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ECHOES O F ACCRA A project by Matthew Eberhard, Lucy Paton, Benedetta Rogers & Anthony Staples

London is facing increasing pressure from a changing and globalizing world. Our communities feel these pressures acutely, struggling to accommodate the flux associated with population growth, migrancy and economic uncertainty. Yet as a society we continue to view the Western city as the model of development – at the forefront of industrialisation, global commerce and modernisation. But what if we were to take a more ex-centric position, looking to the African city for contemporary solutions to 21st century pressures? In their essay ‘Theory from the South: Or, how Euro-America is Evolving Toward Africa’, the anthropologists Jean and John Comaroff suggest: “The continent (Africa) is a source of inventive responses to the contingencies of our times, responses driven by a volatile mix of necessity, possibility, deregulation, (and) space-time compression”, resulting in unique and dynamic urban solutions, typologies and infrastructures. We travelled to Accra in Ghana, a city grappling with these forces - with informal economies flourishing against a backdrop of mass urban migration, minimal state intervention, and creaking public services. We set out to investigate an alternative and exploratory means of recording our cities, one that didn’t merely employ the conventional tools of the architecture field trip - images and drawings. Armed with a sound recorder and open ears, we focussed on the people of Accra, the characters we met and the conversations we had, re-exploring the city through the lived experience of those we spoke to. Using the sound recordings and interviews undertaken during our month in Ghana we present a woven patchwork of personal stories from across the capital – the lives and stories of three characters sit together with the voices of various other Accrans, along with the city’s soundscapes, its noise, rhythms and music. Heard together, they tell broader narratives about the communities and people who live and work in the city. We now invite you to immerse yourself in a walk through Accra led by our three guides: Isaac, Dede and Charles. As you turn the pages, choose the corresponding tracks to hear Accra - its characters, energy, cacophony and joy.

West Africa









In Search of a Method Worthy of the City Accra, London [Track 1] p. 5-11


Jamestown [Track 2-9]

p. 13-29


Jamestown, Nima, Adabraka, Labadi [Track 7-9]

p. 31-37


Dzorwulu [Track 10-14]

p. 39-57


Jamestown, Osu, Adabraka [Track 15-19]

p. 59-71


Nima [Track 20-21]

p. 73-79


Nima [Track 22-27]

p. 81-99


Osu [Track 28-32]

p. 101-113

Tracklist at back or visit

On our last night in Accra we said farewell to Abraham - a softly spoken 23 year-old determined to make it as a professional footballer. During the hot nights in old Adabraka, Abraham sets out three timber tables on a rented dirt square and charges 20 pesewas a game to play table tennis under the light of a single bulb. With the profits, Abraham not only supports himself but provides a social space for local kids to come together and discover their talents.

Echoes Of Accra IN SEARCH OF A METHOD WORTHY OF THE CITY In March 2016 we travelled to Accra, setting out to investigate an alternative and experimental means of exploring and recording our cities. This book is both a record of our research trip and a guide to its culmination – an immersive exhibition held on Ridley Road Market in Dalston, London in June 2016. In this essay we outline the genesis of this project explaining its origins and motivations, before describing how we set about our research in response to the peculiarities and opportunity of Accra. We outline how this resulted in a reliance on sound recording as the primary means of investigation and research and ultimately how this concluded in an interactive sound exhibition.

LONDON British society is facing increasing anxieties wrought by a rapidly changing and globalising world, fostering uncertainty and antipathy for the ineffective and dated political and economic solutions to these forces. There is a sense, certainly amongst our generation, that we need to discover new modes of thinking about our politics, economies and cities, that depart from entrenched solutions and look forward to more flexible, inventive and creative ones. In the face of uncertainty, too often the default position is one of conservatism born out of a protectionist and risk-averse culture more afraid of what there is to lose than what we are able to gain. Our cities feel these pressures acutely, encumbered by massive housing shortages, increasing inequality and inflexible urban infrastructures. London is seemingly incapable of accommodating the flux associated with population growth, increased mobility and migrancy. Our urban solutions to these forces are blighted by the same risk-averse tendencies of our politics, proving unresponsive and incapable of matching the ferocity and flux of these demands with correspondingly dynamic creative solutions. How might we begin to

posit an alternative mode of thinking about our cities and profession that is more adaptive, flexible, open and responsive to the strident exigencies of our time – one that embraces these productive forces rather than repudiates and protects against them? As a society we tend to view the West as the model of development – at the forefront of enlightenment, industrialisation, global commerce and modernisation. As such, the western European city is seen as the centre of modernity and the template for the modern city. But as a model, our cities are failing to absorb contemporary pressures, proving an inadequate stage for the acting out of modern forces. We continue to expect our cities to absorb unprecedented stresses, perversely looking inward for parochial solutions to increasingly globalised pressures. But what if we were to take a more ex-centric position that questioned this paradigm? What if, instead of the Western city, we look to African cities as the stage upon which these forces operate most acutely? It is the cities of the Global South that have long dealt with insecurity, instability, forced mobility and migration that are increasingly European concerns. In this regard it is the African city that prefigures the former metropole, operating as an antecedent of the future city of the North. In their essay Theory from the South: Or, how Euro-America is Evolving Toward Africa, the anthropologists Jean and John Comaroff suggest that European cities can be understood to be evolving toward African cities: “European nation-states, having had to come to terms with demographic diversity and real sociology of difference on an unprecedented scale, are beginning to resemble policultural postcolonies.” Moreover, there is much to be learnt from African cities’ reactions to these forces. As the Comaroff’s note: “The continent is a source of inventive responses to the contingencies of our times, responses driven by a volatile mix of necessity, possibility, deregulation, (and) space-time compression”, resulting in unique and dynamic urban solutions, typologies and infrastructures. By examining the impact of these pressures on the infrastructures, architecture and communities of African cities, exploring their mutations, adaptations, hybridities, along with the creative and vibrant lived and built solutions to these issues, might it 5

suggest ways to better understand and describe their permutations in Britain and London in particular? With the help of the Royal Institute of British Architects’ (RIBA) Boyd Auger Scholarship and the Arts Council’s Artists’ International Development Fund we travelled to Accra in Ghana, a city at the vanguard of these forces.


streets, open drains and crumbling tropical buildings that didn’t reflect the reality of living in the city. How does one take a photograph of an Accran street without confirming the preconceptions of creaking urban infrastructures and poverty that plague images and imaginings of Africa? The medium of photography was both invasive (many people we met were, if not mistrusting, apprehensive of the camera) and incapable of capturing the cacophony and life of the street that we experienced on these walks.

We chose to travel to Accra not only for its significance as a Global South capital, but also for its clear and continued historical and colonial connections to the UK, and its consequently large London diaspora. Based in London we began extensive research on Accra, but aware of the limits of research from afar we were sure not to arrive in Accra with preconceived attitudes and predetermined outcomes. We began to search out local collaborators who would help us explore and understand the city on arrival, and planned an initial series of walks through various neighbourhoods of Accra.

In parallel to our initial walks we engaged in discussions with professionals and practitioners from the architectural and art communities of Accra in an attempt to expand our own understanding of the city. We found however, that we were having similar conversations about cities as we might have in London - seemingly looking to the same solutions to the city’s pressures as those that we were hoping to challenge. In stark contrast to this we were beginning to piece together a more nuanced and diverse understanding of Accra through conversations we were having with a broader section of Accran communities.

Walking provided an initial form of investigation, a means of exploration and navigation. The act of walking was not merely a practical tool of orienting, but a means of engagement and research. To walk is to be open - to cooperatively drift, fully immersing the body within the city’s landscape, exposed to its chance encounters and unique geographies. This most simple and immediate act is also a generative one, a means to map the city with the body as measure. It is a means to construct the city’s psychogeography, to comprehend and know it. The act of walking is at once physical and psychic. As Michel De Certeau describes walking in his essay Walking In The City; “the act of walking is to the urban system, what the speech act is to language”. Walking is the elementary discourse between the city and its users, experienced with an immediacy that doesn’t lend itself to recollection or documentation. So how can we best describe or record this discourse?

So we shifted our approach, focussing on the people of Accra, the characters we met and the conversations we had, re-exploring the city through the lived experience of those we spoke to. From Abraham, who in a city of 1.7 million containing a single park has created his own public play-space where children come to learn ping-pong; to Isaac, an eighty-two year old blind photographer who can still describe in detail the photographs he shot as a young man moving between the factories and the dancehalls of sub-Saharan Africa’s newest democracy.

Initially we employed the conventional tools of the architecture field trip, recording our observations through images and drawings. But we were outsiders, our images depicted stereotypical scenes of crowded 6

We re-traced our earlier walks, armed with a sound recorder and open ears. Charles, the resident of a notorious semi-informal neighbourhood, showed us the global connections his neighbourhood Nima maintains with the outside world and its residents’ compassionate appreciation of disparate religions and communities. Dede, the granddaughter of one of post-independence Ghana’s leading intellectuals, taught us about Ghanaian understandings of land, home and family and the value of letting things grow. Dede, Charles and Isaac became our guides to Accra,

piloting us through the city via their lived experiences - three characters through whose stories we began to comprehend our own Accra. We became listeners, addicted to the act of hearing and recording, intent on capturing the acoustic character of the city. We found ourselves waking in the middle of the night to record the sound of a tropical storm or leaning out the window of a tro-tro to hear the evening call to prayer while stuck in traffic. These recordings steadily became a library of ambient sounds and auditory walks that described the city’s sonic character/space- along with Dede, Charles and Isaac, our fourth Accran character. By listening, we undid our understanding of the city from a restricted visual representation. Sound began to be our primary means of investigation and comprehension. As the Nigerian artist, Emeka Ogboh explains when describing his process of recording Obalende, a neighbourhood of another African metropolis, Lagos: “Sound becomes the most potent way of creative interrogation. You have to rely on your ears as the main auditory channel for reading the cacophonic landscape.”


On our return to London, using the sound recordings and interviews undertaken during our month in Ghana, we hoped to present a woven patchwork of personal stories from across the capital, which heard together, tell broader narratives about the communities and people who live and work in Accra - their stories; snapshots of the dynamic Global South city. These recordings formed the centrepiece of an exhibition entitled Echoes of Accra held at Doomed Gallery on Ridley Road Market in Dalston, London as part of the London Festival of Architecture in June 2016. Centred around the interviews of Dede, Charles and Isaac, we interspersed ambient Accra recordings and other short interviews to create a series of part


Dede Dzorwulu

City Sounds 2 Jamestown, Osu, Adabraka

City Sounds 3 Nima

City Sounds 1 Jamestown, Nima, Labadi, Adabraka

Charles Nima

Isaac Jamestown

Plan Of Exhibition 8

City Sounds 4 Osu

real, part imagined sound walks through the city, led by our three guides. The exhibition was designed to evoke the experience of a walk through the capital, structured around seven speakers each organised thematically around different neighbourhoods of Accra. Neighbourhoods were nebulously described by a hanging speaker surrounded by an orbit of hung metal rods that when touched triggered different recordings back to one of the speakers. Three of the speakers were designated to recordings of interviews with Dede, Charles and Isaac, stitched together by a series of speakers playing ambient city sounds. On the floor, at the foot of each rod; images, quotations and diagrams gave clues to the recordings over head. As people activated the recordings, simultaneous sounds started to overlap recreating a harmonious clatter evocative of the Accra experience, with each tour of the room creating a unique sonic experience. Stood directly below the speaker the listener could engage with the single recordings or submit to the cacophony of sounds as an immersive experience. The recordings heard together reflect the complexity and fragmentation of the city experience.

