 he gained admission to the newly opened Achimota Teacher Training College in Accra. While studying to become a teacher, Philip Gbeho took advantage of the tremendous facilities that the college offered in music to upgrade his own knowledge and practice of music. He was essentially a pianist and violinist, both of which he excelled in because he developed his skills under the tutelage of expatriate teachers in Achimota College who were also very versatile in music. Philip Gbeho was also an accomplished indigenous musician, ever since childhood. He played nearly all the drums of the Ewe Agbadza orchestra as well as teach traditional Anlo songs. Achimota College encouraged the performance of traditional drumming and dancing from all parts of the country and so Philip Gbeho had the opportunity of keeping up with his indigenous music by performing and teaching it. Upon graduating as a teacher in December, 1929 Philip Gbeho returned to Keta to teach at the Roman Catholic Boys School. Since he was imbued with a strong passion for music he immediately resumed the role of organist at the St. Michaels Catholic Cathedral in Keta where he also founded the St. Cecilia’s Choir (which is still in existence) and brought it to an unusually high performance standard in the District. He also started an informal school of music in Keta which prepared students for the external examinations of London’s Victoria College of Music. Philip Gbeho’s indefatigable efforts in music in and around Keta caught the attention of the authorities of Achimota College who invited him in 1938, when an Assistant Music Master was needed, to teach music at Achimota College. He accepted and began a new career as a Music Master in the College in the same year. In 1949, Philip Gbeho was offered a one-year scholarship by the British Council to study for the Licentiate diploma at the Trinity College of Music in the United Kingdom. While studying in London, Philip Gbeho soon caught the attention of the cultural community of that city by holding frequent lectures and demonstration sessions on African, especially Gold Coast, music. His dancing group, made up essentially of West African students, soon became very popular and performed in many Halls, Parks and on British Television. Philip Gbeho also became a regular broadcaster on the BBC overseas radio programmes, especially the then very popular Calling West Africa programme. In 1950, Philip Gbeho was granted a Gold Coast government extension scholarship to continue to study at Trinity College of Music for the Graduate of Trinity College (GTCL) degree in music. Philip Gbeho continued simultaneously with his lectures, broadcasts and African music performances at various venues in London including the Artists International Centre in Piccadilly, the West African Students Union (WASU) Secretariat, Strawberry Hill College, the Royal Empire Society, Royal Geographical Society Hall, and Royal Kew Gardens. At the same time, Philip Gbeho also took the exams of the Royal Academy of Music privately and earned himself the L.R.A.M in the teaching of music. Philip Gbeho returned to the Gold Coast upon graduation to resume the teaching of music at the Achimota Secondary School. By now, his imagination had been fired sufficiently by the cultural experiences in the United Kingdom to embark on a campaign to popularize indigenous music in schools and colleges all round the country, but especially in the missionary schools. He also became a strong advocate of the establishment of an Arts Council and the building of a National Theater. He also gave several talks on national Radio in which he led a renaissance in traditional music in face of obstacles placed in its way by colonial missionary overlords. On his return to Ghana from his studies abroad, Philip Gbeho dedicated his life to the teaching of music in Achimota School and, more importantly, to the reawakening of his countrymen and women about their cultural heritage, especially in music. He, together with his colleague teachers and friends like Ephraim Amu, fought hard to have the teaching of indigenous music inculcated n pupils especially in the first and second cycle schools. Even though this put him on a collision course with the Missions which associated indigenous music with pagan worship, he persevered in his bid to gain acceptability and respect for African music and culture generally. He also gave several talks on Radio Ghana on indigenous music and the need to preserve it. “Think well of these things” was the regular phrase with which he often concluded his broadcast. The broadcast helped in leading a renaissance in traditional music in a country that had been brainwashed by its colonial overlords to regard their own culture as Primitive. In the promotion of Ghanaian culture, Gbeho was very outstanding. When in 1954, the Government decided on setting up a statutory body to “foster, improve and preserve the traditional arts and culture of the Gold Coast”, Philip Gbeho was appointed the Chairman of the Interim-Committee for the Arts Council of the Gold Coast. The Committee through its regular arts and crafts exhibitions and regional festivals organized at Ho, Tamale and Cape Coast whipped up interest in Ghanaian culture. The first National Festival of the Arts took place in Accra in March 1957 – the week of Ghana’s independence. As part of the festival, 269 exhibitions were mounted from February 27 to March 9 at the Information Services Department show-room in Accra. A pageant which included the La Kpa dance of the Gas, the Akan Fontomfrom, the Yewe and Atsiagbekor of the Ewes, among other traditional dances, were also put up. Three other performances staged at the pageant depicted the installation of an Akan Chief, the Birth of Highlife music and a visit at the turn of the century of a District Commissioner. Two plays Zuchariah Fee in English and Papa Ye