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The Beauty of Ghana to come to public exhibit

Photo caption: SNAPSHOTS OF JOHN FOUNTAIN at work in Ghana as a 2021-22 Fulbright scholar to Ghana, where he visited Cape Coast and Elmina Castles, Jerry Johnson’s African Ancestral Wall in Prampram, Ghana, Ancestral Slave River, the Nkyinkyim installation by Ghanian artist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo and many other places—some of them featured in this photo collage.

A 2021-22, Fulbright scholar, the author reflects on his time in Ghana, a year after returning to America. He shares poetic portraits and some of the hundreds of photos he took in Ghana, which will be featured in a forthcoming multimedia exhibit and public lecture titled, “Africa Calling: Portraits”

Incomparable. I still do not understand. Have yet to comprehend. Her beauty. Her hold upon the soul that breathes her in with heaping inhalations.

Her winds. In deep denominations. Of Heat. And Cool.

Her tranquil pools. Along rock-laden, sandy ocean shores where waves crash and roar.

But this one thing I do know: I miss Ghana. Even if I still do not fully comprehend.

Something Special Called JazzA Song for Ghana

Some call her Ghana. I call her Jazz. Sometimes jagged and scratching the soul with dissonant chords that rise and fall. She is the sound of cymbals that come crashing down. Of sometimes staccato rhythms. Of music that builds to a screeching crescendo then suddenly disappears into silence.

Jazz. Ghana is jazz. Sister to the Blues. Descendant of the sacred hymnal. Born of the drum. Beckoning African sun to her children across the Black Diaspora.

She reaches the soul like the melancholy wail of Mile Davis’ horn. Soothing. Lifting. Kissing blissfully. Healing the soul wearied by racial hate and shame, and the pain of that centuries-old river that flows with DNA Trauma of the souls of Black folk.

By sufferings that gave birth to the Negro Spiritual. To hymns. To Soul Music, Gospel, the Blues, and Jazz. I call her Jazz.

And I could never rinse my soul of her sassy rhythms and sweet melodies. Of the way she moves me—grooves me—with mental and spiritual surety of being Black like me, here in this place that exists on the other side of my world.

Ghana is home away from home, deepening her hold. Causing me to explore more intensely the call that led me here on this sojourn to the Motherland.

There is something in the way the aura of this land washes over me daily when the morning comes. Like warm rays of golden sun. That fills my lungs with the taste of African breath, freedom and life that I have never known. That says to me, “Son, you’re home.”

There is something about the way Ghana embraces me at night. When the wind arrives to cool this ancestral land of melanin-skinned folk. Where brown and coal and shades of coffee with cream form a chocolate rainbow of humanity.

Something about the way this coastal African city rises. With the hum and buzz of traffic and hawking street merchants on the Spintex Road and across Accra. Amid the darting motorbikes that snake through traffic with reckless abandon.

There is something about this place. Something… Something special. I call her Jazz…

Madam QueenA song to the girls and young women who work as head porters in Ghana and are known as the kayaye

Strong Black sister. Madam Queen. Carrying the weight of the world. Beneath blazing African sun. Head lifted high. Back straight. Baby in tow. Wrapped in African cloth. Staring off. Into the haze of traffic and this pressing crush of humanity without vanity.

Madam Queen. Walks poised. Neck erect. Sidestepping gracefully. Sandy holes. Earthen souls and craters. With runway model precision. I listen. To the beat of their hearts. To the  whispering of their souls that long for homes. For some place to lay their heads besides the streets at night upon unforgiving beds with no pillows for their heads

Madams Queen. Lying beneath the stars that honor their day-long strenuous labor and sacrifice. That does not yield enough for sustenance and life.

And still, they rise when morning comes. Arising to a new African sun that pales in comparison to the glory of the splendor I see in Madam Queen.


Happy PeopleOde to a fisherman’s wharf in Tema, Ghana

Happy people smoke fish at the wharf through the haze. On sun-blazed Ghanaian days. As wood-burnt heat rises from these still filled grills. Overflowing. No grass growing beneath busy barren feet.

Industrious tasks to complete before sundown.

