The tough dark man returns with welcome news: “he is ready to see you now”. His speech is hurried, and is delivered in a sprightly Nigerian accent. He sports a t-shirt, khaki shorts and flip-flops, and in his right hand is an iPhone which constantly rings. Earlier, when he had come down to shake hands with us, he had mentioned that the man whom we had come to see, was in the middle of getting dressed.
We follow him up a small elevator. He pushes the number 2 button with his thumb, and looks up, like he can see our destination. The little chamber starts humming, and in our legs, we feel levitation. Moments later, the door slides open. We have arrived!
Here in this snug Accra City Hotel suite sits the young man we have come to encounter. A golden ambience floats in the room: in the curtains behind him, in the night lamp on the table, from the frameless sunglasses through which he held a blank look, on the necklaces resting on his long-sleeved t-shirt, in a gentle sun which lights the space.
Elegant black sandals rest, not on his feet, but rather, near the couch by the wall to his right. Also present is the tension of a first meeting, as is a large bed with white sheets.
“Hansen. My name is Hansen,” I say, handing out my right hand in salutation. “…and this is Eben, our cameraman”, as Eben stretches a polite hand to shake the young man’s. A response comes: “nice to meet you,” accompanied by a slight smile.
We proceed to set up, Eben and I – mounting a tripod, and then a camera, assessing the best positions for light, unfolding and plugging in the ends of chords, opening a laptop…. “Can we draw the curtain?”, “would you kindly say a word or two, we’re testing the microphone…”
He obliges, his face lightening up altogether: “check -check, one–two one–two…testing microphone one-two one-two…hello…bahd guy in the building…”. Eben lifts a thumb. We’re ready!
The conversation is equal parts diplomatic, frank, revealing and humorous — for the young man shuffles between impeccable English and faux Yuroba enunciation which has endeared Africa to him, sidesplitting jokes and touching stories.
Rapper Falz (born Folarin Falana in Lagos) returns to Ghana barely a month after his talked about set at Empire’s Ghana Meets Naija Concert – not to perform, but to take in Accra’s ambience another time and admire the beautiful women who tread the shores of the city. Of course, a desire to further interact with his fans here, too.
Touted among the brightest performers on the night, he mounted the stage as one third of a formidable contingent of Nigerian acts for the occasion: the others being Tiwa Savage and Davido.
Fireworks and the arresting baritone of a gigantic hype man marked his entrée, and he did send patrons wild for the entirety of his performance. It was his first gig in the country, but he more than justified his inclusion on the sub-region’s biggest stage. Cloaked in all-black, and armed with a glowing catalogue and unmatched humor, he did mount his flag in spite of a certain M.anifest, or Shatta Wale (who led Ghana’s squad).
“I definitely did not expect that kind of reaction, so for me, getting that was amazing…it was crazy for me”, he admits into this golden atmosphere “it was emotional, and being on the same stage with the likes of Davido, Shatta Wale, Tiwa Savage, M.anifest…it was big, it was extraordinary. That sort of response made me feel very happy.”
It is therefore no wonder he capped that trip on the historically relevant shores of Jamestown–Accra, shooting the video to his new single Jeje. “I like Ghana, you know?” he continues, beaming, “I really enjoy the ambience over here. Anytime I’m here, I feel at home. All my past videos have been shot in Nigeria…I hadn’t visited here before, so I thought: why not come here and do something nice?”
Beautifully rendered over highlife rhythm, Jeje was produced by Studio Magic, and is dazzling in its blend of Ghanaian and Nigerian vibes: the guitar arrangements, lingua, references, and general texture all feel like a melting point of melodies from both West-African settings.
Afrobeat, Afrobeats, and Ghana as “special ingredient”
Even as a rapper, Falz is a disciple of African music talisman and Afrobeat founder Fela Kuti. He declares this flagrantly in most interviews, and we often hear Fela’s presence in Falz’s music: My People, Workaholic, Jeje. There’s a distinction to be made though, between Fela’s Afrobeat, and contemporary Afrobeats. For one thing, Fela’s invention came without an “s”. Also, his songs arrived with extensive horn sessions, and possessed a thrilling danger, especially in how they left no prisoners as they addressed political ills, nationalism/imperialism, dynamics of international geopolitics and other social issues.
While modern Afrobeats may be homage to Fela, it is a significantly toned down version–sticking to the themes relating to love, leaving just a couple to attempt matters Fela spoke on, albeit in a less militant manner: Tekno’s Yawa, and Reekado Banks’ Change.
Falz understands this development, and is neither surprised nor bothered by the changing phase of the music: “Every sound evolves, and over the years, [even] hiphop today is not what it was years back. Afrobeat, since the time that Fela coined it, has definitely evolved into what it has become today, so for the fact that it has now almost gotten a new name, or an “s” has ben added to it…I don’t necessarily have a problem with it.”
Fela’s Afrobeat is clearly defined, but can the same be said of Afrobeats? Nearly every artist on the continent (even if they do reggae) wants to be associated with Afrobeats somehow. Because of this, the many varieties the continent spills with, have all been boxed under the label “Afrobeat”. Therefore, does Afrobeat suffer an identity crisis?
“It’s almost as though everything that comes out of Africa is now in that bracket [Afrobeats]. It’s a term that definitely describes majority of the sound that comes out of it [Africa], so it’s not necessarily wrong”, Falz (who says he doesn’t mind being labelled Afrobeat act) opines. At the same time, he nods to those who say that it is unfair to the many sounds Africa is known for:
“There are so many genres of music. Would you say that someone who’s probably doing Afro- soul, for example, or Afro-hiphop, and not necessarily pop music –would you say that they are also Afrobeat singers?”, he wonders.
