Story: Hadiza Nuhhu Billa Quansah
Have you ever wondered why TV Africa, one of the television stations in Ghana based in Accra, telecasts programmes which are mostly based on African cultures, music, festivals, traditional beliefs and practices? The reason is simply because the brain behind TV Africa is someone who has a passion for African values.
He is Mr Kwaw Ansah, a multi-talented person who is always dressed in African clothes, whether he is at work, at formal or social events. He established TV Africa and he is the Chief Executive Officer as well as the Executive Producer for most of its programmes mainly to ensure that viewers are given highly educative and entertaining programmes.
Last week, the Junior Graphic met with him to find out more about his childhood years. Immeditely this reporter entered his office something struck her. The chairs, tables and walls are all designed in various beautiful African symbols and designs and that spoke volumes about her personality.
Explaining why his whole being is rooted in the African culture, he said, “Our culture is what unites us as one people. Therefore, it is important to project it so that the youth will know their roots and appreciate it, instead of hanging onto some foreign culture which is making most of them wayward.”
Mr Ansah described himself as the son of a photographer, dramatist and musician, adding that he is a Guan and Ahanta person who grew up with the veteran musician and the politician Gyedu Blay Ambolley and Freddie Blay, respectively, at Asaman Nsu Do in Sekondi in the Western Region.
According to him, the atmosphere in that community could be described as a melting pot where there were various people from diverse ethnic backgrounds, such as Nigerians, Ewes and those from the northern prt of the country.
“It was really an interesting community to grow up in. Every ethnic group had its own traditional day celebration. If you were smart you could learn various languages and traditional dances and how to eat food from other ethnic groups,” he stated with a smile.
Mr Ansah said where he grew up, helped him greatly because it made him to be able to withstand all kinds of challenges. That was because his mother, who was a trader, always sent him on errands to sell her wares before or after school. Because his mum sold various items, he became a victim of that and it earned him various nicknames among his classmates, all of which he took in good faith because he said there was nothing he could do about it.
“I always try to make good use of any situation I find myself in and that is what every child must learn to do, since success does come on a silver platter,” he said.
Asked why he did not have an English name, he laughed and narrated the incident that led to the withdrawal of his English name. According to him, when he was a child, his school, which was a mission one, required that every pupil had an English name. He, therefore, informed his mother, who in turned went to the school and gave his name as James Kwaw Ansah.
Meanwhile, his father, who was not around at that time, got upset upon his return to hear that his son’s friends now called him James. He, therefore, went to the school the next day and asked the headmaster to assemble all the pupils. There, he announced that his son’s name was Kwaw Painstil Ansah and not James.
“That is how I lost my English name. James was my mother's brother's name, while Kwaw Painstil was my paternal grandfather’s name and, therefore, my father was not willing to trade it off for James. My name, Painstil, also came with its own woes, as my friends called me ‘Pencil’ instead,” he said with laughter.
Looking younger than his age, Kwaw Ansah said he was the sixth of 21 siblings and that he would be 68 in July this year. Among some of his siblings are Mrs Felicia Abban, the first Ghanaian female professional photographer and Kofi Ansah, the fashion designer.
He started his primary education at the Anglican Primary School in Sekondi. “After sitting and passing the Common Entrance Examination, I intended to go to Ghana National College but my dream was shattered,” he added.
Asked to explain why, he said his strict father wanted him to take after him as a photographer but he also wanted to attend secondary school, especially when he had won a scholarship. Unfortunately, his father refused to grant him permission to do so. Therefore, he had no option but to read on his own and write the GCE Ordinary Level examination privately, which he passed successfully.
Young Kwaw Ansah subsequently gained employment at the United Africa Company (UAC), a Unilever firm in Ghana, where he had his basic training in textile design. After a stint with the company, he left for the States, where he pursued the GCE Advanced Level. He then gained admission to the Manchester College of Arts and then proceeded to the London Polytechnic where he studied Theatre Design.
By dint of hard work, he was given a grant by the Principal of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy to understudy film production at R.K.O. studios in Hollywood. He had his first play, The Adoption, produced off Broadway, New York, and the Columbia University. His second play, Mother's Tears, is very popular among students. It has been performed at the Drama Studio, in schools and at the Arts Centre.
Mr Ansah returned to Ghana in 1967 and worked for two years as a production assistant and set designer with the Ghana Film Industry Corporation (now GAMA Films) and as a film and radio producer with Unilever's Lintas Advertising as it was called then.
He later founded Targeted Advertising Services in 1973, followed by Film Africa Limited in 1977. His first feature film, Love Brewed in the African Pot, won a number of international awards, including the Omarou Ganda Prize for the Most Remarkable Direction and Production in line with African Realities at the Seventh Pan-African Film Festival in Ouagadougou; Jury's Special Silver Peacock Award for Feature Films at the Eighth International Film Festival of India, New Delhi, for a genuine and talented attempt to find a national and cultural identity and also the UNESCO Film Prize in France in 1985.
He followed that with his second film, Heritage Africa, which also won several awards, including the Outstanding Film at the London Festival in 1989.
In 1995, he founded TV Africa. The station, however, started operating in 2003. For his immaculate contribution to the arts, his office is full of various awards, among them the Millennium Excellence Award, Black People of the World Award, Living Legends Award, Order of Burkina, Outstanding Personality Award and ACRAG Award.
Mr Ansah has two children with his late wife and he enjoys eating a lot of vegetables and also exercises on daily just to keep fit.