Fishermen mend and stitch their nets. Amid the scent of sea and humanity in sand and grit.

Of plantain grilled. And vast canoes now stilled. Stretching for as far as the eyes can see. At pause as some here now rest or sleep. Amid this market’s pounding. Sweating. Unrelenting heartbeat.

Mornin’ catch roasts golden brown. And the ground is laden with tiny fish that lie sun-drying. All around, a people coal to brown, with souls of gold and humble crowns, illuminate this corner of West African atmosphere.

With strong hands and backs that don’t break. And unwearied eyes and pride you can’t take. And the sun pales in comparison to their smiles.

Upon Their FacesPoetic Reflections on the Nkyinkyim installation by Ghanian artist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo

Within these ancestral faces. Of horror. Of shock. Of anguish. And of pain. Lie history’s shame. Unforgivable. Almost unspeakable. Unforgettably enshrined upon these hallowed grounds that paint a clear and searing picture of man’s inhumanity to the Black body.

Of hidden figures. Disfigured by shackles and by chains. By nooses and by hate. By centuries of that bloody and inconceivable fate called Slavery: A “Peculiar Institution” in which the newborn of the enslaved could not be born free…

And for centuries, there existed this great tragedy called, “The Maafa”—the memory of which some would now choose to have erased or forgotten. And Black History whitewashed as if someone other than us picked their cotton.

As if we did not dangle like strange fruit from poplar trees. Or face Massa’s whip and myriad cruelties created by his limitless, hateful imaginations.

But here, rotten hate and brutality glare for all the world to see. Faces sculpted in moist African clay by inspired hands filled with grace to tell the tale of hate almost beyond imagination. Of suffering and the manifestation of abomination. Of degradation that must not now or ever be erased. Or denied. Untold. Or rewritten. Or else smoothed over by White Lies. Thou shalt not silence these cries!

…I hear the jagged piercing wail of my ancestors dying. Of pregnant women nearing birth and also death, crying. The crashing of hearts capsizing.

It is the plain truth etched upon these faces. In this most sacred of places that bears a story for the ages. Sealed eternally by blood and a sculptor’s mud instead of pages. In these, my ancestor’s faces.

They Carry Their Own WaterA song for the children of Ghana

Without complaint and with no detectable frown, the children here carry water. In the evenings after school. I see them:

Little boys and little girls with sunbaked skin and innocent brown eyes. With assorted filled bottles and buckets. Lifted high.

Carried on their heads with transparent ease. Along these red dirt and sand-laden rugged streets.

It is routine here. A frequent sight: Children fetching water. At day and at night.

And yet, the children smile…

Farewell To GhanaReflections of an American Son

I won’t forget the music. The songs that fell upon my ears or those I absorbed with my eyes. The sound of the African drum. Even the silence. Ghana’s night hum.

The agony—of white-stone slave castles. Of the muggy dungeon’s smell, where the souls of slaves still dwell. Of libations poured in the dim-lit darkness inside this once living hell. Of standing, at the edge of the sea, from where slave ships once set sail. I won’t forget: The poise as Black women carry their burden in the heat of the day. Head erect. Iron-board back straight. With the elegance of a runway model. Whether in slow prideful stride, or glorious gait. Under sun, sweat, wind weight.

I won’t forget: The pride. The glide. The joy inside. This glorious land indigenous to the first man—a black man, an African. Land where Black folk number the golden sands. For as far as the eyes can see.

And a clear blue sky is a canopy for the ocean as the wind tickles emerald-green leaves on coconut trees.

#JusticeForJelaniDay Email: [email protected].

 John Fountain’s photos and reflections as a 2021-22 Fulbright scholar to Ghana will appear in a forthcoming multimedia  exhibit and lecture series titled, “Africa Calling: Portraits.”

John W. Fountain
John W. Fountain
Professor of Journalism at Roosevelt University | [email protected] | Website

John W. Fountain is a professor of journalism at Roosevelt University and a 2021-22 U.S. Fulbright Scholar to Ghana, where he is a visiting lecturer at the University of Ghana-Legon and researching his project titled, “Hear Africa Calling: Portraits of Black Americans Drawn to The Motherland.”

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