to simulate the exhibition experience. Chapters are themed around the seven speakers – Dede, Charles, Isaac and various City Sounds. Each recording has been transcribed, acting as notation of the different rhythms and timbers of the recordings, which read together speak of the diversity of sound in the exhibition - ranging from conventional interviews to ambient field recordings. The recordings are augmented by narrative text and essays. As with the exhibition, the book is not intended to be read as a linear record, but to be experienced as the reader wishes – each reading resulting in different connections, meanings and understandings. REFERENCES

This book is as much a documentation of our research in Accra as it is a record of the exhibition, structured

Comaroff, Jean; Comaroff, John. (2012) Theory from the South: Or, how Euro-America is Evolving Toward Africa, Anthropological Forum: A Journal of Social Anthropology and Comparative Sociology, 22:2, 113131 De Certeau, Michel. (1984) The Practice of Everyday Life. London: University of California Press. Ogboh, Emeka. (2011) Mining Sounds: Lagos-Cairo: A Personal Reflection on Soundscapes, African Cities Reader II, 144-149


Echoes Of Accra [Track 1] 1 min 59 secs



ISAAC Jamestown


Just before Isaac H. Bruce-Vanderpujie lost his sight, he’d sit beside his daughter Kate and go one-by-one through the photographs in his collection. Kate would take each print in turn and label the rear with a title and date. Isaac’s ability to recall the photographs he took over a lifetime of work was remarkable. Even after his sight deserted him completely, Isaac was still able to describe the familiar composition of faces and places captured in each image. For Kate the experience of sharing in her father’s memories so intimately was at times overwhelming. 14


The Vanderpujie collection of black and white photographs spans three-quarters of a century. It stems from the establishment of the ‘Deo Gratias’ photography studio in 1922 in a neighbourhood to this day still referred to as ‘British Accra’. Isaac’s father, James K. Bruce-Vanderpujie, immersed himself in the emerging art form of photography, finding willing subjects and ample business among the inhabitants of colonial Jamestown. His modest single storey photography studio occupied a prominent location at the intersection of Ga Mashie Road and High Street, then the administrative and commercial heart of the Gold Coast. Isaac’s father, who Kate describes as “very particular with the way he took photographs,” would meticulously arrange his subjects before the camera lens; the chief fisherman and his wife back from church in their Sunday finest, a symbolic oar laid across their laps; and the colonial staff sergeants dressed all in white, pith helmets tucked beneath crooked arms, posturing before the veranda of their country club. In the late 1950s Isaac was sent to study photography in the German Democratic Republic, after which he returned to Accra to continue his father’s work. Isaac was there to photograph a young Queen Elizabeth hand in hand with Doctor Kwame Nkrumah - political prisoner turned President of sub-Saharan Africa’s newest democracy. Just as he photographed the beautiful Ayelej Okine - lips parted, eyes closed, leaning low towards the microphone, as she sang beside the famed Highlife musician E.T. Mensah at the Havana Nightclub in downtown Adabraka. Seen in its entirety the collection of photographs housed at Deo Gratias, the lifetime work of two men, serves as a great leveller of people and power. With the waning of Jamestown’s importance in the second half of the twentieth century it’s hard to imagine a steady line of distinguished characters continuing to flow through the doors of the Deo Gratias Studio. Even so, with much around it having changed, you can visit the studio today to have your portrait taken by Charity, Isaac’s longtime assistant and colleague. And on those rare occasions, when the studio’s photographs are out on public display, local families wonder at recognising the expressions of their elders staring back at them. 15


Fan [Track 2] 2 min 29 secs



[sounds] low rumble of fan, wrrrrrrrrr

car horn, bop bop

rumble, wrrrrrrrr

hum of traffic, hmmmmmm rumble, wrrrrrrr car horn, bip bop bop man shouts outside, inaudible chair creaks, kweek wrrrrrrrr, fan rumble fades out

[interview] With my background in photography...I became an all-round photographer. I mean, anything that has to do with photography, I tried to do it. I moved to Tema to a textile factory. One may ask, ‘why Textile?’ In textile printing, they have a photo-engraving department which uses photographic materials and so to produce films for transfer on copper rollers for the printing of the local materials, popularly known as Dumas. That was Ghana Textile Printing. The British ambassador came to the factory and he was taken around. He came to the photo-engraving session. So, I took him around explaining the processes…how we go about transferring the images to the copper roller to be used for printing Dumas. I was at Ghana Textile Printing for some time until ah…. the Ghana Revolution started under our former president Jerry John Rawlings. There was confusion in the whole country. Ghana Textile Printing was being managed by United Africa Company, and a firm in Holland, Vlisco. So… it was a joint establishment. Anyway, I was there for some time and because of the revolution there were a lot of problems…and ah…the factory was closed down. As I said… I was a all-round sort of a fellow – what comes in my way, so far as photography is concerned, I do that to my utmost best.



Chief [Track 3] 3 min 10 secs



[sounds] low rumble of fan fades in, wrrrrrrr

traffic hum, hmmmmm women having conversation outside, inaudible car horns, bop bop bip bip barp

car horn, bip

car horn, bop baaarp

car horn, bop bop car accelerates, vrrrrrrr wrrrrrr, fan rumble fades out

[interview] Recently…my eyesight, started ah, I mean ah failing me. I don’t think I can say much than what the present picture is showing. I saw the picture how my father took it. I think I have a picture here showing Kojo Ababio the 4th, Jamestown Chief …in the thirties. He passed away, or he died, in around 1939. And after that a new chief was installed in his ah…was installed in his position. So we have now Kojo Ababio the 5th, who is now Jamestown Chief here in Accra. This is ah…it’s just a decoration. A lion which was formed with cement materials. That was at the front of the Palace. The Chief had interest to sit on it to have that photograph taken. I mean it hasn’t got any peculiar meaning, but just to sit on it for the picture to be taken. That was all. …Mostly people prefer taking their pictures at the weekends, especially on Sundays…after church service. Ghana is ah…very religious. They go to church nicely dressed and they feel that once they put the nice dresses on, they always feel like going to ah… studios…to pose for the camera. When they come… I mean as a professional photographer…you must know how to pose them. At times ah…people come with their own interests to tell you that ‘I want this picture to be taken this way’. I mean at times they tell you that ‘ I want the picture to look like that or appear like that’. We have very big materials with paintings on it. We were having different backgrounds…so when people come in we show them the backgrounds, they select what they want to, but at times also we watch the way they dress…and then we select the background for them.



Nightlife [Track 4] 4 min 14 secs



[sounds] low rumble of fan fades in, wrrrrrrrr hammering in background, da, da music fades in

[interview] We go out by ourselves to the night clubs…to take pictures. This picture was taken at Havana Nightclub…in Jamestown here. This Ayelo Okine , she was with ah…a nightclub dance band for this E.T. Mensah, the musician, and his Tempos Band.

female vocalist trumpet music fades out music plays softly in background trumpet, female vocalist plays softly in background

music fades up saxophone

During those days, I mean ah…the Colonial era, at the weekends nightlife in Accra was actually ah… very interesting, because people move from nightclubs to nightclubs. You can see somebody at Havana, before you realise him, he has moved to Lido or Kit Kat. People come all over…from Accra, to the place. At that time…ah…people were comfortable…relaxed…and when they go out at the weekends, they all feel that they must be happy. So…if we put on that light to take pictures, I mean it doesn’t disturb at all. I mean you face somebody dancing with a nice lady…if they move away another fellow also comes in for picture to be taken…it was very interesting. People were so relaxed and I mean, they enjoy themselves. It’s not like today, you know, people get scared…for their pictures to be taken. If you approach them with a camera, they start asking you a lot of questions and so forth.

female vocalist sings: watch a monkey lying down looking so sad and worried taking no pity, he’s not worried he’ll be up again to be down moooonkey moooonkey moooonkey take it easy with her



They Are All Dead [Track 5] 0 min 42 secs



[sounds] low rumble of fan fades in, wrrrrrrr

[interview] My father established ah…the studio in the year 1922. Other photographic studios which sprang up…none of them, none of them…is in existence, especially those studios here in Accra.

car horns, bop baarp

wrrrrr, fan rumble fades out

If you go to those places, and they tell you that, I mean…there has been a photographic studio here before, you can never believe it. You you can’t see any sign at all. They are all dead!



Thanks Be To God [Track 6] 0 min 39 secs



[sounds] low rumble of fan fades in, wrrrrrr

[interview] Our people from the beginning went through…difficult periods. My father went through all this…so at the end… I think he tried to ah…give thanks to God. That’s why he decided to chose Deo Gratias.

wrrrrrr, fan rumble fades out

We are also saying…still….Deo Gratias – Thanks be to God…that we are still in existence.



A Family Business [Track 7] 2 min 44 secs



[sounds] low rumble of fan fades in, wrrrrrrr

[interview] After my father’s elementary schooling, he worked for some time at City Council, now known as Accra Metropolitan Assembly. After that he attached himself to a very well known photographer here in Jamestown. When I grew up...I was with him, and I realised what he was doing and what he was achieving through photography. So I also became a bit interested. So during my elementary schooling I tried to learn photography, if I can say it, by myself. If my father closes work in the evenings, I just get to the dark room and then try to practise what I’ve seen him doing.

car horns, bop

car horn, bop baarp

wrrr, fan rumble fades out quickly

At that time I can tell myself to be an amateur photographer. So I was using these box cameras to take pictures and then…get back to my father’s studio, process the film, black and white, and then try to print. Well I was doing this while I was still in schooling. And then after my secondary education, I realised that, I mean, there is something good in photography. Seeing the way my father had chalked successes in his work. So actually I decided to go into photography…and ah, I started working with him as an assistant photographer. ...I came in again to work here with my father for some years…until he passed away. I took it over and I run it... until recently my eyesight started ah…failing me… so…I decided to bring my daughter…in. My daughter Kate is at the moment here in the studio trying to see the progress of the studio… for the future.



Seen & Heard And to think it would not exist But for those tenuous instruments, the eyes Jorge Luis Borges, ‘History of the Night’

visual tools of the architect. It allowed us to think about photography beyond its use as an architectural analytical tool - a chance to think about the visual medium’s connection to memory and authenticity.

SPACE FOR IMAGINATION Isaac is a photographer and the owner of the Deo Gratias photographic studio in Accra. The studio was founded in 1922 by his father JK Bruce-Vanderpuije in a neighbourhood called Jamestown. Very much a family business, the studio was set up by his father, taken over by Isaac and now managed by his daughter Kate and his long time assistant Charity. The studio is a unique and rare archive of Ghanaian life spanning close to a century, with photographs ranging from the pomp of royal visits and military procession to the routine intimacy of family portraits, and the enthusiasm of 1940’s Accran nightlife and burgeoning post-colonial industry. Isaac is now well into his eighties and has recently started to go blind. Over the past few years he and his daughter Kate have been systematically archiving his and his fathers collection – he recounts where, when and of whom the photographs were taken which she then methodically records on the back of the photographs. It is a humbling experience to listen to Isaac, as he narrates the story of the studio through the photographs his family have taken. Stirred by these stories, we arranged for Isaac to choose a series of photographs from their collection to describe back to us from memory. These descriptions then sparked broader conversations about the period of their taking and their meaning within the studio and Isaac’s life. For Isaac the photographs acted as an aide memoire of different periods in Ghanaian history. If Dede and Charles were our guides to an Accra present, Isaac was a guide to an Accra past. In one of the interviews titled Chief, Isaac talks about the act of constructing or staging the photograph – the photograph not merely as record, but imbued with intention. These conversations with Isaac became a means to unpack the role of photography; to think more critically about the medium and our own decision to rely on sound over the more conventional 28

We place uncritical trust in the visual. We say ‘seeing is believing’. Photographs promise a sort of authenticity, a snap shot or instant in time, but of course photographs are not a mere record of a moment, a mnemonic or reminder, but in reality help form and shape memories and conceptions. In the recording Chief, Isaac says ‘I saw the picture how my father took it’. I think Isaac means that his memory of the photograph is clear, unsullied by the passing of time, but he alludes to something else – the authorship of the photograph. Seldom do we imagine beyond the frame to behind the camera and the intentions of the photographer. How has the photographer staged the photograph? How has it been cropped, and what lies beyond the frame? What details have been suppressed or highlighted at the moment of development? Does Isaac remember the printed photograph, or perhaps he remembers much more about its taking - how his father directed it, conceived and developed it? Our discussions with Isaac prompted us to think more critically about our own process of photographic representation. What were our photographs depicting and what aspect of Accran life were we


imagined meaning and context. The recordings of Isaac recounting his memories of a photograph asks the listener, faced with merely the back of the photograph’s frame and an explanatory title, to imagine the photograph, while the exhibition’s various other recordings ask the listener to imagine (or picture) Accra from the recordings.


hoping to capture, distil or crop? On arrival in Accra, we soon became aware of the limits of photography. The medium was incapable of capturing the vitality and multiplicity of the Accra we were experiencing. Alongside its ineffectiveness as a tool of record, we became cautious of the unintended consequences of these photographs – our images depicted stereotypical scenes of crowded streets, open drains and crumbling tropical buildings that only served to confirm the preconceptions of creaking urban infrastructures and poverty that plague images and imaginings of Africa. How could we represent the city in a way that accepted our agency but that was more truthful to the experience of Accra, while allowing the ‘space for imagination’ that photography offers? Sound became a means for us to ‘un-see’ Accra, to undo our limited visual understanding of the place, and to approach it from a fresh perspective enabled by the process of listening. One of the powers of photography is that it allows various imaginings about the photo’s context, origins and subject, allowing space for the viewer to assign to it meaning and memory. Though we relied heavily on sound recording to create an imagined Accra back at our London exhibition, we were intent not to inhibit the space for wonderment and imagination that photography allows. We tried to recreate this ‘space for imagination’ in our exhibition, allowing the listener to assign to the recordings their own

At first glance, it may seem that sound recordings possess a more neutral authenticity than photography - the field recording for example, ostensibly presents an almost ethnographic objectivity. It might at first also appear that the act of writing or photography is more performative (or able to construct meaning) than recording sound, a seemingly passive act. However walking the city with sound recorder in hand is a conscious decision to let the city speak to you – it is an act of listening not passive hearing. It necessitates a focus and attention requiring the sound recorder to become a listener; to tune in to the sounds of the city, choosing what to listen to and which streets to follow – an act of engagement with the city similar to that of walking. Recording ambient city sounds is a sort of auditory mapping; it charts the coming and goings of a place, possessing a spatial quality more immersive than photography. Sound recording can be seen to be performative in another sense too; it is in the editing of the sound recordings for their presentation in the exhibition and their retelling or recollection that the chronicler’s voice is heard. The way by which the recordings are edited and the choice of how they are presented alongside each other is a construction of ours, and though our voices have been removed from the recordings, our authorship is patent. The editing, curation and presentation of the recordings into the exhibition space is an act of translation, transferring their meaning to a new space and city, and as with any translation they are now available to a broader audience all with their own unique readings and understanding.


CITY SOUNDS 1 Jamestown, Nima, Adabraka

City Sounds 1


City Sounds 1

Independence Square is the second largest urban public space in the world after Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Commissioned by President Kwame Nkrumah, it was completed in 1961 to mark the visit of Queen Elizabeth II. We first visit on 6th March 2016 - Independence Day. Outside the stadium crowds are flowing through the turnstiles, from within a voice calls out across the public address system - “59 years of peace and freedom in Ghana.” Beneath a statue of a soldier brandishing rifle and bayonet, young men show off their BMX skills ringed by an eager audience, smart phones held aloft to capture the action. A throng of motorcycles race across the vast public space, exhausts cracking as they weave between islands of friends and young families. A few entrepreneurs have made a business of taking portraits on dusty SLRs, printing them on the spot from little white printers imported from Korea. Down at the beach, just through the arch, the shoreline is teaming with revellers. The angled light of the late afternoon sun, combined with the sand and spray, generates a noisy haze over the crowds that amplifies the activity. On another day the square is all but deserted. A school teacher is now standing beneath the soldier’s statue, telling his students of the Ghanians who lost their lives fighting for independence. The entrepreneurial photographers are still here though and it feels like the right moment to ask for a picture.


City Sounds 1

Chicks & TV [Track 8] 0 min 12 secs

Powercut [Track 8] 0 min 30 secs

Salaga Market Street [Track 8] 1 min 48 secs


City Sounds 1

[sounds] chicks chirp... chirp chirp chirp chirp... scooter horn beep be beep chirp chirp chirp, football commentary from a TV chirp “...over six years since his last goal and that was er... in the conference for Wrexham� ...chirp chirp

[sounds] hum of a generator... hummm... mmmmmmm... swallows tweat hummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, tweat humm... swallows tweat, tweat swallows tweeting, and generator hum humm, bottle top falls to ground

[sounds] music type 1 fades in, man talking and selling goods men chat, scooter passes scooter moves away vendors ring hand bells loud speaker advertising medicines begins more hand bells being rang, loud speaker advertising medicines type 2 music fades in, noisy car engine passes music type 3 fades in car passes, music in the background cars horn toots music in the background, scooter passes and toots scooter horn toots, music plays on music plays on music plays on motorcycle passes woman’s voice, music type 4 begins, African rap rap music plays on rap music becomes louder, car horn beeps rap music plays on children shouting rap music fades, inaudible conversation in the background


City Sounds 1

Roadside Prayer [Track 9] 0 min 45 secs

Rain [Track 9] 3 min 20 secs


City Sounds 1

[sounds] continuous chanting prayer through a loudspeaker... a scooter engine revs hard a second loudspeaker takes up a prayer and joins the first... ...softer and in the distance a man calls out... and another replies conversation, engine ticking over in the background the two prayer songs continue... car horn, toots a vendor’s voice calling out repeatedly a woman’s voice replies a large vehicle pulls up and the engine idles, car horn, beep beep melodic car horn, do dee do... a single horn, beep a large engine idling only the first prayer chanting is still distinguishable, softer still car horns, beep beep beeeeeeeeep, fading out continuous low sound of traffic abrupt quiet

[sounds] a medicine man over a loadspeaker calls out continuous rain driven by a hard wind... shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh shhhhhhhhhh shhhhhhhhh shhhhhhhhhhh shhhhhhhh medicine man continues to call out ceaslessly shhhhhhhh shhhhhhh shhhhhh shhhhhhhh shhhhhhhh shhhhhh shhhhhhh... sheet rain, crackle crack crackle crack crack crack crack... large droplets falling from above hitting a concrete floor, crack crack splash crack crackle crack rain hardens.... snap snap snap crackle crack snap crackle a car drives past.... spplllsssssshhhhhhh plip plop crackle crack crackle crack shhhhhhh shhhhhhh shhhhhhh rain for duration..... shhhhh shhhhh shhhhhhhhh


DEDE Dzorwulu


Dede is connected to her land. When she talks about her childhood playing in the undergrowth her eyes light up. We’re standing in the spot where she used to play. The grass feels spongy and alive underfoot; it’s greener and thicker than we’re used to back home. There are all manner of plants and trees sprouting from the earth, some carefully planted, others expressing natures random will. But the world outside is not far away and it’s encroaching. Dede points to a young tree that marks the end of her family land after which there is a high mound of red dirt with a construction site beyond. Blockwork walls bound two 40


sides of the plot while back the way we came is Achimota Road, one of the principle routes out of Accra and on to Kumasi in the north. When we ask Dede if they often get visitors from outside she replies, “only to ask after acquiring and developing the land.” She talks passionately about how the local government and landlords concern themselves only with projects that secure an immediate return - roads, apartment blocks and shopping malls. The quantifiable development of the global city. But Dede and her family concern themselves with things that grow. And sometimes that can take generations. When Dede was a child the land was “trees, trees and more trees and beyond the trees marshland where you could find catfish and tilapia.” Dede’s mother would send her and her siblings out to play in the garden, to hide, to search, to make, to learn. And they did. Dede returns again and again to her childhood adventures - playing Oware with seeds, building castles in the earth, making tin cars out of scrap and helping the flowers to grow. Dede’s family didn’t want “halfbaked children,” they didn’t even want fully baked lawyers, doctors and bankers. They wanted children fascinated in everything that the land has to offer; doctor’s who loved all the sciences, lawyers who tended to flower beds and bankers who understood the significance of lying in the shade of a tree in the afternoon heat. And so at the dawn of independence Dede’s grandmother, Efua Sutherland, bought a plot of land on the edge of Accra. A plot that friends and locals thought her mad to buy, considering it to be only worthless swampland. But Efua had other plans. When the roads were built out of Accra she asked the workmen to dump the rubble onto her land, slowly creating dry islands amongst the bog where the family could build a home and start to plant a garden. Clearly Efua’s plan worked as years later her grandchildren would come to spend every weekend and holiday on the land, finding themselves in a kingdom with seemingly limitless worlds to explore. 41


Efua Sutherland [Track 10] 3 min 36 secs



[sounds] sound of birdsong, tweet tit tweet

sound of birdsong, tweet tweet

continued birdsong car horn, bip bop bop

continued birdsong, tweet tweet car horn, bip bip

[interview] They had a lot of... the British had a lot of influence on the people from the Central Region. So you’d find a very very very black person, wearing a tail coat and suit. You know, a bow tie and a petticoat with a watch, a clock in his pocket. And have a cane and a hat, and wear gloves. They’d have tea at four, (laughs) tea and biscuits and cake at four (laughs). So it was quite... there was a lot of English influence there. If you ever heard my grandmother speak, I think there is a recording of her voice, if you ever heard her speak, you would hear her speak with quite an English accent. She had wanted to be an Anglican nun initially. When she was in the process of going to take her vows the family... we came from a royal family in the central region, they came with their drums. Apparently, my mum was telling me, they came with their drums and everything, drumming in front of the convent demanding that my grandmother comes out (laughs) comes out this minute. She better come out, you know, and finish school and come back and get married and have kids. (laughs) They were not going to allow her to become a nun. She was an only child, and her mother had died six months after she was born. So her mum’s sisters took care of her. So they sort of got her out of there... they got the idea out... they drummed that idea out of her head really. Yeah, so, you know, as a.. as a young lady... she, she was, she was of course... she went through all the pre-independence thing. Where you... had... (mumbles) there where a lot of racial issues with the English and the Ghanaians and so on. Them being here and the fact that they were having a lot more benefits than the Ghanaians and all of that. So then of course she started to work with Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Independence Now, that kind of thing. Even though she had gone and been educated in England and come back. (laughs) She just felt that, the Ghanaian could do stuff for himself so... him or herself so... she joined the Pan-African movement in Ghana in the 50s, in the 1950s, until Ghana got independence from the British... ..then she started writing properly, she started, she had time to... of course in between then she got married and had my mum you know, her brother and the younger sister, so she had three children. But yeah basically then she started writing here, most of her writing was done here.



