Music is his desire – a desire that convinces him that the answer to the question of his identity lies in the expression of indigenous African music – who am I, who is Walter Komla Blege? Identity is one of the questions that define his music. How does the African do it? This influences and still does to the lyrics of Mr. Komla Blege’s music (he prefers Komla)
Mr. Komla Blege grew up in a Christian and music loving background – his father was a staunch Evangelical Presbyterian and a chorister, and his maternal grandfather was a staunch Catholic – a man he spent his formative life with. In his maternal home, there was a choir and it was there that the love for music started and grew.
As a boy, Mr. Komla Blege yearned to know who he is and what really defined him. He found the answer in the expression of indigenous music – most of which was described as profane and he was forbidden from listening or participating in these dance music – dzolevu, gabada, gbolo, totoeme, agbadza, gavu and borborbor.
He narrates how on one occasion he was stretched for leading a few friends of his to sing and dance to one of the forbidden dance music. “I was stretched, do you know what it means to be stretched?” he asked, I was explaining when he cut in: “my legs and arms were held and I took twelve lashes, I’ll never forget that, he adds.
All this influenced him and he became the first Ghanaian to have written a two-hour opera on the advent of Christianity into Africa by Europeans using the example of the Bremen Missionary in Peki. It was a mélange of gabada, gavu, gbolo, and borborbor.
Mr. Komla Blege’s self identity played a role in his life as a politician, an educationist, a historian, and a music director. In our conversation he narrates to me how his resolve to uphold his self identity brought him into conflict with some people along the line.
For instance, as a student in the University of Ghana, he corrected his History lecturer who had continued to mispronounce his surname. This provoked the lecturer, yet Mr. Komla Blege was pleased that he had made a point on how his surname was to be pronounced. As a Deputy Minister of Education in the early 1990s, he had a misunderstanding with officials of the World Bank – the bone of contention: that there were conditions tied to the loan facility which was detrimental to the development of the nation.
He recounts his greatest, but saddest moments as Headmaster of Mawuli Senior High School – academic, social and spiritual development of students had been great – Mawuli Senior High became famous for school farming during the Operation Feed Yourself Programme of the Supreme Military Council (SMC) regime led by Colonel I.K. Acheampong. The school was awarded with tractors and other farm implements. On the contrary, the then leadership of the National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS) and some other politicians felt that he was making the Acheampong regime popular and he was using the students as farm hands instead of promoting their academic development.
The then leadership of NUGS wrote a letter to all Senior Prefects of second cycle schools nationwide to organise their fellow students for a demonstration against him – it was a tensed moment when he read the letter which he had found on the bed of the Senior Prefect during his rounds in the dormitory.
He alerted the Bureau of National Investigation (BNI), the Regional Director of the Ghana Education Service and then he called a meeting of the Board of the School. In the meeting with the Board, he narrated to them what he had seen and said to them that his work as Headmaster had come to an end.
He added: “nothing hurt me so much, when I noticed that a former student of mine was part of this plot to discredit the good work I had done at Mawuli Senior High School”.
Mr. Komla Blege is a product of Mawuli Senior High School, Achimota College, the University of Ghana and the University of Toronto, Canada. Last December, Mr. Komla Blege celebrated his 86th birthday – the occasion brought together all his children and grandchildren to celebrate the moment.
Mr. Komla Blege believed that self identity is crucial to the true and total development of every individual and nation.