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#VGMANostalgia: 2016 – Of EL’s Crowning

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Let’s admit, the EL announcement caught us all by surprise. EL too! Did you see his face when he was announced as overall winner?

In many ways, he saved the night..not necessarily as a laudable opening set, but for winning Artist of the Year.

Else, what would we have to speak about? The show was crisp and short, the performances were safe. Even Bisa apologised for the “pioneer” remarks. So, no scandal. And a VGMAs without scandal is nothing. Particularly in that sense, Charter House failed. The show was so precise that it was even a bit boring, and there were points in the programme when I just wished Shatta Wale would descend from the ceiling and cause trouble…you know, save the night.

Everything we asked for, we were given; the red carpet started and ended early enough, the performances were live, it was produced (actually produced) for tv, the awards were fairly distributed, the MCs did their part; looking pretty and smiling widely, award presenters wasted no time in announcing who won. Most importantly, the Artist of the Year, when he went up to pick his award, was not accompanied by an entourage of fifty; and so we saw his face when he spoke, and heard his heart when he sighed in disbelief…not that he didn’t believe he had done enough to deserve it, but that nothing prepared you for that moment, that same moment he might refer to as “ogboo feelings”. Nothing.

And what’s with all that murmuring? Bisa KDei should have won, he’s a better crossover artist, his songs had the most longevity to them, this wasn’t even a contest to start with…dah dah dah dah…You had folded your arms in complacency, expecting the votes to appear by themselves, when we both know Bisa isn’t an Ayigbe Boy. And then, when an actual Ayigbe boy won it, you feigned shock. Massa keep calm kraa.

Meanwhile, it was you noor who said that Bisa wasn’t that powerful a performer enough, and that Artist of the Year should go to a well-rounded person as only the well-rounded person should be allowed to be our ambassador in that respect. It was fun, a real sport –to inflame the  argument in that way. Now what are you saying?

Of course, deep down , you wanted Bisa to win, because he had the biggest songs and it was no mean feat for a highlife artist. But you’re the controversial one, and you had to play that role. You could have voted. You could have campaigned too on Twitter. But did you do that? No. Did you vote?

No no no, answer the question. Did you vote? There it is…

And don’t you dare suggest (not mildly, not accidentally), that the Ayigbe boy hasn’t worked hard enough. We both know that his ethic can be rivaled by perhaps only one or two others. And many have wondered for how long he would continue to be underrated in that respect. Thank God.

Indeed, EL deserves to be Artist of the year…anyone who observed closely would have got it.

“EL, borle, Young Lomi/ Lord, how you put so much in one body/”

These are a few observations I made about EL’s work culture back in December:

“EL is a hard worker. He too, has done so much for music this year that it can’t (shouldn’t) be overlooked. He juggles between the array of genres in this town, and leaves an impact everywhere. When we observe how easy it all comes to him, we are inclined to overlook, like it’s nothing…but if it were, everyone else would be doing it too. There’s a highlife song with Afro Harmony here, impressive stuff with the rock band Dark Suburb there, and several azonto–tempo songs and collaborations lying all around us. No matter what kind of music you lean to, there’s a good chance there’s an EL on your playlist. This month, his latest album comes out –I for one am confident about the quality on ELOM, and it’s not just because of the witty song titles on the album.

The genius he’s delivering to the above genres, he’s giving to hip hop too, which he might be trying to pacify with his B.A.R mixtapes, in parallel proportion too. With his mixtape, The B.A.R II, for instance, he has managed to fuel the conversation that he might be the Best African Rapper, which is what B.A.R stands for, to him. With The B.A.R mixtapes, he might actually have raised the bar in hip hop in Ghana several notches up (pun intended…or not). And while many other rappers here are having to “dumb down” their lyrics, he is one of the few who are representing lyricism and consciousness with their version of hip hop.

With this new mixtape too, he’s had to defend his affection fo hip hop, as well as rationalise why he had to “sell out” the genre before he started “selling”.

Like I said, I have high hopes for EL, who’s known in real life as Elom Adablah, and his ELOM album, because, well, Everybody Loves Original Music…but there’s also so much he’s already done with The B.A.R II…and his mixtapes cannot be taken for granted. Indeed, for his performance on American Passport, a song off his previous installment, he won Rapper of The Year at the VGMAs, so yes, EL’s mixtapes are not to be played with.

