Karl’s Chronicles Article 6 Creative Minds
It doesn’t take long or with much effort to soon discover the various forms of artistic temperament beavering across this highly creative land. Ghana possesses a varied mantelpiece of exhibits you would happily put on central display. From pottery to sculptures, textiles both in the famous Kenti & Adinkra cloths, figurines, carvings, baskets, and leather-work. I have chosen three creative minds within this whirlpool of talent, each with their own dynamics and personality.
Machinists – Cape Coast.
Standing in the shadows of the former post office and a stone’s throw from the white fortress of Cape Castle is Jam Rock Arts & Crafts. A small, unimposing blue and white open-sided shop, where mother and son, Felicia and Kweku have been producing a range of clothes and accessories for the past decade.
The fabrics, rich in detail and colour are purchased from the local markets in the Cape Coast. They are using a strong variety of patterns adhering to the African style. Each with their own meaning; is measured, cut and machined into an array of garments. Working quietly and methodically from a pair of old styled sewing machines located out front. Surrounded by a hanging collage of various pieces going through the stages. The slow whir of the machines sets a calming mantra as you wander amongst their work. A kaleidoscope of colours, patterns, and shapes with articles lined up along polished rails or hanging from individual hooks. Sports bags, children’s school backpacks, hoodies, shirts (long & short sleeve), skirts, sarongs, jumpsuits, straight dresses, gloves, shorts, bed sets, purses and cloth wallets, the list is impressive.
Kweku mentioned that a hoodie would take over a day to produce. You could not find them anywhere else as he was the only maker. An artist with such a different design on the standard hoodie, back home it could establish a new trend. Protective of his garment, Kweku kept them in the shadows away from prying eyes of nearby competition. Everything else could be done to order and ready within 24 hours. Kweku was working to fund his university studies for a Bachelor of Educational Arts. But as he humbly informed me, “We both work to put food on the table, to put the two younger children through school. My studies are not the only priority but simply a part of everything else.”
Kweku Tel: + 033 0555490369. On the very corner of Victoria Road close to the old post office and opposite the law courts. Access to the shop is by a line of circular concrete stepping stones.
The Artist – Kumasi.
Even from the care free actions of a small boy, Nambu Kofi Evans also known as Odiyifo, always knew he wanted to be an artist. Taking later employment as a waiter to help fund his four years of studies at Senior High College. He has been painting for ten years now, and Odiyifo has benefited from exhibiting some of his work in Germany. Obtaining that all-important exposure and becoming well known in the Kumasi art circle. He works from his small studio at Odiyifo Fine Art, the last shop on the left at the rear of the Anammere Fie, the Centre for National Culture in Kumasi.
Odiyifo is a tall, slim unassuming man of 33, wearing a black t-shirt, baseball cap, and glasses. Just like an artist, his clothes are caked in a palette of old paints. He even sold his last pair of trousers to a young American girl who wanted them framed. At the centre of the room is a short table crammed with bottles, tins, rollers, brushes, and opened pots of paints. An easel, supporting his current work in progress stands in the far corner next to the door. Canvases line walls both in and outside, spread over a second table and leaning like dominoes against the far wall. A giant wave about to break over a vulnerable boat below, traditional fishing boats moored in front of the ominous Cape castle, and a wide eyed child breaking into a yawn have become his own back drop.
Odiyifo paints mainly from the mind, but there are times when photographs play a crucial role in establishing the framework. Often the central theme becomes immersed in the backdrop of subtle patterns and colours. Odiyifo possesses a striking capability to capture human detail so realistically and yet respectfully. His influences come from many sources: landscapes, nature, people and animals. And from festivals and activities which he states, ‘Sometimes gives me a visual incentive, an emotion that becomes a feeling that I want to revive on canvas’.
The Musician – Lawra.
I move along a narrow footpath between shoulder high rows of maize and cassava. The morning is only just taking shape and somewhere within this lush green vegetation of the Kulabron district in Lawra, a cockerel is sounding in the day. In front of me, strides the looming figure of Adam Andee, self taught xylophone maker, player, and founder of the Lawra Xylophone Development Association. Wearing a faded pair of jeans and a vibrant locally made Fugu (tunic). We enter a corner building, one of four set round a small courtyard, a humble, partially open sided daub construction with a smoothed mud exterior under a corrugated tin roof. Four hens, half dozing sit along the wall, gracing us with a casual lethargic glance. A long sixteen key xylophone stands propped against the far wall, a selection of lehr (axes) and a saw hang close by. Various sized calabashes line the corners, amongst which, sits a basket of eggs.
Adam reaches across for a small wooden stool, pulls his long frame down into position and grabs a nearby bottle of oil and a rag. Leaning forward, his bald head almost obscures the sight of him working a little oil across the wooden slats. Glossing over their dullness into a colour more a tune to mahogany, whilst discussing the process of construction. The wood comes from the Liga tree and must be completely dried out before use, which makes the process during the rainy seasons, a slow arduous affair. The keys ranging from 8 to 18, (anything more would be difficult to play) are lined up in ranging order of size, with the largest keys rising to a greater incline. Hanging directly underneath are a series of differing sized calabashes which amplify the sound. (The sound can be influenced further by filling the calabashes with varied levels of water). All established within an intimate wooden frame where even the rope to hold it all together is made by the women here. Depending on the number of keys, the process takes roughly three to four days to complete with prices ranging from 500cd (£77) for eight keys up to 800cd (£124) for eighteen keys.
Adam throws away the oil rag, picks up a pair of batons whose tips are lined with tyre rubber and delves into a vigorous, passionate performance. A group of half clothed children soon appear behind me, shuffling and whispering. The room is full of music that taps across the docile hens and the sea of corn beyond.
Known as the Balafon in both Mali and Burkina Faso, the appearance and sound differs from Ghana. But musicians play from memory, performing at both celebrations and funerals. Here in Lawra, the Kobine (harvest) festival will commence around the first week of October. Lasting several days with dancing, drinking and naturally some performances of the Xylophone.
Adam Andee – Xylophone maker & player. Mob no: +233 05 44 07 39 62. Just off the Kulabron Road in Kulabron District behind the site of the weekly market.
Wa, 80km directly south of Lawra, is the capital of the Upper West Region. Shared taxis run between the two (17cd – 90mins) operating from the lorry park, central in both towns. It is possible (considering its far north location) to fly via Tamale to Lawra from Accra and Kumasi. OSA and SNIT both run buses from Accra, Kumasi and Tamale to Wa.
Both Wa and Lawra have a decent selection of accommodation options on offer. Any rickshaw / taxi driver will know. Places will fill up fast during the Kobine festival.
(To a wavering level, all three subjects have to be considered as partial advertisements. Though no fees were taken, no influence made on the finished article and no freebies presented. I felt it appropriate to promote their enterprises in reciprocation for their own time and help.)