First things first: the most significant part of Obrafour’s new single is the fact that he allows a curse word from Efya, well, sort of — it’s muffled out, but I know she said “shit” at that point in the song.
Oh surely it’s not the most significant part, but it made me smile when I heard it. Like all things Obrafour, this new one too is excellent and apt. Bɔniayɛfuɔ, stylised as Boniayefour is Twi for “ungrateful being”.
Cindy was kind enough to whatsapp me a link to the song once it was released. I had been working on another review, but it was getting tiresome and I needed a distraction. So I downloaded it and listened, and it’s all I’ve done for two days… I haven’t been able to return to the other thing.
I concur, the new Obrafour album is shaping up nicely… in Pae Mu Ka proportions even. I am excited. I have always held the opinion (and I bet that I’m not the only one) that Obrafour set the ultimate standards with Pae Mu Ka, but Obrafoforo? Obrafoforo is something the Lord himself is involved in making.
Obrafoforo will be an education, new literature to be imbibed regarding the art of lyricism for the young Ghanaian rapper; a blueprint for the next few decades at least. Then again, Obrafour’s poetry has always been. I’m nervous when I say that it sounds like a farewell album; like last words from our village Solomon, but it’s definitely feeling like that…it’s bearing forth classics only, and it’s doing so in a way that seems deliberate –like he knows there’s still so much to say and very little time to do it. By the end of the album, there will be admonishment for every situation…we’ll have a quote for every instance, even for pick up lines. Even the titles are specific in how they’re instructive: Aboa Onni Dua, Nkontompo, Odasani, Boniayefour…
At this point in his life and career, he’s definitely contemplating legacy, and that is why this new project is comparable to the grace, wit and truth of Pae Mu Ka. On Pae Mu Ka, he’s young and ambitious in what he intends to prove: that he’s here with an authentic story, and so we should pay attention. On Obrafoforo, this new life, he’s accomplished philosophically, and has the confidence of experience, so his words overflow with superior blessings. And as no other album has matched Pae Mu Ka over the years, it’s safe to conclude that only Obraforo might match Obrafour’s first album…only he can go up against himself.
I am grateful, excited and definitely feel an ownership to this new project than anything else Obrafour (known in private life as Michael Elliot Kwabena Okyere Darko) has done. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve pirated (shamelessly) and listened to Pae Mu Ka with pride and awe. If you say, like Sarkodie did in Saa Okodeɛ Nu: “ Pae Mu Ka be the best of all time”, I won’t utter a word in disagreement…not out loud anyway. Hell, even I felt that way my whole life…well, till Obrafoforo started unfolding to us. You see, Pae Mu Ka was published when I was nine, and back then, it was more important to us to clap and beat our chests in rhythm when we heard “yaanom yaanom, muntie muntie/ brafour brafour, me nie, me nie”. And even if I have come to cherish it properly as an adult, anyone born after 1990 can’t necessarily claim it as theirs, in my opinion. Obrafoforo on the other hand though, comes when my generation is both old enough and ready enough. Therefore, this is OUR album.
Hold on. It goes beyond that; it’s Obrafour’s greatest album of this new millennium. That’s controversial, so I won’t belabour the point. I will say this though: this new sound is expansive, it’s young, it’s richer and complicated in a way that we love. He’s saying the same things, but I’m hearing it different…better, clearer, for it’s in an atmosphere I’m more receptive to.
To the new single Myers, to the new single! Listen, this new Obrafour joint is exotic. It’s still hardcore hip-hop, but it arrives in a forward dynamism, for I hear (at least) a soul and an acid jazz too.
Slimbo is considerably young: twenty-something, but what he’s done on this song? He’s done stuff already, mind you –he played Realer No, Wave, Book of Hiplife, as well as significant work with EL and J-Town…and now this. It is important that producers like Slimbo, as well as Drumroll, Magnom and Spiky are gathering influence in contemporary Ghanaian Hip-hop…it is necessary for their voice to have a place in our music today. That way, it’s not just Hammer and Kaywa, or Zapp Mallet…there’s equal participation in our conversations. Also, it’s necessary illustration to the young and hungry.
Instead of trumpets (which in my opinion Obrafour identifies more with), Slimbo employs an electric guitar. Bass brings balance to the sound, and drum rolls (which are, in many ways, foundation for this song) brace us for something. The electric guitar though, as programmed by Slimbo, makes the music the more sentimental. When it soars to sit by Efya’s vocals at a point in her second verse, we know what she’s truly channeling. Slimbo is magic, a true anomaly now. I don’t know what adjective will suffice when he’s older and has played more.
