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Sensationally Reading Ghana’s Joy-Ride Magazine

  • Esther de Bruijn
Abstract

This article argues that the 1980s and nineties popular literary magazine Joy-Ride attracted an exceptionally wide and regular readership by transposing the sensational aesthetics of Ghanaian oral narrative performance into the printed text. Joy-Ride retained its circulation in a period of devastating economic and sociopolitical tumult that resulted from an accumulation of natural disasters combined with the forced austerity measures of J. J. Rawling’s military government. Offering a collage of modern media such as serialized comics and photonovels, the magazine created intertextual associations with popular cultural experiences like Concert Party theatre and Ananse storytelling. Comics scholarship and affect and embodiment studies come together to support my position that the rich integration of text and image in Joy-Ride worked mnemonically to produce a sense of cultural vibrancy in the magazine narratives. This vitalism functioned, I argue, to sustain a feeling of cultural continuity for the magazine’s readership.

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1 “Untitled Editorial,” Joy-Ride 100(1989?), 1, 6. The approximate date is deduced from volume 99, the content of which dates its publication in April 1989. The continuity of content and consistent price gives the impression that volume 100 followed shortly thereafter.

2 Ibid., 6.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Shillington, Kevin, Ghana and the Rawlings Factor (London: Macmillan Press, 1992); Konadu-Agyemang, Kwadwo, “The Best of Times and the Worst of Times: Structural Adjustment Programs and Uneven Development in Africa: The Case of Ghana,” Professional Geographer 52.3 (2000): 469483 ; Ernest Aryeetey and Finn Tarp, “Structural Adjustment and After: Which Way Forward?,” Economic Reforms in Ghana, eds. Ernest Aryeetey, Jane Harrigan, and Machiko Nissanke (Oxford: James Currey, 2000), 344–63.

6 Ibid., 6.

7 “The Man with the Boy’s Head: The Complete Account of the Sefwi Bekwai Ritual Murder,” Joy-Ride 93 (October 1988): 3–14 details the Sefwi Bekwai case in which four men (Yaw Kwarteng, Yaw Boadu, Benjamin Affi, and Nana Agyei) were sentenced to death by firing squad in a National Public Tribunal on February 18, 1988. The men were convicted of a series of five murders from 1981 to 1987 in which the victims’ body parts were reportedly sold for ritual purposes.

8 Priebe, Richard, “Popular Writing in Ghana: A Sociology and Rhetoric,” Research in African Literatures 9.3 (1978): 418 .

9 Highmore, Ben, “Bitter After Taste: Affect, Food, and Social Aesthetics,” The Affect Theory Reader, eds. Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), 121 .

10 Meyer, Birgit, “Introduction: From Imagined Communities to Aesthetic Formations: Religious Mediations, Sensational Forms, and Styles of Binding,” Aesthetic Formations: Media, Religion and the Senses, ed. Birgit Meyer (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 5 .

11 Stillars, Stuart, Visualisation in Popular Fiction 1860–1960: Graphic Narratives, Fictional Images (New York: Routledge, 1995), 4 .

12 Priebe, “Popular Writing,” 409.

13 For further discussion of the Onitsha reading public’s self-definition through its market literature, see Obiechina, Emmanuel N., An African Popular Literature: A Study of Onitsha Market Pamphlets (London: Cambridge University Press, 1973) and “Introduction,” in Onitsha Market Literature, ed. Emmanuel N. Obiechina (New York: Africana [1972]), 1–30; and Nwoga, Donatus, “Onitsha Market Literature,” Transition 4.19 (1965): 2633 .

14 Kobina Seyki’s play The Blinkards, originally performed in 1915 in the Fanti language, mocked the more egregious social tendencies toward aping British colonial culture. The Blinkards: A Comedy and the Anglo-Fanti: A Short Story (Accra: Readwide, 1997), 1–174.

15 Newell, Stephanie, Ghanaian Popular Fiction: “Thrilling Discoveries in Conjugal Life”and Other Tales (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2000), 59 . Newell refers specifically to pamphlet fiction of the 1930s and 1940s, but her characterization extends to popular novels into the 1970s.

16 Obiechina, An African Popular Literature, 17.

17 Botwe-Asamoah, Kwame, Kwame Nkrumah’s Politico-Cultural Thought and Policies (New York: Routledge, 2005); Stockwell, John, In Search of Enemies (New York: Norton, 1978).

18 Priebe, “Popular Writing,” 418.

19 Newell, Ghanaian Popular Fiction, 144.

20 Priebe, “Popular Writing,” 419.

21 Ibid., 403, 418–19.

22 Aryeetey and Tarp, “Structural Adjustment.”

23 Wilhelmina Prah, Interview, Angelina House, 31st December Market, Accra, January 7, 2010.

24 Garritano, Carmela, “Contesting Authenticities: The Emergence of Local Video Production in Ghana,” Critical Arts 22.1 (2008): 2148 .

