Not many Ghanaians who have not lived in Ghana will know this but there was a time when cinema going in these beautiful, colonial outspaces was the social thing to do, long before Citizen Kofi and Silverbird. What I came to learn last night is that Kwame Nkrumah acquired these cinemas with the aim of building a prominent and impressive film industry in Ghana. Love Brewed In An African Pot, is one often cited film that has come to symbolise Ghana’s previous glory days of creativity and culture. But as the documentary shown at last night’s event showed me, with a struggling economy and IMF agents from outside (them again!), the film industry fell to the way-side. The government was instructed to sell everything and somewhere down the line (I couldn’t hear the reason for all the chatter) the celluloids and everything connected to the film industry were burnt.
Decades later, Akosua Adoma Owusu, the director of Kwaku Ananse, has started a campaign to Save the Rex. She exceeded her Kickstarter target because there are so many of us who also believe in the cause.
That being said, it’ll take more than just renovating it to save it. When my mother got my cousin to drop us he kindly agreed. But, he thought he was going to the Roxy in Adabraka. I even asked my uncle where the Rex was and he said it was in Adabraka. We jumped in the car and set off before my cousin rang his friend to ask where the Rex was. His friend kept suggesting he meant the Roxy and my cousin in turn kept asking me if I was sure of where I was going. Eventually, as we approached Kwame Nkrumah Circle from the Nsawam Road my cousin got a call back from his friend who had done some phoning around and he told us it’s near the Tema Station (not a station in Tema but where the buses head to Tema). OK, this should be straight forward then. No. We turn off Kinbu Road and my cousin was still unsure, we stopped to ask someone. Luckily this guy is clearly a native, he spoke Ga so we can trust his knowledge of Accra. After some thought and a couple back tracks he gave us firm directions. We found it! It’s picturesque. I can see why she wanted to save it but I can also see that it will remain a preserve of the Ghanaian hipster. It felt like the Accra equivalent of Shoreditch – actually maybe less alternative. What’s more, the average Ghanaian still doesn’t know it exists.
It’s funny how enchanted you can be from the most simplest of structures, but it’s a mystery that the Rex has not been shown more appreciation until now. The weather in Ghana is conducive to partying late into the night outside, much like we used to in the Clarke Quay area of Singapore. That’s the joys of tropical countries. Republic offered drinks and food, after that, what more could one want.
Leaving the venue, I experienced something I hadn’t thought existed in Ghana. Silence and tranquility. Ofankor, where I live is basically noisy all throughout the night. There’s always someone who thinks they can have a conversation outside your window, a chop bar that thinks it can share its Kwabena Kwabena compilation with the town, a chicken who doesn’t respect the human being’s time to sleep. Silence and tranquility is what I’ve been searching for, but when I’m waiting for a taxi down a dark, unlit road it’s not as comforting. Obviously though, the taxis will come down that road when they realise there’s demand for them to be there. I wandered the streets carefully with my mum or ‘living, breathing Accra SatNav’ as I like to think of her. Eventually, we hail a taxi but he’s stopping to pick up some other people, they offer to share the taxi and in one night I get a taste of all those stories my mum used to share about life in Ghana sneaking off to open air cinemas (or a discotech) and making friends in the back of shared taxis because Ghana used to be that nice, and still can be that nice, with the right people.
The future’s bright for the Rex and for the active, creative scene blossoming in Ghana. The thing about the type of Ghanaian who came to save the Rex last night is that they are doers; a different breed from those who complain and dream of leaving. I can understand why there is such an optimism amongst some circles; they grab the freedom of being in Ghana by the horns and do something substantial with it.