It is definitely a gross understatement to assert that the recent, glorious passing of Mr. John William Hansen (aka Jerry Hansen) brings to closure, an epoch in which Ghanaian popular music epitomized the very best of contemporary dance-band and dance-hall music in postcolonial Africa (See “Ramblers’ Jerry Hansen, 85, Passes Away” (Ghanaweb.com 4/9/12).
Mr. Hansen’s band, Ramblers International, for me, more closely approximated the classical concept of a national band, in cultural nationalist parlance, than any other musical group before or since its emergence in 1961.
Of course, due cognizance is also taken of the remarkable contribution of such Highlife greats as Mr. E. T. Mensah, a pioneer in a class all by himself; Mr. Appiah-Agyekum, my homeboy and the first Ghanaian guitarist-composer to have his music broadcast by radio; Messrs. E. K. Nyame and Kwabena Okine; Messrs. P. S. K. Ampadu, Yamoah and Agyaaku…and the star-cast list goes on and on and on.
What made Jerry Hansen a stand-out from all the rest, however, had to do with his inimitable ability to capture and poetically distill cognitive and philosophical nuggets from major modern Ghanaian languages – in the main, Akan, Ga and Ewe, and also English – and to symphonically suit the same to what may properly be termed as the Big-Band Sound. On the latter score, of course, must be promptly recognized the majestic efforts of Mr. C. K. Mann and his famed Carousel 7; which also brings me to the paragraph that ought to have been the lead of this write-up, as it were.
And it is the nostalgic and, for me, painfully wistful, fact that in September 1971, when my now-deceased father left Ghana for advanced professional studies here in the United Stated – the University of Wisconsin at Madison, to be precise – the old man had in his suitcase, and by way of companionship, the LP vinyl albums of two giant Ghanaian musicians whom he thought he would miss the most.
And it almost goes without saying that the giants in question were Messrs. C. K. Mann and Jerry Hansen. I suppose some bit of this decision had to do with the fact of the old man having attended GSTS, Takoradi, when it was a technical teacher-training college, between 1948 and 1952. You see, the kind of dance acoustics orchestrated so masterfully by Messrs. Mann and Hansen has definitive roots in Ghana’s first commercial harbor township. For Highlife is also about cosmopolitan modernity, if the dear reader knows what I mean.
A remarkable musician in his own right, the old man had been fully convinced that Messrs. Hansen and Mann, unarguably represented the best of Haute Ghanaian Highlife. Those who knew him from his Institute of African Studies days at Legon or, properly speaking, his School of Music and Drama days, can readily attest to what I am talking about.
Anyway, until coming across his obituary on Ghanaweb.com several days ago, I had been wondering about the whereabouts of Jerry Hansen; I had also been of the quite mistaken impression that Mr. Hansen was a full-blooded Accra Boy of Ga stock who had, somehow, mastered the rhythmic idiom of classical Akan in much the same manner that the Polish-born nineteenth-century British novelist Mr. Joseph Conrad – of Heart of Darkness fame – had mastered the language of his adopted country to the enviable extent of easily becoming one of the greatest writers of the same.
And so, in a fervidly delightful sense, learning that, indeed, Mr. Hansen’s mother hailed from Asante-Bekwai, the very heart of AKANALAND, so to say, finally put all the proverbial puzzles together for me. On the latter score, I wouldn’t mind being accused and convicted of the “revolutionary” crime of Akan supremacy, and being barbarously dealt with the way of the three Ghanaian Supreme Court judges and the retired Ghana Army major. In other words, why can’t I express the same pride that the English express in any discussion bordering on the genius of Mr. William Shakespeare?
Not too long ago, a writer in this very forum – Ghanaweb.com – and other forums in which my writings are regularly featured, decided to put us Ghanaians of Akan descent in our place, as it were, by making a rather quixotic – to speak much less of the abjectly bizarre – special pleading for the cognitive and/or intellectual “super-prowess” of Ghanaians of Ewe cultural stock or lineage.
I was, of course, humored to no end; because had the “Anloga Don Quixote” been in possession of any remarkable knowledge regarding the epic extent of the geographical and geopolitical bounds of the Akan-Akwamu Empire at its apogee, he almost definitely would not have bitten far more than that poor young man could possibly chew. He almost definitely would have taken a very different ratiocinative tack. And for those of our readers who desire to know the cause/reason for the stereotypically visceral Anlo-Ewe hatred for the Akan, just about every Akan, by all means, don’t hesitate to fault the “petulant” and “bellicose” Akwamu.
`My one great regret, though, is having missed the prime opportunity to personally meet with Mr. Jerry Hansen sometime between 1979 and 1982, at the Anokyekrom of the Ghana National Cultural Center, Kumasi. My younger sister, Yaa Okoampa-Sykes, however, had that rare and prized privilege of relishing a Hansen performance at Anokyekrom.
In the absence of such epochal encounter, though, I have long, albeit wistfully, settled for the equally pleasurable ownership of several CDs containing such evergreen Hansen classics as “Yiadom Boakye,” “Ahomka Wo Mu,” “Ama Bonsu,” “Alorme Mano Kunaba Humolor,” “Gbele Yiwa” and “Lai Momo,” among a host of other Ramblers perennials.
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