You’d think that Bisa KDei’s meteoric Brother Brother is excellent solely as a Christmas song, but that’s where you’re wrong –it’s just as apt for Kwahu chronicles. Together with Aka Blay’s Take Away, they should make every Easter playlist.

It’s hard to imagine if anything else Bisa does will surpass Brother Brother (none of his recent singles have), but then again, that’s what we said about Mansa. Regardless of Mansa’s inroads commercially, I had one or two difficulties with it…specifically how the plot didn’t appear coherent and the rhythm wasn’t “highlife” enough for me…but you know all about that already, so let’s discuss Brother Brother, shall we?

Brother Brother on the other hand though, checks all my boxes; it embodies highlife from beginning to end, and is carried in a more realistic sound, and so it deserves praise.

It’s gentle and yet jubilant. It’s effortless in the way that it is charming. You’ll never know specifically at what point your head starts nodding by itself, and you’ll let it, because it’s harmless enjoyment…and who fights harmless enjoyment?

 

Like I said, it typifies authentic highlife in the most tactile way.  The bass in early highlife contains a mature courage. It runs parallel with the kicks at the end of every bar; something like a supplementary bass drum.

The lead guitar sounds like it’s emanating from a gramophone. How Kaywa channels this is some mystery, but it’s real, it’s there.

Another characteristic of the lead guitar that our grandfather’s knew is this: it actually dialogues with him (the lead vocalist). He sings a note, and the guitarist responds, playing not exactly that note, but a variant of it…a conversation.

This interactive feature is seen into other aspects of the song, especially between singer and backing vocalists.

The song is cinematic: it’s flawless in how it invokes imagery. We can see right there in the market square, a man wearing a hat , a singlet and oversized trousers hanging from suspenders. He has his head on ivory- tower buttocks of the plump ebony woman with a headscarf and a piece of cloth wrapped over her chest. It extends to inches below her knee.

The young man, whose head is on the woman’s backside has a face which is prominent not just because he has a large nim branch in his mouth, but also because his facial hair is whiter –it looks artificial, like the buttocks on which he rests his temple. Old men are sitting on old benches. Pitoo is flowing and calabashes are changing hands. One man is slightly too drunk, he’s having his with sugar bread and is waving away big house flies. It’s not what happens in the music video but it’s close. Once the song came out in October of last year, we already knew what the video was going to look like…same thing for Donzy Chaka’s hilarious “The Crusade” on which he features Kofi Kinaata.

After a long day on the farm, or a tedious time at sea or hunting, the sweaty middle-aged man should return home to warm soup and music thus. The return trip from Kwahu will be tiring because the whole experience in the mountains, albeit fun, have been tiring. Brother Brother is music which should welcome returnees from Kwahu Easter  carnivals before they narrate the stories.

The narrator in Brother Brother is young and successful, and insists on announcing himself. He speaks on the everyday and respects the essence of hard work, but at the same time (perhaps even more than that), subscribes to the role of play after work too. He also cautions against overstepping one’s boundaries [ ɛmma w’ani ntra  wani ntɔn]

…and that’s the thing about highlife; there’s a balance between dance and thought, a rare situation where fun and seriousness happen simultaneously. The line that partitions them is not visible to the naked eye, but it exists. While we drink, we reason together. Imagine that.

Brother Brother begins a note pattern for four times, and then…

 

Brother Brother

Brother m’ani agye fu-cking

Mayɛ edwuma juada to Friday

Of course the “fucking” line put KDei under higher temperature than he would normally be comfortable with in the wake of the announcement of this year’s VGMA nominees, but otherwise, these lyrics are true and unpretentious…almost cliché on the Ghanaian lip, so we can relate.

Highlife music is filled with clichés –Yaa Amponsah string progressions, interesting anecdotes, and the famous tin tɔn tin tin tɔn tin, yɛ nnum nsa na yɛ’ fa ajwen.

At the same time, there’s quite a lot of improvisation and acknowledgement  of cherished people: “Far Site Enterprise, Kokomlemle” or “Allen Gyima, Video City”

Kaywa can do everything. He’s diverse in whom he constructs hits with (from Sarkodie to Ohemaa Mercy). But Kaywa understands highlife, because on this joint too, the konga is consistent, and the metal gong is enough spice.

After the first verse, there’s brief interlude, and then verse two follows. There’s interlude again, and a repetition of the first verse.

The song feels short and spacious, and the way the song fades into silence at the end is nostalgic in the way we remember stories told us by the fireside. It’s deliberate. It’s splendid.

Brother Brother got zero nominations in this year’s VGMAs. There’s official communication from the board that the mention of “fucking” had nothing to do with it. We don’t believe them, but that’s not necessarily a problem yet. Mansa is most likely going to win everything it has been nominated for. Bisa KDei will carry the day. It’s impossible to see any other scenario, never mind that the awards are filled with jaw-dropping scenarios.  Yet at this point, it is more in the interest of the award scheme, and not even Bisa’s, for him to be overwhelmingly successful when the event comes off in May.

There’s a point in the song where, after giving special mention to comrades all over Ghana, there’s sustained “eee” from backing vocalists, and then Bisa charges in:

Ɔdeim!

 

*Brother Brother is an official single of Bisa KDei’s sophomore album, Breakthrough. The song has also charted widely on official lists in the country.

 

 

 

 

@myershansen on Twitter

 

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