In Pascal Aka’s stylish crime thriller Gold Coast Lounge set in post-independence Accra, the incoming government has promised to crack down on corruption. This is bad news for the criminal empire run by the charismatic John Donkor (Adjetey Anang) operating out of the storied Gold Coast Lounge. Donkor takes the opportunity to come clean, but is soon poisoned by elements not in support of this rebranding. The bitter succession battle that follows pits Donkor’s mentees, the troubled Daniel (Alphonse Menyo) against the hot-headed Wisdom (Pascal Aka).
Gold Coast Lounge thus becomes a clash of ideologies as both wannabe kingpins test out their respective agendas for moving the business into the future. It does not take long to read the subtext. Aka’s Gold Coast Lounge is a metaphor for Ghana and the ways in which its elite class have failed to rise to the leadership challenge since 1960 when Ghana became the first African country to achieve independence.
Critically acclaimed African film noir, 'Gold Coast Lounge', written, produced and directed by Ghanaian director, Pascal Aka is now on Netflix. Set in Ghana, the movie tells the story of a crime family trying to clean up their act before the government shuts down their lounge pic.twitter.com/5IrdwWgnYP
— ghanaspora (@ghanaspora) December 23, 2022
“Creating the story became smooth only when I realised what I wanted each character to represent,” Aka tells The Africa Report via Zoom about writing the screenplay and the music, in addition to producing, directing and starring in the film. He says: “Gold Coast Lounge is a period piece, but the themes are still relevant today. I was interested in the ways in which we still struggle with the idea of independence: how some people have yet to come out of that [post] colonial mindset and continue to propagate and profit from it. What does it mean to be independent and how can we be self-sustaining?”
These are huge ideas to grapple with, but Gold Coast Lounge deserves credit for doing so while spinning a wildly entertaining yarn at the same time. Aka dresses the film up in the package of a Hollywood film noir caper, but with a palpable African heart. He calls this mash-up “Afro-noir”.
The film is shot in black and white, classic noir stock characters are highlighted– the charismatic crime gangster, the femme fatale, the flawed hero, but the setting and mood are unmistakably Ghanaian. The characters converse in English, Pidgin, Twi and Ga’anda and the music is an intoxicating blend of highlife, blues, jazz and afrobeat inspired by Fela Kuti, Osibisa and Ebo Taylor.
“We asked ourselves what Afro-noir would sound like before diving deep,” he says when explaining how he created the soundscape for the world he was building. He pauses to show off Sandra, the keyboard on which he composed the entirety of the film’s music before continuing.
“Music is both spiritual and sensual. It is how Africans have communicated for centuries. You see the film’s characters wearing suits and dresses, but once you hear the drums and instruments, you feel the identity of the film. That clash of the drums with the European instruments depicts the conflict between our traditions and our post-colonial selves. The film says ultimately, that we are a blend of both.”
Audiences must agree too as the film won the best soundtrack prize at the Africa Movie Viewers Choice Awards last year. It also won eight awards including Best Director and Best Picture at the Ghana Movie Awards in 2019.
‘The next big thing’
Aka was born in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire where he spent the first five years of his life. His father is Ivorian and his mother Ghanaian. He moved to Ghana where he picked up English and discovered his love for film and music. This led him to Ottawa, Canada where he studied film at the University of Carleton.
Aka’s film career started in Canada where he produced and directed two independent action films, the short, Jamie and Eddie: Souls of Strife and the feature Evol. He returned to Ghana after nine years following the loss of his father. What was supposed to be a temporary visit soon became a more permanent arrangement as he immersed himself in the excitement of Ghana’s creative scene.
He knows what he wants from me and what I bring to my work, but encourages provoking questions that make the project more meaningful.
Soon, Aka became the go-to-guy for helming music videos. He worked on award winning videos by artistes, such as E.L and D-Black. While working as a director for hire on a string of films by local producers, Aka got the chance to meet Adjetey Anang, one of Ghana’s most respected thespians. As he readied Gold Coast Lounge, Aka reached out to Anang for the role of John Donkor, the volatile gangster searching for a different way of doing things.
“Pascal is someone I consider a generational talent. He knows what he wants from me and what I bring to my work, but encourages provoking questions that make the project more meaningful. He is the next big thing for Ghana,” Anang tells The Africa Report.
Everything it takes
The idea for Gold Coast Lounge came out of a previous short film titled Black Rose, which Aka shot back in 2016, also with Alphonse Menyo in the lead role. In some way, the dreamy Black Rose served as a proof of concept for what would eventually become Gold Coast Lounge.
A handful of scenes – like one expressing Menyo’s character’s love for cake – was carried on into the feature. Aka reveals more saying: “I wanted to create a distinct visual identity with a blend of folklore, crime story, political thriller and the musical. I tried to put them all into one genre to reflect my past experiences with music videos, action films, plus my newfound maturity.”
Anang speaks to this as well, saying: “The film has depth and I hope the audience can see how the film encourages us to look inwards and find local solutions for our problems because we have everything it takes.”
Since premiering in Lagos at the Africa International Film Festival, Gold Coast Lounge has been on a tour of film festivals around the world with critics and programmers alike falling for Aka’s visual flair. However, the streaming networks, who initially rejected the black and white cinematography, made a U-turn.
“Netflix and other networks said no for a very long time because of the black and white. They weren’t sure of the commercial viability, but for some reason the film kept winning awards and popping up on their radar. I guess the idea of programming a black and white film is no longer so far-fetched,” he says.
Aka has kept the door open for a sequel and says he would love to revisit the world of Gold Coast Lounge, but is also hungry for new experiences and looks forward to collaborating across cultures. “We have seen the beautiful things that happen when Ghana and Nigeria collaborate so I would like to do more projects that highlight these linkages.”
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