She Wanted The Forest [Track 11] 5 min 30 secs



[sounds] sound of birdsong, tweet tweet

[interview] Basically after 1957 when we had independence, in 1958. She identified this piece of land because she needed space... and quiet.. lots of it. At the time Accra, or if you say town, I’m going into town, this place was not part of town. It was from Jamestown all the way to Nima and then Pig Farm, just around that area and bits of Roman Ridge. So this was considered complete forest... and she wanted the forest and the quiet to work. So she bought the land. She asked permission from the president at the time, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, they came to inspect the land, it was marshland, nobody wanted it. And he was like, you know what, you can have it for whatever. So she bought it quite cheaply at the time. The good thing was they had started to construct the road right in front of the land and they didn’t know where to put the debris, so she said okay if you don’t know where to put it, come put it on my land, just fill it and make it solid and compact enough to build because it was a waterlogged place. So they did.

beeping as of construction vehicles reversing, beeeep beeeep beeeep

car horns and traffic, bip, wrrrrrr, bip

renewed sound of birdsong, tweet tweet

sound of cicadas and birds, choochoochoochoo

Growing up it was lots of... trees... this whole region including the park area was just dense trees. Two fish ponds and lots and lots of trees. We had palm trees, the tree of life, a woman’s tongue and on top of that for each grandchild there’s a tree. She planted the tree of life for all of us, for each grandchild, so there are eight trees for eight grandchildren. We were here most of the time after school and during vacations. Our older cousins would send us off fishing with our fishing rod, you know, we would fish and come home with tilapia and grill them fresh. And they would have made what we call banku and we would have that for lunch. And we had oware to play, that is a game. At the time there was ludo, lots of it, we played that. We told stories, Anansi stories, at night because we didn’t have a television so we had a bonfire and we would sit round it and tell stories until about eight. Yes, from about five to eight we would be telling stories, there were so many of us so each person would tell a story.





continued sound of birds , tweet tweet

sound of birds mixed with low hum of traffic, wrrr tweet tweet

continued birdsong, tweet twit tweet low hum of traffic and birdsong wrrrrrrrrr, tweet tweet, wrrrrrr birdsong

She would come home, and she would ask “what did you do today?” “what have you learnt today?” My grandmother was: learn everything because you don’t know when you need the skill. But be creative about learning, be creative about whatever you’re doing, your work environment, learn to be creative, learn to make yourself happy, learn to cheer yourself up, because life is not simple. But she didn’t tell us that in a very complicated way she just left us to learn it with, you know, the environment she created. At a certain point she had to, sort of, struggle to keep this place, a little bit. Because people, when development started, when people started to understand the value of land in terms of selling and development and how much you could derive from it. People started to try and cut into her section of the land and she had to really put her foot down and say “look, this is not going to happen, this is not your land and I’m not going to give it to you”. She had already, you know, decided what she was going to do with... especially this part of the land, to open her space to the public. And she was not going to allow anybody to encroach, or buy, or do any such thing. So for us it was like, this is what she fought for, this is what she has worked to keep and so for us to bury her here, it was... it was... it was obvious. It was just natural for us to bury her here because this was something she had worked for, for herself and her family. So ya, it was just, we just thought that, it was just natural that we buried her here.



The Selling Off Of The Land [Track 12] 3 min 39 secs



[sounds] birdsong mixed with the sound of construction vehicles, tweet tweet crack crash vrrrrrrrr large vehicle/engine, mvrrrrrr vehicle reversing, beep beep beep digger shaking bucket, thwack crack loud birdsong , tweet twit tweet birdsong, tweet tweet vehicle reversing, beep beep beep cockatoo, squark squark squark

large vehicle/engine, mvrrrrrr vehicle reversing, beep beep beep birdsong mixed with construction vehicles, mvrrr twee tweet

[interview] With the influence of, I don’t know... a lot of Western culture I guess, you know with the lifestyle, as in trying to be rich and famous and ..... being respected, respect was equated to having money. The selling off of the land just started. The chiefs and some of the family heads have sold off the family land so that they could profit. The main thing was about having money to live a high lifestyle. To live and be respected in society, because unfortunately in this society you are respected usually because of how much money you have and how much influence, you know how much you can influence the system to work for you. So it became a little bit of a selfish thing for people to just... okay so I need to better my life which means I need to sell off the property. We had many people come in, some pretending that they had bought bits of the land. So people would sort of say “ohhh, I bought this land in nineteen so, so and so and I’ve forgotten the boundaries” and so they would like to sort of shift the boundaries. And some people have actually tried to sell this part of the land (laughs). Somebody came and said he was an agent for the family and sold the land off, he tried to sell this portion of the land off. Fortunately the person they were selling it off to knew my mother... and he said “Ese Sutherland would never sell this land off” (sound of digger) “that cannot be right” so he came home and he said “look, this person is saying he is an agent for your family and he is trying to sell off this bit of the land” and my mother said “we’re not selling”. We wouldn’t sell it for a million dollars or pounds, we wouldn’t sell it.

digger shaking bucket, thwack crack

In as much as people would come and think “well, how posh of you to have such land and not sell it off” “why do you just have space? So much space, when you could be making money”. And then a few weeks later you’d literally hear “but it’s so quiet and peaceful I didn’t want to leave”. We’ve definitely had people come in and say all sorts of things. Like I said, threatened us, threatened to take us to court and let the government force us to sell bits of the land. So yeah, keeping the land, it was tough yes, but... we’ve done our best.



They Say I’m An Idealist [Track 13] 4 min 55 secs



[sounds] birdsong, tweet tweet twit

birdsong mixed with the sound of construction vehicles, twit tweet mvrrrrr birdcall, twit-a-wooo birdsong, tweet tweet

[interview] How do you say... I’m an idealist. They think I like, oh I like all these... you know roses. I think life is like a bed of roses. And I say, “I don’t think life is like a bed of roses, life is hard (laughs) for everybody.” I don’t have all the money in the world but I’m... I’m okay. It’s okay not to have all the money in the world. I can’t just get up and say I’m going on holiday but I can get up and take a matt and come and sleep right under this tree and forget that I have issues to think about. And I walk back out there and I have a clearer mind to... maybe to know what to do and how to solve a particular problem. We change governments every four years so it’s quite trying. Everybody comes with their agenda. Because they are struggling to provide the basic needs of the people: water, food, you know... basic needs, giving people a decent salary. Unemployment. Anything to get money quickly to deal with the basic needs of people is what is on their minds now. . But they really don’t look at the long term effects of what they are doing. It’s about priorities, what’s important? Because right now if building roads is what you are using for politics for example. If that is all you are thinking about. You are not prioritising the public spaces and how we communicate and how we use public space.

birdsong, twit tweet tweet

mixed birdsong, twit tweet tweet tweet

Every time the people come out they are angry because... “I don’t have” that is all they think about: “I don’t have water” “I don’t have health insurance” “I don’t have enough food to eat” “ I can’t afford one square meal a day”. Yes, you can afford to live a certain style of life, you have green patches in your homes and your kids run around but... what about the kids in the poor areas, they don’t have any such place. So that’s (claps her hands) that’s why I advocate for public spaces. A space to grow, a place to grow, a place to think, a place to create, a place to whatever... I mean especially for kids, run around, fall down, get a few bruises. Hey whatever. And just learn. When you grow up you pick your battles, you’re like “errrrrrr (clicks tongue) this is not worth it” (laughs) or “yes, I’m going to fight for it and I’m going to keep it” but you learn when and which battles to fight and which ones are just not necessary. I just feel like you learn all these things. I’m not saying that public spaces teach you everything but they give you an opportunity to learn these things... some of these things. At least I most certainly have learnt most of them from here, and even from the space in school that 51


She Wanted The Forest [Track 14] 1 min 08 secs



we had. You have your swings and everything and sometimes you have to be considerate... you have to swing a little and come off and let your friend swing a little bit. So, if we learnt that a little bit then we wouldn’t want to horde all the monies to ourselves when (sings it) we are old and in government. We’d like to share the money and everybody gets some (laughs) Not me, me, me, me, me and that kind of thing. Be mean to everybody else.

birdsong mixed with the sound of construction vehicles, twit tweet, mvrrrrrr, beep beep beep

[sounds] birdsong, tweet tweet

birdsong, chirp tweet twit tweet

So I think for me it’s just... spaces are important. A little bit of space and a little bit of quiet won’t kill anybody. Just need to sort your brains out, you just need space to learn and to grow and to sort things out in your head. That’s the most important thing for me in having a public space being able to sort yourself out. To take the right decisions without all the noise of everybody and everything else in your ears.

[interview] She’s called Rashida. She’s from Nima, that’s where she lives. She’s beginning to understand what it means to have space and what it means to grow plants. The feeling of just having cool breeze on a hot afternoon (laughs) on a hot afternoon like this. And she wants to have it where she lives. So it’s about how you communicate the benefits of having space like this to different sections of society. The value of having flowers, value of having a garden, value of having a beautiful environment. And we need to make... we also need to... on a private level, we need to make it trendy. Like I said. We need to make it trendy. We need to make it like owning an Iphone 6. You need to make it like that.



The Value Of Things Value [mass noun] The regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something. (2017 Oxford University Press)

TREES, TREES AND MORE TREES By all accounts, Dede’s grandmother was an extraordinary woman. Efua Theodora Sutherland was a storyteller, an educator, a playwright and a community builder. One of the leading intellectuals of Ghana’s post-colonial cultural renaissance and a close friend of the nation’s revered first president Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. We meet Dede on her grandmother’s land – a two acre plot of quiet green space in the Dzorwulu neighbourhood of Accra. When the family bought the land at the dawn of Ghanian independence it was an inaccessible swamp beyond the outer edges of the city. Over generations Dede’s family have cultivated, planted and watched it grow into a veritable garden paradise. There are palms and cacti, kola nut and coconut trees, the African Flame and the beguilingly named Woman’s Tongue. There is also the tree of life; eight trees for eight grandchildren.

of construction. From 200,000 inhabitants pre-independence, Accra’s population has swelled by almost 850% to 1.66 million people (according to UNdata from 2000, though contemporary estimates put this number at closer to 2.27 million). This rapid urbanisation has had a merciless impact on the West-African savanna that once surrounded the city. It has also left little opportunity for the creation and protection of public green space. Accra – A Plan for the Town was published in 1958 and opens with encouraging words from then Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah – “Ghana became independent on the 6th March, 1957 and from that day our efforts to improve the standard of living for all who live and work in Ghana have been intensified. Great strides have been made and there is everywhere a spirit of dedication and endeavour. It is fitting... that our capital city should offer improved amenities and standards of living.” This first masterplan for Accra imagined a verdant costal city with wide tree-lined avenues and generous public spaces. One of the most ambitious proposals was for a series of ‘Green Wedges’ running along the seashore and radiating out from the centre. These protected green corridors were to form a rich network of public spaces; providing opportunities for

This is the space where Dede passed her childhood immersed in wild-green adventures, surrounded by her brothers, sisters, cousins and trees, “lots and lots of trees”. It’s also a space that Dede’s family have opened to the public. Today it’s called the Mmofra Foundation and children from across Accra are able to escape the heat and noise of the city; to play, create and learn amongst the trees in the peace and quiet of this green oasis. Just as Dede did as a child.

CONFLICTING VALUES Yet urban development has caught up and encroached upon the Sutherland’s garden paradise. The once hidden swamp is now surrounded by the modern metropolis. Beyond the sounds of birds the calmness is interrupted by the low hum of traffic and the noise 54

Proposed public green spaces ʻAccra, A Plan For the Townʼ 1958 Current public green spaces


recreational and social space, defining the boundaries of residential neighbourhoods and improving the city’s microclimate. Sadly there is next to no trace of these green spaces in today’s Accra. Listening to Dede speak; her concerns are closely intertwined with the rapid urbanisation and erosion of open green space. Dede talks passionately about the struggles to ward off development from her family’s own land. How neighbours have sold off their property for vast profits and think her family “posh” for not doing the same. She sees local government and landlords concerned only with projects that secure an immediate return, roads, apartment blocks and shopping malls, “anything to get money quickly... is what is on their minds. They don’t look at the long term effects of what they’re doing.”

land ownership was perceived as a hindrance to development. In a modern free-market economy, where both public and private developers are required to entice investors, raise capital and develop land for a quantifiable return, it was seen as vital to register land under individual titles that bestowed ownership rights on clearly defined parties. Simply put, developers have to have security in who they are

Dede’s concerns describe a conflict in how we ascribe value to land in an urban society. On the one hand a commercial market understanding of value, and on the other a set of harder to quantify long-term social values – environmental, educational and cultural.