25 For a fuller discussion of “The Spear” and other African photonovels of the 1960s, see Matthias Krings, “With Spear in the City: The Adventure of Modernity with Photo Novels in the 1960s,” Afropolis: City, Media, Art, eds. Kerstin Pinther, Larissa Förster, and Christian Hanussek (Auckland Park, Johannesburg, South Africa: Jacana, 2012), 158–64. My thanks to Ato Quayson for bringing this wider context to my attention.

26 Observation by Ato Quayson, personal correspondence.

27 I use modern with James Ferguson’s notion of the “myth of modernity”’ in mind. Despite neocolonial restrictions on their participation in global exchanges, local Ghanaians, like the Zambians Ferguson learns from, perform their “modernity” through a “full house” of “cultural styles,” which includes reading a globally trendy literary genre like the photonovel. Expectations of Modernity: Myths and Meanings of Urban Life on the Zambian Copperbelt (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1999).

28 Adewale Adenuga, Interview with Yemisi Adeniran, “Nollywood Movies and TV Shows,” Naijarules.com. Last modified June 13, 2008, http://www.naijarules.com/vb/nollywood-movies-tv-shows/28291-my-mother-brother-died-same-day-wale-adenuga.html.

29 Chute, Hilary, “Comics as Literature? Reading Graphic Narrative,” PMLA 123.2 (2008): 455456 .

30 Sillars, Stuart, Visualisation in Popular Fiction 1860–1960: Graphic Narratives, Fictional Images (New York: Routledge, 1995), 6 .

31 Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o articulates most forcefully the violence of imposed European literacy in “The Language in African Literature,” Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (London: James Currey, 1986): 4–33.

32 “Untitled Editorial,” Joy-Ride 100, 6.

33 “Super Mugu Yaro,” Joy-Ride 85, 15.

34 For one version of this tale, see Asihene, Emmanuel V., “How Ananse Used a Grain of Corn,” Traditional Folk-Tales of Ghana (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1997), 7982 . For further discussion of Ananse storytelling, see Yankah, Kwesi, “The Folktale as ‘True’ Experience Narrative,” Folklore Forum 17.2 (1984): 220229 . For comparison with other West African trickster tales, see Pelton, Robert, The Trickster in West Africa: A Study of Mythic Irony and Sacred Delight (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980); Konrad, Zinta, Ewe Comic Heroes: Trickster Tales in Togo (New York: Garland, 1994); Denis Paulme, “Typologie des Contes Africains du Décepteur,” Typologie des Contes Africains du Décepteur. Principes d’un Index des Ruses, eds. Denise Paulme and Claude Bremond (Urbino: Università di Urbino, 1976), 1–15.

35 “Super Mugu Yaro,” Joy-Ride 106, 2.

36 See Pelton, The Trickster. Intriguingly, in none of the forty-three volumes I have found does Super Mugu Yaro appear culturally Muslim apart from his occasional exclamations.

37 “Super Mugu Yaro,” Joy-Ride 94, 18.

38 Hilary Chute introduced the term graphic narrative in “Comics as Literature?” to refer to a book-length comic, but I find the term valuable for designating comics such as those in Joy-Ride that are sometimes episodic but lengthy (stretching over several full pages) and often serialized to considerable length, such that they are not well categorized as “comic strips.”

39 Ibid., 460.

40 Ibid., 452.

41 “Super Mugu Yaro,” Joy-Ride 95, 19.

42 McCloud, Scott, Understanding Comics (New York: William Morrow/HarperCollins, 1993), 67, 65. See also Gunning, Tom, “The Art of Succession: Reading, Writing and Watching Comics,” Critical Inquiry 40.3 (2014): 44 .

43 George A. Prah and Wilhelmina Prah, Interview by author, Angelina House, 31st December Market, Accra, December 18, 2009.

44 Gunning, “The Art of Succession,” 37.

45 Orbán, Katalin, “A Language of Scratches and Stitches: The Graphic Novel between Hyperreading and Print,” Critical Inquiry 40.3 (2014): 169181 , esp. 169.

46 Ibid., 171.

47 Barber, Karin, The Anthropology of Texts, Persons and Publics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

48 “Famous Players,” Accra Hearts of Oak SC: Wikis, http://www.thefullwiki.org/Accra_Hearts_of_Oak_SC, accessed September 19, 2011; “MuguYaro,” Ghana Dictionary, http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/dictionary/dict_m.php, accessed September 19, 2011.

49 Gunning, “Art of Succession,” 50; he refers to André Leroi-Gourhan, Gesture and Speech, trans. Randall White (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993).

50 Newell, Stephanie, “Introduction,” Readings in African Popular Fiction, ed. Stephanie Newell (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), 4 .

