To assuage the copious curls of poisonous smoke dancing in the air before us, Gameli, my colleague from Livefmghana, tied his handkerchief over his nose. Because of the style he had worn it, I momentarily imagined him a gang member, even if he’s not wired to be one (he’s too well-natured to belong to an establishment which harms people.) Ghanaian youth might be sold on the dangers of Tramadol abuse, but cigarette smoke remains a fixture at such social events. The demoralizing irony of people holding placards bearing the hash tag #EndTramadolAbuseNow in one hand, but brandishing cigarette sticks between fingers on the other hand and reeking of “hard water” is a deeply instructive image. It is well.
Only by its own standards did the 2018 S Concert underwhelm: Although not unsuccessful, this year’s S Concert pales in comparison with previous editions: Traditionally, the show put together by Accra-based Starr FM, has drawn something in the neighborhood of forty thousand patrons– thus duly being heralded at the nation’s “biggest outdoor concert.” That accolade would be imprecise for 2018 as I’m nervous to peg the crowd last night (December 7 at the Trade Fair Center – La, instead of the initially announced Accra Sports Stadium) at even ten thousand.
Insofar as it functions as the ultimate opener for December bashes (since 2014), the S Concert succeeded. The brand enjoys public goodwill, and so, it was not surprising to see excited youth, mostly male, mostly below 30, eagerly file past an Elder Mireku -led gospel concert ongoing at the forecourt, into the venue proper.
On paper, the roster of performers – an impressive mix of veteran hiplife acts, contemporary Ghanaian pop stars, and Nigeria’s Victor AD of “Wetin We Gain” fame was a super squadron. Audiences had to wait till after 11 pm for that to happen. Why? A hundred undercard acts (endlessly commanding a crowd unfamiliar with their songs to “put your hands up in the air”) were let on stage, never mind that time wasn’t organizers’ best ally. It is logical that that many underground acts were given opportunity to perform –the concert has distinguished itself a worthy proving ground for a countless number of emerging stars.
For many of them, getting to perform at the S Concert meant that they were on their way to mainstream notice. But there must be a balance, lest patrons be quickly bored. Some opening acts enjoyed more stage time than main acts, a scenario I’m still trying to unknot. That some main acts had to be hurried through their sets corroborates my balance argument.
The Mobile Boyz, protégés of hiplife “godfather,” Reggie Rockstone, and so part of the early core of the genre’s development, performed to lukewarm reception. It was difficult to watch, because there was a time in the 90s when they were the talk of town. But they made it through their set, careful not to overstay their welcome and invoke boos from uninterested millennials. Not much of their activities has been archived; there isn’t a single comprehensive piece on them (not online at least) and their exploits during their peak. Watching them exit the stage after their performance, wearing American urban apparel, and shed of all celebrity, I dreaded what loomed for artists popular today, but who treat interviews like a favor to journalists and not a necessary step at archiving their journey, so they will not be lost on the next generation.
Hype will expire at some point, but should the Mobile Boyz have made a deliberate effort to document their contribution to the game, and remained consistent, a different reception would have greeted them.
Why are artists so immersed in illusions of “superstardom” to take proper steps to secure their legacy? What informs their audacity to demand money from journalists for instance, before honoring interviews, or often, not showing up at all without so much as a “sorry I couldn’t make it”?
The night’s real redemption started with singer Prince Bright, the only surviving member of the pioneering hiplife band, Buk Bak. In contrast to Mobile Boyz, he sparked an inferno with a timeless repertoire spanning Komi Kɛ Kena, Gonja Barracks, Kakatsofa, to Small Thing (which he released weeks ago). Consistency, and a superior creative ethic does that. Songs by Buk Bak are characterized by rich melody, witty titling and humorous storytelling. That formula, which inspires conversation, and subsequently memory, has ensured the relevance of Buk Bak, and Prince Bright as a solo artist over decades.
The momentum continued with another hiplife veteran, Okomfour Kwadee, also famed for his unique storytelling and odd charisma. Wearing a jumpsuit, and with mannerism of a possessed sorcerer, he too led the gathered crowd through a nostalgic streak. He opened with the deeply moving “Ofie Nipa,” before moving on to his classics “P1,” “Ka Wonan To So” and “Mmaapɛ.”
Nobody has done a better job with rap than MEDiKAL this year. Clearly his 0 for 7 Ghana Music Awards fiasco last year has only spurred him on. Since he first broke into the industry a couple of years back, he has constantly proven himself a top 10 rapper. This year, he may as well be at the pinnacle of the pile, which would also include the likes of Sarkodie and Kwesi Arthur. Together with trap group La Meme Gang, he is responsible for catchphrases that currently constitute street speak: “abowa, wo to nono,” “how much be your too much money,” “ah, wada?” etc.
Other notable moments came from Kinaata, DopeNation, Maccasio and Article Wan, Praye, Guru, D Cryme, Yaa Pono, Kelvyn Boy (claiming to be Ghana’s answer to Afrobeats contemporaries from Nigeria), rapper Edem (custodian of ample vocal power and elegance, as well as renowned for oscillating between hardcore hip-hop and flavorsome mid-tempo offerings), Victor AD (specifically for “Wetin We Gain”) Kwesi Arthur, who brought an entire contingent of burgeoning colleagues with him, and of course, Stonebwoy, whose set the night came down to, albeit a predictable spate of freestyles over dancehall instrumentation, and then a medley of his most loved hits.
In the end the concert dragged too long, and I decided, right about the time Fancy Gadam mounted the stage, that it was time to call it a night (or rather, a morning, seeing that it was well past 3: am). Yaa Pono and Stonebwoy would round up the show, which ended well into Saturday morning.
When he saw me off to the taxi I would board home, Gameli, now rid of the gang member adornment, waved me a leisurely goodbye, and made his way back into the venue, through the narrow door of the entrance guarded by policemen demanding bribes from latecomers hoping to catch Stonebwoy in action, a cheering crowd and impudent puffing of nicotine –induced vapor, back to his spot to the right of the stage.
In the taxi, I ask my chauffeur to zap to 103.5, Starr FM’s dial, which carried the event live. Half- asleep, I followed as he sped on the empty streets leading to Achimota, portions of Fancy Gadam’s performance, Yaa Pono’s set, as well as Stonebwoy’s.
Images courtesy ROB Photography: