Since the enactment of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, an estimated 800,000 to 900,000 Africans have immigrated to the US, accounting for just 3.3% of total immigration. Although Black History Month observances typically focus on native Black Americans whose ancestors came to the US by means of the Atlantic slave trade — and Africans can be of any race — I’m never the less using the opportunity to shed light on the contributions of more recent African immigrants in Los Angeles. For this entry of the No Enclave series, the focus are Ghanaian-Angelenos.
The Republic of Ghana is located along the Gulf of Guinea and Atlantic Ocean, in West Africa. At 238,535 km², it’s a bit smaller than Michigan and a bit larger than Minnesota. Its multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic population is about 27 million. Being the first African nation south of the Sahara to achieve independence, its long enjoyed relative stability and a fairly strong economy. With a metro population of roughly 4 million, Accra is both the country’s capital and most populous city (and the thirteenth-most in Africa).
Archaeological evidence suggests that what’s now Ghana has been inhabited as early as 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. Around the 11th Century, the Akans are believed to have migrated to the Ghana’s coast from the Sahara and Sahel regions to the north and east. Over the centuries which followed, numerous kingdoms and empires arose including those of the Ashanti, the Akwamu, the Bonoman, the Dagbon, the Denkyira, and the Mankessim.
The Portuguese arrived in 1471 and established trade with the Akan, primarily of gold, guns, knives, beads, mirrors, rum and slaves. They were soon followed by other eager Colonial powers hoping to exploit the region, including the Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Norwegians, Prussian, and British — the latter of whom established a colony they unambiguously named Gold Coast in 1867.
After nearly a century of colonization, Ghana won independence from the British Empire on 6 March 1957. The newly free nation’s first prime minister and president was Socialist leader Kwame Nkrumah. Nkrumah was born in Nkroful in 1909. He came to the US in 1935 to pursue his education, in time to experience and find inspiration in the Harlem Renaissance and Trotskyism.
The first African nation to gain independence from Britain had a promising, if occasionally shaky start. The Pan-Africanist Nkrumah faced difficulty in de-escalating the intertribal tensions inflamed during British colonialism. Ultimately, however, it was the military which seized control of the government, staging a coup in 1966 whilst NKurmah was on a state visit to North Vietnam and China. The sad, if predictable, back-and-forth between civilian governments and military rule characterized the decades which followed until 1992, when the multi-party system was reinstated and has remained in place since.
The first people to come to the US from what’s now Ghana did so as slaves. The Ganga people in particular were settled heavily along the coastal plain and islands of Georgia and South Carolina, where they influenced the development of those states’ Gullah culture.
One early, prominent Ghanaian-American was businessman and sea captain Paul Cuffee, born in 1759 to an Aquinnah Wampanoag mother and an Asante father in the British colony of Massachusetts. He became a prominent Quaker and abolitionist who helped resettle freed slaves in the African colony of Sierra Leone.
Small but significant numbers of Ghanaians came to the US as students in the 1950s and ‘60s. Ghanian-Americans are a highly educated group, with some 48.9% holding college diplomas (compared to 23.1% of the population as a whole). In the 1980s and ‘90s, some Ghanaians permanently resettled in the US, leaving behind instability in search of opportunity. As of the 2010 census, there were 91,322 Ghanian-Americans counted, most of whom lived in the metro areas of (in descending order of population) Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Washington, DC, New York City, Newark, Providence, Worcester, Denver, and Columbus. Although California is home to the largest number of African immigrants in the US, Ghanaians have tended to eschew enclaves for settling in the suburbs, thereby reducing their visibility.
The most obvious sign of Ghanians’ presence in Southern California is in the presence of a small number of Ghanaian restaurants. The first Ghanaian restaurant in Los Angeles may’ve been Nana and Naa International Enterprise, a business which sold both Ghanaian and Belizean dishes in Inglewood until its closing in 2009.
