Two curse songs by Shatta Wale, which occupy my thoughts and cause me marvel, are handsomely creative. A third one, Ototo Mi, on which rapper Tinny is featured is plain watery, creatively speaking, that is — but Talk Talk, and more recently, Wo Maame Twɛ, are some of the most lavishly exciting experimentations I’ve heard from the Shatta Movement Empire boss’ camp in perhaps, his whole career…also the most emotionally unpretentious, if you ask me.
And in the final analysis, what we really ask of any artist, is for them to be emotionally straightforward.
Let’s start with Talk Talk, that fierce 2015 response to detractors on one or two issues. Charles Mensah, was constantly receiving flak for a perceived unwillingness on his part, to help upcoming artists, considering his overwhelming grip on the music scene. Some even doubted, if indeed he hailed from Nima, like he constantly claimed (Nima is an important constituency in the dancehall conversation here. If Nima anoints you, that’s it).
When this became too much, which usually doesn’t take long in Shatta Wale’s case, he responded through music, in which he’s most fluent; and he did have some choice words for them.
For most of the song, it is a lion roaring. Even his monologue before the song begins proper, is telling:
“some boy say me a-fit feature every artist inna Nima, cau a-dem buss me up. But have you ever asked yourself: when me buss up? How much money weh me make? Sometimes the pussy dem funny, you kno? Did Sarkodie buss up every artist inna Tema? Wha you mean? Dancehall is not a joke tin…”
The emotion in the entire song is undiluted. We felt the truth, and were enraptured by it, in spite of the chorus it was packaged in: “talk to your mother so, boy talk to your father so, onyɛ aye esɔɔ”
“Onyɛ aye esɔɔ” might translate as “fuck your mother”, or something close. And much of the lyrics in the song are unprintable. Yet, we loved it. We edited it to make it radio-friendly and indeed, radio loved it…still does. At any event, when the deejay wanted to get the crowd alive, it was a sure bet…still is.
The beat on Talk Talk is battle-esque. The keyboard melody is low and eerie, like something from a nightmare. There is obvious violence and untamed anger. Some phrases and the gunshot sounds make sure of that. In one line, he goes: “…me a go drink your blood like yoghurt”.
And then in a parting monologue, certain that he went to war and prevailed, he says this:
“who send dem? Tell dem fi go tell dem fuckers say dem couldn’t, dem couldn’t fulfill the mission”
Wo Maame Twɛ is the latest installment in Shatta Wale’s so-called curse songs.Released on May 16 this year, Wo Maame Twɛ, is merely a Twi translation of “onyɛ aye esɔɔ”, which is the crux of the chorus in Talk Talk. It is immediately vibrant and festive in a way that we are accustomed to, as Ghanaians. Like Zenabu, the song comes in something like adowa rhythm. This validates the impression of Shatta Wale’s versatility. This is one of the many projects left of centre to him as a dancehall artist.
The way he reconstructs traditional rhythm and melody and still makes it feel modern is uncommon. And that is genius. Genius should be acknowledged.
Even the position of the curse-phrases is catchy. To achieve this, a lot of thinking and a superior listening skill are required. Needless to say, Shatta Wale has mastered the art of catchy choruses over the years. Sometimes, they’re down to a single word, but are effective all the same.
In Talk Talk, a sleight which Shatta Wale employs in the hook has stuck with me ever since I first heard Talk Talk. When he sings, “ talk to your mother so, boy talk to your father so, onyɛ aye…”, you expect him to complete it with “sɔɔ” immediately. Instead, he says “eee”, and says “sɔɔ” the second time the line comes around. That element of creative surprise is exceptional, and it cannot be stressed enough.
Again, in Wo Maame Twɛ, the point where he sings “ munhuro n’oo hoo/ opanyin toto toto oo” is pure gold. Such excellence comes from a precision and meticulous input.
Now let’s discuss something slightly different briefly:The sudden obsession over Shatta Wale’s Wo Maame Twɛ, which some have called hypocritical, is interesting; because, it’s not the first song containing curse words to be released in this town. It won’t be the last. Not this much noise was made over Talk Talk, or Ototo Mi, which essentially say the same thing. Could it be because Wo Maame Twɛ is in Twi, and the others are in Ga? Does the fact that a song is sung in Ga make it any less vulgar? Nobody has the right to stifle another’s creativity, because creativity is God himself. There are audiences for every work of art. There are places for every work of art.
No one can/should suppress another’s birthright of freedom of expression, which is what art is essentially –expression. The MUSIGA press release admits that clearly, and to be fair, there’s nothing wrong with it as it appeals and not demand that artists don’t do “profane” songs.
There are songs which are not intended for radio. There are a million examples worldwide…maybe more. If it is not appropriate for radio for instance, it should be edited appropriately, or should not be played at all. It is what has been the practice since media came about.
In other words, there are appropriate platforms for art of various subject matters. The real task then, is to ensure that the end up on the appropriate platforms.
Is any radio station playing Wo Maame Twɛ? Okay, good.
Like Edem, like Obour, like Sarkodie, or A. B Crentsil, Shatta Wale has the right to be vulgar. All creativity serves a need, even “vulgar” creativity.
It is the media which should ensure that the songs that end up being played on air are in their appropriate forms.
Truthfully, there’s little you can do to censor stuff intended for the “streets” or social media. And no, going the IGP’s way won’t work either.
What is interesting though, is that we speak “profane” words all the time. Nearly every “jama” song contains curse words. They are sung during jogs and aerobic sessions, they’re sung in our secondary schools, and in our universities, of all places of training.
Artists merely reflect what society is doing. Nina Simone puts it aptly: “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.”
Does Wo Maame Twɛ, and it’s content reflect the stories on our streets, our times? You bet!
Gabriel Myers Hansen/ enewsgh. Follow the writer via @myershansen on Twitter.