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Seth Dei, the Ghanaian investor behind fruit exporter Blue Skies – FT

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Hidden behind high walls and the dusty, traffic-laden chaos of modern-day Accra, Seth Dei sits in pensive calm in his office. A cup of late afternoon coffee and three mini chocolate-chip cookies lie untouched in front of him as he studies his next move in a protracted chess endgame with his computer. “I’m winning, but I’m not sure how to finish,” he sighs.

On the walls are a few pieces from the extensive Ghanaian art collection he has built up over more than three decades. Outside, a neatly trimmed garden with a verdant lawn and brightly coloured tropical plants offset the white walls and clean lines of his modernist house.

The building in which he is sitting was built in 1957 for an English businessman. Dei found it too big when he bought it, and turned it into the now mothballed and sparsely furnished Dei Centre for the Study of Contemporary African Art, complete with a small library, and corridors and staircases lined with some of the 500 paintings he has acquired.

He hauls himself to his feet, and gestures to a picture opposite his desk of a market scene by Adiama that is part-painting, part-fabric collage. “He was part of the old school of artists in Ghana, who were timid about selling their works and not business-like,” he says. “They didn’t put much value on art.”

Dei’s home in Accra © Jordi Perdigó

Dei, 72, is a posterboy for business in Ghana. He helped create Blue Skies, a fresh fruit-packaging factory, which has become a frequent attraction on tours by dignitaries seeking symbols of the country’s economic success. He is now scaling back his involvement in a business with £90m in annual sales, supplying supermarkets in a dozen countries (including Waitrose in the UK) from its original factory in Accra, as well as others opened since in South Africa, Egypt, Senegal and Brazil.

His latter-day activities belie much of his working career and longstanding passion for supporting local artists. That is evident in the residential quarters next door, where he lives with his second wife. “Everything is made locally,” he says.

Born to cocoa-farming parents in the then Gold Coast and witness to independence from Britain during his schooldays in 1957, his focus was long on the US. He won a scholarship to Buxton, a boarding prep school in New England, and moved there aged 16.

Sitting room of Dei’s home in Accra, Ghana © Jordi Perdigó

He recalls his thrill at seeing the red autumn colours in his first September. In winter, “everything was white with snow, which I had never seen”.

With Ghanaian government funding, Dei studied at Columbia and Cornell in New York, before working in the life insurance sector. “I dealt with CEOs and CFOs. I observed the habits of American chief executives: they knew their businesses, kept fit, worked hard, had admirable self-confidence. You learnt from them,” he says.

He married an American and spent much of his career in the US, but never forgot his roots. “I had always intended to come back to Ghana, or at least to Africa,” he says. “I realised it was difficult to be poor here: there are so many opportunities. You only have to drop a seed and in two weeks you have a plant. Depending on your ambition you can become a millionaire.”

When he returned at the start of the 1990s, his first ventures drew on his US financial expertise. “There was a gold boom and a lot of mining companies, and I figured they needed equipment and leasing services. But that required central bank supervision, and the rules were terrible. I could see it would not grow, so I sold the business.”

Garden room © Jordi Perdigó

Then in 1997, he was introduced to Anthony Pile, a Briton who wanted to open a fresh fruit-packaging plant. “He was keen to find a local partner. Somebody told him to talk to me. We started chatting and he had convinced me within three minutes. It’s been a very good investment,” Dei says.

Asked to list the difficulties of operating, he quotes transport — perishable fruit must be shipped by plane — as well as the erratic local electricity supply, something which, in the humid dusk, also presents a challenge for the preservation of his artworks.

And corruption? “We have not come up against it, and we would not participate,” he says. “We are doing a lot for the economy.” Blue Skies employs 4,000 local staff, pays substantially above the minimum wage, offers free cooked meals, medical help, maternity and paternity leave, and social responsibility programmes in local communities.

‘Jazz Play’ (1997) by Glen Turner © Jordi Perdigó

With Ghana just celebrating 60 years of independence, he reflects: “I feel we should have done better. We had many more assets than Malaysia or South Korea, with a lot more natural resources. But I see a slow realisation from the president down that we should have done better. Coups d’état were getting us nowhere. Democratic practice has introduced competition to government.”