Finally on B.AR II, I would very much like for you to listen to the mixtape. There are 19 songs on there,and it’s for your own good. But if you can’t get all 19 songs, kindly listen to at least the following : We No Dey Hear, State of the Nation, and 10 Rap Commandments. These are specifically songs for everyone with ambition and challenges, which refers to all of us anyway. After that, let’s discuss depth, vision, observation, honesty in music, and the art of social commentary.

Did I mention he produces songs too? And don’t even get me started with stuff that his Koko is doing already.”

Indeed, if there’s one thing to learn from EL’s win, it should be that hard work will be rewarded, even if eventually. Someone is watching, and in his own words, “you never know de plans wet God get”

He’s called himself “The Best African Rapper”, he’s called himself the “best artistic product from the motherland”. Now he gets to call himself the man of the year.

More vim, Elom. More vim.

 

*Note: This piece was first published by enewsgh.com on May 9, 2016. We have reproduced it as a note from our archives as part of our build-up to this year’s event.

 

 

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OBITUARY: Paapa Yankson

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Highlife legend Paapa Yankson was finishing his sixteenth and final album until his passing at his Dansoman residence last Friday, July 21. According to producer Dan Graal (with whom he was working on the project), it consists entirely of love songs: to a neighbor, to family, a lover, humanity.

Old and poorly, he would not be bound from his passion, for he still frequented the studio, pursuing the one thing most familiar to him –the one thing through which he interpreted the world: music. Yankson spent his final days in the studio, says Graal. He was carried, in a wheelchair, from the car to the studio for his sessions.

Wheelchair or not, Benjamin Paapa Kofi Yankson (as he was born in the 1940s) still performed at public events, and still overwhelmed audiences with uncommon charisma. He commanded he atmosphere with vivid charm and uplifting aphorisms. It was evident in the eyes of those gathered under his feet, swaying their arms, and singling along to his evergreen choruses.

Over an illustrious career which commenced in 1987, the musician has addressed a wide variety of issues –faith, jealousy, grace, odium, choices, life… but he has always returned to the root of all themes: love. He is credited with authoring some of the most important love songs in remembered history. His sterling repertoire is littered with several highly influential love records: Show Your Love, Obiara Na Nedofo, Adwen Pa, Bebia Odo Wo, Asomdwoe Wo Ho, Tena Menkyen

That last song, a convincing duet with Paulina Oduro, is among the country’s most iconic — a true classic. Introduced by tender whistling and a ripe tenor, the melodious tune captures flawlessly, a sentimental exchange between a couple in love. It is rendered with adorable playfulness, and impeccable vocal confidence that it cuts across generations in its impact.

It is no wonder that Paapa Yankson would intend for the album with which he walks off into the sunlight after over thirty years of service, to be themed entirely of love songs. It is what his life has been dedicated to. It is what his life has been based on.

It is important to be reminded, amidst all the chaos, of the essence of love in our being. This was Yankson’s calling, and boy has he carried it out diligently. This is why the nation was so enamored by him.

Empire’s inaugural Bottles & Bands concert (November 2016) was among the last platforms he performed on. A truly surreal experience, event proved a testament to how deeply he was cherished. Every few minutes in his performance, on-air personality Giovani, who served as MC for the night, would interrupt and make an announcement of donations from corporate bodies and individuals who could not hold back their love for the highlife icon. Amounts donated that night summed up to about GHC 50, 000. The smile which remained on his face showed it all. He did not utter many words, but was clearly overcome with gratitude at the compassion on display.

A similar scenario can be recalled from this year’s Ghana Music Awards held back in April. He had just been conferred with “Lifetime Achievement Award”, and had been served a marvelous tribute by Adina and Akwaboah Jnr. Again, that smile could be seen behind his glasses. It was there he announced that he would release new music again soon. But alas, it never arrived. Perhaps posthumously though…

As expected, tributes have poured in from every direction: contemporaries to new age musicians, government officials, and fans all over the world, but they’ll never quite be enough to fully express what he meant to all of us.

