AFRICA IS A COUNTRY

The Komla Dumor I knew
Harry Odamtten | February 2nd, 2014

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Far/Near: Disclaimer: A friend who knew I was once a broadcast journalist with Joy FM recently asked me whether I had any pictures with the late Komla Dumor (KD). My response was “unfortunately not, and I am not going to Photoshop one either,” as I do not want to be called a Fast Pretender – a term reserved for friends of Shabba Ranks and Maxi Priest on House Call. This is to say I did not get the chance to bond with KD like say Akwasi Sarpong or Stan Dogbe, mostly because Komla Dumor was “always leaving when I was coming.” What I am trying to say is that I did know the man, but not intimately. However, at the least, he was my friend on Facebook–I hope that counts. Disclaimers aside, I am writing this piece because when Komla recently interviewed the Mandela family, I wanted to send him a note telling him how proud and inspired I was because of his work. I never did send that note, it will not haunt me, but knowing what I know now, I regret not sending him my message.

Far: University of Ghana

I entered the University of Ghana in 1998 as a freshman about the same time that Komla was making his exit. Nonetheless, on campus he remained a legend, and a reality on radio, as well as the lecture hall.

One of the legends I came to hear about Komla at Legon epitomizes who he was as a public “intellectual.” It had to do with one of my mentor’s at Radio Universe, Sankara (Francis Ankrah). Apparently, Sankara as host of one of the several beauty pageants held on campus, used a phrase that the student audience was unfamiliar with. Thinking that Sankara had “gbaa” that is, had incorrectly used the phrase out of context, they proceeded to boo and laugh at him. Komla was among a few other students who were well aware that Sankara was right in his use of the said phrase. Komla, as the story goes, spearheaded the effort to make photocopies of said phrase from the English Dictionary and paste them all over campus. The goal? To educate and reassert Sankara’s dexterous use of the phrase.

Apart from this incident, Komla’s exploits reached me in the lecture hall. Professor Addo-Fenin, arguably one of the best “teachers” to ever teach me at Legon, used to wax lyrical to us about Komla’s diction, and clarity of presentation. It was not as if we did not know Komla was the “ish” on radio, but praise from Addo-Fenin was not to be taken lightly. The man was no joke himself.

Komla was also present on campus amidst the cacophony of booming sound systems across campus. We had to endure the blaring sounds of music from the latest machines from the U.K. or the U.S. Alternatively we settled for least expensive Chinese imported mobile devices we could carry along with us, while listening to our choice of frequency modulation (FM) stations. At Legon Hall, in room M16, our choice was mostly Joy FM, but on other occasions switched to Vibe FM. We were either listening to Kwaku Sintim-Misa’s talk show or to Bushke, churning out Hip-Hop sounds. My room mates: Randy, Collins, Wizzy, Apot, Rufus and others were also forced to listen to Radio Universe, where I began my career as a broadcast journalist. I suffered them to listen to me Deejay Night Universe and Reggae and Rhymes, read the news (NOT PRIMETIME) and announcements, and eventually present the sports show on Saturday’s. We listened to radio on Wizzy’s sound system, and later through my creative use of my father’s old sound system we put the room and the block on blast. It was at these times that, as my good friend Emmanuel Asiedu-Acquah puts it, Komla became “present and large in our consciousness. When [we] try to remember what radio was like in the 1990s, it is his voice and image that dominate [our] my minds.” We listened to Komla for his clarity of ideas, his presentation, his gifted interviewing skills, and his wittiness. Jokes like “whatsaaaaaaap,” his reference to Hausa Koko as “Irish Cream” and his repartees with Sony Decker and later Stan Dogbe during News File, filled our consciousness. And we kept going to Komla again and again for second bites of his “cherry”. He was a rare combination of intelligence, candor, funny, street smarts, and gift of garb.

Near: Multimedia/Joy FM

In 2002, I was on the verge of completing my national service with Radio Universe, when all-in-one-day I received calls from my pal Frederick Avornyo, my mentor Sankara, Joy FM newsroom editor Kofi Owusu, as well as the Human Resource Manager for Multimedia. They were all calling to see my availability to present alongside my verbose friend Kojo Frempong, a. k. a “Shakes” for Shakespeare. I have fond memories of my time at Joy FM, and in a newsroom that included Sony Decker, Akwasi Sarpong, Ato Kwamena Dadzie, Kofi Owusu, Matilda Asante, Stan Dogbe, Eva Okyere and a tall list of presenters.

Unfortunately for me, and fortunately for Komla, during this period he was coming to the end of his first stint with Joy FM. He was getting ready to begin graduate studies at Harvard University. But I did get to meet him, and to present with him on the Joy Morning Show for a number of weeks before he finally left.

Some of my memories of him include him telling Kojo and I about the history of why and how Ivies were planted on Ivy League campuses, as well as his fascination with pen-drives. He was thrilled with how useful the latter could be for investigative journalism. I also recall that at a lunch held in his honor, when he came back from Harvard after a semester, he shared many stories about his adventures with course mates at Harvard.

A year after Komla left for Harvard, I also left for Michigan State University (MSU), and from there both of us went on to pursue our respective careers. Komla, it’s a privilege to have been on the Super Morning Show with you. Arguably Ghana has lost the best-broadcast journalist (Radio and TV.) in the last two decades or so.

Komla Yaawo Ojogban, Damrifa Due, Rest in Peace.

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Harry Odamtten is assistant professor of history at Santa Clara University.

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