A strong wind, arcane and symbolic, wafts past the Dansoman family house of a celebrated young chanteuse. That very second, an identical scene is recorded in a Sunyani compound where the music star has gone to pay her mother a surprise visit. Especially in that Sunyani compound, it is immediately interpreted as evidence of a queen’s presence. They are not wrong. This specific air has so much regal attribution.
As the entire nation will learn days later, this breeze not only announces an arrival, but also signifies exit — an exodus that will take decades to properly grasp.
An Ohemaa, at the very crest of her rule, returns home. But this is no ordinary Ohemaa. She has specifically been picked out by Oboade, in whose hands we’re all pencils, and so this Ohemaa will not be forgotten.
This Ohemaa’s reign endures.
An excellent Obed Boafo review of Ebony’s music, published in April 2017, opens thus: “Ebony Reigns (Priscilla Opoku – Kwarteng) possesses an admirable singing quality that takes years to manage…For a young lady who only set off professionally in May of 2015, it is an enviable feat by a decent stretch”.
Elsewhere, in a subsequent piece digesting Maame Hwɛ, the singer’s December 2017 offering addressing domestic abuse, which would also turn out to be her swan song, Boafo reiterates: “Ebony’s talent is pure. It rests peacefully in a young lady whose patterns of stitched bravado and decisive artistic flexibility is causing so much pain to hostile souls, who are yet to come to terms with the fact that she is what they failed to achieve in their 20s”.
Fondly referred to as the “90s bad gyal”, Ebony’s ascent to Ghanaian music royalty has been both astonishingly rapid and iconic –the fastest in recent history. Without question, she figured this industry out like no other, and for years to come, her striking artistry and fearless passion will serve as template for upcoming talent.
She had become a “bonyfied” megastar!
And so, when on the morning of Friday February 9, news started making rounds on social media about her death in a fatal crash the night before, and exactly a week to her 21st birthday, it was not something anyone was ready or capable enough to stomach. The whole idea seemed far-fetched. Impossible! Ebony, who’s highly-tipped to win VGMA Artist of the Year in April? Who is scheduled to begin her Europe tour the next day? Impossible!
“I had her goddamn visa in my room”, her distraught dad, Nana Poku Kwarteng said, confirming the news to local media at his Dansoman residence. “She was gonna tour Europe for the first time on the 10th – Belgium, Italy, Denmark, you name it”.
“By all accounts, she had a very promising career”, said Ghana’s president, Nana Akufo Addo of Ebony’s prospects. Similar pronouncements came from all corners of the country; fans and colleagues alike; from within showbiz and without. MUSIGA president, Bice Osei Kuffour, labelled her Ghana’s answer to pop icon Beyoncé, while ex- president John Mahama deemed her a “talented life cut short”.
Of course! Credited with multiple hit songs, and the well-received BONYFIED debut (December 2017), the bubbly songstress towered over many mainstream acts even at such a young age. In the particularly male-dominated and combative terrain of dancehall, which has also been at the forefront of Ghanaian sounds in the last five years, particularly through the efforts of titans Shatta Wale and Stonebwoy, Ebony established herself as a ferocious third force; a true powerhouse executing her reign with sass and elegant liberty that, it forced her contemporaries to stay on the very tips of their toes. And she did this largely without the help of a major name. She needed none! By herself, she commanded enough attention.
Her sonic brilliance didn’t remain in the Caribbean genre. Craftily, and with majority of her submissions last year, she also made a significant case for herself as a goddess in other genres, especially highlife. Few highlife submissions published in 2017 have genuinely matched the sensation of Poison, Sponsor, Date Ur Fada. Or Maame Hwɛ. Unrestrained, Ebony went where her heart wanted. And she was sure to leave a mark.
Remarkably, just two years in the industry, she became so pivotal that, her songs became springboards for upcoming talent. Franchise act of RuffTown Records, the Ricky Nana Agyemang –led imprint which also now houses producer Danny Beatz, Brella, and Ms. Forson, Ebony would serve as gateway for the other names at the label, and via collaborations with them, guide them to the mainstream.