Even until his passing, Paapa Yankson’s voice remained unscathed, if anything, it was enriched with age — that deeply moving tenor which has mirrored in his songs, various aspects of our lives since co-founding the famous Western Diamond Band. Due to the richness and perpetual relevance of his style of composition, he managed to hold his own even in the years after he be came most prominent –again, Tena Menkyen serving as reference. The song remains a fan-favorite several decades after its release.

Yankson comes from a generation of revolutionaries. He belongs to a celebrated core of acts from Ghana’s west (stretching all the way from Cape Coast to Takoradi). Together with the likes of Jewel Ackah, C. K Mann, A. B Crentsil, and Gyedu Blay Ambulley, they have served as true coastal giants — blameless ambassadors for music from that area, commendably rivalling counterparts from Accra, and bringing weight to the statement “the best comes from the West”. Now a cemented expression, it also extends to other cultural aspects as speech, mannerisms, etc. Successfully, and with unbelievable longevity, they have managed to advance a bold influence of folkloric music shaped by daily seaman coastal vibes…vibes which abound in the music of generations after them: Paapa Yankson’s son Silas, rap groups TH4 Kwages and Sass Squad, and in recent years, Kofi Kinaata, Castro, Pappy Kojo, Akiti Wrowrow, and T Phlow – the new crop “Fante Confederacy”.

Paapa Yankson was always in high spirits at public events, and held to a firm conviction that he would walk unaided again. It was so tangible –this faith –that people at the end of his words had no option than to believe too. Maybe that confidence extends to his legacy too.

When you take the music that Kofi Kinaata is doing today – his approach to songwriting, there’s no question that Paapa Yankson continues to influence the process strongly. That is why, in a decade to come (especially relating to style, rhythm, flair, presence), it would be even more apparent what jewels he would have left this younger generation, pearls which will simply never be repeated.

Member of pioneering bands as The Carousel Seven, Western Diamond, and Golden Nuggets, Yankson is a native of Winneba, and alumnus of Takoradi Methodist Ahantaman Secondary Commercial School. He has also lectured and performed and performed in several countries including the  United States, Canada, Belgium, United Kingdom, Germany, and Holland.

He’s recipient of major honors as The Grand Medal of Ghana (2006), and a Kokomba award for Best Composition for his song Yaaba.

For years to come, a legend’s name will forever be etched in the hearts of many. Yankson’s life and times in music stand for the beauty abundant in today’s yearn for good music. That rallying theme is embedded in a resolve that sits at the very heart of a decent conversation on just who brings the party home.

He brought it home on many occassions. Years on, he may have to lie motionless and without life – to observe how fitting or otherwise his final rites would be. This time, the party has to be thrown by Silas and co., maybe Kinaata, maybe Wrowrow, maybe the Fante VanDamme Pappy Kojo.

A Fante god goes home.

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Yaa Baby’s Purse & a Premature Christmas – Wutah’s ‘Bronya’ – A REVIEW

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Bronya, the second joint since Wutah announced their return as a group, is an important record for many reasons.

Smoothly authentic highlife programmed by Kindee, it expels all doubt that the Kotosa boys are back to take what is theirs: a spot among our favourite bands.

But we can’t necessarily blame skeptics: save for, perhaps BukBak, no Ghanaian group has, after splitting, seen any success upon resurgence. But then again, none really came back with a hit as solid as what Bronya is proving to be. It is why Wutah’s case is worth studying, though understandably, it may be a bit premature.

BukBak made a bold statement with Kolom and Alanta (both off Fisherman’s Anthem), but Bronya is as a blistering left hook unleashed from the fist of a prized boxer. It sets them back onto the legacy they began charting with Anamontuo –an exceptional debut album with which they impressed upon the ears of all, that they had superstar quality. On a project consisting strictly chefs-d’oeuvre, Adonko, Goosy Ganda and Big Dreams shone brightest, securing them an outstanding 11 nominations at the 2006 Ghana Music Awards: ‘Most Popular Song of the Year’, ‘Album Of the Year’, ‘Artiste of the Year’, ‘Best Male Vocal Performance’, ‘Hiplife Song of the Year, ‘Hiplife Album of the Year’, ‘New Hiplife Artiste of the Year’, ‘Hiplife Artiste of the Year’, ‘New Artiste of the Year’, ‘Songwriter of the Year’ and ‘Reggae song of the Year’, with Big Dreams picking up the laurel for “Reggae Song of the Year”.