He says he never had any interest in politics. “I cannot say something is blue when it is in fact red.” Instead, during his spare time, he threw himself into art collecting. He befriended many of the country’s artists, buying their work and sometimes being offered it. He points to a long canvas by Larry Otoo of a brass band in a remote village. “He came to me and asked if I wanted him to paint me something. This is it.”

Settling into an armchair in the entrance hall, Dei pauses before answering the question of why he loves art. “First and foremost, I look on it as history: what’s happened, what’s happening,” he says. “The artist is able to freeze-frame and look carefully at things you don’t normally pay attention to when you are walking around. You never noticed something, and, seeing the picture, you realise it’s beautiful. It makes you pay more attention.”

Paintings by E Owusu Dartey and Adoley Nmai among others © Jordi Perdigó

He gets to his feet, and walks across a courtyard, into the street and next door, where at the end of a small garden decorated by large stone sculptures, he had an Italian architect friend modify the former maid’s quarters into his living accommodation. Settling down in the study, among piles of CDs and videos, Dei says he still receives weekly management reports from Blue Skies, and is excited about new projects including a planned range of dairy-free ice creams in chocolate, mango, coconut and lime.

On the lounge table, flanked by sofas, are a series of antique wooden-carved slingshots from Ghana, Ivory Coast and Cameroon, which have been converted into ornaments. A full-length window opens on to a tiny, tranquil courtyard. Yet Dei craves still more space and light, and is completing work on a new home in the hills with a view over Accra. “I want more calm, where the air is cool.”

Baule sculpture from the Ivory Coast © Jordi Perdigó

He is also winding down his art collection, expressing frustration that American academic partners did not provide any funding. He closed the centre to the public three years ago. “I got tired and I’m taking a pause,” he says. “If I kept doing this, I’d be broke.”

He says all options remain open, and recently discussed the sale of works in a meeting with Sotheby’s. His dream is to donate his collection to a new state museum of modern art, but for now, he questions the competence of government officials to take charge.

Sculpture by Saka Acquaye © Jordi Perdigó

“We need a new museum of modern art. I think we can use the diaspora to build a nice little museum,” he says. He would like someone to approach the architect David Adjaye to prepare a preparatory sketch for a new venue, “to embarrass big institutions into contributing and building it”. Even if he is frustrated with the slow progress, Dei has not lost his enthusiasm for art. He has just bought two pictures in a new high-end gallery nearby, itself a sign of changing attitudes. “It has opened the eyes of Ghanaians and encouraged younger artists to up their game. There is a buzz about art in Ghana now. I’m very happy.”

 

Favourite thing

Dei picks out a 2006 painting of a saxophonist by Ghanaian artist Hacajaka. “When I look at this picture, it brings back lots of memories,” he says. “I listen a lot to jazz. It reminds me of when I graduated from college. When I was studying in the US, I heard some of the best jazz musicians: John Coltrane, Miles Davis.

“Miles Davis is my favourite. I heard him in Boston once and asked for his autograph, though he pretty much told me to get lost. There was a lot of experimentation with music . . . It puts me in a good mood. I’ll put this in my office in my new house.”

Credit: Fancial Times
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Teephlow, Kuami Eugene, Kelvynboy perform at UCC Closeup Campus Tour (+IMAGES)

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The University of Cape Coast was the place to be last Friday as the University felt the heat of the Closeup Campus Tour.

The show which saw award-winning artistes like Teephlow, Kuami Eugene and Kelvynboy move the crowd to the highest level.

Other artists who performed on the night included B4Bonah, Obkay and Real MC.

But it wasn’t all about them last Friday, staying true to Close Up’s “Break The Barrier” mantra, other upcoming artists were given the opportunity to perform on the same stage Adina, Kwesi Arthur and Kelvyn Boy performed on.

This was a major confidence booster for the young artiste who will undoubtedly record that moment in history as one of their own “Break The Barrier” moments.

The BreakTheBarrier competition was tough in Cape Coast but the luckiest among the contestants was UCC’s own Rap Dizzle. The rapper beat 11 other competitors to win the 2018 Close Up Cool Breeze Campus tour edition in Cape Coast.