TWO SYSTEMS It’s with these conversations with Dede in our minds that we began to read peculiar captions painted on signboards and across walls and doors throughout Accra: “THIS HOUSE IS NOT FOR SALE” “THIS LAND IS NOT FOR SALE” “OFFENDERS DO SO AT THEIR OWN RISK!!!” These messages indicate another conflict. A conflict of interest. A conflict over who owns the land on which the city has been built. In Ghana, two land tenure systems coexist side-byside – a traditional West-African system of communal land ownership and a British-type land registry system. Attempts to ‘Westernise’ land ownership under individual title deeds and plans date back to the colonial period. As urbanisation and industrialisation in Ghana gathered pace, traditional communal 55


dealing with and what they’re investing in. Unfortunately these ownership parties are anything but clearly defined, the consequence of which is the profusion of warning signs and half finished concrete shells one sees scattered across Accra. The titles to these vacant plots tied up in litigation as multiple ‘owners’, claiming to have rights under the traditional system, queue up to claim ownership of the land in an already overtaxed court system.

THE LAND HELD IN TRUST For someone from the outside, observing how these two land systems collide, you’d be forgiven for thinking that communal land ownership is a mad inconvenience, an obstacle to be overcome. An assumption so obvious that studies continue to cite title ambiguities as the single greatest obstacle to development in Accra and the subsequent restriction in supply that drives up land values. But in the context of our conversations with Dede - on the value and the worth of land - there is something interesting in the traditional system, something almost noble. Consider the description of the traditional system provided by Ghanaian geographer and urban planner Dr. Kwadwo Konadu-Agyemang: “The existing land tenure system is strongly influenced by the notion of traditional ownership whereby land is conceived of as belonging to the whole community, countless of who are dead, a few of who are living, and millions of who are yet to be born. Thus most of the existing lands are Stool or Skin and family lands superintended over by chiefs and family elders some of who may see land alienation as a betrayal of trust, which their ancestors may not take kindly to...” This description of traditional land ownership sits comfortably with the long-term values that Dede spoke to us so passionately about. The idea that land in Accra could be held in trust by this generation, to maintain the achievements of past generations but more significantly the interests of future generations.


In trying to understand Accra, we discovered instances in which communal land ownership has helped to maintain and build support networks within the inner city. The most obvious is in relation to housing. In a city considered the 75th most expensive in the world, between Melbourne and Houston, where residents make ten times more money, housing is in incredibly short supply and is even more expensive. Yet homelessness is not widespread. For example, nearly one-third of Ghana’s urban households don’t own a dwelling or pay rent of any kind. Far from being a sign of chronic homelessness this is indicative of a network of extended family support. The kind of community orientated support networks so often referred to as being eroded in Western cities. In his exploration of housing provision in GaMashie, Accra’s oldest neighbourhood nestling in the heart of the modern city, Alf Bremer describes the traditional compound houses reminiscent of older village typologies. While acknowledging that the high percentage of family houses is a hindrance to urban development, he highlights the important contribution they make towards affordable housing: “family housing provides a low price accommodation for the urban poor because it can be occupied free of charge by those family members considered as the poorest. Therefore, family housing make an important contribution in housing the poor and provides an efficient net against homelessness.” Another example of the positive impact of a communal understanding of land ownership is the social spaces that pop up across the city. In a city with very little open space there is a sense that the street belongs


to the community and Ghanaians have no issue in commandeering it for their needs – be it funerals, festivals, ping-pong tournaments or in one case a boxing academy run entirely from a painted square marked out on the tarmac at a road intersection.

AN ALTERNATIVE MEASURE OF VALUE Acknowledging the contribution that traditional communal land ownership can make to the contemporary city while recognising the barriers it presents to urban renewal places us in a complex position. One from which it is not easy to draw clear lessons or conclusions. Yet our conversations with Dede raised fundamental questions about how we value land in our cities and brought to the fore a need to find a middle ground; a way of developing our cities that gives equal measure to a wider range of values as opposed to those skewed primarily towards commerce. Enrique Penalosa, former mayor of Bogota and a champion of progressive urban policies for the developing world, has the following to say; “If we in the Third World measure our success or failure as a society in terms of income, we would have to classify ourselves as losers until the end of time. With our limited resources, we have to invent new ways to measure success. This might mean that all kids have access to sports facilities, libraries, parks, schools and nurseries.”

REFERENCES Accra: Government Printer. (1958) Ghana Ministry of Public Housing (ed.) Accra: A Plan for the Town. Benzoni, Sharon. (2013) Crowded House, Accra Tries to Make Room for a Population Boom. Informal City Dialogues, Volume 4, Issue 66. 2013 Next City. Bremer, Alf. (2000) Conflict Moderation and Participation – Prospects and Barriers for Urban Renewal in Ga Mashie, Accra. Accra, Ghana: Visions of the City: Accra in the 21st Century. Buckley, Robert M; Mathema, Ashna S. (2007) Is Accra a Superstar City? Policy Research Working Paper; No. 4453. World Bank, Washington, DC. World Bank. Konadu-Agyemang, Kwadwo. (2001) A Survey of Housing Conditions and Characteristics in Accra. Habitat International 25. (06/02/2016) - on-town-planning-in-west-africa/ (06/02/2016) -

Recognising the inability of developing world cities to compete with income generation in the developed world, Penalosa puts forward an alternative metric for measuring value. He imagines a city in which the lived experience of its citizens, their access to those other metrics – social, environmental and cultural – is a more important signifier of prosperity than economic output.


CITY SOUNDS 2 Jamestown, Osu, Adabraka

City Sounds 2


City Sounds 2

Abdul’s office is a container filled with faded blue plastic chairs, their backs carrying the Adinkra symbol ‘Gye Nyame’ - ‘except for God’. The chairs are used for the weddings, funerals and festivities that take over the streets of Jamestown on weekends. They also demarcate the ring of the Street Fighting Academy, its name scrawled across the road in faded white paint by the junction of Salaga Market Street and Asafoatse Nettey Road. In a community that prides itself on producing former world boxing champions Azumah Nelson, Ike Quartey and Joshua Clottey; Abdul’s Academy provides the only dedicated training for kids. Abdul reels off the names of neighbourhoods within Jamestown - Bese, Akotolante, Swalawa, Assinan, Cow Lane, Kokompe, Amamumu - each has its own boxing gym and local champion. The champions meet at Bukom Square, one of the precious few open spaces in the heart of Accra, saved from development by decree of the local Ga-Mashie Chiefs. But before Abdul’s kids are ready to fight at Bokum they must hone their skills on the street; wearing oversized Thai boxing shorts pinched in at the waist and secured with a plastic bag. The boys under Abdul’s tutorship step light-footed across the black tarmac, dancing around each others’ advances, leaning back at the waist just enough to escape each others’ blows - they offer us an exhibition, showing all the signs of future champions.


City Sounds 2

A Good Show [Track 15] 2 min 09 secs


City Sounds 2


crowd claps, clap, clap, clap crowd claps, clap, clap, clap slow clap, clap clap car horn beeps crowd cheering crowd cheering faint cheering in the background as the fight continues

raised voices and cheering music in the background

crowd claps, clap, clap and cheers music in the background

a shout... stop claps and cheers fade out

[interview] We want them to give us an exhibition, an exhibition fight. In the blue corner, he is called the Weather, clap for him! He is our top fighter. Here is our brother also called the Stopper from Bukom Bay, clap for him also! I promise you, this is a good show, thank you very much. Four rounds, two minutes each. Seconds out. Round one. Box!

Yeahhh! yeah yeah yeah..... because you can make, if by the grace of god, you can make it and your life will change, your everything will change.…. we have Azumah Nelson, David Kotei, Joshua Clottey they are all Ga, Ga people, Ga. In boxing in Ghana, let me say in Africa, the whole world, Ga, Ga people... we rule the boxing. So erm… it’s good. Let me say, the work we are doing... is a very huuuuuge thing, big task and we want these boys to be... let me say world champions, professionals. We want to prove something, yeah, we want to prove something, that’s what we are doing, that’s what motivates us to keep on pushing, keep on pushing, keep on pushing. And I have a daughter doing boxing right now. Ya, in the whole Ghana, she’s flyweight, she’s the best one. My daughter, my daughter... My daughter, she just came back from Cameroon, I think a week ago... err... or yeah.


City Sounds 2

We Are Fighters [Track 16] 1 min 26 secs


City Sounds 2

[sounds] crowd cheers fades in chanting... esa esa esa esa cheers and claps wailing... wo yo wo yo

loud cheers and chanting chanting... esa esa esa esa cheers and claps

loud cheers and chanting raised voices arguing cheers and claps loud single clap


In Accra... let me say Accra, there is a tribe called Ga. Ga..... we are fighters, that’s what we are, we are fighters. We like to fight! That is what god has given us. So oh... there is one brother… oh... they are saying can you fight this one, and he will say; yes I will fight this guy. We do it area by area. We have different different areas in Jamestown, here in Accra. A place called Bukom, Akotolante, Bese, Assinan, Johnshi, Otobruni..... Kokompe, Zongo Lane, Cow Lane..... Muduo, Amammumu….. Ahhh..... you know, let me tell you one thing, if your boxer... is in here.... he he, within a short time the boxer can be a world champion. Because here.…. man..... it’s fire! ha ha ha ha he he he

cheers fade out


City Sounds 2

Prayer Groups [Track 17] 1 min 25 secs


City Sounds 2

[sounds] faint sound of music and a large crowd singing car horn... beep beep sound rises many quick hands clapping and cymbals... clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap click click click click click click chanting womens’ voices briefly a man’s voice over a speaker clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap click click click click click click again a man’s voice over a speaker, this time singing continuous soft voices of many women singing clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap click click click click click click clap click clap click clap click fades out

[interview] These are groups praying. They are probably three different churches...

suddenly, a man’s voice, chanting, rolling his tongue ta-ta-tada-ba-shar-tada-ba rrrra-taya-raby-ra-ra-taya-ra rrrra-taya-raby-ra-ra-taya-ra rrrra-taya-raby-ra-ra-taya-ra soft clapping, clap clap, man’s chanting continues a woman’s voice from elsewhere Suddenly, electronic organ, mens’ voices over a loudspeaker, loud a crowd joins in and sings slowly “ be happy in Jesus and to trust and full...” drums on each word, percussion music ends a single angry voice over the loudspeaker “...the forfeit is that...” abrupt end


City Sounds 2

We’ve Got The Talent [Track 18] 1 min 55 secs


City Sounds 2

[sounds] cheers from the table tennis game in backgorund and the ball bouncing pock......... pock........ pock

pock......... pock........ pock


If things work out well I want to become a professional footballer. So when I get that, I believe that I will get the necessary money... you understand... so I can develop talents. Seriously... I’m talking about Ghana, when you look at the kids, even my colleagues, talking about talents... we’ve got the talents, but the facilities which you need to support you. That’s our problem. At the start no one wants to support you, but when god helps and you make it, then they all want to come and enjoy with you. That... that’s why I’m trying to help myself in one way or another by doing this thing.

faint sound of music voices... “hey, he knows you” ping pong game fades out pock......... pock........ pock

Maybe they gamble by playing spar, going to the casino games, by sitting behind the computers trying to do fraud... so many ways. So they forget about their talents. Some of them, academically, they are good. I know, they are my friends. I see them around... because they didn’t get the necessary support they do drugs or something. So that’s all that I want to do... God help me so I can also help others.