To prove that they weren’t merely a flash in the pan, they followed up the successes of their debut with Kotosa (2008). If Kotosa isn’t their biggest song, it certainly is in the top 2. Also of majestic highlife punctuated with captivating saxophone placements as intro and interlude, Kotosa (produced by the Dansoman-based Appietus) is crafted specifically for a couple in love.

For the entirety of those six minutes, you can’t question that this is magic at play, for it entrances you like you’ve never experienced. Suddenly, your hands are wrapped around the swinging waistline of a certain Sitso, and your eyes are staring at the dots in hers, and a meaningful smile contours on your cheeks. Your foreheads are touching, and everything else fades into the background. Right at the point of the interlude, she turns around, so that her roundness sits in your crotch, never mind that you’re both standing.

Wutah, consisting Daniel Morris (Risky/ Wutah Kobby) and Frank Osei (PV, now Afriyie), who placed second to Praye at the 2005 edition of Nescafe Africa Revelation talent show, shared the same Mamprobi neighborhood, and who fused highlife and reggae in such a consummate manner, decided that they wanted to go their separate ways.

Nobody blames the pair (who were not nearly as successful when they each set out on solo careers, though it is important to mention that more that Afriyie better held the fort for the brand, considering his strides at the Ghana Music Awards, especially in the “Highlife” and “Best Male Vocalist of the Year” categories) for their 2009 split – creative differences (as was rumored among other things to be the reason) are serious business, and nothing lasts forever, in the end. But for them to do it during (potentially) the highest point of their career? That is why it was such a hard blow on all of us.

 

****

But they’re back. They seem to have lit the proverbial peace pipe, and the fire (which is what “Wutah” stands for in Hausa), is blazing again. “They are united to do music, so people should be happy,” their publicist Nana Kojoj Afreh told Citi Showbiz in May.

Even if it was a decent jam, AK47, the first single upon their rebirth, was released to mixed reviews. Produced by Ceedigh, it didn’t quite serve as the bang they anticipated. Not even an excellent summer video by Xpress Philms (released under Guru’s NKZ Music) seemed to have helped. Still, it’s a good joint, and should pick up eventually.

But Bronya? Bronya is their real comeback song. It is spreading like an inferno, and there are many viral videos of people singing along/dancing to the song to prove it. Like Nacee’s Boys Boys, it has also become an accepted street anthem, seeing how it so aptly summarises dominant attitudes of the masses. It speaks to their attentiveness as artists – be conscious of your environment!

The chorus translates loosely as “we wont wait till Christmas to have a drink”. Like Kofi Kinaata, (for Confession), and Nacee (for Boys Boys), credit must be given to Wutah for their ingenuity in packaging serious themes in tempting choruses. “they’re glorifying vanity”, moralists would posit, but really, Kinaata is cautioning against driving while drunk, Boys Boys emphasizes resilience in the face of adversity. Wutah submits a similar message, and play into an ongoing narrative of people having fun in spite of life’s many obstacles: “I’ll live in the moment; I’ll be happy for me. Things are hard — they’ve always been –but I’ll enjoy life regardless, I’ll appreciate the wealth that life is, every chance I get”. These are, in actuality, what the choruses in these songs symbolize. Clearly, these songs spark wider conversations than merely “alcohol music”.

The intro of Wutah’s Bronya may have been mined from Flavour’s Nwa Baby? That’s debatable, first of all, but also, specifically because Flavour is the artist in question, we don’t care. Why, Flavour may have more than mined the whole of Kotosa for Kwarikwa, which he has even recently remixed (featuring Congolese legend Awilo Logomba).

Bronya is also a great look for highlife, and a great case for the Takoradi-based Kindee, who is behind key highlife joints in this town today, especially his partnerships with Kofi Kinaata.

Bronya is highly melodious, but also straight to the point: 3 minutes and 20 seconds, 4 bars and then a chorus. Once you hear the chorus, you can’t wait to hear it again. This is obviously considered in the structuring of the song. It is also resplendent in its quintessence as original Ghanaian groove. It’s a new song, but it also feels old, specifically because of its gentle tempo, diction, as well as the particularly ethnic guitar strings which pilot it.

