Spotlight on early-career researchers: Eric Debrah Otchere

My name is Eric Debrah Otchere.  I am a Music Educator with a research interest in a broad array of music-related topics such as: African music; Transgressive Learning pedagogies; Music, Health and Wellbeing; Music Psychology; Cultural Sustainability; and the use of Music in everyday life.  I work in the Department of Music and Dance at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana where I am also currently the departmental chair.

1. What’s your greatest achievement since you started working for the One Ocean Hub?

My greatest achievement, I believe, is having produced a documentary about the music of Ghanaian artisanal fishers. In 2015, I started paying close attention to the music of the fishers.  This initial concern was in a bid to record, preserve and think about ways in which the music could be revitalized because of its importance and the multiple uses it serves beyond accompanying the fishing activities.

My engagement with the fishers, however, showed how their voices were often marginalized and how in many ways, development had not reached the communities in which they resided.  Although I have published a couple of papers based on different aspects of their music, I did not feel quite satisfied in terms of sharing their stories on a bigger platform and in a way that is readily accessible.  With the support I received from the One Ocean Hub, I provided a platform through the documentary, to get the fishers to tell their own story as it manifests through their songs to the wider world.

2. How has the Hub enhanced your leadership skills?

To begin with, the Hub provided me the opportunity to lead the ‘Cocooned in Harmony’ project under the Hub’s Deep Fund. This was the first major documentary I had worked on and it required having to coordinate the efforts of many different players, and to navigate numerous delicate spaces to make it possible. Through this, my leadership skills were greatly enhanced.

Secondly, since I became a Co-researcher in the Hub, I have had to see to the implementation of other Deep Fund projects in Ghana.  The experience has been very worthwhile.  I am currently working with the leaders of both Deep Fund projects in Ghana to write chapters for an edited book.  Furthermore, I have participated in some Hub-organised workshops and had the opportunity to learn from the leadership of other Hub researchers.

3. What, in your view, have been the Hub’s most impactful activities?

Beyond the production of the documentary, I have been able to translate it into some local languages and screened it in some communities.  The feedback from the community members has been most gratifying.  Plans are well-advanced to screen the documentary on national television in Ghana, which in a way, is telling the story of these often-sidelined communities.  That for me, is the most impactful. Besides, there are plans to feed the Hub findings into the song repertoires of the fishers.  This will be equally impactful.  The goal is that once they sing about these subjects, they consciously reflect on them and over time, best ocean practices will be achieved.

4. How does your work contribute to shaping the One Ocean Hub’s interdisciplinary endeavours?

In a lot of ways, my work contributes to shaping the One Ocean Hub’s interdisciplinary endeavours.  Through the participatory video-storying and the use of Transgressive Action Research as the basis for eliciting data for the documentary, my work brings a unique and refreshing research approach to what other Hub researchers are engaged in.  Furthermore, my work only uses music as a lens to speak deeply to topical issues in disciplines such as (Ethno) musicology, History, Language and Literary Studies, Cultural Anthropology, Sociology, Migration Studies, Subaltern Studies, Music Education, Politics and aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals, among others.

5. What are the aspects of working in a collaborative environment such as the One Ocean Hub that you value the most?

The opportunity to learn from the expertise of other established researchers in the Hub has been very rewarding. Through the collaborative environment of the Once Ocean Hub, I have become more appreciative, particularly to the epistemologies of other disciplines. The Hub has also given me the opportunity to travel and interact with other colleagues which has contributed to broadening my worldview. Knowledge and data sharing is another great value of the One Ocean Hub’s collaborative space. From the findings of researchers in other research strands, I can draw connections and get ideas for my own further research.

6. What are the challenges and new demands that early-career researchers face today?

The pressure of getting published in a reputable peer-reviewed outlet is a common challenge that early-career researchers today face. Coupled with this is the challenge of securing funding to establish a research track and create a niche for yourself. For many early-careers, there’s the problem of securing a tenure track in academia.  For many who have already secured a job, the hectic teaching load often takes an enormous amount and energy from early-career researchers and affects their research negatively.

7. What is your advice to fellow early-career researchers working on a global development project?

Within the framework of a global development project like that of the One Ocean Hub, a number of the challenges mentioned above are already addressed. Early-career researchers in such environments should take full advantage of it and work wholeheartedly to achieve the goals of the project. They should learn from the mentors, as well as well-established scholars in their circles and take full advantage of the avenues to publish through the project. Furthermore, they should network efficiently and establish a community of academic support with whom they may even apply for further grants subsequently.

Photo: Eric Debrah Otchere