Ultimately, he agrees that this is a conversation still ongoing.
In a related debate, colleague Mr. Eazi holds (not without enormous backlash) that Ghana has proven the special ingredient in the now global Afrobeats sound. Incorporation of Ghanaian melodies, and allusion to other elements as its foods and spices, names and places, etc might be essential to the formula of this new sub-genre, he believes. Widespread hits as Runtown’s Mad Over You, the entirety of Mr Eazi’s catalogue, and now, Falz’s Jeje are immediate reference points. Indeed, some theorize that the recent sonic lanes of Tekno and Davido (also major Afrobeats ambassadors) might be as a result of subtle impact from Ghanaian producer Juls.
Falz doesn’t exactly concur with this notion, pointing out that the Leg Over man’s view might arise from his close association to Ghana: Mr Eazi is even part-Ghanaian, and so Ghana is even in him already…”
“I don’t think you have to say something Ghana or make a desperate effort to be, you know, attached to Ghana”, he further stresses, “they [Runtown et al] do definitely [incorporate Ghanaian influences], but I don’t think they intentionally make that desperate effort to attach [Ghana]. I think it was just a vibe that they got. With artists, you get your inspiration everywhere…it’s not necessarily because you have to make a reference to Ghana.”
Falz is mirth. The universe depends on him for that: through the Instagram skits which made him an internet sensation, or via his music/ accompanying visuals, or film roles. He has largely delivered, regularly dispatching music tailored for that purpose, starring in amusing roles, or coining the next social media catchphrase. Sometimes, this has come at great personal cost. For instance: in November 2013 which marks the verge of his big music break, his entourage was involved in a robbery/ accident which left his driver dead, and Femi, his manager (the tough dark man whose phone is constantly ringing), with among other things, a broken femur. He himself barely escaped with his life, and wears several scars as a result.
Falz is always one to squeeze lemonade from lemons. It is why today, when he shares the story, he can afford to smile, though he hastens to add that it was definitely not “a laughing matter” when it happened.
In the same way, the Soft Work man, 26, has more than recovered from a lukewarm reception of his 2014 debut “Wazup Guy”. Now among the continent’s most sought-after acts and prepping for the release of his third studio album, Falz has collected significant acclaim including a City People Entertainment Award, an AMVCA, and a BET.
Whenever Falz sits to grant an interview, he has to answer a question relating to chanteuse Simi. It is not for nothing: the two have regularly collaborated on music, and the result is always terrific. Speculation about them being romantically involved have become rampant, especially with the release of their joint 2016 EP Chemistry. A 7 –track project, it explores the musical harmony they have long cultivated (on collaborations as Simi’s Jamb Question and his Soldier), and a curious, widespread, never-ending expectation on them to be an item.
Verse one of the title tract to Chemistry (rendered by Simi) sings thus:
Everybody seems too think that we’ll be good together oh/ Everybody don dey talk say make you be my lover oh/ But they don’t even know if am your spec oh/I don’t even know if I take your breath away/ You don’t even know my wildest dreams/ Maybe it is all just chemistry…
For the listener who has followed the Chronicle of Simi & Falz, Simi’s navigation of the “conundrum”, via these lines (and through the chorus of the song) seem genuine. The entire EP feels that way –bare conversations between two people who are meant to be.
Falz has continually named Simi as his “musical soul mate” and nothing more. Still, how true is the song Chemistry, and by extension, the entire EP?
“With the entire collaborative album, we wanted to achieve –we wanted people to see artistic brilliance. We wanted people to visualize every single song on the album, and everything was very visual. And listening to the song [Chemistry], you can see the story. I’m a storyteller, and I met someone else that is exactly that, and does it in a unique way, and so it blended very well.”
“It was a work of art. It was coming from a completely artistic view –not necessarily personal”, he closes his argument, before demanding amidst his own laughter, that we “crozz out” the assertion that it was entirely personal.
No ID and Jay-Z, Don Jazzy and D-Banj, Juls and Mr Eazi, Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson, Beatz Dakay and Stonebwoy. These are partnerships that have birthed iconic results. Sess and Falz, because of what masterpieces they have created together, and how frequently they have done it, add to the list.
“Sess is my musical sibling. He’s my musical brodah. Iss as dough we are in the same family. We do reason on the same waving length. We do compose music on the same realm. Are you getting me? Dat-Zit!”
Once a new Falz joint drops, we think we know what to expect: a simple chorus usually rapped, not sung, instrumentation is stripped down, his signature “azzent” is prominent. While these constitute the Falz factor, there also accompanies the music, “an helement of surprise, an helement of waawooh”. An unforced versatility has led him to experiment with anything from Juju to Jazz, and an inability to specify his brand of music. So, like Fela did with Afrobeat, he too has coined a label of his own: Wazup Music, which is not a single sound, but an amalgamation of influences.
“ I can turn to the left today, tomorrow, I turn to the right. Varsatility and be heybo toh miz everything hop…daz what Wazup muzik is about”
Falz’s third studio album is set for release this year. Already, it has birthed blistering singles aside Jeje: Weidone Sah, Baby Boy. It is evident that he is flipping his template, tapping into deeper depths sonically. For our own sakes, he cautions to not “expect anything, because if you expect something, you’ll be surprised. We’re always looking to surprise.
Knowing Falz, this new body of work contains a lot of fire for sure. After all he’s proven to be “that guy that shows that versatility”. It is he who brings “that uniqueness…that flavour”.