The adlibs, too, and how sentimentally they’re carried out … they feel like something from the 60s and 70s, and it is all brilliant in how they culminate into the magic words in which we are all pleased:

Yebro dada, yentwen bronya

Bronya forms part of a small sum of songs that both young and old folk can relate to, and therefore share a dance floor with.

And that is what the happy-me-happy-you song’s central theme of slapping affliction in the face, stands for. For two young men, the chance to do music all over again may have been mooted and lifted by a song whose mass choir chorus does more than just serving up society’s serious issues in a bottle of cognac.

What they actually end up producing, is a blazing fire called Wutah that brings Christmas forward six clear months before Santa comes home.

Listen to Bronya below

 

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An ‘helement of waawooh’ – A man’s accent, music, Africa’s gain – A very bahd guy called Falz

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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).

Touted among the brightest performers on the night, he mounted the stage as one third of a formidable contingent of Nigerian acts for the night: the others being Tiwa Savage and Davido.

“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.”

 

Humor merchant

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.

 

Simi

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.

 

Sess

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!”

 

Forthcoming album

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”.

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PEP JUNIA: Stop the hypocrisy…give ZYLOFON a break!

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I was taken aback when Ghanaian social media was set agog in the wake of news that Stonebwoy and other stars had signed onto Zylofon Media.

While a cross-section of the public was happy for him, others spelt out doom for both artist and the record label.

Entertainment pundits on radio and TV…even writers who have mentored me in my short career all prophesied a grim future for the media organization.

 

Why are Ghanaians spelling doom for Zylofon?

 Precedent is what many will attribute as  reason for their cynicism for the Nana Appiah Mensah -led organisation, the once vibrant  Mudhaus being the major reference point. S I ask: who caused it?

Was it the owners of the company or industry players? Was greed on the part of some industry players what  led to the collapse of that company?

For years, the same pundits and critics who are spelling doom for Zylofon were the same people who lamented across various platforms about the lack of investment in  the creative sector.

Indeed, a prominent posture many hold in this town (albeit infantile) is that handlers of Zylofon are  extremely rich, and have entered the creative arts terrain for the sole purpose of  “splashing money around”. Media empire EIB Network also underwent widespread backlash when they began assembling high-profile broadcasters for their lead radio station Starr FM. Thankfully, and to the shock of the many critics, the station remains one of the most listened radio station in Ghana years down the line.

Let me not divert the same but move on to the substance of the article: Zylofon Media, since its launch, has chalked remarkable success, like it or not. The outfit, for the first time partnered Fred Nuamah’s Ghana Movie Awards (which were on the verge of collapsing after it witnessed successive poorly organised editions). Zylofon, without doubt, resurrected the scheme once they came onboard. A new vitality was witnessed right from the launch to the nominees’ announcement, and then the event proper.

They successfully hosted stakeholders in the film industry in discussions aimed at progressing the field.

 

Can Zylofon prove the doubting Thomases wrong?

By all means. Zylofon can prove the doubters wrong if they have a plan. Nana Appiah Mensah has, on several occasions, reiterated to the media that the organisation is operating with a solid blueprint.

P.R.O Samuel Atoubi Baah (Sammy Flex) has also continually tried to dispell the notion that the company doesn’t know what it’s about, but trust colleague media houses to always find a way  of framing  stories  to favour their listeners or win favour from the public.

I was distraught days ago, I read in a newspaper about a comment made by one artist manager that Highlife artiste Kumi Guitar can never be profitable for the organisation. Yet, this is the same man who has been crying that ARSOG has refused to pay him his royalties and he has never successfully managed an artist.

 

DJs and Presenters must also help

Years ago, while working for the now defunct X FM, I remember that the outfit was firm on the agenda of promote young and upcoming talents at no cost.

During the presser to unveil Stonebwoy on the company’s label, Adom FM presenter Mike 2, raised the question on why Kumi Guitar’s songs are not on regular rotation on domestic radio. This is plain laughable. It is common knowledge that many presenters demand money before playing an artist’s song –a very shameful practice which required a concerted effort by the industry to nip in the bud. It stifles creativity, and hides from our eyes and ears, great talent.

The country, and indeed, the whole of Africa has proven an indispensable hub of creative genius. Everybody else just takes from our culture. Why not encourage each other to build our industries to become global players.

