Ghanaian Hip-Hop Hits the Bi-Co

Robin Riskin ’12 is the organizer of GMGE: Ghanaian Music//Global Entrepreneurship, a Tri-College symposium that ran March 21 through March 23. Here’s her report on the event:

For a moment last Friday night in Founders Great Hall, all the students were dancing azonto–a Ghanaian dance style that has recently become a global phenomenon–and 90% of them didn’t even know what it was. Paapa, a signed artist in Ghana and freshman student at Reed College in Oregon, was leading the crowd in an azonto remix of his song “Dear Grace.”

Paapa

After Paapa, Blitz the Ambassador–a world-renowned hip-hop artist from Accra now based in New York and Atlanta, whom Rolling Stone (Germany) has said “sounds like the future of African music”–seized the stage. Following Blitz, Founders grooved to the sounds of Derrick N. Ashong & Soulfège, D.C.-based artists/activists (Ashong is from Ghana) who blend hip-hop, highlife, reggae, funk and world beat into something they have dubbed “Afropolitan fusion.”

These are some of the most exciting and innovative artists coming from Ghana, and they visited Haverford and Bryn Mawr last week for the Tri-College symposium GMGE: Ghanaian Music//Global Entrepreneurship. The artists participated in a concert, screening and panel series that was supported by 20 departments from across the Tri-Co and run in partnership with the Haverford, Bryn Mawr and Tri-Co Africana Studies programs. The symposium was conceived to explore how these artists have harnessed the powers of new media and technology to create a global movement through music.

Blitz the Ambassador
Derrick N. Ashong & Soulfège

When I conceived GMGE, I didn’t quite realize what I was getting into. I’d organized a Ghanaian photo exhibition and panel the year before, following a Center for Peace and Global Citizenship (CPGC) summer internship in Ghana, but nothing of the scope of bringing world-famous artists for a three-day symposium across two colleges. At times, the stress and problems made me think I never should have started. But every time someone tells me how amazing the concert was, or how they downloaded Soulfège’s album, liked Paapa on Facebook, or got to hang out with Blitz while he was here, I feel it was all worth it.

A head committee of 17 Tri-Co students took the symposium in directions I had not even imagined: film, graphic design, digital media and musical exploration. Half of the students didn’t know anything about Ghanaian music before they got involved, but they were drawn to the global themes. The next thing I knew, they were coordinating PR efforts and arranging GMGE programs. The symposium offered opportunities for them to bring in their interests across disciplines.

When I first met with committee member Sam Fox ’14 during his shift at the music library, he suggested that GMGE should have a blog. I asked if he’d want to design it, but he said he didn’t have any experience. At the next committee meeting on the following Monday, he showed up with a whole website already created. The only thing it lacked was a banner, which Helen Farley ’14, another committee member, promptly designed.

Haverford Assistant Professor of Anthropology Jesse Shipley guided me throughout the process, serving as my faculty advisor on the symposium and moderating the panel with Blitz and Paapa. Screenings of Blitz’s “Native Sun,” and Boogie Down Nima’s “HomeGrown: HipLife in Ghana“ provided context and background to issues in Ghanaian music and global commerce. The program served as a point around which to discuss the community art program I helped to found on my second CPGC internship in Ghana last summer, Nima Muhinmanchi Art (NMA), of which Paapa is Creative Director.

(From left) Paapa, Blitz and moderator Jesse Shipley

The 360° class at Bryn Mawr participated in another panel with Soulfège upon their return from a spring break trip to Ghana. Tri-Co Digital Humanities prompted GMGE to live tweet and stream the panels to web, and to create a film, on which we are currently working. Friends from Ghana, New York, Atlanta and even Berlin were following GMGE, and these digital media outlets provided a way for them to participate.

I’m grateful for all the support I’ve received from sponsoring departments and participating individuals. I hope that the momentum continues, and that GMGE inspires underclassmen to continue to organize programs of their own in the future. But the next time, with a little more time. Maybe.

Robin Riskin '12, the event organizer.

 

All photos by Jonathan Yu ’12. Click here for more pictures.

Update 4/5/12: Read “Ghana musicians share faith, art” on PhillyTrib.com

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