Darko-Duodu Controversy All Too Common

BY Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

It is an old phenomenon. I don’t know whether to call it a pathologically chronic ritual or not. And it is not peculiar to the discipline and/or field of music and the performing arts. Two or more people collaborate on a project that results in some level of universal acclaim and oftentimes a considerable amount of wealth. They become cultural icons. In the case of Messrs. George Darko and Lee Duodu, the leader of the group often achieves greater fame than everybody else.

Name the musical group or band, and immediately it is the name of the leader that almost spontaneously pops up – thus, for instance, the globally celebrated Beatles has become virtually synonymous with John Lennon, although with time and the seemingly ethereal touch of memory, nearly each and every member of the Liverpool Boys has become a larger-than-life icon in his own right, including even those who had a relatively tangential trucking with the group. And, of course, on the latter score, I have in mind transient truckers like Pete Best.

Nearly every Ghanaian of age who has been a Highlife buff for any considerable span of time, knows that Lee Duodu gave a remarkably resonant touch to the dance-hall classic titled “Akoo Te Brofo,” the parakeet can also rap. Actually, in literal Akan-Twi translation, the title runs more along the following lines: The parrot understands English.” The Akan language is a quite semantically diffuse and complex idiom, at least for those of us who have taken the time to cognitively and linguistically engage the pulse of the same.

The word “te,” whose basic allusion is to appreciation, or auditory understanding, among Akan-speaking Ghanaians equally alludes to verbal eloquence. But my main poignant observation here is that anybody who hears the song “Akoo Te Brofo” sung or mentioned anywhere in the world readily thinks of George Darko, and not Lee Duodu. And for three decades and counting, as even Mr. Darko himself observed recently, Mr. Duodu never even faintly publicly contested the authorship or composership of “Akoo Te Brofo.” And so the logical, and critical, question is: Why now?

It often has to do with age and the inescapable reality and increasing insistence of one’s mortality, and the latter’s attendant desperate struggle and/or battle for mnemonic immortality. In other words, who is singularly apt to be credited with what might aptly be termed as a collaborative work of art, in this particular instance, or a collaborative historical landmark, such as the African-American Civil Rights Movement whose globally recognized iconic symbol or representative is, of course, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Those who have intimately and extensively studied the history of the Civil Rights Movement know about the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, who initially occupied what might be aptly termed as the pinnacle or Praetor’s Chair of the Civil Rights Movement, briefly, until his fiery eloquence and philosophical versatility and rhetorical inimitability shot Dr. King to the coveted forefront. It is also significant to note that in spite of there being only a couple of years that separated the older Rev. Abernathy from Dr. King, the latter was widely known to affectionately defer to the former by calling him “Uncle.”

By the late 1980’s, however, when the glorious King Legend and Legacy had become securely etched into the mainstream American national psyche and memory, with even a holiday instituted in his name, the terminally ailing Rev. Abernathy would publish a memoir in which the obviously disgruntled author presumed to viciously reduce Dr. King to a gravely flawed ordinary human. But to what purpose? Well, it was not exactly clear, except the traditionally characteristically visceral exhibition of raw envy and jealousy borne of a personally perceived affront, perhaps one borne out of an oversized ego that envisaged itself to have been epically slighted by the unprecedented fame, recognition and acceptance of the King Legend.

Other than a momentary flare up of decidedly stale sympathy, largely from the camp of King detractors, cross-racially, to be certain, the Abernathy Blight has been as insignificantly fleeting as it has been inexcusably pathetic. And recently, we witnessed a similar sheen-stealing case in which a former student of Mr. Philip Gbeho, the man widely credited with the composition of Ghana’s National Anthem, reportedly emerged out of the proverbial woodwork claiming to be the real and original composer of the same. Well, I am neither saying nor hereby implying by the foregoing observations that any of these latter-day would-be-claimants are necessarily on the downside of truth, as it were.

Rather, I am merely observing that competing narratives of the sort discussed above are all too common the world over.

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Garden City, New York
E-mail: [email protected]


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