FOKN BOIS: The FOKN Interview

by AIGERIM SAPAROVA | photos by MANTSE ARYEEQUAYE

[Double-click on images to enlarge]

the FOKN BOIS at home in Accra | April 2013

the FOKN BOIS at home in Accra | April 2013

If you’re ever lucky enough to meet Ghana’s very own FOKN BOIS aka Foes of Kwame Nkrumah, you’d immediately know one thing: they are both a bit bizarre. Not the deranged, repulsive kind of bizarre. More like a magnetic and high-energy hypnotic that comes from the MCs’ fearless humor.

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For EVER YOUNG: The Iconic Photography of James Barnor

JAMES BARNOR by Jei Tootle Photography

Ghana’s most prolific photographer, James Barnor, has captured images that detail more than sixty years of significant historical moments. His subjects include the country’s leaders (Kwame Nkrumah, Jerry Rawlings + A.Q.A. Acheampong), world prizefighters (Muhammad Ali + Adjetey Sowah), pop culture starlets (Marie Hallowi + Erlin Ibreck), and plain old regular folk.

Barnor’s immortalizing imagery of everyday people culls the magic from the mundane. He shows us the striking dignity, confident awareness and rippling pleasure of those being photographed.

Barnor not only opened Ghana’s first color photo lab, Ever Young in James Town (the center of historic Accra) but he went on to travel the world as a photographer with Drum Magazine, the leading African culture publication of the 1950s + 1960s.

Barnor’s images of a nation in transition – from colonization to independence – provide a mesmerizing blueprint of the possibilities of human experience. And his distinct cinematic vision pushes Ghanaian photographers to contribute brave new work to an unfolding national archive.

Here Barnor shares his Ever Young story  (via Nowness) :

So in 1950, aged 21, I rented a small shop in James Town in Accra and opened a studio and dark room. I painted the signboard myself––I named it EVER YOUNG, after a story I’d heard when I was younger about a goddess who lived in a pretty grove of the same name. The goddess knew she was really old, but a hero came to give her an apple that, as soon as she had eaten it, made her feel fresh and young again. That brings back the magic of retouching in photography––filling all the lines and ridges to make the person look young.

There was no electricity there when I started so I used the daylight for shoots. There was no running water either, so I had to walk to a communal tap at the end of the road to collect water for developing. I went on to work as a photojournalist at the two main publications in Ghana––the newspaper The Daily Graphic, and Drum, the leading magazine in Africa, which covered news, politics and entertainment.

Covering politics was where Drum had trouble, because when African countries were becoming independent, and you bring out stories some people don’t like, they would do anything. Drum was banned in Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana at one time.

If you are interested in seeing more of James Barnor’s photographic journey, check out “Ghana – A Heritage Ever Young” – a three-day exhibit featuring exclusive photos and never-seen-before prints from Barnor’s archive. The exhibition will take place June 30 – July 2nd at the Silverbird Lounge in Accra Mall.

THEY’LL NEVER TAKE US ALIVE

BIKER BOYS FROM MARS

WORDS: Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, excerpt from Class Struggle in Africa (New York: International Publishers, 1970)

IMAGES: Leeroy Jason, photographer based in Johannesburg, South Africa (*captions by Jason)

GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER ON THE OTHER SIDE

In spite of Africa’s socio-economic and political diversity it is possible to discern certain common political, social and economic conditions and problems. These derive from traditional past, common aspirations, and from shared experience under imperialism, colonialism and neocolonialism.

THE SALUTE

There is no part of the continent which has not known oppression and exploitation, and no part which remains outside the processes of the African Revolution.

MY SHADOW IS STUCK IN POVERTY, I’M GROWING OUT OF IT…

To facilitate exploitation, colonialism hampered social and cultural progress in the colonies. Friction between tribes was in some cases deliberately encouraged when it served to strengthen the hands of colonial administrators.

THE SILENT SIGHS

In this colonialist situation, African workers regarded the colonialists, foreign firms and foreign planters, as the exploiters. Thus their class struggle became in the first instance anti-imperialist, and not directed against the indigenous bourgeoisie. It is this which has been responsible in some degree for the relatively slow awakening of the African worker and peasant to the existence of their true class enemy – the indigenous bourgeoisie.


At the core of the problem is the class struggle. Class divisions in modern African society became blurred to some extent during the pre-independence period, when it seemed there was national unity and all classes joined forces to eject the colonial power. This led some to proclaim that there were no class divisions in Africa, and that the communalism and egalitarianism of traditional African society made any notion of a class struggle out of the question.


But the exposure of this fallacy followed quickly after independence, when class cleavages which had been temporarily submerged in the struggle to win political freedom reappeared, often with increased intensity, particularly in those states where the newly independent government embarked on socialist policies.


