Nii Yemo Nunu & Steven Feld: The Story of Por Por + M.V. Labadi

Nii Yemo Nunu & Steven Feld: The Story of Por Por + M.V. Labadi

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Por Por He Sane (The Story of Por Por) A film by Nii Yemo Nunu & Steven Feld

2013, 60 minutes, In Ga with English/French/Italian subtitles

M.V. Labadi, A film by Nii Yemo Nunu and Steven Feld

2013, 20 minutes, In English.

Two films on one DVD, Filmed in Accra, Ghana 2005-2010

A Kotopon Afrikan Images/Voxlox/Montage CoProduction

Interviews, Translations, and Archival Photographs: Nii Yemo Nunu

Production, Research, Video and Sound: Steven Feld

Editing and DVD Mastering: Jeremiah Ra Richards

 

Drawing on their work with Accra's La Drivers Union, Nunu & Feld's film The Story of Por Por chronicles Ghana's intertwined histories of colonial-era lorry driving and the invention of Por Por, a music for squeeze-bulb truck horns played uniquely for union driver funerals.

In a companion film Nii Yemo Nunu uses family photographs to tell the story of his legendary father, the driver Ataa Anangbi Anangfio and his vehicle, M.V.Ladabi.

Nii Yemo Nunu is a photographer, archivist, and oral historian in La, Accra, Ghana.

Steven Feld is a musician, filmmaker, and Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Music at University of New Mexico.

Nunu & Feld's previous work together includes the film A Por Por Funeral for Ashirifie, recipient of the Prix Bartók at the Paris International Festival Jean Rouch in 2010. They also produced the CD Por Por: Honk Horn Music of Ghana, for Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in 2007 as a US 50th Independence Anniversary gift to Ghana, and also the CD Klebo! Honk Horn Music from Ghana for Voxlox, 2009.

 

Screening note by Steven Feld

 

In 2005 the photographer Nii Yemo Nunu introduced me to the La Drivers Union Por Por Group and set into motion our collaborative research on the intertwined histories of colonial-era lorry driving and the invention of funerary music for antique squeeze-bulb honk horns. This history is unique to La (aka Labadi), one of the seven residential townships of Ga-speaking people in Accra. The La transport workers are people Nii Yemo has known all of his life, and many of them were close associates of his father, a famous lorry driver in the 1940s and 1950s.

 The filming of Por Por He Sane unfolded slowly, during the six-month periods of each year from 2005 through 2010 that I lived in Accra. During this time we also produced two CDs (Por Por: Honk Horn Music of Ghana, Smithsonian Folkways, 2007; Klebo! Voxlox 2009), and another hour-long film, A Por Por Funeral for Ashirifie, about the por por funerals and their connection to the jazz funerals in New Orleans (Voxlox, 2009). Our hour-long interviews with the twenty-five workers you meet in Por Por He Sane have now been transcribed, translated, and edited. They will appear, together with historic photographs and documents, in an accompanying book, Sounding the Road: Colonial Lorry Driving and the Invention of Honk Horn Music in Ghana. An additional short companion film, M.V. Labadi, features Nii Yemo telling his father’s story through his collection of family photographs and documents.  

 In Por Por He Sane filmic form is conjoined to anthropological argument in three ways.

The first conjunction is narrative and voice. The film’s structure mimics a locally ratified and well-known style of collective storytelling. The narrative arc thus emerges and congeals as stories within and about stories, stories overlapping stories, and stories piling up on top of stories. This structure performs a poetics and politics of vocal inclusion.

The second conjunction is materiality and ephemerality. The film demonstrates how material forms like vehicles, horns, pumps, photographs, objects, and documents become sayings, names, stories, voices, sounds, songs, and dances.  Persons become the legacy of vehicles, and vehicles become the legacy of persons. Voices become horns and horns become voices. Wrenches and tire rims become musical time-line bells; tire pumping becomes a dancing parade. Vehicles and driving materials, as stories and performances, produce reputations to look after.

The third conjunction is the audio-visual chronotope of the road. In 2012 I showed a rough cut of the film to Chief Driver Nii Quarshie Gene and asked his thoughts. He slapped my hand, and as our fingers popped, he said, vigorously: “Prof! Start the engine!” I then spent a day recording on the road with Tetteh Kwameo in his vehicle, the oldest continuously working lorry in La, on the road since 1952. The film opens under black with the sound of Tetteh sparking his engine that day. An ambient track of sounds from our day on the road then plays continuously throughout the film. And it’s the image of Tetteh’s ignition key resting in place that ends the film. Engines and horns are an ever-present soundtrack to the roads of life and after-life, honked by drivers who double as musical undertakers. This final touch of road and engine ambience joins La’s transport stories, por por performances, driving documents, and family photographs to make Por Por He Sane a filmic lorry ride through history and memory. 

 

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