City Sounds 2

We Call It Table Tennis [Track 19] 2 min 31 secs


City Sounds 2

[sounds] ping pong game in background and the ball bouncing pock......... pock........ pock pock......... pock........ pock call to prayer begins call to prayer

pock......... pock........ pock cheering

ping pong game fades out burst of cheering

[interview] You call it ping pong but here we call it table tennis. So when you talk about ping pong the majority will not know that, will not know what you’re taking about, unless you say tennis or table tennis. I used to play table tennis, there was a place in our area, the board is no longer there. So I was roaming and I went to Circle and I find one board there, I sat beside that board and was just looking at it…how to acquire the board? And where I would put the board actually. I said ok, this thing will be good for me ‘cos I know how to play a little bit and I’m good. But where to put the board? - I start planning. So I started roaming, I started roaming around this area, Adabraka. I roamed for about three days, I saw three places. And I asked that I wanted to come and put something here. When I came here it was empty like this, but there were some stones and other things around so I buried them. Actually there are four in the family and I am the last born. It has not been easy in our family, we used to struggle a lot. Actually my mum is a farmer in our home town, I only had a little amount of money, so I asked her to borrow me some to add to my money. So she borrowed me about 300 Cedi and I added 200 Cedi, making 500 Cedi. So I purchased this board first, but I couldn’t pay in full, so I paid in parts and I promised the owner that in two weeks time I’d have the balance. So I’m just praying that god will sustain me here for now until I get a better place and then I will go. I know this is not my destination, this is just a transition.



City Sounds 3


City Sounds 3

“According to Mr. Gambilla, after the Second World War in 1945, some Ghanaian soldiers who participated in the war were brought to settle in present-day 441. One soldier stood out in terms of height and muscle, he was the tallest and most muscular among the ex-service men. This Dagarte man, Gambilla recounts, was not known by name but by his army number which was 441. He used his number for marketing purposes too. 441 had a store where he sold palm wine. He also carried palm wine in a very big container and went around selling. 441 will shout “441 magane bura ya zo” (441 the aphrodisiac is here). The ex-service man also told stories about the war; his bravery, the killings, white ladies, and people from Nima and its environs converged at his place in the evening to listen to the stories or to take palm wine. Gradually people told their families and neighbours they were going to 441. The entire area wittingly or unwittingly endorsed and called the place 441. According to Mr. Gambilla, he has not seen any soldier as strong and unique as 441. He believes the name of the suburb could not have been any better.” Kingsford Kwaku Ahialey - 441, Univesity of Ghana Department of Communication Studies


City Sounds 3

Goat City [Track 20] 1 min 45 secs

In Other News [Track 20] 0 min 44 secs


City Sounds 3

[sounds] fade in tweeting of birds tweet, tweet, tweet, inaudible voices tweet, tweet, steps, fade out fade in city background sound, inaudible voices man calls out, chickens clucking , background sound chickens clucking , birds tweeting, inaudible voices, chickens clucking, tweet, tweet, cluck, tweet, cock-a-doodle-do, tweet, tweet, tweet, clucking, tweeting, speaking, cock-a-doodle-do, tweet, tweet, cluck, tweet tweet, cluck, tweet, tweet, cluck, tweet, man talking tweet, tweet, men talking loudly, talking talking, tweet, talking, tweet, talking, talking man calls out loudly to woman, general city sounds in the background, women chatter, steps, fade out steps, a knife chopping, a goat bleats loudly once background noise a knife chopping, chak chak music fades in, radio news reporter fades out, goats bleat loudly twice, bwaaaaa bwaaaaaa steps, thap thap thap, a man preaching in the distance man preaching loudly

[sounds] children chatter, steps, thap thap, children, chatter steps, thap thap distant car rumble, wvvvvvvv steps, thap thap thap thap steps, thap thap background voices steps, clip clip clip

[radio] news report fades in Anthony Selomorrion is on air for ..... “we think that the actions by some of the minority ethnics, at the .... parliamentary ... ........ to the good people of Ghana, because the president represents the good interest of Ghana, convene of .... group of sovereign Ghana.... Anthony Selomorrison. There is a step up in security in parliament house, the inspector general of police is on air to visit a new police station there to ensure maximum security for MPs, it comes on the back of attacks on some MPs and the threat of possible terror attacks in Ghana. Econa reports from parliament.� Voice fades out.


City Sounds 3

Songs Of Praise [Track 21] 1 min 00 secs

Noisy Music 1 [Track 21] 1 min 45 secs

Noisy Music 2 [Track 21] 1 min 44 secs


City Sounds 3

[sounds] voices, drum beat, dwop dwop, car horn bop baaarp, voices, traffic, mvvvvvv, sound of loading car, clank thump car horn baaarp, music in the background, drum beat, dwop dwop voices, long car to prayer in the distance, women calls out, call to prayer becomes louder, voices, call to prayer fades out noise of traffic mvrrr, car rumbles, krkrkrkrkrkrkr, car horn baarp, very distant call to prayer, noise, chattering, man preaching very loudly loud preaching, fade out indistinguishable voices and chattering

[sounds] general sound, frrrrrrrrrr, steps thap thap distant music type 01 fades in and out music type 02 fade in and out traffic, mvrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, bus driver shouting ”adabraka, adabraka, adabraka,” steps fade out, click click click steps fade in, man shouts “obruni! How are you?” man speaks, distant metalwork machinery, thark thark thark shhhhhhh gets more and more intense and fades out people chattering, metal griding grrrrrrr, steps clack click clack woman speaks, steps thop thop thop, metal grinding grrrrrrrr, another woman speaks traffic mvrrrrrr, car horns bar baarp, people talking, woman speaks woman speaks above traffic noise, music type 03 fades in and fades out, traffic rumble vvvvvvvvvvvv.....rumble fades out

[sounds] machinery fades in grrrrrrrrr krrrrrrr kr kr grrrrrrr intensity of sound becomes louder and louder then fades out, woman speaks loudly city background fades in, rythmic noise of banging metal fhwop fhwop fhwop over distant music people speaking to each other over distant music, occasional banging of metal, thwop.......thwop......thwop, music gets louder over chatting of women “hello you are welcome“ music fades out, traffic fades in mvrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr traffic, car rumble, krkrkrkrkrkr Whitney Houston “I will always love youuuuuuu” fade in and out steps click click click click 79



They came from Egypt, across the Sahara via Sudan, Nigeria and Benin to settle in Togoland. In the beginning the Ewe enjoyed peace with the inhabitants of Nortise, until the rule of tyrant King Torgbui Agorkorli. King Agorkorli ordered the Ewe to weave him a rope of clay, to which the elders responded by asking for a sample - ‘eka xoxoawo nue wogbea yeyeawo do’ - ‘we weave the new ropes where the old ones left off’. Incensed by this impossible request, King Agorkorli ordered the killing of the Ewe elders and constructed a great wall to keep their people from fleeing. But old man Tegli went into hiding and hatched a plan for their escape. Tegli told the women to wash their clothes against the wall, to throw their water against its mud construction 82


and their fluids against its spirit powers. When the time came the Ewe gathered with their drummers and their dancers; whereupon Tegli drew his dagger from its sheath, thrust it into the wall and bored a hole straight through. As the wall failed and its spirits scattered they danced backwards through the hole on to their freedom. In the morning, when King Agorkorli discovered the Ewe gone, he found only footprints leading back into the city. Some of the Ewe found their way to the edges of Lake Volta. After the German defeat in WWI this land fell under British control and in 1957 became part of an independent Ghana. The Ewe continued to move and in 1975 Charles’ parents arrived in Nima in search of work in the capital city. We meet Charles at Nima Roundabout. By 10am the heat is already rising so we rest a while in front of a kiosk selling packaged water and washing powder. We fall into conversation with a gentlemen who describes his journey from Lagos to Accra during the ‘Ghana must go’ episode, when 2 million immigrants were ordered home overnight. He and his brother made the long trip over land with only three possessions: a double mattress, a heavy flat-iron and a ghetto-blaster. Luxury items the envy of his neighbours in 1980s Accra. “People always move no matter what happens”, explains Charles, “people move for a reason, it might be family, it might be work, it might just be looking for a better life.” Charles points to the signs surrounding us, describing the global connections that this migrant community maintains with the outside world – over the road queues of 8 wheel lorries import foods from across Asia and Africa to one of the richest spice markets in the country and in amongst the alleyways boys name their local hangouts after friends who have been and come back – Hollandaise, Belgium City and Small London. On the street it’s pushing 35 degrees and unbearably humid but we stand up, bid our friend goodbye and head off between the trucks into the market. 83


People Always Move [Track 22] 2 min 53 secs



[sounds] [interview] car rumble, hmmmm, children scream car rumble, hmmmmm

car rumble, hmmmmm children talking car rumble, hmmmm people talking, steps, click click click

woman speaking

car horn, baaarp baaarp steps, click click click click car rumble, hmmmmmm car rumble, hmmmm

people muttering baby crying

And the original name was Nema,which means blessing, but in the heat of today we say Nima, Nima, Nima. Nima is one of the old suburbs apart from Adabraka and Osu and Cantonment and all these places. Nima has been there for a while but its because, you know, it hasn’t been developed and the government always come here for migrant workers to develop other areas. So Nima has been here for a long time. We say the first Fulani where led by Ibrahim Callid and they were mainly cattle herdsmen so they were looking for a place to settle and Nima was then a vegetation. Before they could come in they had help from Nefuta, so Nefuta is from the Northern Region, Tamale. He is the guy who helped the Fulanis to negotiate the land. This happened between 1928 and 1930 but today Nima is a migrant community and most people come here to try and to look for work and then some will settle and move to other parts. Most people are coming from Ghana, within Ghana, within other parts of Ghana and West Africa, so Togo, Benin, most migrants are coming here. We have people from Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, Cote D’Ivoire, Liberia and all these places. People always move no matter what happens. People move for a reason, it might be family, it might be work it might be people just looking for a better life. So my family migrated from the Volta region back in 1975, my dad is a retired soldier, he is back in the village. And like I said I have nine other siblings all born and raised in Nima. When you go outside Nima and you say you come from Nima they give you an attitude. Because when they know you come from Nima they think you are a bad person, involved in drugs, in any kind of societal problems. But it is the same way when you go to any community. There is the good side and the bad side. We still have good people in Nima. We have a lot of opinion leaders. People who are striving to make it out.



It’s Always Growing [Track 23] 2 min 08 secs



[sounds] [interview] Nima is a place where most people come to. The majority are Muslims. And since Ghana is also a Christian country we have Christians among us. I am for instance born into a Christian family. people talking

baby crying

Population wise, I can only give a rough figure. People are always coming to Nima and leave, some stay, so we, the ones who stay, say roughly 77,000 people, because it is always growing. Nima is always growing. Not only people coming as migrants. Their are also people coming to study English language…. People are coming to school. Some are coming all the way from Nigeria because we speak Hausa, people come to trade in spices and other cereals, they are coming from Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cote D’Ivoire, Burkina Faso just to trade in these things. Also Islamic clerics, imams are also coming to Nima because we have the Islamic institute and the macrantha which are Islamic schools for Muslims to attend. According to the Muslim belief if someone is a stranger and you can help him have a place to stay for a night or two it is really appreciated, so people come around to look for a place to lay their head.

people laughing, talking in the background car rumble, hmmmmmm

If someone is coming to Nima they can sleep in the market without no one saying ”you can’t sleep”. Here at least they have some place to lay their head, but if they come and we say “we don’t want you here” the message is going to spread that we are not welcoming in Nima. But we that live in Nima, we see different faces everyday. It’s OK. So long as you are not bringing trouble into the community.



