his Life

African Dance in Ghana: Contemporary Transformations (2016)

In African Dance in Ghana: Contemporary Transformations, Professor Francis Nii-Yartey tells the story of the development of dance – both traditional and contemporary – since Ghana’s independence. The book charts the people and events that influenced new forms of dance and their impact on art, culture and national identity. The dances that emerge combine centuries’ old tradition with a yearning for original expression and innovation...

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Good people die and no one understands or even cares, but when they die, no calamity can hurt them. Those who live good lives find PEACE and rest in death (Isaiah 57:1-2)

Our son, brother, father, esteemed family member, Professor F. Nii Yartey as he preferred to be called, died in India where he had led a group of dancers for the Africa-India Summit held there recently. He was hospitalized for a while finally left us on Saturday 21st November, 2015 at the age of 69.

Prof. Nii Yartey, was the 2 of 10 children born to Samuel Nii Kojo Tackie of Armaatse We, and Madam Comfort Afi Quao also of Armaatse We, all of blessed memory. Young Nii Yartey had his early education at Kaneshie Methodist Mixed School. He continued to Akropong-Akwapim College.

 Nii started his working life as a bailiff in 1965 with the Central Revenue Department of Ghana now Ghana Revenue Authority, left a year later and in 1968, obtained a certificate in dance, a diploma in 1971 at the University of Ghana and a Master of Arts degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA in 1975.

From 1976 to 1993 he became the Artistic Director/Choreographer of the Ghana Dance Ensemble, University of Ghana.  When the group moved to the National Theatre, to become the National Dance Company of Ghana, he became the first Artistic Director until 2006 when he retired.

He became an Associate Professor of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana the same year and proceeded to Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, USA, where he was a Cornell Distinguished Professor for a year returning in 2007 to work with Ashesi University College, as an Adjunct Professor.

In 2008 Nii went back to the School of Performing Arts (SPA) of the University of Ghana to teach dance and became the Head, Department of Dance Studies, SPA in 2012 taking temporary responsibility of the university’s dance group a couple of months ago this year, when his tenure as Head ended and the substantive head of the Ghana Dance Ensemble travelled on a fellowship.

Prof. Nii Yartey’s research interests for the past several years have been the creation and development of Contemporary African Dance in Ghana; and the continuation of the development of Dance-Drama initiated by the late Emeritus Professor Albert Mawere-Opoku.

“These life-long projects have been largely facilitated by my work with international collaborators, including academic institutions, the Ghana Dance Ensemble, the National Dance Company of Ghana; and most recently, the Noyam African Dance Institute.”

“My other research area is looking into the historical development of Dance-Theatre in Ghana; as well as the development of movement vocabulary and performance techniques for the emerging Contemporary African Dance genre in Ghana,” he said in one of the many lectures he gave on African Dance, a subject he was very passionate about.

He formed the Noyam African Dance Institute, the first of its kind in the country to explore his new ideas in dance movement and to train young dancers who otherwise would not have the kind of education required of a dancer, to break into the world’s mainstream professional dance community, because they do not have the requisite educational qualification.

Nii was elated and said he had realised part of his dream when at least two of his students managed to continue their training overseas and are currently undertaking their master’s programmes there.   

Our son, brother and family member would be remembered for his numerous choreographic pieces, which he affectionately called dance-dramas. They number over 30 and include world class pieces, (call them classics of you wish) such as The King’s Dilemma, Bukom, Solma, The Legend of Okoryoo, Musu-Saga of the slaves, Atamga, which brought joy to thousands of people both in Ghana and around the world.

Among the many events he was involved in that brought joy to people worldwide were  Asipim a Dance-Theatre commissioned by the East Bay Centre for the Performing Arts, San Francisco – USA, which he co-choreographed  with Prof. C.K. Ladzekpo, Choreographed:   “The Journey”, a contemporary African dance, created for Adzido Pan African Dance Ensemble, in London – UK.

In 2008, he directed and choreographed the dance and cultural aspects for Ghana CAN 2008, (26th Africa Cup of Nations Soccer Tournament) Opening and Closing Ceremonies in Accra, Ghana. In 2009, he was the Choreographer/Director:  “Opening and Closing Ceremonies” of AfHF Hockey Africa Cup of Nations, held in Accra- Ghana.

Also in 2010, he choreographed and directed: the Cultural segment of the Commissioning of the Oil tanker, FPSO Kwame Nkrumah in Singapore - organised by Tullow Ghana Ltd. and the Government of Ghana,

Among his many publications are; “Dance Symbolism in Africa”, African in Contemporary prospective: A textbook for undergraduate Students, edited by Takyiwaa Manu and Esi Sutherland. Forthcoming publication: the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon, “Globalization and African Culture: the Role of the Arts”, Special Edition 2006: Legon Journal of the Humanities, Faculty of Arts, University of Ghana,  “The Development of African Dance-Theatre in Ghana: a Personal Profile”, Composition and Transmission of Musical forms in Africa, edited by Professors Kofi Agawu and Kofi Anyidoho, under imprint of the council for the Development of social science research in Africa, CODESRIA Dakar.

Prof. Nii Yartey has toured extensively in the course of his work and had organised numerous workshops, seminars, and dance training sessions and lectures across the globe. He has also won several awards including the ECRAG and ACRAG awards and in 2000, the Head of States award of a Grand Medal (Civil Division) for his contribution to Choreography and Dance Development in Ghana.

Only last month he bagged yet another award at Millennium Awards Night and he received a posthumous for award from His Excellency President John Mahama for his exploits in dance development in Ghana and across the globe.

As a family member Nii showed commitment to the family’s numerous activities. We are aware of his numerous national and international engagements and so he is warmly received by all when he makes the time to join us in our activities. He was so attached to his roots that he created a dance piece titled “Bukom” which gave an insight into the kind of things that happens there.

Nii will be truly missed by all of us but especially by his larger family of musicians, dancers, drummers, his colleagues and students who worked with until his untimely death.

We know we will surely meet again Nii. Until then, stay safe in the bosom of the almighty God.


Nii Yaa Wo Odzogbann

Rest In Perfect Peace

God Be With You