late Emeritus Professor Joseph Hansen (JH) Kwabena Nketiah
late Emeritus Professor Joseph Hansen (JH) Kwabena Nketiah

Dr Ziblim Iddi, the Deputy Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, has eulogized the late Emeritus Professor Joseph Hansen (JH) Kwabena Nketiah, a renowned musicologist, for his humility, love for country and willingness to share.

As he read the tribute, Members of Parliament sat quietly at the plenary, with rapt attention, in appreciation to works of the musicologist, who passed on peacefully in his sleep at the age of 98, at the Legon Hospital.

The late Emeritus Prof Nketia “gifted the nation with the most essential legacies of all time, namely humility of a proverbial kind, extreme love for country, and willingness to share at the age of 94,” Dr Iddi said.

“The world renowned Ghanaian teacher, musician, composer and writer, has joined our ancestors,” Dr Iddi lamented, “For Ghana, for the rest of Africa, this is an irreplaceable loss. A cultural icon is gone. A voice of tradition is stilled.

“Prof, Fair Thee Well!!!”

The House, however, deferred contributions on the eulogy.

Dr Iddi said: “Known by many as the ‘Grandfather of African Music,’ the learned ethno-musicologist was the most published and best known authority on African music and aesthetics in the world.”

Dr Iddi gave a biographical account of the music icon, who would have turned 98 on June 22, this year, describing the late emeritus professor as a “mighty tree, which had been uprooted, a tree whose fruits and branches provided sustenance and cover for musicologists all over the world.

According to the tribute, the late Emeritus Prof Nketia was born on June 22, 1921 at Mampong Asante.

He received his first musical education, and eventually trained as a teacher at the Presbyterian Training College, Akropong Akwapim, where he later taught and was appointed Acting Principal in 1952.

Through a Ghana Government scholarship, he went to the University of London to study for a Certificate of Phonetics at the School of Oriental Studies and African Studies.

In 1949, at the Birkeck College, University of London, and later at the Trinity College of London, he obtained his Bachelor of Arts Degree.

He moved from the UK to the United States of America, where in 1958, he studied first at the Columbia University, then to the world famous Julliard School of Music and thence to Northwestern University to do courses in musicology and composition.

Armed with musicology in three musical cultures – African, British and American – he returned to Ghana to teach at the University of Ghana.

“His rapid rise through the educational ranks is testament to the quality of his scholarship, including not only the authoritativeness and practical usefulness of his research works, but also the originality of African thought and melodic structure of his compositions.”

Dr Iddi said Prof Nketia was world renowned and of all the interpreters of African music aesthetics, he set the pace and acknowledged universally that “Nketia was to African music what Bartok was to Western music.”

“His concept and interpretation of time and rhythmic pattern in Ghanaian and other African folk were revolutionary, and became standard for research and scholars around the world,” he said.

Despite writing extensively on Western orchestral instruments like the flute, violin, cello, percussion and piano, it is through Nketia’s pace-setting works for traditional African instruments that his genius was acclaimed.

The tribute praised Nketia for introducing the use of “six-eight” signature in his compositions as an alternative to the use of “two-four” with triplets used earlier by his mentor, Ephraim Amu.

His other pioneering works include transcription of Ghanaian folk song in a manner virtually free from Western influences.

Prof Nketia became a visiting professor to numerous universities across the globe and has many publications available in bookstores and libraries around the globe.

He became the Chancellor at the Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology and was foundation fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, and Honorary Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Society of Great Britain among numerous international fellowships.

Prof. Nketia was appointed first African Director of the Institute of African Studies, and was the first Chairman of the Arts Council of Ghana, in which capacity he spearheaded the country’s first Cultural Policy.

He was several times a member of the National Commission on Culture, where he participated in crafting the current Cultural Policy by former President John Agyekum Kufuor.

He received several awards both locally and internationally, among which were the Order of the Volta, the Flagstar Award, the Cowell Award and the UNESCO Music Prize for Distinguished Service to Music, and Prince Claus 1977, the Distinguished Africanist Award of the African Studies Association of the USA.

Professor Nketia was honouring invitations not to grace occasions, but to share. He shared knowledge with vocal demonstration even when age was having a debilitating toll on his vocal cords.

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