Nima Bases [Track 24] 2 min 42 secs



[sounds] [interview] Some of the older brothers sit somewhere and then decide to create a name for this base, or this area within Nima. So one of the old places I know is Alaska because of the cinema, and then Gorrillax, Gorrillax is where we used to have a huge chunk of rubbish, which hasn’t been cleared for so many years, a part from that, Los Angeles. Like we were talking to the guys, the elder brothers, were the ones that formed the base because of the Los Angeles Lakers. We have Hollandiens which is another base where one of the guys travelled through the desert through to Spain, to Holland and then came back into the community so he named it Hollandiens. music fades in, voices of men in the distance...ei bosu…music, talking.. music gets louder male voices discussing music… discussing... music, music gets louder music fades out

fade in of voices of men talking and discussing

Then we have Bronx where some people go and have something to smoke and do some drugs.

And then we have Michigan. Michigan I can’t really tell how come they have that name. We have the Franchis area because of the hotel. And then we have Hot Coffee, we have Ruga, which is where they rode the cattle back in the days. We have 441, which is also another neighbourhood within the community. Most of the youth just gather around, normally they sit somewhere maybe after work and they discuss football, politics, they talk about music, sometimes it turns into heated arguments but no fighting. I used to be a member of Dot Mond, Dot Mond base, that’s next to my mum’s place. But as time went on we couldn’t maintain it so...



Compound House [Track 25] 2 min 14 secs



[sounds] [interview] In a community compound house you are neighbours with other ethnicities other religious groups, Christians live together with Muslims in the same compound house and some people don’t go to church or to the mosque. We also have people who believe in voodoo in Nima. So we all coexist in peace and when it come to gatherings like weddings and child naming ceremonies and funerals we all come together. Because once something is happening, you try and help your neighbour so the next thing happening to your family, you get the help in hand, so that is how it goes. We say “the left washes the right and the right washes the left” In the community compound house you need to be tough, because you put your broom down and the next minute you don’t see your broom and you have to ask your neighbour “did you see my broom?” Maybe she took it or her child took it, did something and dumped it somewhere.

women chatter loudly (in the compound house) chatter, Saturday, they give you the local name, Saturday born, women speaking, laughing, chattering ye fre me Tony, ye fre Tony, ye fre Tony, good, good, good, good

Sometimes it is crazy to live in the compound house because sometimes there are always fights, there is this neighbour and that neighbour that doesn’t talk, this neighbour and that neighbour or this child and that child. There is always something going on there so you need to be tough to be able to live in a compound house.



Ewe Muslim Chief [Track 26] 1 min 45 secs



[sounds] [interview] chatter

baby crying, chatter car rumble, brrrrbrrrrbrrrr

fade in sound of drums da da da da da da da, singing, clapping, clack clack clack clack clapping clack clack, drums da da da da, singing drums da da, singing, clapping clack clack clack fade out clapping and drums, clack clack da da clack da da

So the St. Kizito Catholic Church is the first open church in Nima and the biggest open compound, so they have a community centre that people rent or hire for the day to do their activities. For instance the other day when we were walking by and there was the inauguration of this Ewe Muslim who has been installed as a new chief as there is no Ewe Muslim Chief within Nima. For myself to witness such an occasion, this is not something that normally happens. So for me I was a bit excited and at the same time it was interesting for me cause I am an Ewe, born and raised in Nima, not a Muslim, not a Christian, but here is the case an Ewe man who is converted into the Islamic religion married to a women from Mali being installed as a Muslim Ewe Chief. To me it also brings about different cultures, different traditions, and different people together as one because I have never heard of anything like that. Ewe Muslim Chief



Rasak [Track 27] 2 min 43 secs



[sounds] [interview] steps, thap thap, car rumble, hmmm general city sounds in the background, car horn, bar baaarp steps fade in and fade out, thap thap thap thap steps fade in and fade out, thap thap general city sounds in the background, steps fade in and fade out, thap thap thap thap

Rasaq speaking: Here to Libya. Yeah I go, I take car to Togo, Togo to Benin, Benin to Niamey, Niamey to Agadez, Agadez to Drocout, Drocout to Sabah, Sabah to Tripoli. Oh It takes me like two weeks. By the time I am going they start the Ramadan. I get some problem. I want to go to Italy and they catch me on the river. I go to cell like four months in Libya, by the time they release me I work more, get money and come back to Ghana. That’s why I have come back to Ghana, come and see my mother and father. Oh if I get I will go again. The plan is, if I get something I will go back there. Here in Ghana is peace country, Ghana is no problem, no anything but the money there is not, it is so hard to get that money, but if we travel we can get more money. That is why we are travelling to try and go to Libya. Charles speaking: So Asma means someone who has travelled to Libya, speaks Arabic and comes back to Ghana safely. So we refer to them as someone who “has gone there, seen everything and come back”. Asma is just a nick name given to the guys who have been able to survive. It is just like the feeling, you know, when someone is able to go out there make enough money, build a house back home, buy a car, start up a business, send one or two families to Europe; we feel like - OK this guys has done a lot. But they’re not really telling people what they went through, on their way from Ghana all the way to Libya, through the Mediterranean, to Spain or Germany; and what work they even do in Europe before they come back to build their own house. Normally they would not tell you what work they do in Europe. So it is just that people see the bright side, the flashy side. Ok this guys has been to Europe ten years, he’s building a new house, has two or ten cars, he’s living large - so I am going to do the same things. I think it’s peoples’ general view of how Europe is all paved with gold and once you get there you are going to make it.



A Hybrid Community “And the original name was Nema, which means blessing, but in the heat of today we say Nima, Nima, Nima” Charles Eyram Kwabla Sablah

Nima is one of the many zongo communities in Accra. The word zongo is a Hausa term for “stranger quarter” and is used to describe a neighbourhood where migrants settle. Originally home to Muslim populations coming from northern Nigeria, through the years these neighbourhoods have welcomed other strangers from all over West Africa; of different ethnicities, cultures and religions. Nima is not a particularly beautiful place and at a first glance it would appear not much more than a poor neighbourhood with inadequate infrastructure and poor sanitation. It has a bad reputation across the city and locals talk about the stigma associated with coming from Nima. As an urban settlement it does not have a particular architectural style, nor is it being revitalized like other colonial areas of Accra. However, by walking through the alleyways with Charles Eyram Kwable Sabla and recording its sounds and stories, we discovered a place with a very strong identity based on the diversity of its people and the global connections that this migrant community maintains with the outside world. A place where spice markets selling goods from across West Africa sit alongside foreign-funded mosques, global brand advertising, tour guides, local traditional remedies and Methodist schools. As we are guided through the market and the streets, the homes and the neighbourhood bases we uncover this identity embedded at every scale of the urban and social landscape, within both domestic and public spaces:

NIMA MARKET As we approach the market the deafening sound of large trucks along the Nima-Maobi highway paralyses us. A lorry stops and men begin unloading 96

large bags of grains, spices and dried produce. We are told the spices are arriving from all over West Africa. As people move in search of work, the trade of produce flows after them, making Nima market the place to go for migrants looking for their everyday cooking ingredients. We continue walking through the market. The smell of the spices is so strong it is hard to breath. We ask about the various items for sale. What are they for? Where are they from? Dates from Mali, hibiscus from Nigeria. Next to a rich variety of grains and spices we find more unusual items used as traditional healing remedies and ingredients for black and white magic. A Muslim preacher walks past shouting into a speaker, a few stalls down a Christian preacher is standing at a microphone sharing his vision of religion. I try to remember where I am. The overlapping of identities baffles me. We leave the noise and smells of the market and enter a maze of alleyways. All of a sudden everything is very quiet and very little is happening. We are flanked either side by mud walls, a construction method introduced by the original settlers from northern Nigeria, that has continued through the years. The materiality of the ground and the walls merge into one, creating a single surface more similar to a natural landscape than an urban settlement. The sharp sound of a goat bleating breaks the stillness.

THE COMPOUND HOUSE Behind these blank walls are the domestic spaces of Nima; the compound house, a single storey housing typology with individual rooms arranged around a large courtyard. These dwellings are not usually occupied by a single family, but by groups of people that rent individual rooms from a landlord. We access one of the houses through a single doorway. The building is of simple construction; mud walls with a unique paint treatment applied to the surface using crumpled plastic bags, creating a decorative effect while minimising the use of paint. In this specific dwelling we count 14 families


occupying 25 rooms in various combinations. As like much of Nima they are mainly migrant families, originally from Mali, the Northern Volta Region, the Eastern Region and the Northern Regions; from various ethnicity - Muslims and Christians speaking Ewe, Twi, French and English. All coexisting, more or less peacefully within the space of a single dwelling. The courtyard is surprisingly spacious compared to the individual rooms, allowing everyone to spill out into the shared areas when cooking, cleaning and socialising. We ask how much exchange occurs on a day to day basis between the neighbours and the response is mixed. It is hard living in a compound house, in close proximity with strangers, and people tend to stick to their corner of the courtyard. But there is also talk about a strong sense of community, with people helping each other when in need and sharing in each others’ celebrations regardless of their religious background. When the sun goes down and the air gets cooler,

THE BASES Exiting the compound house and re-entering the alleys we hear a chattering of male voices talking over loud music. The sound comes from Bronx, one of the local bases where Charles is greeted warmly. Not much more than a widening between alleys these small public spaces are the social spaces of




people return from their daily business and the chatter begins. We meet Mary, her sisters and her mother and talk with them about where they have migrated from and about their religious background. We learn about a fluid relationship to religion through which Mary herself has converted from Islam to Christianity and back to Islam during her short lifetime. Within the domestic space of a single family, Muslim and Christian practices coexist with an apparent ease unknown to our culture. To my surprise Mary responds “we have a constitution in Ghana that allows us to follow whichever belief we chose”.

14 4 13 5 12

6 7








NORTHERN VOLTA REGION Christian/Muslim families together in the same compound house: 1)Northern 2 living EASTERN REGION Christian volta region, Christian/Muslim; 2)Eastern Region, Christian; 3) 3 VOLTA REGION Volta Region, Christian Muslim; 3)Mali, Muslim; 4)Mali, Muslim; Christian/Muslim 5)Northern Region, Christian; 6)Northern Volta Region, Christian; 4 MALI Muslim 7)Mali, Muslim; 8)Mali, Muslim; 9)Mali, Muslim; 10)Mali, Muslim; 5 MALI 11)Mali, Muslim Muslim; 12)Mali, Muslim; 13)Mali, Muslim; 14)Mali, 6 NORTHERN REGION Muslim Christian 7 NORTHERN VOLTA REGION Christian 8 MALI Muslim 9 MALI Muslim The regions of Ghana, countries of origin and religions of various



stature, locals were only too happy to name their base after him and be associated with such grandeur. More often than not the names refer to places locals have travelled to and returned from, bringing back their experiences and connections with the rest of the world. Mostly they talk of the aspirations of the local young men and the global influences acting on their environment.


