How I Went Searching for "Bobby Stander" and Found the Roots of Ghana’s Lost Burlesque Scene

There is a mammalian fascination with breasts that scientists and sociologists can explain far better than I can. I do and have always had large breasts. When puberty hit me at age 10, I was "treated" to a special kind of attention that just about every Ghanaian woman over the age of 35 can attest to. It didn't matter what the venue or circumstances were, but at the sight of a set of budding breast, a relative or random succumbed to the urge to chortle the following words with unhinged glee: "Eiiii! Natural bobby stand up/stander!" or "Eiii! Bobby stand/stander!"

I hated it. First, because the exclamation was almost always accompanied by the flipping and fondling of my breasts, punctuated by the words "bobby" and "stand". The assailant could be of any gender, but was almost always an older man who would undress you with his eyes until the discomfort was too much to bear, provoking your hastened departure from his presence. The second reason I hated the phrase "bobby stand [up]" was for its utter absurdity. Being unfamiliar with the term, I interpreted as a mispronunciation of the word "booby" (slang for 'breasts') as I was newly transplanted to Ghana from the USA and was constantly taking note of Ghanaians' peculiar way of pronouncing certain words - like "aluminum" or "embarrassment".

It's been many years since I've thought about this jocular term or how it made its way into Ghanaian lexicon, but while doom scrolling on Twitter recently, a interesting retweet made its way onto my timeline. It was an old newspaper ad featuring a woman in a boa and the words "BOBBY STAND" in big, bold letters. I wanted to like or retweet the post (purely because at long last I had an answer for that nagging question about its entry into our national lexicon) but I found the accompanying text problematic. Liking or retweeting the wrong kind of post is the quickest way to find yourself on the Cancelled List, so I let the tweet, my possible contribution to the conversation, and the solution to the riddle slide away into the digital abyss.

I casually mentioned my discovery to my MASI Media colleagues during a work meeting. Mirroring my erstwhile feelings, our chief editor expressed her disgust for the term (and the physical assault that usually followed) as well. I wanted to share the ad that unlocked this riddle, but as I mentioned previously it had slid into the depths of the digital abyss. The tweet was absolutely nowhere to be found, and the search terms for "bobby stand" on Google yielded one joke after another. Had I imagined what I saw? Impossible. The loss set me on a scavenger hunt that would yield a treasure trove of information that I am delighted to share with you.

The first clue was provided by travel blogger and curator @nomadicmaajoa who provided what I would later discover to be a partial advertisement in response to my call out for information on "Bobby Stander".


This unnamed woman or her picture wasn't what I was looking for, but what a find! I was intrigued. What kind of 4 in 1 "bedmatics" was one woman going to be able to provide in a single night? The question sent me on a 4-day long rabbit trail that would rob me of sleep and bless me with a new perspective on Ghana's ever evolving culture wars.

The importance of political leadership and patronage of the arts

The unnamed woman in Maajoa's ad performed under the name Betty Brown. In my search for who or what "bobby stander" was, I would discover that Betty was a consistent feature as a simply termed 'sexy dancer'. We'll talk more about her later. I scoured newspaper ads from The Mirror, the Daily Graphic and the Ghanaian Times between 1971 - 1982 since most of the results for erotic and exotic dance sprung from this era. This particular decade was pivotal in cementing Accra/Ghana's reputation as the most friendly country in Africa. (The New York Times published a full length article fêting the new republic in 1975.) Having just gained independence in 1957 just 20+/- years before, Ghana was still a young country forging and figuring out its new identity. We were New Africans, assured by (the now-deposed) President Nkrumah that the Black man was capable of managing his own affairs. This included forging reconnections with the African diaspora globally using a medium that had sustained Black people through hardship and happy times: Music. In 1971, Ike and Tina Turner organized and headlined the Soul to Soul concert in the country. In the decade before that, Maya Angelou, best known as a writer and poet made the country her home. Dr. Angelou, as some of you may know also worked as a prostitute, madam (running a lesbian whorehouse, aged just eighteen), tram attendant, nightclub singer and dancer at various stages of her life in order to provide for herself and her son. I can only imagine what unspoken things she might have gotten up to in Accra and the newly emerging Tema's heydays. Many Black diasporans from America and the UK would follow suit and answer the seductive call to come back "home."

These connections were made possible by a political atmosphere that valued the arts and culture. The hotel and short stay industry was in its infancy, as West African hospitality meant staying at a friend or relative's house rather than an inn. The government conceptualized and built a chain of hotels under the State Hotels Corporation, with the Meridian Hotel at Tema arguably serving as its crown jewel. At the same time, a new sound was coming out of the country. High Life music, characterized by brass and string instruments was the soundtrack of the country. With former European colonizers no longer regulating the import, sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages (it was once illegal to distill akpeteshie in the country) homegrown breweries were mushrooming to keep up with local demand. The club scene was volcanic. In an interview on the Super Morning Show, veteran journalist, Ken Addy describes how Ghanaians used to party from 6pm to 6am the following morning. Some venues offered afternoon dances where people could go to the club during their lunch break.

