Talking Drum: Bob Okala’s ‘last show’

Bob Okala

Garbed in a Ghanaian flag gown, he stood with the right hand bent to hold a microphone towards his mouth and the left hand, spread out like a branch of a tree.

There at the Arts Center, in Accra, the veteran comedian born Samuel Kwadwo Buabeng and known in showbiz as Bishop Bob Okala had his stage. This was to be his last ‘show’ in ‘performing’ to a sea of people clad in the colours of red and black. A crowd he could not see.

As usual, Bob Okala was almost in full gear as his audience had known him for. Covering his head was a piece of the flag with a tainted spectacle, not the usual spectacular one, worn. On top of his long necktie that rested on his belly, was the known wooden bowtie loosely tied to hug his chest.

However, something that had ever since been of paramount interest to his teeming admirers was missing. Can you hazard a guess? It was Okala’s wall-clock-turned wrist watch. The absence of the wrist watch was enough to tell anyone that saw him stand that although the lizard may knock his head, it does not mean all is well.

Bob Okala stood in readiness to do rendition of songs crafted into jokes to the hundreds of people gathered at the Arts Center but he had no breath to whisper a word. This is how sad life could be when death lays its icy hands on a man whose words put smiles on the faces of many.

When news broke on March 13, 2016 of the death of the comedian, I had goose pimple dotting my body the way beads of sweats would cling to a chilled bottle of beer. “It was not long he spoke on an Accra based radio station,” I said to myself.

In that radio interview, Okala was optimistic the government will give Nkᴐmᴐdԑ, his colleague who had died, a state burial should the deceased’s family officially approached the presidency.

Little did Bob Okala know that mounting that stage in Koforidua to do what he does best could be but his final moments on earth. Many were entertainment pundits who expressed shock upon hearing the news and they had ‘something’ to say concerning the death.

Among those concerns raised was that Bob Okala was not in good health and that he shouldn’t have considered mounting the stage. I did not fault these pundits. They may have a case. Nonetheless, I personally wished the ‘hyena’ was chased away before we blamed ‘mother hen.’

Now that the final funeral rite has been observed, I think it’s time to ask all the hard questions without hurting the bereaved family but to the betterment of the creative arts industry.

We see them on television and on radio and in the papers and we presume, ‘they are living a good life.’ Don’t we? But the truth is that many are those in the creative arts industry who are living from ‘hand-to-mouth.’

In the past when musicians chased [some] DJs, who take what is known as Payola before playing their songs, the artistes had the advantage of selling cassettes. While these DJs still do the cash before [air] play, the buying of cassettes/CDs has gone with the wind. Music lovers in Ghana today download the songs for free forcing the musicians to rely on the performance of shows to break even.

Whereas the issue of royalties come into the debate, musicians either complain of receiving peanuts or sometimes nothing at all.

Aside the pennies of royalties, the topnotch musician may have a way of surviving by charging thousands of cedis for a show. However, it leaves us questions we must find answers to. How much could a comedian take for a similar performance? Do comedians get royalties for the media and individuals playing bits and pieces of their intellectual property?

Considering the fact that Bob Okala had something minimal or nothing to take home as royalties at the end of the day, will he not strive even when sick to mount the stage in order to put food on the table?

When Nkᴐmᴐdԑ was admitted at the hospital, media reports indicated that the man was in dire need. On his hospital bed was a man who once cracked jokes at the National Theatre, in Accra, for someone in my City, Sunyani, to laugh falling off from their chairs.

Would you say Nkᴐmᴐdԑ misused his money in his prime? You may be right. Ghanaians had long embraced comedy, as in the days of the Key Soap Concert Party. They had thronged the National Theatre to watch the men who painted their faces with chalks and wore brassieres.

Nonetheless, it baffles my mind if almost all the jokers/comedians in Nkᴐmᴐdԑ’s days misused their monies too. Many are those comedians still living in abject poverty while some have died paupers.

If Abԑnkwan, one of the Key Soap Concert Party comedians, should own one or two of the plush hotels in town, I wouldn’t be surprised. He was extremely good a comedian. But I do not believe the young man really benefited from his fame.

The likes of Agya Koo became who they are today for getting themselves a role in what has become known as Kumawood movies.

Mohammed Ali was without doubts a great legend. He ought to be remembered and celebrated. Here in Ghana, Bob Okala was in his small way a legend, too, and I expected the media and the public to talk about him the way we do to some international stars who pass on.

It was sad that had a former Concert Promoter not collapsed and died at the funeral of Okala, many wouldn’t have known that Saturday, June 11, 2016 was his final salute.

I like the DKBs and the others for holding high the flag of comedy. However, I am tempted to ask if they can solely rely on comedy for a living? A nation cannot develop without paying attention to its creative arts industry.

If authors have their books being photocopied by students without their permission and movies pirated, it suggests that slowly the muddy pool is becoming a river. We must value a creative work, hence, intellectual property.

Nkᴐmᴐdԑ and Bob Okala did their best and they are gone for good. If they did not benefit much from their chosen profession, it is not too late. Let’s put things in order for their families to enjoy royalties of their labour. May their souls rest in peace.

By Solomon Mensah                         Email: [email protected]

The writer is a broadcast journalist with 3FM 92.7. Views expressed here remains solely his and not that of his media organization.

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