Because dancehall has dominated what we’ve listened to for the past four or five years, it was necessary for someone to chronicle how we got here. And while I would have liked for a more “established” artist to have told this story, Episode, who now wishes his name  to be spelt with an “x”, ie “Epixode”, discharges this duty so expertly, I’m mildly embarrassed at my initial thought.

In a country of a highlife heritage and hiplife obsessions, and in considerably a brief time, dancehall ( of all genres) has filled up stadiums and the Black Star Square, collected top VGMA awards and a BET laurel, collaborations with some of the most significant musicians worldwide and honourable mention by others. Indeed, name your top five Ghanaian acts and we’ll have at least two dancehall acts in there.

Once and for all, dancehall has quelled the suspicions that it was fleeting, when it got to the very apex of the musical preferences in this town.

Take We Bak is Epixode’s cover of Sarkodie’s extremely forward Take it Back, which is also a beautifully nostalgic summoning of memories from the golden age of hiplife. In Take it Back, Sarkodie (who has also proven with his cover of E-40’s Choices, that he’s a key proponent of what becomes vogue here musically nowadays), summarises the various phases of the genre so far, invoking some of the best rappers the game has seen, and then some of the best verses it has heard.  At the same time, he bemoans the current state of things; endless miming, a lack of stage craft, and a general decline in the ethic that hiplife has required and been known for, over the decades. “Lazy ass rappers”, he chides them. It is important to note though, that despite all this, he does not necessarily resign to the assumption that hiplife has seen its best years already. He seems optimistic regardless (albeit cautiously), for he lauds the efforts of such new heads as Koo Ntakra, Kofi Kinaata, Pappy Kojo, Teephlow, and Strongman Burner.

Take We Bak does this for Reggae-dancehall, only in astoundingly elegant detail. He fills the three and half minutes, which feels short, with just about all there is to know regarding the genre in Ghana. Plus, he does this with an inventiveness that stands out right away.

Like Sarkodie, he’s concerned about the contemporary artists’ demeanor: “…now drop a riddim and the youth demma act funny”. In another line, he wonders why new acts, after smoking, “claim” to do dancehall; “if you never get a hit song, don’t blame weed”.This next line sums up his posture to some new acts: “the youth dem need learning”

Somewhere in the second verse, he asks the following:

“ mi have a question, and mi need answer, what is Afro-dancehall? Could it be that if you living in China and you doing dancehall, would you call it [sic] Chin-dancehall?”

Good question. Warranted. Also, this conundrum is not exclusive to dancehall in Ghana, mind you. Every other year, soon after the VGMA  nomination list has been released, the debate about whether a song is duly categorized as hiplife or hip-hop, comes up. While some opine that the genre should be identified by its instrumentation, as is done with all other genres of music (well, except Gospel Music), others argue that it goes beyond the boundaries of instrumentation; that such elements as the language in which a song is made and performed in, for instance, should count when a song is to be grouped as hiplife. Of course, there would also be where to put an “outlier” like Castro, as his style isn’t strictly rap per-se, and rap is a pillar of hiplife.

As expected, this has left the VGMA board to, in some cases, merge the two genres during nomination. And then there’s the simmering puzzle about all these other off-shoots like Twi- pop, and what will happen to them should they acquire enough leverage. Now, there’s fundamentally no difference between, say, Twi-pop, and hiplife –which leaves me convinced that it’s purely an artist’s quest to have their name on something, or at least, to be considered pioneer of a sub-culture.

The tiff isn’t different from dancehall/ Afro-dancehall. What makes one song “dancehall”, and another “ Afro-dancehall”? Because he relates the scenario to China, and wonders about “Chin-dancehall”, it seems a bit tongue-in-cheek. It’s a relevant question all the same –fundamental, even. After all , Rocky Dawuni professes to do Reggae, not “Afro-Reggae” or something.

I may be wrong, but I think that what a certain Samini or Stonebwoy means by “Afro-dancehall” is this:

The dancehall done in Ghana feels different between the thumb and finger. The particles of our experiences that culminate in our version of dancehall make it something else, even if it’s still dancehall.There’s a point where dancehall transforms into “ Afro-dancehall.  This  new mien is perhaps, what  proponents of “Afro-dancehall” want to lay claim to, because it has become an extension of an original culture, and not a duplication anymore. This point of the metamorphosis should belong to someone/ party. I agree.

Epixode is making a name for himself just as much with his original compositions as he is with covers. His cover of Vybrant Faya’s Mampi is splendid. Unfortunately, he seems to have fallen out with Vybrant, and he takes heavy digs at him on Take We Bak. but we’ll come to that. You know what, let’s deal with it and get it out of the way right now.

“adu nmaa , no gbudumgbudum/ this fire (Faya)  ain’t vibrant (Vybrant), edum dum dum dum”

Whatever our response is, to artists going at each other, we must admit that the above is a masterful play on words. Pure ingenuity.

Aside that, and perhaps the conspiracy theory that the “Adidas” line might be aimed at Shatta Wale, Take We Bak is much needed conversation.

Another thing which is thoroughly enjoyable in the song is how he eulogizes everyone who’s contributed to the dancehall story; musicians, deejays, presenters, everyone. He eulogizes everyone: Afro Moses, Black Prophet, Rocky Dawuni, General Marcus, BukBak (because of Ronnie Coaches’ role in the group), Terry Bonchaka, Yoggy Doggy, Sammie B, Blakk Rasta, Black Santino, Ras Mubarak, Samini, Stonebwoy, Bandana (Shatta Wale)…the list is never really exhaustive, but he does a good job. Suddenly, I find myself smiling because I hear names of artists I loved in my formative years, but forgot as I grew up, partly due to inactivity on their part.

What happened to Madfish? Where is Abrewa Nana? What’s up with Screw Face these days? Anyway…

In the end, Take We Bak bears a multiplicity of uses: it shoots Epixode’s talents further to the fore. It also becomes necessary literature in the study of that aspect of our music. Again, it opens up pressing discussion about what it means to be “called”  to do dancehall, the need to have a historical education of sorts, and perhaps most importantly, the need to tidy all dilemmas concerning the personality of our form and interpretation of dancehall.

*Epixode (aka Episode) was born Theophilus Nii Ardey Otoo Jnr. He generally makes dancehall music and is known for such hits as Avatar and Body Body. He’s currently signed to Gbevu Music Group and had been associated with acts like Samini, Shatta Wale, Edem, Guru, and Mr Eazi. His first album, Spar Junkiez, was released on March 18.

 

 

Gabriel Myers Hansen is editor of enewsgh.com. Follow him on Twitter @myershansen.

 

 

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