As the winner, Rap Dizzle will get another rear opportunity to break another barrier and represent his school on the Close Up Cool Breeze Campus tour bus.

As part of the fun-filled activities, Close Up Cool Breeze shared some goodies including mugs, towels and cash prices.

The next stop for the Closeup Campus Tour is the Koforidua Technical University.

 

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OUT NOW! TICKETS FOR Ghana Meets Naija hit physical stores

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Empire Ghana, organizers of the annual Ghana Meets Naija have announced that tickets for #GhanaMeetsNaija18 are out at major physical outlets, and are selling for 120, 200 and 300 cedis.

Tickets are available at LIVE FM, STARR FM (located in the Meridian House, Ring Road), opposite Ecobank, and close to Nima Junction. Other outlets include Accra Mall, Achimota Mall and West Hills Mall, as well as Empire Ghana offices (located at Ridge, Accra, close to Alisa Hotel),

Patrons can also download the flexipay app on Playstore and Appstore, and make their purchase. Platinum tickets/ tables can be reserved on 050 564 6657 and 0558434907.

The 8th Ghana Meets Naija is on June 9 at the spacious FANTASY DOME, Trade Fair, La, Accra. The call for a bigger event for the annual Ghana Meets Naija concert has been heeded to by the organisers, Empire Ghana, as this year’s concert makes its debut at the facility located at the International Trade Fair, La. Fantasy Dome boasts state-of-the-art facilities and has already hosted a number of high-profile events.

Over 5000 people are expected to attend the event, which has constantly proven a sought-after platform for the West African nations to play out the musical sibling rivalry that exists between them.

Dubbed the “Rescue Mission”, this year’s event will also witness  performances from Stonebwoy, who is famed for his outstanding live gigs, KiDi, Kuami Eugene, King Promise, Patapaa, and Fancy Gadam. Nigeria will be represented by Wizkid, Mayorkun, and Mr. Eazi. More acts are expected to join the roster, organisers say.

Usually overbooked, the concert, widely deemed the biggest West African show, has previously been mounted by A- Listers as Shatta Wale, Sarkodie, Falz, Tiwa Savage, Davido, Naeto C, R2Bees and a host of others.

This year’s sponsors include Kasapreko Alomo Gold and Storm Energy Drink, Allied Oil, Somoco Ghana Ltd, Nasco Mobile, Kirusa, Point and Play, Rova Surveillance, Tang Palace, Fix Consult, EIB Network (Starr FM, Live FM, Gh One TV, Kasapa FM, Empire FM, Ultimate FM, Abusua FM), Graphic Showbiz,  Y FM, Aftown Music, Muse Africa, Ghana Music.com, West Hills Mall, Achimota Retail Centre, Accra Mall, Timepiece Gh.

The 2018 Ghana Meets Naija concert is powered by Empire Ghana.

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B4bonah,TeePhlow,Kuami Eugene others invades UCC for Close Up Cool Breeze Concert

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Award-winning artistes Kuami Eugene, TeePhlow and Kelvynbwoy will take the party to the University of Cape Coast this Friday.

Dubbed #BreakTheBarrier, the event will give an opportunity for an upcoming artiste to breakthrough to mainstream music.

The Campus Tour is an initiative of Close Up Ghana to break the barrier and connect with the youths of Ghana through entertainment.

Among the several artists who would perform on the night is rapper O’bkay of  MTN Hitmaker fame and Tema based Afropop star and Dear God crooner B4Bonah.

The Campus Tour is an initiative of Close Up Ghana to break the barrier and connect with the youths of Ghana through entertainment.

The Close Up Cool Breeze gives you up to 12 hours of fresh breath.

This youth centric brand is giving young people the confidence to break the barriers with the power of fresh breath.

As these young talented musicians bring their act to the University of Cape Coast, the students of the university will get the unique opportunity to make to gain the confidence they need to break the exam barrier.

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Collaborating for Growth – Aftown music is set for AfroMusicon 2018!

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After a year of operations in Ghana, over 22,000 subscribers and 300 signed acts; it’s become evident that both artists and music lovers are receptive to the business side of music.

