REX OMAR AT CLOSE RANGE
Lang T.K.A. Nubuor
For the second time since 1978 when this author wrote his inaugural article, which was actually a rejoinder, in the Legon Observer he writes again this early hour of today, Tuesday the 3rd of April 2012, in the first person singular. Observing Rex Omar a few hours ago at the Freedom Centre yesterday, the 2nd instant, changes the pronoun from the first person plural to the first person singular. The occasion, dedicated to the music of Rex Omar, is responsible for this change in grammar. And it is my prayer never again to break this tradition, broken today only to celebrate Rex Omar…
There is anxiety in Kwesi Pratt’s voice as he appears in front of the Freedom Centre audience to apparently allay a possible uncertainty among that audience that Rex Omar might not turn up for the day’s Monday Groove – a moment of weekly revolutionary artistic expression in music, poetry and prose. It is past the advertised 18.00 hour. But then enters at the hour of 18.30 this slender man I had only watched on television screens being interviewed or in musical performance. Quietly and without ceremony, the never-aging Rex Omar sneaks into a chair among the audience. I spot him in spite of his necodemus entry style.
Papa Yen has just finished his first poem, not the one on the ostrich with an exposed scrotum. The Centre vibrates with Rex Omar’s music before then. With Omar’s entry, an elated and relieved Kwesi Pratt sets the ball rolling with a brief programme outline. Sitting a line behind Rex Omar but to the far right, I keep my gaze on the unassuming musician. I feel a little uncomfortable with the audience size and so keep watching him for possible signs of embarrassment. He appears not to feel what I feel. Possibly being experienced in such matters he seems to know that eventually all chairs will be taken. And so it is that all chairs, except the one to my right, are taken.
To herald Rex Omar’s taking the stage the DJ is asked to play one of his songs. Then I see him raise his hand in signal to Kwesi Pratt whose attention is a bit distracted. Omar then stands up to suggest that once he is around he prefers to perform live. I am relieved that the atmosphere of preceding poetry recitals works its magic and brings him into his elements. No shaking. From this point onward I reposition in my seat to enjoy this free night of professional and amateur renditions of African artistic expression. I focus on the political significance of the night. I check on the contribution of the night to African consciousness as opposed to Ghanaian consciousness.
One thing then strikes me as the night wears on. Rex Omar expresses the frustrations of the African artiste intent on expressing their Africanness and symbolizes the struggle of the African to find their way around the encircling gloom of imperialist and neo-colonial control of the media. His message-laden music is silenced by the media in preference to music heavily burdened with profane content. He refers to the multinational corporations’ profit-driven sponsorship of that profanity. Music expressive of lofty African concerns is simply suppressed. His music in the latter genre occasions big losses. But not so with Abiba which brings him to us.
I see the pain, and regret, well up in this undoubtedly great African musical icon as he speaks about the circumstances leading to the song that places him in the limelight – Abiba. He does not consider it his favourite although he concedes that it is rich in a combination of African rhythms. It is this combination, expressive of the Spirit of Africa, which gets the African across the continent on their feet. Certainly, without my understanding of the Twi lyrics, I used to play Abiba to get my clients populate the dancing floor while running my dancing bar in Lomé. It pulls the crowd whether the lyrics are accessible or not. For those who understand it, it is all regrets. One of the night’s performers, JB Backagain, recounts a similar experience in Abidjan.
This representation of the use of African resources – African rhythms and musicians in this context – to control and exploit the African is replicated in the use of the African elite (the comprador bourgeoisie) in the control and exploitation of the continent and the generality of its people. In the field of cultural expression the African is controlled as to their artistic content – the churning out of profanity and gibberish – profiting on the human propensity to sexual expression. In the field of the political economy the African is controlled as to the direction of development – the pressurizing of the African elite – looting the continent’s resources on the neo-colonial premise of illusive development in the unviable state, the neo-colonial state.
I observe the hard applause that Rex Omar gives to Kwesi Pratt’s fledgling poetry in its first part of two renditions expressing dedication to the anti-imperialist and anti-neo-colonialist resistance. Yes, I observe his smiles at that poetical recital. He rocks with laughter at Papa Yen’s anti-imperialist ostrich with exposed scrotum poem. So also does he applaud Nii Lantey’s anti-imperialist poetry. Oh, yes, Kofi Mawuta’s poem on the ‘madness’ in Accra rocks all of us, including Rex Omar. But when the latter comes to respond to questions from the floor he wears a serious countenance while he expresses his appreciation of Kwesi Pratt’s consistency in that resistance. In appreciation, Nana Yaa, the Ma’am Afrique, also dedicates her poem to Rex Omar.
So, at the close of proceedings I feel fulfilled that the Freedom Centre has enabled us to pay our respect to an African who is conscious of the need to play his role in the anti-imperialist and anti-neo-colonialist struggle of the African. Rex Omar, I cannot write a full appreciation of all you told us or mention everything you said. Let it suffice to say that we, I mean I, have taken note of all that said in words without the acoustic guitar or with the acoustic guitar. I know that the rest of the Freedom Centre audience likewise celebrates you. We are all now living in the expectation that Amanziba will be the next guest to be celebrated.
Progressive African artistes!