Prof Kwesi Yankah writes: Densu, Kojo Antwi and me

Kojo Antwi, Mr Music Man is a love bird. He is love on two legs. Lovers can listen to Kojo’s lyrics and fall in love over and over again, only because Kojo has wooed them to renew their vows. A peerless love poet, Kojo could easily be declared the Prince of Love, having produced a dozen albums as a gift for lovers of this world.

But why an ode to Kojo Antwi, at a time the nation is reeling, shedding tears over the murky rivers of our Motherland? It’s simply because Kojo once made the Densu river, a symbol of love and nourishment, and its river bed an ideal site for love and renewal. In Kojo Antwi’s universe, Densu is a metaphor for passion and romance.

Once upon a time, I met this celebrity eye ball to eyeball. It’s been a while since then, but I am calling Kojo today, to rally to the resurrection of a dying river that once inspired his poetic fancy.

I first met Kojo Antwi in the early 1990s while I pivoted the rolling out of Radio Univers, the first independent educational radio in Ghana. Thanks to Professor George Benneh, then Legon’s Vice Chancellor for his vision. I was Dean of Students, and Chairman of the radio station. At the foundation stages, I hosted a program called Alumni Hour, where I interviewed Legon’s alumni and friends of Legon, asking them to tell their story to inspire students. Kojo Antwi was a friend of Legon. I invited him to the studios and urged him to talk about his life and music. Oh what a simple affable celebrity!

I miss Kojo at this critical juncture where our water bodies are wailing to be rescued.

Kojo’s famous album entitled Densu, is what I speak of. It is dedicated to the Densu river. The album hit the airwaves in 2002.

But Kojo is not alone. Earlier on, the sage Agya Koo Nimo currently in his nineties had, on request, used the name of a friend’s spouse to compose a famous hit song. Her name was Naa Densua. ‘Obaa pa Naa Densua’ begins the lyrics, and sets it ad-libbing on the ideal qualities of womanhood, which Naa Densua like the River, exemplified. Not forgetting the several entities named after Densu at Nsawam and other places.

Then came the great Afro rock band, Osibisa. Their song Densu in the 1970s was a hit, that invoked in song the lucky guests enjoying Densu’s hospitality: the varieties of fish, crabs, oysters, and rare mammals.

Who would have thought the Densu river would be the object of poetic fancy? The childhood of Kojo Antwi and other musicians must have been my own: walking long distances early morning to fetch river water, and pouring this into the communal barrel back home. The last round of the trip often gave you the opportunity to bathe at the riverside before coming home. Bathing by the river was itself a risk; you were likely to expose your little manhood in broad daylight. But there was a way out, and we knew. It meant squeezing your little thing in between your thighs along with the pair of pillows beneath— just in case naughty girls were watching.

Even so it was often a wasted venture carrying home a bucketful of water, balancing this on your head in style, and tripping and falling flat at the entrance of your homestead. It meant retracing your steps to the stream in tears, this time walking back in humbled elegance. The agony you suffered was somehow a penalty for overindulgence in art.

All those games were largely with tributaries of Densu, which nourished the Agonas in the Central region, and later with a treatment plant at Kwanyarku. For the sake of river water, our parents resisted using pipe-borne water from Kwanyarku when it was introduced early 1960s. Clean river water was a joy to taste and behold, particularly the sight of dragonflies (agyengyensuo), restless on polluted parts of the river, and discharging morning chores: gobbling mosquitoes, and cleansing the river of intruders. Those little flies were nature’s treatment plants, running errands in ways Ghana Water would have envied.

If there was anything superior to clean river water, it was rain water, its best part being (adukuro mu nsuo): rain drops settling at the buttress of a giant tree. Apart from yields and protective cover, large trees used their curved roots to harvest small quantities of rain water for thirsty farmers, making every tree a potential succor to the helpless. The rare pool here was the farmer’s first resort, as he took a well-deserved break on the farm. But adukuro mu nsuo was also the lover’s dream. Suitors bypassed rivers to scoop this nature’s treat to quench the thirst of dear ones. Its romantic appeal attracted the imagery adukuro mu nsuo akonno akonno—the appetizing pool of rain water trapped at the buttress of a giant tree.

But Densu was also a motif in tales told in childhood. The river was a supreme divinity you invoked to deliver nutrition, and rare fish resources. Call on Densu in song, and missing fish would swim to the banks. Sing to Densu in times of need, and the river would split and allow you access to your wants. Song then turns on Densu’s bounty and generosity. The river simply yields to music, and lavishes gifts on the seeker.

Kojo Antwi knew this and at every opportunity, knelt before the river for divine inspiration.

Let me end with parts of Kojo Antwi’s Densu, hoping this will invoke Kojo to come and join the fight for the return of his Densu. The following are sampled translations of Densu, originally sung in Twi.

Densu

My love sent me word
That she would come and lie by me
If I lay my dear one, on a palm branch
It will snap and hurt my love

I will slip ahenemma, royal footwear on her feet

And spread a cloth on the floor
So she walks the distance in gentle steps
For my love’s bare feet will hurt on gravel

My Love, if you miss the vehicle
Ride on a horse
If you miss a horse ride, walk the distance
Come and throw your Densu on me
I will dive
I will dive in Densu
My revered love, Piesie
I will dive in your Densu

If it’s a camel, sit on it and come home
If it takes a year, walk the distance
Come and rain your Densu river on me

Today, we shall not sleep,
Not spare the others a slumber
My love’s Densu has swept me off
If it’s Densu let me be swept in floods

Come rain your Densu on me

Come splash your Densu
Come drown me in the Densu river

If it’s a love river then, Densu cannot hurt. According to Kojo, drowning is no longer fatal if you are swept into the snares of paradise. Who would then resist drowning in Kojo Antwi’s River Densu?

If this nation should drown let it be in a river of life and nurture. Not in the poisoned embers of galamsey.

Come Kojo Antwi, Bessa Simons and MUSIGA. Together let’s hold hands and invoke the dignity of River Densu. Our river has been held hostage.

If Densu dies, there goes our music.

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