Ebony also held the fort for the female musician today –more fiercely than has ever been the case in remembered history –and this is in an environment which is generally unfavorable for the female act. What then truly facilitated her meteoric rise over such a brief period? How had she become a phenomenon this quickly, habitually sweeping awards and proving lord over the stadium crowd as well as the intimate corporate audience? Author Obed Boafo observes the following:
“Consistently, the winning module for Ebony is the song writing that serves a fitting guide to her compositions. It has been the most visible part of her 2017 releases, and readily shows how much of an investment (time) has gone into ensuring that she stays relevant. A stronger testament of what two worlds of song writing does to a young soul’s delivery, there are traces of Bullet, label head at Ruff Town, who is doing an impressive work co-penning/penning some of the priceless songs they have both gone to market with. Bullet (Ricky Nana Agyemang) is an old cat with an astonishing sense of how to make hit songs. His glorious days with the duo Ruff & Smooth churned a lot of anthems that went on the same path Ebony is enjoying now. His song writing credentials are broad and all over the local music scene, Nana Yaa, Pat Thomas’ daughter, a recent beneficiary. Ebony has the complete song writing effort at Ruff Town/Midas Touch Inc. to thank but it is how she also renders the songs in-studio and in front of thousands such as at her recent solo concert in the national capital, Accra, that brings out the stunning artistic beast in her. They are new every morning.”
According to her team, this year would have seen Ebony grow into a truly consummate act, having wrestled the spotlight from the music Mugabes. A key aspect of her team’s strategy coming in, aside the clever penmanship of her songs, was to leverage her unique her salacious temerity, and then, having captured the people’s heart, turn it in which direction they please. They were on course.
But in a society excessively consumed by religion, its citizens were unable to dichotomize between art and real life. And so, for as long as she practiced her craft, Ebony was faced with abundant criticism regarding her costume choices, for instance. Yet, as should be the posture of everyone pursuing their true purpose, the singer was unruffled, and marched on with brazen focus. This confidence, partly founded in her own father’s solid confidence in her gifts, rapidly made her number 1.
Around here, what is the evidence that an artist has truly arrived? She must host thousands in their own show. Only a handful have achieved this in the past decade or so: Sarkodie et al. The numbers that Ebony attracted to the West Hills Mall on December 9, at her “Bonyfied Soloku Concert” outdooring her first album, remain to be matched –and this is despite a heavy downpour which delayed the programme for hours.
Perhaps, her most important contribution, was serving as a source of inspiration for young girls across the breadth of this country. The singer enjoyed overwhelming popularity among the younger folk, especially girls, and was regarded as role model by an entire generation. This is perhaps, witnessed most vehemently in Maame Hwɛ. Her iconic headscarf is now a permanent fashion complement among teenage girls –“Ebony Duku”, it is now called. A cultural phenom, her influence transcended demographics. It is why she’s a true national asset. But a person’s impact is really measured by how much they affect legacy. The sight of pupils at the SOS Children’s Village (Kumasi) singing happily, their own version of Maame Hwɛ, into the camera of a smartphone held high, not only induces goose bumps and wistful tears, but is also sobering testimony of her bona fide place among future generations.
Ebony reigns forever! She died a legend. Braving a labyrinth of hurdles, she stirred the industry in a way that is unprecedented. When flak came her way, she utilized it as fuel, and soared like an eagle. In her own way, she democratized the space, and made true believers of skeptics.
Even while in the great beyond, she carries on her supremacy. Scenes from the ceremony commemorating one week of her passing, held February 18, corroborate this. Held at the St. Martin De Porres School in Dansoman, the event might as well have been held at a stadium, for it attracted droves. Ghanaian showbiz was well-represented, and the atmosphere, charged with love and grief, reflected what a true heroine she was.
Elsewhere in the city, the clouds wear a pregnant look all day, ready to begin the process of welcoming into her heights, a young soul who flirted with success and ended up writing yet one of the most important stories of the Ghanaian arts and entertainment industry. And as she makes the final stretch home this weekend, a life lived on her own terms will begin to fade away into eternal beauty. What holds on the other side is uncertain. Down here however, the cycle will search for another Priscilla Opoku Kwarteng to little success. Because she is Ebony, she enjoys an endless reign. Even in death.