Litro #162: Literary Highlife
Every year, Litro publishes international editions focusing on a different parts of the globe. In 2016, we had an issue dedicated to Cuba, and one highlighting South Asian writing in English; we featured young voices like Aatish Taseer alongside established writers and artists like Shehan Karunatilaka and Coco Fusco.
As 2017 marks Ghana’s sixtieth birthday, our latest World Series installment, Literary Highlife, seeks to celebrate Ghana by inviting its neighbour Nigeria to join the party – we explore the literary and cultural landscape of both countries.
Our issue’s title comes from ‘highlife’, a kind of popular music from Ghana that began early in the twentieth century and blended traditional Akan musical rhythms with European military band instruments imported under colonialism. It spread, and still influences current Ghanaian and Nigerian afrobeats, and other forms of music, today.
We can’t dedicate an issue to celebrating Ghana’s sixtieth year without taking a look into its past. In 1957, Ghana – till then the Gold Coast – became the first British African colony to be granted independence, ending centuries of colonial rule. It was a peaceful transition, and inspired other states to follow suit, with the federation of Nigeria forming just three years later. Today Ghana is peaceful, free from the civil strife and terrorism that affects it neighbours.
Ghana had been at the centre of the slave trade until it was abolished in the early 1800s. It was called the Gold Coast, of course, because of the huge amounts of gold found there. This gold was protected by forts, built by the Dutch and British along the five-hundred-kilometre coastline between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, that served as trading posts as well as keeping the foreign settlers safe from their rivals and from threats from the African population. The forts were carefully placed as links in the trade routes, and were attacked, taken over, exchanged, sold and finally abandoned during the almost four centuries of struggle between European powers for domination over what would one day be Ghana.
In the 1500s, as demand grew for human labour in the New World, the focus shifted from the gold to the people. After being built to store gold, ivory and other such plunder, the forts now imprisoned slaves before they were transported across the Atlantic – human beings reduced to just another commodity to be bought, sold, used. Ghana’s breath-taking coastline
was lined with dark dungeons, overflowing with misery and despair, right up until the slave trade was eventually abolished. It’s estimated that up to six million slaves had been shipped to other countries.
Today these coastal castles have been transferred to the Ghana Museum and Monuments Board, and they are among the most well-visited historical sites in the region. President Barack Obama chose Ghana for his first official visit to Africa.
In keeping with our ethos of giving a platform to emerging international writers, I invited the poet Inua Ellams to team up with me in editing this issue – which covers topics such as the underlying rivalry between Ghana & Nigeria- and how that rivalry is perceived by others.
We first published Inua’s work in November 2010, in Litro #93, the Climate issue, which sought to explore the place of story, even of fiction, in debates about climate – sadly a conversation that seems to have spiralled backwards, with the most powerful leader of the so-called free world denying climate change’s very existence, despite the backdrop of seasoned scientists and thinkers attesting otherwise.
From Climate Change to History – the story, and in fact fiction, will always continue to have a place in our cultural zeitgeist.
We’ll continue to use fiction and the story to explore the many pressing topics of our times. Litro’s next issue, themed on Alternative Facts, has suddenly become even more topical than it already was with Theresa May’s – cynically opportunistic? You think? – snap general election on 8 June, but we follow that in July with what might be a more soothing, sensual issue of heady summer stories, themed on The Senses. The Senses issue, and all those following it, are still open for submissions of short stories and creative nonfiction – see our website for guidelines. After the August break we’re back in September with a trip south of that grotesque promised wall, to Latin America, and then in October, in time for Halloween, we take a look at what goes on After Dark, After Hours: secrets and shady stuff, or things more magical – the store mannequins come to life, elves appear to do the shoemaker’s work… Things get political again after that – as if they’re ever not – in our Protest issue in November, because these are for sure the times to make our voices heard, to speak truth to power. And finally we’ll wind up the year in December with a look into Faith & Faithlessness of all different sorts – is this a time for belief, or for scepticism?
Lastly, while it is obviously impossible for a small selection of this kind to represent the diverse voices writing in Ghana and Nigeria today, it is interesting to note that, months after the selection for these pages was made, first time novelist Ayobami Adebayo was shortlisted for an important literary prize Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction – with a winner yet to be announced.
We will be celebrating the editions launch with a special weekend extravaganza 25th – 28th May taking over Waterstones Piccadilly London & it’s Tottenham Court branch, I hope you will join us to help in celebrating this special edition. Further details can be found here.