THE SPIRITUALITY OF AMANDZEBA’S MUSIC
Lang T. K. A. Nubuor
It is difficult to find simplicity in the complexity of a deep expression. And yet in Amandzeba we find a representation of this complex simplicity. For in his musical artistic expression he has a simple message of the need to recover what was lost in exchange for worthlessness. Africa exchanges its rich cultural usages for less-endowed Western cultural practices and this has to be reversed. This is very simple as it is straightforward.
But listen to how Amandzeba expresses it. He picks on Afotey. He then tells us that Afotey spills his entrails not just in exchange for cheap cotton (used in pillows) to fill his belly but also that this cotton is borrowed in the process of exchange. Afotey represents Africa. So, Africa empties itself of its rich or useful heritage and with nothing left in her she borrows a less useful foreign heritage to live on. In effect, Africa, rich as it is, now lives on borrowed existence.
To illustrate this, he cites the case of a Ga family where rather than the authentic Ga language the child is taught to speak it with borrowings from English. That child is at a loss when asked to go for a cup – this being expressed in Ga. The child’s handicap is that the Ga equivalent for cup has been replaced with a corrupted form of the English word; thus when the appropriate Ga word is used the child gets lost. He laments this, for, he considers Ga as the prime spiritual language.
These expressions are made at the Freedom Centre in Accra where we have the Monday Groove programme featuring Amandzeba’s (Nat Brew’s) music on the 9th of April 2012. If the previous week sees Rex Omar necodemously take his seat among the audience, this week Amandzeba takes his seat after handshakes with some possible acquaintances. He is not stable in his seat. He gets up now and again, going from one person to the other with smiles in pep talks. He burns hot.
But the Freedom Centre has its way of containing such heat without killing it. Kwesi Pratt picks the microphone and outlines the day’s programme at the 18.30 hour. Papa Yen opens with a poem on the State in its historical evolution within the Marxist paradigm. An Amandzeba song on Africa then follows to herald Kwesi Pratt’s Ogidigidi poem. JB Backagain comes in with his acoustic guitar-backed song in lamentation on violence in various theatres in Africa. Kofi Mawuta’s poem then flows.
Mawuta’s poem, beautifully rendered with an Ewe song to precede it, lightens the atmosphere only for Kwesi Pratt to return with his second poem on the gun that kills everybody. Mandela receives a standing ovation from an elderly lady when he explodes with his poem Let Him Go in apparent reference to the irritating founder of a political party. An Amandzeba song on the need for environmental cleanliness and more softens the heat only for Papa Yen’s The Havoc of Homosexuals to refocus attention on the politicians.
At this stage of the evening Amandzeba, who visibly enjoys the poems and applauds the poets, achieves his cool and Kwesi Pratt’s last poem My Poem ushers him to the microphone. Donned in a black hat over a long white African shirt, Amandzeba, wearing a constant smile, has on his chest a portrait of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. In a 20 minute exposition he takes the audience, who fill the hall to capacity despite the Easter Monday holiday celebrations, through his sojourn in Jerusalem, Jericho and other places in Israel.
One thing is clear about his invited visit. It confirms to him that the great prophets in the Bible are undoubtedly of the Black race. He observes something of interest about a portrait of one of the prophets presented as a Caucasian with black feet. He thinks the artist consciously does what he does in reaction to the falsification of the racial status of the great prophets – that is, to expose the falsification. Amandzeba has other reasons that reinforce this conception of the Black racial status of the prophets and later, while seated, shouts out that Jesus was Black.
He says that the Hebrew language contains some words that can be found in the Ga language with the same meaning. He gives examples which include one in Fanti. This gives him grounds to believe in the claim that the Ga originate from Israel and that in fact Ga is the prime language in spirituality. Amandzeba says that during his next appearance, and that will be expressly for the purpose, he will expatiate on these claims. Certainly, he does not yet give the details. But he is strong in his conviction. Here he strikes the string and powerfully sings his song in Ga on the Ga journey from Israel through Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. It is all secular research-based faith.
That is where spirituality and religiosity mark different worlds in Amandzeba’s expression of his music. In fact, it is not religion, he says, but spirituality that inspires his music. This spirituality is founded in the Ga language as the prime spiritual language. Asked whether he consciously chooses Ga for his music he says something to the contrary: his music is first written in English before being translated into either Ga or Fanti or Hausa. There is an area that needs to be clarified to establish the connection between the inspirational basis of his music in spirituality and the use of Ga as the prime language in spirituality. The use of English to mediate the connection is problematic. Why is the connection not direct?