51 Yankah, , “The Folktale as ‘True’ Experience Narrative”; Paul Stoller, Sensuous Scholarship (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997).

52 A. K. Yeboah also illustrated Ghanatta’s strips as well as “Super MuguYaro” for several years. I am most grateful to Kwame Boakye Ghanatta, son of Y. B. Ghanatta, for this information on Homotta and Yeboah’s relationship to Y. B. Ghanatta. Correspondence with K. B. Ghanatta, November 2, 2011.

53 McLoughlin, T. O., “Reading Zimbabwean Comic Strips,” Research in African Literatures 20.2 (1989), 233236 .

54 Priebe, “Popular Writing,” 421.

55 Prah and Prah, Interview.

56 “Mugu,” Modern Hausa-English Dictionary, ed. Paul Newman and Roxana Ma Newman (Ibadan: Oxford University Press, 1977); “Mugu,” A Way with Words, http://www.waywordradio.org/mugu/, last modified November 9, 2004. On advanced-fee fraud, see Uwe Buse, “Africa’s City of Cyber Gangsters,” SpiegelOnline, http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/spam-scams-africa-s-city-of-cyber-gangsters-a-384317.html, last modified November 7, 2005. “419” refers to the article of the Nigerian Criminal Code that attends to the fraud.

57 Catherine Cole details the process of transforming figures like the trickster KwakuAnanse in Concert Party theatre. See Ghana’s Concert Party Theatre, 109–14.

58 This information is gathered from various highlife, Afrobeat, and Funk discography websites. See in particular the blog Afrobeat, Afrofunk, Afrojazz, Afrorock: http://afrobeat-music.blogspot.ca/2011/01/marijata-this-is-marijata.html; Discog’s listing of Gapophone Records: http://www.discogs.com/label/Gapophone+Records; Osibisaba’s blog on Ghanaian highlife: http://osibisaba.blogspot.ca; and for various articles on Ghana’s funk and highlife musicians: http://parisdjs.com.

59 See John Collins, High-Life Times (Accra: Anansesem, 1994): chapter 44 on Bondzie’s Essibonz Productions, and chapter 45 on Helwani’s extensive promotion of local music.

60 The “Music and Entertainment” section of Joyride 100 (1989?), 9, for instance, showcases GAPO’s cassette release of Janet Osei’s album Sikyi Highlife by way of her biography, titled “Mama J.” The columnist laments that while Osei collected music and acting credits in Britain in the late 1970s, she was virtually unknown in Ghana until the release of her single “Wardrobe” in 1983.

61 Mike Afrani, “Rise of the African Soap Opera,” New African (London) 338 (1996), 8–9. As Afrani details, Jatokrom was first aired in 1966. Jatokrom is the name of a town southwest of Kumasi, Ghana. Osofo ( in Akan) means “priest”; Dadzie is the priest’s name.

62 In “Comic Opera in Ghana,” African Arts 9.2 (1976), John Collins identifies Osofo Dadzie as “one of the most popular concerts today,” which “specializes in plays about corruption and inefficiency in high places,” 54. The relationship between Prah and the Osofo Dadzie group is detailed in Prah’s “Tribute” to founding member and actor Kwadwo Kwakye in Donkor’s Special Love (Accra: GAPO, 1991), 35. Prah does not specify which political figures make up the ‘“guilty people’” he mentions, but he refers to the “early period” of Osofo Dadzie, so it is likely before the Rawlings period.

63 Prah and Prah, Interview. In his Introduction to High-Life Time, Collins refers to the adaptation of Concert plays “in comic literature or ‘photoplay’ form” (n.p.), though he does not reference GAPO specifically.

64 Prah and Prah, Interview. The studio is named in “Fashion,” Joy-Ride 81 (1988?), 11.

65 Kwabena N. Bame, Come to Laugh (New York: Lilian Barber, 1985); Cole, Ghana’s Concert Party Theatre.

66 Cole, Ghana’s Concert Party Theatre, 109.

67 Ibid., 111–14.

68 Newell, Ghanaian Popular Fiction.

69 GAPO’s “comics” are listed for sale in the back of Yaw Brenya’s 1981 novel 99 Days in Agege (GAPO: Accra, 1981), 96.

70 Donkor’s Special Love, 6–7.

71 Mike Afrani, “Rise of the African Soap Opera,” New African (London) 338 (February 1996): 8–9. George A. Prah says in Donkor’s Special Love that he had recorded Oppong before the formation of OsofoDadzie, 35.

72 Ibid., 9.

73 Ibid., 9. Afrani claims in his 1996 article that Osofo Dadzie remained at that time the most popular of Ghanaian television dramas.

74 Agyemang, Nana Fredua, Blows at the Wedding (Accra: GAPO, 1985?).

75 de Bruijn, Esther, “Sensational Aesthetics: Ghanaian Market Fiction,” PhD dissertation, University of Toronto, 2014 .

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