My lifetime (Malaika)



My Lifetime (Malaika) Katarina Zdjelar

 Still image from  My Lifetime( Malaika)

The video piece My Lifetime( Malaika) features Ghana’s National Symphony Orchestra recorded in the National Theatre in Accra. The players are performing Malaika, originally a cheerful and empowering postcolonial composition that was famously performed by musicians like Miriam Makeba, Harry Belafonte, Boney M. and many others.

The orchestra originates from the late 1950s when Ghana, under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah, had become independent from the United Kingdom.  Nkrumah’s government introduced new cultural structures in order to establish and enforce national consciousness and make the shift from colonial rule to an independent country which related to the ideas of the middle course, in accordance with the states in the Developing World. To establish new institutions of culture also meant to introduce a new attitude: traditional culture and music is functional and participatory, hence a gap between the audience and performers had to be created, dividing an on- stage body of doers and an off-stage body of spectators. This reorganization of spatial and behavioral conditioning suggested the formation of a new citizen of a new state who appreciates rather than only participates in music, and therefore changes traditional applications and functions of music and its presence in the public domain.

Being part of the political and cultural legacy of its founder Kwame Nkrumah, the national orchestra today has become an institution which witnessed this shift of one social rule to another. It cannot be abolished without provoking political turmoil, but which at the same time is too insignificant in contemporary Ghanaian society to be supported financially; thus, the orchestra’s existence simply remains ambiguous. The indetermination that seems to resonate through the instruments, which are ideologically connected to the stereotypical image of the ever-so-civilized European colonialist, reflects the lack of being embedded in tradition and local values. It is telling that the players have to negotiate their time, and shift between different social roles, as they need to have additional jobs to be able to support themselves and, because of that, are unable to attend, late for or tired during the rehearsals.  My lifetime (Malaika)  is neither a portrait of the musicians, nor is it a documentary about the National Symphony Orchestra of Ghana. With great sensitivity Zdjelar rather deploys the orchestra in order to draw a sketch of a complicated state of affairs in which grand ideas and the mechanism of a nation state project takes root in and affects individuals.

(text from SMBA’s exhibition booklet )