Aftown exists not only to help artists make money but also for music lovers to have a one-stop shop to download and stream all their favourite songs from artists they love. So far, artists like Akan, Worlasi, Stonebwoy, EL and more have benefited from the marketing and sales opportunities that Aftown has to offer; selling their singles and albums to thousands of their fans across the country and across the world.

So when word came in from EchoHouse Ghana of the AfroMusicon initiative, it was only right that Aftown came on board to help push the grand agenda; The Business Of Music.

We believe artists should be able to make a living from their art, and conferences like AfroMusicon play a major role in enlightening the artists with respect to opportunities available and measures they need to put in place to secure revenue from their music. Aftown, along with its partners DGN, BBNZ LIVE and Sound Effects, will be playing a major roll in maiden AfroMusicon conference. Look out for the Aftown music workshop, concerts and panel discussions. Sign up to Aftown and get all the info first hand!

 

AfroMusicon is hosted by EchoHouse Ghana, in partnership with InnovaDDB and Pulse Creatives and supported by Trace, Kuulpeeps, BBnZ, DGN, Ameyaw Debrah, Harmattan Rain, NYDJ Live Media, George Britton Media, GhudMusic, Enewsgh, StarrBuzz and TalkMedia GH, Kobby Kyei Media, MiPromo and Ghana Music.

The conference will focus on how musicians can capitalize on existing platforms and opportunities to make money off their passion. Visit www.afromusicon.com or follow @AfroMusicon on all social media platforms for more information or call 0500003344 to sponsor.

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Pascal Amanfo joins the Amoateng Pastors for next level Conference

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Nigerian film director, based primarily in the Ghana film industry, Pascal Amanfo after announcing that he is a man of God in 2015 is yet to speak at one of his biggest events.

The filmmaker has been announced as one of the ministers to give a sermon at the 2018 Next Level Conference in Accra starting May 27 to June 3 this year.

The event expected to happen at the Power of Worship International church at Spintex Road aside Pascal Amanfo will have the three Amoateng brothers who are men of God also speaking at the week-long event.

Pastor Brian Amoateng together with his elder brothers, Pastor Daniel Amoateng, Prophet Sampson Amoateng will minister to patrons who will attend the Next Level Conference. Abena Brigidi is also named as the only female speaker for the Christian event starting on May 27.

The conference will witness performances from several top Ghanaian gospel musicians. The Sunday, May 27 to Thursday, May 31 shows start from 6 pm and Friday, June 1 to June 3 events also commences from 9 pm each day.

Prophet Daniel Amoateng, a civil engineer, author, philanthropist and a servant of God is the founder and leader of the Power of Worship International church located at the Spintex Road, basket bus stop in Accra.

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W.E.B DU BOIS MEMORIAL CENTRE FOR PAN AFRICAN CULTURE Hosts 2018 African Union Fashion show & Bazaar

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The W.E.B Du Bois Memorial Centre for Pan African Culture under the auspices of Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Accra, in collaboration with the Fashion Department of Accra Technical University, will from May 18-19 host an African Fashion Show and Craft Bazaar.

The event is being held in commemoration of the African Union (AU) Week under the theme “Sustaining Africa’s Authentic Fashion and Clothing Industry”

Officials say the objective of the programme is to promote the “African Fashion, Clothing and Textile Industry, as well as, providing a platform for the Final Year Students of the Fashion and Design Department of Accra Technical University to showcase their creative designs as part of their academic assessment.

“It is an event which is strategically designed and crafted to give a platform for the African Fashion, Clothing and Creative Arts Industry as well as the general public to engage in a relaxed and fun atmosphere.”

Some One Thousand (1,000) people including Government officials, Diplomatic Missions, Pan Africanists, Trade groups, Students, Cultural groups, and Craft Vendors are expected to attend.

The official launch will be performed by the Hon Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Madam Catherine Ablema Afeku on Day One; Friday May 18, at 9.00am. It will be followed by an Exhibition and Craft Bazaar, which would continue the next day till 6.00pm.

The two-day event will be climaxed by a Fashion show by the Accra Technical University Fashion Department.

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