Nowadays there’s another restaurant serving Ghanaian food in Inglewood, Airport Royal Cuisine. Although no mention of Ghana is made on the restaurant’s website, the menu features recognizably Ghanaian dishes like fufu, kelewele, and waakye, and mention is made of Nana Yeboah (Yeboah is a Ghanaian name) — who I wonder whether or not is the Nana of the no-longer-extant Nana and Naa. Airport Royal Cuisine is served by Metro‘s 117 Line. The Inland Empire town of Temecula is home to a more Ghanaian catering service, known as Haija’s Ghanaian Cuisine.
Ghanaian Cuisine resembles the broader Cuisine of West Africa whilst encompassing many regional and ethnic variations. Most Ghanaian dishes are organized around a starch, a spicy stew or sauce, and a source of protein. Common plant ingredients include beans, cassava, eggplants, maize, mallow, millet, okra, onions, palm nuts, peanuts, plantains, pumpkin seeds, spinach, sorghum, taro, tomatoes, and yams. Common maize-based dishes include akple, kenkey, fonfom, and tou zaafi (also made from millet). Common rice-based dishes include waakye, omo tou, jollof rice, and fried rice. Common cassava-based dishes include konkonte, fufu (also made from plantain and/or yam), gari, attiéké, and plakali. Common bean-based dishes include red red and tubaani. Common yam-based dishes include ampesie, etor (also made from plantains), mpotompoto, and yam fufu. Common seasonings and spices include basil, bay leaves, chiles, curry, garlic, ginger, nutmeg, prekese, sumbala, and thyme. Commonly eaten animals include chickens, cows, crabs, ducks, fish, goats, grubs, octopuses, oysters, periwinkles, pigs, sheep, shrimps, snails, and turkeys. Popular beverages include asaana, gin, bisaab/sorrel, toose, lamujee, iced kenkey, palm wine, coconut juice, cocoa drinks, fruit juice, soda, soy milk, pitoo, and tea.
Ghanaian Cinema got its start under the British, who screened instructional and propaganda films with mobile units and built cinemas which showed foreign productions. The British formed the Gold Coast Film Unit in 1948. Shortly after independence, the Ghana Film Industry Corporation (GFIC) was established in 1957, followed by GBC TV in 1965. Ghanaian Cinema got of to an early start, with films like Sam Aryeetey’s No Tears for Ananse (1968), Egbert Adjesu’s I Told You So (1970), and Bernard Odidja’s Do Your Own Thing (1971). However, their relative success led to Ghanaian-European co-productions which were costly failures and resulted in the film industry GFIC opting to produce cheap newsreels and short documentaries.
The critical success of Kwaw Paintsil Ansah’s Love Brewed in the African Pot (1981) brought on something of a mid-1980s Ghanaian Cinema revival, exemplified by films like Ato Yanney’s His Majesty’s Sergeant (1984), King Ampaw’s Kukurantumi: The Road to Accra (1983) and Juju (1986), and Ansah’s Heritage… Africa (1988). The rise of home video, VHS, and VCDs were democratizing for filmmaking, if detrimental to the pre-existing film industry and arguably, artistic quality. Following the lead of Nollywood, low budget Ghanaian commercial cinema came to be collectively known as Ghallywood (although Twi commercial is sometimes differentiated as “Kumawood”). Cheap CGI effects have further widened the gap between art films and commercial films, e.g. two recent Kumawood efforts — 2016 (2010) and Obonsam Besu (2011).
In recent years, some Ghanaian talent has defected to Hollywood, but Ghana’s prolificacy seems hardly affected. This year’s Pan-African Film Festival in Los Angeles is showcasing several recent Ghanaian productions, including Children of the Mountain, Legacy Alive, Like Cotton Twines, Nakom, No Time to Die, and Rebecca.
