I am not a love person: Spoken word in Ghana

Published 28 July 2012 – The Mirror, Ghana

“I am not a love person”, says Black. “I’m not into love poems. I don’t know how to write a love poem.”

As the co-ordinator of Elhalakasa, Quaye Kojo Benedict (or ‘Black’ as he is known on stage) lives and breathes poetry. But he gets frustrated when people assume poetry can only be about love.

Poems can be about anything from clothes to black power, a traumatic event, politics, or anything from our everyday lives, he says. It’s all just about expressing whatever pops into your head.

He is so passionate about it that he founded a regular spoken word night where you can do just that. Its name is Elhalakasa.

“Elhalakasa is a straight talk, straight philosophy, poetry and music,” he says. Every last Sunday of the month, a group of writers, poets, musicians and lovers of words come together to perform, listen and enjoy other people’s work.

The name is made up of three local words put together – ‘Eha’ comes from the Ewe word for ‘song’, ‘La’ is Ga for ‘to sing’, and Kasa means ‘talk’ in Twi.

“Elhalakasa is performance art – if you want to do spoken word, want to sing, want to act, say proverbs or whatever, you do it creatively.” he says. “Poetry has a new name in Ghana and it is Elhalakasa.”

The event is open to any one to perform – new writers and first time poets share the stage with more established artists. It’s all just a chance to practice and have your work heard.

When you think about poetry, you usually think of reading silently to yourself from a book. But Elhalakasa gives writers the chance to speak their work, and receive instant feedback from the audience.

“A lot of the guys who started coming were not sure if they could get up on stage to perform… All they know is that they can write poems and that’s it.” says Black. “We have guys who have grown into real cool performers, just because they’ve seen other people do it.”

It’s also a chance to celebrate poetry and create greater awareness of the artform. Ghana has a long history of spoken word, but many do not realise it is still valuable. “We have really great men and women in this country who are doing good with poetry but they are only known internationally. In their own country they are not very recognized.” Elhalakasa creates a place for young up and coming poets to practise and grow their art.

If you’d like to find out more, Elhalakasa is on this Sunday night (and the last Sunday of every month) at the Nubuke Foundation in East Legon, or the Pan African Writers Association organizes an event on the first Sunday of the month in Roman Ridge.

Illustrating Children’s Books: Ghana

Published July 2012 The Mirror, Ghana

There is something special about a book you remember from childhood. The story is enchanting, and some can still recite entire books they loved as kids. But often it is the pictures which remain firmly in your memory – the colours, the lines and the faces which helped to shape your understanding of the world.

With this in mind, the Golden Baobob Literature Prize, along with the Ghana chapter of the International Board of Books for Young People have partnered to create a 9 day workshop in children’s illustration, beginning this Thursday.

“Children’s illustrations are important because they help children to develop”, says co-founder of Golden Baobob Deborah Ahenkorah. “They draw a child into that world.”

Book illustrations are instrumental to a child’s enjoyment of a book, but little is being done to train and encourage young illustrators, she says. “The children’s book illustration scene is uncharted territory for young artists,” she explains. This workshop will hopefully fill in this gap by supporting further learning in the profession.

The problem with the children’s book publishing industry currently, says Ahenkorah, is the lack of books coming from Africa. It’s important for children to read stories written in Africa, see images of people who look like them and stories centering on African themes. This in turn will encourage greater pride in who they are, she says. “Children are exposed to many harsh realities”, she says. “Books give children a respite from the world.”

Some of the best examples of children’s illustrations coming from this continent deal with distinctly African themes. In Niki Daley’s book Jamela’s Dress, the rich colours of the fabric shop are brought to life. And in Angela Christian’s book Kente for a King, illustrator Edmund Opare beautifully captures life in the village of Bonwire, as a tailor must weave a special kente for the king.

Hosting the workshop will be one of the giants of the children’s book publishing industry, Meshack Asare. He is the author of classic children’s books The Brassman’s Secret and Sosu’s Call, which was the winner of the UNESCO First Prize for Children’s and Young People’s Literature in the Service of Tolerance. With such prizes under his belt, he has a long-standing reputation as one of the industry’s most important players.

Enrolling in the workshop is a competitive process. Up-and-coming illustrators from all over the country have sent examples of their best work for consideration. Soon the top ten will be handpicked and given free enrolment to the workshop. Take notes of those names – these may just be the master illustrators of the future.

Image credit:  Eliza Wheeler for  9 Degrees North: The ABCs of Northern Ghana book