Certainly, the means that Amandzeba employs in his use of English as the primary writing vehicle creates difficulties for the claim of Ga being the primary language in spirituality. This is not an objection but as said a difficulty that he needs to explain during his subsequent appearances at the Centre. Of course, he explains that due to colonialism English is his primary writing vehicle. That appeals to secularity, not spirituality. The explanation is required to remain in the realm of spirituality. If the music is inspired of spirituality then its medium of expression can only be situate in spirituality. By his terms, Ga is that medium since it is spiritual. How then does English, a secular language, come into the realm of spirituality to mediate? Deep matters.
We are aware that in the Aneho area of Togo the language of communication employed by the possessed ‘traditional’ priest is Ga although normally they do not understand or speak Ga. This makes Ga the prime language of expression in spirituality. It is from this linguistic base that a message is communicated to the audience in their ‘mundane’ language (Ewe) but not the other way round. We are anxious to point out that in the realm of spirituality messages are communicated in a specific ‘spiritual’ language which is then translated into the ‘mundane’. The reverse is denied. Hence, for Ga to be a ‘spiritual’ language no other language translates a message into it but rather out of it. It gives out but does not receive. Remember the Pentecost?
In other words, for Amandzeba, whose ‘spiritual’ language is Ga, the messages (lyrics) of his songs can only come to him in Ga if they are to come from God, as he says they do. Only after that can he translate them into English. If he says, however, that he gets his messages in English and then translates them into Ga then it is English that should be his ‘spiritual’ language while Ga settles as ‘mundane’ language. The consequences of this can be far-reaching. Firstly, it suggests that Ga is not a universal ‘spiritual’ language since messages received in other languages are translatable into it. Secondly, other languages can be ‘spiritual’ languages since they can receive messages translatable into Ga.
On the Day of Pentecost messages in other languages translatable into Hebrew are received. If Ga derives from Hebrew or vice versa, as Amandzeba observes, then the event on the Day of Pentecost – when Hebrew becomes a recipient but not a giver of messages – yes, that event shows that if even Ga is a prime language in spirituality that does not accord it any special advantage. Nevertheless the knowledge of Black strategic presence in Israel and biblical times is of great importance for the reconstruction and recovery of the history of Black civilization. For, the suppression as well as the falsification of that history creates this inferiority complex in the African such that it is lived in a way that reduces them to gapping sycophants and imitators.
This is where Kofi Mawuta comes in to put the question to the audience whether they will accept Jesus should he return today and happens to be a Black man. From his seat among the audience Amandzeba exclaims ‘He is!’ in response to that conditional interrogation. But all else appear nervously indecisive in their response as one hears sounds like that of the blinking idiot in that literary verse located in Shakespeare. To think that that audience is fairly representative of the crème de la crème of progressive African thought such indecisiveness illustrates how far the de-colonized mind is yet to travel out of its nominal independence into a truly liberated person capable of facing the other race with the confidence that comes of a consciousness of presumed equality.
Before Mawuta puts the question, Amandzeba’s song on the Ga journey from Israel heralds him as if it were a prelude to raising the more important question of how much longer the journey forward is to take to reach our destination. We have a long way to go. But the shortest route is not the cultural route of mind-cleansing to precede this political domination of the African mind but the political liberation and unification of Africa and Africans as the prelude for our total emancipation. The contributions of progressive artistes like Amandzeba sustain in our mind the necessity of this political engagement. To sit there reading books only and pretending that we are ‘doing’ revolution is even more serious than the act of the ostrich with exposed scrotum.
As these weighty matters make demands on our minds we require moments to relieve ourselves of stress. Thus after Kofi Mawuta’s mentally demanding interrogation Kwesi Pratt steps in with two jokes. Listen to the first which feminists may wrongly fume about: a white man normally lives a quiet life in the vicinity of Accra Girls High School. He goes to church regularly on Sundays and gets back home quietly. But on this particular Sunday he returns home in a buoyant mood, lifts his wife in the air while he sings songs of praise. Those who are surprised by the change ask for an explanation. He then explains that at church everybody is asked to carry their problems on their heads when they get back home and sing songs of praise.
Deep matters can only end on such notes.
April 10, 2012