Women like Betty Brown were an integral part of this revelrous atmosphere, and despite what our esteemed elders would have us believe, they did not hide in the shadows in shame. Archived newspaper ads spanning 1972-1979 ran 1/8 to half page advertisements for burlesque shows that featured magic shows, stand up comedians, rocking high life bands and enticing dancers to entertain patrons on weekends. The six names that regularly came up in my searches were Betty Brown, Taboula, Lady Shega, Fantastic Agyeman, Lady Tamara (or Temara) and a British import who went by the mononym, Sally.

I had grown up hearing about Tamara. On our drives up to Larteh, my father or an accompanying uncle would point out the huge orange mansion that greeted you at the border of the town. Her name was usually mentioned with a twinge of bile.

"You see that house eh? It was built by a woman who used to do sexy dancing. Just showing her bush so she could build a hotel!"

I didn't yet have a "bush" and therefore no understanding of why showing one would be so offensive to these men, but I secretly marveled her accomplishment. No matter what they said, not one of them had yet to build a huge orange house/hotel that overlooked the mountain. When I once dared to ask if we could visit, the response was a resounding "NO". From what I understand, Tamara's place went defunct due to a lack of patronage.


The ads for these burlesque shows would range from the poetic to the absurd. Additionally, what I found interesting is that in some cases Ghanaian women based abroad would come home to perform exotic dance to what I assume would be welcoming audiences. This quarter page ad for Sheila Simons' performance in Tema promised a time that was not to be missed. While I was fascinated by these findings, I still had yet to come across the original post that had set me on this journey...the source of my and many other girls' misery and discomfort. Finally, on the fourth day of incessant Googling, she revealed herself to me. She had been there all along:


Part of the mystery has been solved! We now know how "bobby stander/stand/stand up" made it's way into our lexicon. It was courtesy of a British stripper's signature move that clearly sent audiences wild. Unfortunately, the only way to find out what the "Bobby Stand" is or was, one would have to ask Miss Sally herself or some proud well dressed patron of the Bukom Nightclub or Zero Room. These were not sleazy establishments. Note the entry fee, dress code and state sponsored venues. Burlesque was not underground or reviled. It was a viable part of our Ghanaian entertainment scene.

Who gets to define what is Ghanaian or what isn't?

I wanted to find out more about the club/burlesque scene in Ghana, so I asked one of the few remaining links I have to the country: my dad. He insists that burlesque was not popular in Ghana during the 70s. It is uncharacteristic for any "good African child" to stand in opposition to a view that their parent has vehemently proposed, but I felt it imperative to push back on this declaration. I had just presented him with at least five advertised names of women who worked regularly in this field as an indication of its popularity, one of whom came from Paris to perform. How many other local performers are yet unknown or to be discovered, I wondered aloud. It would be more accurate to say that this type of entertainment was not to his taste, rather than to say it was not popular or widely consumed. The insistence on the former has lead to notion that one group of people is singularly entitled to define what constitutes Ghanaian tastes and culture. To accept this is an exercise in the erasure of an important part of our history in an effort to deny that Ghanaian women have always sought to be sexually liberated. To go further, this notion exemplifies our current struggle with particular members of parliament's agenda to criminalize the existence of queer Ghanaians and their allies. As Africans and as members of the human race, we embody and are entitled to a range of expressions and experiences. So-called "sexy dance" is just as Ghanaian/African as adowa or any other cultural dance.

Why did the party stop?

The short answer, ironically, is politics. Instituted in 1982, The Rawlings Curfew clamped a dusk-to-dawn curfew on the nation, cutting it off from the outside world today after an unsuccessful attempt by rebel troops to oust him. In addition to the curfew, the airport -- the only way in or out of the country -- was closed. The curfew was essentially the sledgehammer that killed high life, with previously popular bands and musicians unable to play to crowds or earn a living. Sexy dance and burlesque suffered the same fate. Nightlife was dead in the country; and while there was an arguable resurgence in the 90s after a return to democratic rule, the Accra party scene has yet to regain its glorious past of the 70s.

What next? As with anything I write, I hope this article inspires deeper and more elevated discussion in this and similar topics. If you would like to add to the canon, please do feel free to do so in the comments or send an addendum to the article! Any references or links you have to add to our collective learning is of great help. And who knows? With any luck, this piece may inspire young Ghanaian women to shake off shame and reclaim this performance art.


6 comments On How I Went Searching for "Bobby Stander" and Found the Roots of Ghana’s Lost Burlesque Scene

  • This was a good read and very much enlightening. Hats off

    • Thank you so much, Asante! I really appreciate your compliment. Aside the ads I was researching, I really enjoyed reading those old news articles from years past. Journalists from that era had a command of English and a unique way of expression that made the most basic news feel like an epic journey.

  • This was a great read! Well done!!
    I enjoyed every bit of it. I wish there was more about these fascinating women and bands.

    • I can ONLY imagine what the music was like. It just had to be good if people were partying from dusk to dawn on a weekly basis, year after year! I hope we get to learn more.

  • Fantastic work!!! I love how your article showed the “other” side of Ghana during the 60’s and 70’s. I can’t imagine the amount of research you had to do to produce this excellent article.

    • Hi Nigel!
      Thank you ever so much for the compliment. It took quite a few days of research to unearth all these facts and elements, but it was totally worth it. Thank you co much for reading and engaging! May we all learn and grow.

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