Los Angeles has also been home at one time or another to several actors of Ghanaian descent, including Boris Kodjoe, Jaye Davidson, Kwesi Boakye, Nana Gbewonyo, Sam Richardson, Sam Sarpong, Senyo Amoaku, and Sufe Bradshaw. Filmmaker Leila Afua Djansi, after beginning her career in Ghana, has since relocated to Los Angeles.
Ghanaian Music encompasses both traditional and modern styles although the most widely recognized genre internationally is Highlife. Traditional Ghanaian music includes the folk customs of Ghana’s many ethnicities but is broadly divided into Northern Ghanaian and Coastal Ghanaian music. Northern Ghanaian music is related to other Sahelian traditions whereas coastal Ghanaian music is closely associated with various local social functions.
Guitars and brass instruments were introduced in the colonial period and the fusion of various elements came to be known as Highlife, which by the 1930s had spread to neighboring Sierra Leone, Liberia, Gambia, and elsewhere in West Africa. Later, Caribbean music, jazz, rock, and other genres were absorbed by Highlife, which by the 1970s enjoyed a measure of popularity in both New York City and London. In the 1990s, a hip-hop influence known as Hiplife arose, which was followed, more recently, by so-called GH Rap.
Los Angeles has surprising ties to Ghanaian music, in large part due to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). That school hired Mampong-born ethnomusicologist and composer Joseph Hanson Kwabena Nketia in 1963. In 1966, visiting lecturers Robert Ansane Ayitee and Robert Osei Bonsu were hired by the school to teach the class, Music and Dance of Ghana. After them, Kwasi Badu, who’d previously headed the National Dance Ensemble of Ghana, remained with the school until 1974. From 1976 until 2014, Anyako-born Kobla Ladzekpo was with the school.
Ladzekpo and his wife, Dzidzorgbe Beatrice Lawluvi, also formed the Zadonu Music & Dance Company. The Ladzekpo family have annually produced a life performance called The Africans Are Coming. Yeko Ladzekpo-Cole has taught dance and music at various schools. Kobla Ladzekpo was also co-director of the CalArts‘ Music of West Africa Ensemble until he retired in 2007 — his brother Alfred Ladzekpo stayed on until 2011.
OTHER GHANAIAN ANGELENOS
Several other prominent figures of Ghanaian descent have at one time or another called Los Angeles home. American Football player Larry Asante was born in Compton in 1988. In 1997, Accra-born bioengineer Kwabena Adu Boahen received a PhD in computation and neural systems from CalTech. Accra-born Emmanuel Agyenim “Ema” Boateng moved to the US in 2009 to attend school in Carpinteria and currently plays for Los Angeles Galaxy. He previously played at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the soccer team which had previously included another Ghanaian, Eric Frimpong (currently in prison on a rape charge for which many assert he was unfairly convicted). Los Angeles is also home to a Ghanaian style blogger known simply as “Enyi K” except, apparently, when she’s known as “stylemanship.”
GHANAIAN-LOS ANGELES ORGANIZATIONS
There are several organizations serving Los Angeles’s Ghanaian-American community. The Awutu-Effutu and Friends Association was founded in 1994. The Ghana Association of Southern California was established in 1997. The Ghanaian Ministers’ Association Of Southern California was established in Hyde Park in 2010. Riverside is home to the Presbyterian Church of Ghana Southern California.
GHANAIAN OBSERVANCES AND HOLIDAYS
Ghana’s Independence Day is celebrated on 6 March and is an occasion marked by many Ghanaians in Southern California and administered by several organization. There are ate least two events marking Ghana’s 60th Independence Day this year — neither taking place on the actual day. The Ghana Association of Southern California is hosting a banquet, Ghana @ 60, in Garden Grove on the 4th of March ($25 in advance, $30 at the door). Silver Lake club Los Globos is hosting the Ghana 60th Independence Party on the 5th of March, $10 pre-sale.
Finally, Homowo is a festival celebrated by Ghana’s Ga-Adangbe people, and takes place in May. It’s annually celebrated in Southern California in an event organized by the Ga-Dangbe Association of California.