The annual Ghana Music Awards is the most-anticipated night on our music calendar. Running for 17 years, it remains the topmost music honour in the country –our own version of the Grammys. As we build up to this year’s edition slated for April 8th, ENEWSGH editor Gabriel Myers Hansen presents a series of essays reliving selected editions of the event. This first installment remembers Daddy Lumba’s era-defining strides with Aben Wo Aha, which earned him the topmost prize:
Daddy Lumba’s Aben Wo Aha album is a significant project for many reasons. First, it won him three awards at the inaugural Ghana Music Awards ceremony held in the year 2000, including Artist of the Year. Also, though it was released two years earlier, it is very much considered an album for the new millennium. The onset of this millennium marked the entrenchment of hiplife as a national obsession with the likes of Obrafour and Lord Kenya bearing that torch. Aben Wo Aha was therefore, one of the few records which held the fort for highlife –the others being works from brother Nana Acheampong, maestro Kojo Antwi, perhaps Papa Shee, and a few others.
Aben Wo Aha is straightforward – it’s made up of 8 songs which unfold in specific perfection. Like Michael Jackson’s Thriller (which offers merely 9 songs), the record comprises just the right quantities of listening gratification: Aben Wo Ha equals thrills, Dangerous is chilling and reflective, Doctor Panee is masterful lyrical mischief unsurprising of the man, and Nyame Nyira Mmaa reiterates the awe-inspiring utility of a woman on a daily basis. Hye Woho Den, Fakye, Se Wo Da Ento Pono Mu all meet the definition of what classics are. Classics can be thinly packaged too.
It is a surprise that he has not picked up Artist of the Year ever since, the veteran and pioneer he is, but his music has been consistent, and his catalogue, which began with Yeeye Aka Akwantuo Mu, a collaborative effort with Nana Acheampong perpetually glistens. As of now, he has to his credit over 20 albums and at 52, is still very much present in modern music conversations.
There’s something to learn about how he has achieved this. For most artists, even a slight change in the sound we know them for is recipe for disaster, but Lumba has successfully flipped his template over time –from a comfortable mid-tempo Theresa Abebrese vibe to more revolutionary tunes as Ahenfo Kyiniye (his joint tribute with Pat Thomas for Otumfuo Osei Tutu the Asantehene) while still maintaining traditional essence with succinct string placements.
Producer influence cannot be ignored in Lumba’s melodic transitions. He’s credited with being a key force in the creation of the sub-genre Burger Highlife. It’s true. It’s something he and his contemporaries achieved with the help of German sound engineer Bodo Staiger. At the time, it was the culture to record at Staiger’s Rheinklang Studios by any means necessary. And why not? Staiger is to highlife, what JQ and Da’ Hammer are to hiplife. And so you had everybody from Nana Acheampong, to Ofori Amponsah, to Oheneba Kissi to even gospel acts Tagoe Sisters, and Daughters of Glorious Jesus all embarking on the pilgrimage to Düsseldorf. Sure enough, the legend of Staiger’s midas touch is still being spoken of. Indeed, for several of these artists, creative accomplishments surged (and remained) with Staiger, but not in the case of Daddy Lumba. Post- 2000, and without Staiger, he still spawned, (sorry, spawns) great music. His efforts with the homegrown Appietus have resulted in modern highlife classics too, most prominently Awoso (2014), which contained the song otherwise known as Yentie Obiaa. Remember that Yentie Obiaa was adjudged VGMA Most Popular Highlife Song of the Year (2015), and still holds political weight.
The list that has followed Lumba for the coveted award has been tremendous and constantly hardly-fought: Kojo Antwi (2001), Lord Kenya (2002), Kontihene (2003), V.I.P (2004), Obour (2005), Ofori Amponsah (2006), Samini (2007), Kwaw Kese (2008), Okyeame Kwame (2009), Sarkodie (2010), V.I.P (2011), Sarkodie (2012), R2Bees (2013), Shatta Wale (2014), Stonebwoy (2015), and EL (2016).
For most of the video for Aben Wo Aha, Daddy Lumba is flanked by ladies in pretty white tank tops twirling their bosoms and waistlines in ways that are simply not safe for work. The choreography therein has also proven iconic over the years –those cheeky shoulder moves which both mesmerised and was memorised by every household.
Aben Wo Aha generated significant backlash too, because of the sexual innuendoes it was littered with. Many called for a ban from our airwaves, including broadcasting legend Tommy Annan- Forson. Nevertheless, it remains an era-defining number, and speaks to what a lyrical master Daddy Lumba is. That fact will not be contested.
Born Charles K. Fosu in Nsuta (A/R), his liquid tenor remains a key instrument in music in this country and beyond, and his career, an important case study for the current generation and the ones not yet born.
*This year’s edition of the Vodafone –sponsored Ghana Music Awards comes off at the Accra International Conference Centre on Saturday April 8th. EL, Sarkodie, Stonebwoy, Joe Mettle, MzVee, Medikal are all in the running for the coveted award of Artist of the Year.