in Fante were also presented by two amateur groups. Over 15,000 people watched the cultural dancing and drumming performed by 500 artistes on the night of Ghana’s independence. Credit for the successful organization of the cultural events went to Gbeho, for he traveled all over the country to pick the best 500 dancers and the possible dances for presentation. The other notable contribution of Philip Gbeho to the music and cultural life of his country was the creation of a National Symphony Orchestra and Choir to promote the understanding and enjoyment of western classical music. On the eve of Ghana’s Independence celebrations, Philip Gbeho won an open competition to write the National Anthem for the newly independent Ghana. His composition remains the national anthem of Ghana until now. The music for the new anthem to replace God Bless the Queen which hitherto had been the country’s anthem was written by Philip Gbeho. His piece was one of numerous entries that had been presented to a National Anthem Selection Committee. Out of those entries, four were short listed and played regularly on radio for listeners to indicate their preferences. The choice was overwhelmingly in favour of Gbeho’s composition. The first stanza of his piece went as follows: Lord God our father we pray thee, Be thou our guide in all our ways: May we united together Proclaim the dawn of our new day. Children of Ghana! Arise and uphold your cause, And blaze the trail of freedom far and wide. Oh God our Father hearken to our call And grant us peace here in our Fatherland. The current lyric which has been in use since the 1970s was written by a student Michael Kwame Gbordzoe within the framework of a national competition. Thus, the lyric of Ghana’s National Anthem is as follows: God bless our homeland Ghana And make our nation great and strong, Bold to defend forever The cause of Freedom and of Right; Fill our hearts with true humility, Make us cherish fearless honesty, And help us to resist oppressors' rule With all our will and might for evermore. Hail to thy name, O Ghana, To thee we make our solemn vow: Steadfast to build together A nation strong in Unity; With our gifts of mind and strength of arm, Whether night or day, in the midst of storm, In ev'ry need, whate'er the call may be, To serve thee, Ghana, now and evermore. Raise high the flag of Ghana And one with Africa advance; Black star of hope and honour To all who thirst for liberty; Where the banner of Ghana freely flies, May the way to freedom truly lie; Arise, arise, O sons of Ghanaland, And under God march on for evermore! That the music of the National Anthem was composed by Gbeho was no surprise to his contemporaries, for he was indeed a man with music in his being …feet, hands and head. For Gbeho’s effort in establishing the Arts Council of Ghana and in appreciation of his contribution to the cultural development of the country, he was in 1965 honoured with the Grand Medal. In August 1972, the Arts Council of Ghana and the Ministry of Education added to his list of honours by presenting him with a plaque. The citation accompanying the plaque recounted Gbeho’s role in the interim committee of the Arts Council of Ghana and described him as the “Father of the present Arts Council of Ghana”. His role as Director of Music and Conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra also attracted praise in the citation. In his first broadcast as Chairman of the Arts Council of Ghana on April 26, 1954 Dr. Seth Cudjoe, who succeeded Philip Gbeho as chairman, paid the following tribute:I do not think the present generation will ever forget the inspiration and immediate response which the interim committee (of the Arts Council) engendered from the start. Nor do I believe that Philip Gbeho’s great enthusiasm, energy and strong personality will be forgotten when the cultural history of our country comes to be re-written. The achievement of the interim committee which he headed as chairman has laid the foundation on which the statutory Arts council of Ghana body cannot fail to build with success. For Gbeho’s effort in establishing the Arts Council of Ghana and in appreciation of his contribution to the cultural development of the country, he was in 1965 honoured with the Grand Medal. In August 1972, the Arts Council of Ghana and the Ministry of Education added to his list of honours by presenting him with a plaque. The citation accompanying the plaque recounts Gbeho’s role in the interim committee of the Arts Council of Ghana and describes him as the “Father of the present Arts Council of Ghana”. His role as Director of Music and Conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra also attracted praise in the citation. Geoffrey Mensah Amoah, the Director and leader of the National Symphony Orchestra, provides more about his former tutor and boss: Gbeho was a great conductor and leader of the group. Most memorable in his name is the collection he made of some popular highlife tunes and indigenous songs which he arranged for performance by the Orchestra and the Dance Company. In all he wrote out eight indigenous Yewe songs: Kondo Yi Yevuwo De Megboo, Miawo Mie Gbona Afegame, Enyo Enyo Nuto Yae Enyo, Aklie Do Gokame Tu Di Le Anago, Nuwo Za Medo O. It was also through his performance of G. F. Handel’s Messiah at the Holy Spirit Cathedral that many choir groups got to know that it was possible to perform the tune with orchestral accompaniment. Philip Gbeho died on 24 September 1976. He was married with seven children. Those still living include: Victor Gbeho (Diplomat and Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Fourth Republic), Theresa Abui Tetteh (Organist, Music Teacher and Director of the National Symphony Orchestra Ghana) and Peter Tsatsu (Director, Ministry of Information).
Source: Samuel Adjei Sarfo
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