Nima where young and old men gather to talk about everyday matters like football, politics and music; or to simply pass time. These small public spaces have been formally named by the men that inhabit them: Small London, Los Angeles, 441, Alaska, Gorillax, Michigan, Bronx, Franchi, Hollandais, Hot Coffee, Belgium City, Ruga. Names that have been inscribed on the walls, defining territories across Nima. As with much of Accra, a local vocabulary is required to navigate the neighbourhood, one constructed from nicknames, obtuse signs and hidden meanings. We ask Charles about the local histories behind these names and discover the origin of names like Ruga, Alaska and Gorrilax. Some names like “Bronx” refer to places that are part of the collective imagination; some like “Los Angeles” are simply an homage to someone’s favourite basketball team (the Los Angeles Lakers); others have unknown origins as the narratives of places are lost when the people that signified them are no longer around. We surprisingly managed to discover the story of 441 online. The number refers to the army number of a Ghanaian soldier that had settled in Nima after the second world war and was known to walk through the neighbourhood shouting “441 magane bura ya zo” (“441 the aphrodisiac is here”) while selling palm wine. Regarded for his incredible 98

In one of these Bases we meet Rasak neatly dressed, listening to the radio in the afternoon shade. Charles describes him as an ”Asma”: “someone who has travelled to Libya, speaks Arabic and comes back safely; someone who has gone there, seen everything and come back; someone who has been able to survive”. Rasak tells us of his travels through the Sarah desert from Ghana to Libya. He talks about places I have hardly heard of: Niamey, Agadez, Drocout, Sabah; deep in the desert, unknown to people who are not making the perilous trip to Europe. He tells us about the practicalities; how much water you need to take, how much food, how long it takes, how they can contact family and how much they need



Sabba Libya

Niger Agadez Niamey


Benin Togo


to pay for the journey. He talks about his failed attempt to cross the Mediterranean, which he mistakenly calls a river. A mistake I appreciate as it makes Europe feel so much closer, as if the two continents were just opposite sides of a much narrower course of water. He talks about his desire to try to reach Europe, again, regardless of the risks. More so we talk about the people that have made it to Europe and returned, the influence they bring back and how interconnected this small neighbourhood in Accra is with the rest of the world. We leave Rasak sitting peacefully on a bench. The name “Benghazi� inscribed on the wall of the local base takes on a more vivid meaning while I imagine someone, just like Rasak, travelling through the Sahara to reach Libya.

was now being installed as an Ewe Muslim Chief; to represent the Ewe population of Nima that has converted to Islam. The event was taking place within the walls of the local Catholic church. This social gathering describes a community that is not worried about loosing its identity while taking on aspects of other cultures; a hybrid community able to welcome strangers and accommodate change.

NIMA - A HYBRID COMMUNITY At every scale of the urban landscape we discover Nima to be defined by the diversity of its people and its global connections; the trade of spices coming from all over West Africa; the compound houses accommodating migrants of different religions and ethnicities; the family where different religious practices coexist without conflict; the bases where we discover the imaginary and real connections with the outside world. Regardless of the lack of investment and the poor physical fabric of the urban settlement, Nima appears to be able to withstand the pressures from migration better than many neighbourhoods in developed Western cities. The multiplicity of cultural practices, religious beliefs and ethnic backgrounds do not weaken the community, breaking up any sense of belonging. Quite the opposite, Nima is a coherent community that draws its strength from its very diversity. One last encounter really comes to signify what is so extraordinary about this neighbourhood. As we walk back through Nima returning to the starting point of our walk, we come across a social gathering. Malian women are dancing and singing to celebrate the installation of a new chief. The man in question is an Ewe man, (like Charles), traditionally Christian, who had married a Malian women, converted to Islam and

REFERENCES Akpabli, Kofi. (2016) Made in Nima, Safe House. In E. Wakatamah Allfrey (ed). Exploration in Creative Non- Fiction. Toronto : Dundurn Pellow, Deborah. (2002) Landlords and Lodgers, SocioSpatial Organization in an Accra Community. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (06/02/2016) https://ugdcs2014.wordpress. com/2015/04/17/nima-441/



City Sounds 4


City Sounds 4

As night falls the bats from 37 take to the skies above Accra. Fanning out south-west across the city rooftops; thousands and thousands of bats. We look up to see scattered lines of dark-black markings on a vast sheet - bat shaped holes in the fading blue light of the evening sky. They say that a long time ago a mighty chief travelled west from the Volta region to visit the 37 Military Hospital in Accra. A great host of bats attended the chief, to protect him from those evil spirits that would do him harm. The chief passed away but the bats keep their vigil. Returning to 37 with the nascent light of each morning; to accompany their chief on his journey back home.


City Sounds 4

Choice [Track 28] 3 min 49 secs


City Sounds 4

[sounds] [interview] car passes horn beeps beep beep beep beep beep car passes mvvrrrrrrrrrr

They are not just quite expensive they are very expensive. In some of the shops and salons you can get your hair done for, depending, if it’s high end you’re looking at from 50 Ghana Cedis upwards. Erm... If you’re low end you’re looking at from 7 Ghana Cedis or there about. So depends if you’re in the middle then you’re looking at 10 Ghana Cedis there about, depending on what you are doing to your hair. Erm, you have lots of provision shops here. Now if you want to get a dress in there, it’s very expensive, 300 Ghana Cedis, 400 Ghana Cedis......(laughs).

music fades in and out car passes, mvrrrrrrr

But erm, like you can see, there is a posh boutique, you know, sort of a sports bar and there are all these mini mini shops, you know, kiosks. Container shops as we call them. In Osu you have a choice, you can go to the shops that cost an arm and a leg, you can go to the shops that cost you sort of like, when I say an arm and a leg, you have your 300/400/500 Ghana Cedis kind of shopping and then you have your 40/50/150 Ghana Cedis. And then you have your really down to the bottom sort. So you have a mixture.

plane goes over fooooooooooooooo…. the squeaking axles of an old car...swkaaaaa skwaaaaa

This ‘joint’, it’s a joint for what we call in Ga ‘yorkagali’, but all it means is garam beans basically; garam beans with plantain, fried plantain. And she makes people leave town to come and buy it here. Then you have table top shops where things are a little cheaper. This lady sells charcoal. This is where you find the tastiest foods, we have wache, that’s rice and beans cooked together in a pot. We have some leaves that we put in it which makes it look purpley. Here you have little shops and bars like you can see, so there is entertainment for every level of society. In Ghana there are salons for the rich, salons for the middle class and salons for the poor; it’s just as simple as that. There is everything for the rich, the middle class and the poor, everything, everything you can think of, everybody sort of knows where they fit. And of course there are table top bars like this one, that have a lot of strong drinks. Everything is arranged in a table and not in a bar proper.


City Sounds 4

Posh & Poor [Track 29] 2 min 15 secs


City Sounds 4

[sounds] [interview] cars passing in the background, mvv mvvvrrr motor bike passes, nnnnnnnyyyew

Easter prayer with background music loud speakers “we bless the Lord...” “thank you Lord” prayer music plays from loud speaker

car horn toot toot toot microphone testing.. “hello:..” loud preaching song begins

Some of these houses have been passed on through families for hundreds of years, and some have been sold off to other people. So different people own the buildings. They are mostly Ga’s. They are mostly Ga’s families from Osu that live here you know. You have names like Howard Mills and General Hessey, and all these names, so they are names of quite affluent Ga families. You know, so if you’re from that family, you’re quite well-to-do. Everybody assumes you are well-to-do. Most of these buildings, some are offices, but if we go a little further down you have residences inside. We can walk down the street... There are lots of residences inside, but they are residences for people who don’t really have a lot of money. They sell, they do petty trading and own what we call container shops, little provision shops, they sell either provisions or hair pieces or like... They sell shoes but low cost shoes, that kind of thing. Er yeah, this is like I said its a posh and a poor area put together. Look at this shop, and then right behind there are compound houses, you know, what we call compound houses. We have chamber and hall which is just a room shared in two, and then we have chamber and hall self-contained, it means we have a little kitchenette and a little bathroom. So you have those different kinds of residences in here, so you can literally have somebody who has his or her bedroom on one side of the street and there bathroom on the other. So in the morning you find people, women with cloth on their chest and middle. Ah they are about to start.


City Sounds 4

Notorious [Track 30] 3 min 51 secs


City Sounds 4

[sounds] [interview] live music plays at a street bar car horns toot tooooot toot

vocals start

music fades out prayer groups chant traffic passing, mvrrrrrrrr

regaeton music plays in street

man’s voice

music plays

This place is notorious for all the vices on this earth that you can possibly think about... Osu has churches, it has brothels, it has bars, it has pubs, it has… you know people who smoke, people who drink and here if you smoke and you drink you are considered… you know not a Christian basically or not a Muslim. You have the prostitutes, you have the kids going renegade... erm... people have committed too many sins here. Most people from the ages of 12 to your late 60’s, people hang out here, we all hang out here, we all sort of walk down here, have conversations with friends. You do all the bad things like throw stones at cars, give girls cat calls. This is where you learn all your vices, (laughs) how to drink, how to flirt with a guy without necessarily getting with him. This is where you learn all this and this is where you learn to dance. This is like the school of hard knocks for us, entertainment and hard knocks. Most people know Osu is multi- faceted. Everybody knows here, most of us go through the basic initiation rights of going in to town and hanging out here. So yeah, this is the night market, this place runs till 4am on a normal Friday evening. There is always food here till 4am, we eat late. We eat, we go and club, and then we come back and eat some more before we go to bed.


City Sounds 4

We Pray Loudly [Track 31] 1 min 58 secs


City Sounds 4

[sounds] [interview] music for prayer group plays

preacher on microphone sings loudly “hallelujaaaaaaaah”

Any how so this is a Methodist Church park. So this the football park for the kids, it’s owned by the church but they just leave it open. Of course it’s Easter so there is a service here. This is the park where the children come to play football and they organise tournaments, usually during the day because by 6, maybe by 8 o’clock then you have the church groups coming to pray in the park. We pray loudly, I don’t know if you have noticed?

keyboard accompanies, drums join in and preacher continues singing

music fades out


City Sounds 4

City Calls 1 [Track 32] 0 min 55 secs

City Calls 2 [Track 32] 0 min 34 secs


City Sounds 4

[sounds] [interview] “Akua” shouted from a passing car

prayer groups in school playground begin melodic singing

Sorry that’s a cat call, that’s a cat call for her. They just called you Akua. Akua is the female name for a Wednesday born. They just call you anything, I mean for example if I pass by a man they can call me Adwoa, Abena, Akua, Yaa, until I respond to one of them, (laughs). Monday, Tuesday… you have to be born on one of those, you have to be born on one of these days so you respond.

prayer group fades out


Supported by

With special thanks to

Dede Sutherland and the Mmofra Foundation; Charles Eyram Kwabla Sablah and Nima Tours; Isaac Van Der Puije, Kate Tamakloe and Charity of Deo Gratias Studio

With thanks to

Max, Laetitia, Milly and all the staff at Somewhere Nice; Bare Conductive; BAT Studio; Juliet SakyiAnsah and The Architect’s Project; Abraham Kumi Amoah; Abdullah Razak Issaka; Charlotte Langhorst; Abdul Samiru Quaye at the Street Fighting Academy; Joe Addo and Namata Musisi of ArchiAfrika; Dr Alexandra Stara, Associate Professor & Reader in the History & Theory of Architecture at Kingston University (and member of the RIBA Research Grants Sub-Committee) Sophie Morley; Geri Ng; Millie Harvey; and finally to the Wato Club, we hope you re-open soon.

Tracks Visit - ECHOES OF ACCRA 1] Exhibition Recording ISAAC 2] Fan 3] Chief 4] Nightlife 5] They Are All Dead 6] Thanks Be To God 7] A Family Business, CITY SOUNDS 1 8] Chicks & TV/ Roadside Prayer/ Salaga Market Street 9] Powercut/Rain DEDE 10] Efua Sutherland 11] She Wanted The Forest 12] The Selling Off Of The Land 13] They Say I’m an Idealist 14] We Need To Make It Trendy CITY SOUNDS 2 15] A Good Show 16] We Are Fighters 17] Prayer Groups 18] We’ve Got The Talent 19] We Call It Table Tennis CITY SOUNDS 3 20] Goat City/ In Other News 21] Songs Of Praise/ Noisy Music CHARLES 22] People Always Move 23] It Is Always Growing 24] Nima Bases 25] Compound House 26] Ewe Muslim Chief 27] Rasak CHOICE 28] Choice 29]Posh And Poor 30] Notorious 31] We Pray Loudly 32] City Calls