Inequality can only be ended by the abolition of classes. The division between those who plan, organize and manage, and those who actually perform the manual labour, continually recreates the class system. The individual usually finds it very difficult, if not impossible, to break out of the sphere of life into which he is born; and even where there is “equality of opportunity”, the underlying assumption of inequality remains, where the purpose of “opportunity” is to aspire to a higher level in a stratified society.

BEING IN 3 PLACES AT ONCE

For the African bourgeoisie, the class which thrived under colonialism, is the same class which is benefiting under the post-independence, neocolonial period. Its basic interest lies in preserving capitalist social and economic structures. It is, therefore, in alliance with international monopoly finance capital and neocolonialism, and in direct conflict with the African masses, whose aspirations can only be fulfilled through scientific socialism.

STREET ANGELS

Many members of the African bourgeoisie are employed by foreign firms and have, therefore, a direct financial stake in the continuance of the foreign economic exploitation of Africa. They are mesmerized by capitalist institutions and organizations. They ape the way of life of their old colonial masters, and are determined to preserve the status and power inherited from them.

But on the credit side, a new grass roots political leadership emerged during the independence struggle. This was based on worker and peasant support, and committed not only to the winning of political freedom but to a complete transformation of society.


This struggle still continues.

ACCRA is the New HARLEM

THE ACCRA INDIE SCENE
The independent music scene is growing in major cities across the world and Accra is no different. In fact, Accra is fast becoming our modern day Harlem. The indie music scene has been building rapidly over the last five years into a space that is raw, liberating, and chock full of verve. Each month young folks gather in the city for open mic nights, cypher battles, deejay lounge sessions, reggae juke joint jams, and public debates about Ghana’s deteriorating care of the music industry.

Why? Because the Accra scene is the new pulse of African music—an experimental
renaissance that remixes Black identity, history, technology, and art in infinite
combinations. In proper DIY fashion, local artists are banding together to produce their own events. In July 2011, ACCRA [dot] ALT produced the CHALE WOTE Street Art Festival, the first free urban art festival in Accra. More than 2,000 people witnessed street painting, graffiti murals, live music, bike/rollerblade/skateboard stunting, a fashion circus, and experimental theater, among other things. This project was a collaborative exercise between artists across the city and took place in James Town, an urban fishing community in old Accra. The event was covered extensively in the local press and a special report aired on BBC Radio and BBC Focus On Africa.

This December, we will present the second installation of the ACCRA [dot] ALT Festival (now called INDIE FUSE), a music festival that brings together Ghanaian and African diasporic artists together for a fantastic live concert jam. The show mixes hip hop, AfroBeat, electronica, soul, funky folk, reggae and R&B into an eclectic pot of sonic goodness. Now called INDIE FUSE, the show returns this December.

Watch as last year’s artists–Efya, Wanlov the Kubolor, Yaa Pono, Mutombo, A.R.T., The Canz, and others–move the crowd with their mojo magic music. Check out the video trailer of our 2010 show:

 

Accra’s indie scene is funky fresh, eclectic and engaging, laidback yet inviting. Over the years this market has grown to include Accra-based independent musicians, students and scholars, media creatives, and young professionals, all coming together to hear the dopest sounds by the city’s most imaginative artists. Accra is an evolving space for African experimental music and art where deejays, producers, and music artists bridge local and global influences to make sonic rainbows of edgy AfroBeat, electronic soul, drumbassfunk, risky R&B, true skool hip hop, and rare West African folk grooves. This community exhibits a mix of young Afro-Bohemian urbanites—emerging artists, trendsetting entrepreneurs, Ghanaian returnees and holiday visitors, international tourists, expatriates, and students—who find company in supersonic music that is locally grounded and internationally inspired.

-Sionne Neely, Ph.D. + Mantse Aryeequaye

Welcome to Ghana!

THE DOOR OF NO RETURN, Cape Coast Castle

WE ARE PLEASED TO WELCOME YOU, family and friends, to the
country that has been for me a “home” far away from home. We
have planned an exciting and educational experience for you!
Ghana is a complex of such wondrous sites and people, as you will
soon come to see. The country’s history is so distinct, particularly
with Ghana’s first Black president Kwame Nkrumah’s fight against
British colonialism. Ghana was the first sub-Saharan African
country to gain independence in 1957.

The history of the African diaspora lies on Ghana’s shores in the 52
slave forts dotting the coast. The food is delicious—fresh fish
caught from the nearby Atlantic Ocean, spicy soups, meat kebabs,
rice dishes, nutritious vegetables and naturally sweet fruits—and
will leave you asking for seconds! The music scene, which I have
been writing about for the past five years, is vibrant, thrilling and
you will find it hard not to tap your feet and move with the
rhythm. That Black rhythm is us, it courses our veins with infinite
potential and a history that has kept us strong and alive even after
the awful transatlantic slave trade.

Come to Ghana with an open mind, an energetic body and a
vigorous desire to experience something amazing.

We eagerly await you! May God continue to shine on you until we
meet.

With Love,
Sionne Neely + Mantse Aryeequaye

Organizers, ACCRA [dot] ALT Tours