I’m just as staunch disciple of the rap sɔfuɔ as you, and we both haven’t fully adjusted to the fact that he’s singing a lot now too, and so on a song where he’s left someone to do the singing while he flows in an older man’s wisdoms, who cares about Efya, even if she the most sought after songstress in these parts?
But Efya won’t allow that –like Slimbo, she brings a diversity to the sound and feel of this project. This invokes a freshness and the thrill of trying something new. There’s a superior quality which comes with working next to a great. Her words are sad, and the pain of her narrative is heavy:
“ɔdɔ ne mu nkwasiabuo, ɛtɔ dabi aa akoma ma nipa yɛ kwaadonto ei/ ɔdɔ sisi aso ampa, me baa no ma nso ɔdɔ se menkɔ no s’ansa/ Enti saa na nipa ɛte, wutɔ nkyini kyɛ aa, yɛde mɛko na’ɛbɛda w’ase ei/ bɔniayɛfuɔ kae, bɔniayɛfuɔ kae, bɔniayɛfuɔ kae”
The only other place I’ve heard the “aman bu adwo” line ( which also constitutes the frame of the chorus, the others being an exchange of regrets and consolation between Efya and Obrafour) is on that song by Nana Ampadu, who’s highlife Rebecca Hansen translated to us for bedtime stories at Mamprobi Crew Six, and who is a master of lyrics himself.
That line, in many ways makes Ampadu’s song a mourning song, because when two people are involved in a litigation and one dies, the family of the deceased would sing that as “akutia” to the other litigant: “congratulations, you got what you wanted…”
“Efya take heart, breathe a bit”, Obrafour begins a speech in Twi, so you know it’s not light, what feelings Efya has just managed to confess in verse 1. She came into this union with Kofi with everything, and in many ways, she was his life, yet a good life can turn a man’s head, and so now, his head is in the clouds instead. That is a hard thing to take, for anyone, and Obrafour sets out to offer soothing words.
“ …relax, for anger is not a good cloth to dorn”, he proceeds… “
I see how your speech is filled with pain and you’ve been shaken by all this. If you don’t calm down, if God doesn’t intervene, death might win. But remember that there are children to look after. If after everything, he chooses to be ungrateful, then let him be. If you follow an ingrate, you might miss your blessing.”
And then he turns to Kofi, and fires him squarely. Kofi could have done so much better, especially as Obrafour reiterates to him, that she was the very foundation of his current success.
The last words in his verse, he says more to himself than to anyone else, for Kofi’s situation is just another illustration in a world full of illustrations, that a good life indeed makes one forget humble beginnings.
“ateyie ma awerɛfie, ampa ɔdaseni nni nkayɛ”
Obrafour’s application of language is unrivalled, so if you appreciate the poetry of Twi, which has been his weapon of choice, the words affect you deeper. Sometimes, no matter how accurately speech is translated, it doesn’t feel the same…some of the emotion is trapped in the space between the original language and the one it is being translated into.
This situation is serious, and so obviously, hurt doesn’t immediately stop brewing, so Efya returns with another verse at Kofi, and she goes as far as unpleasant emotion takes us…including the regrettable. It is at this point she curses, calling the other participants of his infidelity “shit”, to start with.
“ if it wasn’t for me, there would never be you”
Danso says “kashɛn ko dru” doesn’t merely mean “go”. He tells me that the implications are heavier and border in the neighborhood of curses…a very frightening “woe unto you…”
This new album by Obrafour is turning out to be perhaps the most progressive and diverse he’s ever been, even if for a rapper, he’s caught on in age and shouldn’t know his way around the methods of the young. How does he manage this, for he jells so effortlessly with the rising voices and possesses wit for their ever-evolving sound?
The answer to this can be found on a previous project that he himself released in 2009 — Kasiebo, that creative and controversial telephone interview with Guru on “Execution FM”, produced by JMJ. On that song, he offers insight into this:“deɛ me nim ne sɛ music is dynamic/ nea ɔmpɛ nsakrayɛ na’ehunu amane” — “what I know is this: music is dynamic, and it’s he who dislikes change that will be found wanting”
At the end of Edem’s brilliant new video for Nyedzilo, a truth appears, and that’s how I want to end our discussion today, because once more, Obrafour is master at this. The words which show up at the end video are those of the legend, Michael Jackson himself, to whom the video is also a tribute:
“ the greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work”.
@myershansen on Twitter/ firstname.lastname@example.org.