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On 1st July, 2017, also Ghana’s Republic Day, ACCRA [dot] ALT hosted SABOLAI RADIO SETS – this time with multi-talented music artist, songwriter and producer, Ria Boss in James Town, Brazil House. Over fifty people came together to interact with Ria Boss and listen to her six-song EP, Find Your Free.
Ria’s music and radically honest conversations with the audience between each track touched on a range of topics including mental wellness and joy, the concept of love as the most powerful form of freedom, the abundant and creative life force of the Divine Feminine, and the life path work of using creativity as a vehicle for manifestation and healing. Audience members dug in deep, heads bobbing to deliciously absorb each song played and asking questions that provoked further insightful commentary. Part of this was Ria’s sincere openness to share her life and how those experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly – shaped her to be the woman she is today.
With many different kinds of artists in the room, much of the conversation dealt with the actual process of breaking free and consistently being free:
Is it attainable?
Is freedom a fleeting, fluid or permanent condition?
Is freedom universal or relative?
Can others experience our perceptions and realities in freedom?
What are everyday rituals to practice freedom and how does it impact your evolving creative process as an artist, woman and Ghanaian?
Indeed, spaces like ACCRA [dot] ALT foster important conversations that are conspicuously absent from mainstream discourses. In this way, this space also encourages different modes of being, of self-expressions that critically interrogate how the terrain of society and culture imposes strict boundaries around acceptable and non-acceptable behaviors and attitudes. This impacts how we navigate our realities and our capacity to reach our fullest selves.
The Sets exposes audiences to works they might not have otherwise been able to experience and participants also inform how the space develops over time. These meetings make it easier for audiences to understand the psychology behind different Ghanaian creative music processes. This non-judgmental space grounded in freedom to be yourself and respect for others includes linguistic. When an audience member prefaced his remarks by stating he would speak pidgin English, it was quickly pointed by multiple folks that he did not need our consent to express himself in the language he was most comfortable. In that moment, the domination of English within that space was contested. Indeed, we all confronted the contradiction: we usually talk to each other in pidgin but why did we feel the need to switch to English to ask questions in front of an audience? To be clear, these alternative ways of being may not necessarily be resistive to dominant social order, however they are indicative of the possibility for alternatives ways of being in the here and now. Which is, in fact, a necessary first step to imagining what could be possible in our society.
Events like the SABOLAI RADIO Sets are vital to the life of creative cultural production in Ghana. In these spaces, musicians, music lovers, producers, DJs (as well as writers, photographers, filmmakers, visual artists, graphic artists, designers, researchers, activists and performance artists, among others) come together to connect and learn more. Music lovers are exposed to new creative work they may not have previously experienced. Artists are able to network, plan for future collaborations, announce their upcoming events, but more importantly, they are able to talk to others about creative work and creating work. Thus, these spaces become a place of learning exchange not only for the audience but also artists. In talking about their work and answering questions, artists have the opportunity to critically reflect on their process and develop new ways of sharing what they do.
Apart from opportunities for artistic growth, spaces like the SABOLAI RADIO Sets, free and open to the public, are accessible to people from all walks of life. That is, in comparison to some hyper-securitized art spaces in more upscale locations that seek to maintain an elite clientele. Indeed, in some of these spaces, undesirable bodies seem to be under constant suspicion. Recently an artist friend of mine got told off for leaning against the wall at an Accra exhibition opening. It is pertinent to highlight the fact that there are limited affordable spaces for artists to share their work in the country. Currently, a few private entities and some international institutions appear to be contributing more to the burgeoning Ghanaian art scene than the state. As far as one can tell, the state policy towards culture and the arts is heavily focused on ‘tourism.’ The question worth asking is why it appears that the cultural sphere continues to be neglected by successive regimes post-Kwame Nkrumah. The music scholar, Prof. John Collins, has observed that during Dr. Nkrumah’s administration – 60 years ago – commercial and popular entertainment were well integrated machines in the national policy since it was related to “national identity, [and] today it is in connection with national economic prosperity”. Perhaps this is reflection of current discourses of development that focus on economic growth as a way to measure the social transformation of places like Ghana.
The environment throughout Ria Boss’ session was enthralling and electric with good energy, excitement and anticipation of what more is to come. Spaces like the SABOLAI RADIO Sets play an important role in the development of arts and culture. While the artists may benefit from new networks of music-supporting audiences, the generative conversations that take place offer insight into what is possible if we are allowed and supported to create.
What alternative cultural identities are we constructing and making visible in the here and now?
Story and photographs by Nii Nikoi Kotei