For some of today’s generation, Jewel Kofi Ackah is known as the man who composed the popular “Arise, Arise” anthem for the National Democratic Party in 1992. Ghana was transitioning from military dictatorship to democratic governance, and the last leg of the completion process was an election to be held in 1992. The then military leader turned democrat, Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings (incumbent) was up against Prof. Adu Boahene, a renowned academic running on the ticket of the New Patriotic Party (NPP).
Like any important activity that deserves people’s participation and awareness, a catchy music that sells the ethos of the party is of prime importance. For the NDC, that task fell on one musician: Jewel Kofi Ackah, a famous highlife/gospel musician.
This is how he recounted the decision to compose a song for the party:
“I met the President because I knew him way back from Takoradi, then I agreed to do the song which I didn’t charge because I was afraid, so I only told him I need a studio. They gave me the lyrics which I did some changes to and did the entire composition and since then I became part of the National Democratic Congress and I later did other party songs,”
In the estimation of many, this move by him rang the death toll on his career since many felt his political affiliation went contrary to theirs. Ghanaians weren’t politically sophisticated to differentiate or accept the fact that, an artist can align with a political party. His once high flying career suddenly hit a snag.
Birth & Albums
Born in 1945 in Axim, in the Western Region, Jewel Kofi Ackah picked up a job with Palm Line, a shipping company after school, but quit the job to join a traditional music group where he was spotted by legendary musician Ebo Taylor.
He later played with legendary CK Mann leading to the release of his debut album, ‘Gyaki Mea’ in 1974. He went on to record a song with Pat Thomas titled ‘False Lover’. In the early 90s, Jewel Ackah was signed by the music label Megastar under which he released a couple of albums.
By the time of his death, he had released 27 albums. Some of his major releases were “Akarika- Chi Special- Beat For Children All Over The World Vol. 1” (1984),Electric Highlife (1986), Jewel Ackah and the Tema Anglican Church Choir (1988), Me Dear (1989), Jewel Ackah and the Butterfly Six (1993). In 2010, he released Fill The Hilife Bump which had songs like ‘Kyere M’ase’, ‘Evil Man’ and ‘Abena’. His last feature was on ‘Nyame Eguama’, a gospel song by Joyce Blessings, where he added a tone of soul to the tune.
According to reports, Jewel Ackah had been battling stroke and other sicknesses for over a decade. Somewhere in 2017 during a TV3 interview, he disclosed his battles with ill-health and how the NDC had abandoned him in time of need. He urged them not to wait until he’s dead before they display their love for him.
Following media reports of his predicament, the CEO of Zylofon Media donated $10,000 towards his medical bills. Unfortunately, this kind gesture seemed to have come a bit late.
There are a few memorable moments I have of Jewel Ackah. Obviously, one can’t wash off his stout look from his/her mind. I recall seeing him in 1996 during the Pan-African National Festival (PANAFEST) in Cape Coast. The Centre for National Culture (CNC) had been built and was hosting a music event. Jewel Ackah was the headline act. As was the case, my family were there to enjoy a night of great music.
Like his other highlife compatriots, Jewel Ackah’s music were mostly reflections on life. Subjects like love, God, swings of life and happiness were very prominent in the music he made. The relatability of the subjects resulted in the success and fame that came his way.
The plight of Jewel Ackah during his last years after retiring from music is similar to those of many veterans who had passed on. They live their last years ailed by diseases and in penury. They have to seek public support to undergo one surgery or survive.
Jewel Ackah may have suffered from political indecision or naivety regarding the choices he made by aligning himself with politics. That was just one chapter of his life. The other chapter shone light on his incredible talent; a man who contributed not only towards the making of highlife music an enviable genre across the globe, but his uniquely husky voice soothed every ear and melted hearts.