What Zylofon is doing is this: they’re spearheading a revolution. You may not like Zylofon’s approach, and that is totally understandable. It is a common feature of all groundbreaking occurrences. Again, we all neither think the same way, nor possess the same solutions to a puzzle…diversity is where all beauty stems from. But why don’t we at least give them a chance to prove their worth?

It is in our own interest to see Zylofon (and other such outfits) succeed, for when they shine, it invariably affects us all. A word to the wise…

 

*NOTE: Zylofon is now the franchise owner of the Ghana Movie Awards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Events & Places

A Sergeant’s revival, Irish Skirts & a ‘Falz’ Impression – 2017 Ghana Meets Naija – A REVIEW

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It’s a grim picture, what we are beholding this very moment. Laying still on a gurney in a dark theatre is a soldier. He appears to have been shot. An oxygen mask covers his nose, and on a monitor behind is the haunting sound of his ebbing heartbeat. Surrounding him are a team of doctors wrestling time, and family who observe restlessly. Surgical accoutrements sink in and out of his dying body: a stethoscope, clamps, forceps, scalpels. A well-decorated warrior, his toughness is unquestionable. But this bullet seems to be one against his will.

A spastic rhythm now emanates from the monitor. This is not good. “We’re losing him,” cries a desperate voice. “Work faster…work faster!”

Blood-stained hands pound at his chest in an attempt to keep him alive.

His breath sounds slow down steadily, and finally ceases. The frantic spikes on the screen are replaced by a single flat line. He’s gone.

One by one, comrades Joint 77, Captan, and Addi Self beckon him to return, but there’s no response.

And then, all of a sudden, the hero springs up to thunderous cheers, holding on to his one true weapon – a cordless microphone.

“Holy holy holy, man – a still holy,” he roars, backed by close to three thousand animated voices. These words from his moving 2015 anthem “Kill Em Wif Prayers” reverberate across every corner of the Accra International Conference Center. The energy Shatta Wale (who is now leaping everywhere on the stage) invokes on this momentous evening, and how he maintains it for something like an hour, is one for the gods.

***

Essentially, single-handedly, the “Taking Over” man rescued the night from Nigerian compatriots as Falz, Tiwa Savage, and turntablist DJ Obi, who clearly had taken a comfortable lead with performances on that prestigious Ghana Meets Naija stage. Even African superstar Davido, the closing act, required a bit of Shatta’s oomph; he cleverly negotiated his entrée, singing his verse of Shatta’s “Whine Your Waist”. It is no wonder that he (Shatta Wale) was crowned king on the night.

Born Charles Nii Armah Mensah, Shatta Wale’s heroic performance last Saturday is why he has been on the stage for five years on the trot, and further testament to why he has stayed at the very pinnacle of Ghanaian music for as many years (or more) as he has headlined Ghana Meets Naija, VGMA or not.  An unparalleled charisma, no-nonsense lifestyle, tested street credibility, and consistently zealous work culture culminating into frequent hit releases, have ensured that his acclaim has spread far and wide. “We dey drop hit songs each and every year,” he sings in “Don’t Try”. There’s hardly any dispute there. From “Dancehall King” to “Shatta City”, “Chop Kiss” to “Mahama Paper”, “Kakai” to “Take Over”, this man has influenced the playlist at our fetes more than any of his contemporaries. That is beyond amazing. On the night, Shatta Wale also performed well-liked songs from an inexhaustible catalogue as  “Low Tempo” (featuring wife Shatta Michy) “Enter the Net”, “Cocoa Season”, “If I Collect”, “Say Fi”, “Obodorbidi”, “Hosanna”, “Ayoo” among others.

RELATED: Sports cars, Jollof, fur coats & Mama Boss Papa – The 7th Ghana Meets Naija – A PREVIEW

This is the 7th year for the regularly overbooked show. It has also proved to be the biggest. Ghana Meets Naija has, since inception, excellently served as a platform to celebrate music from the two West African countries. It is put together by showbiz guru Bola Ray’s Empire, and is widely deemed the most influential concert on the sub-region. And why not? Acts which have graced the stage over the years have remained strictly A-list: Mr Eazi, Eugy, R2Bees, Wizkid, Naeto C, The MAVINS (led by Don Jazzy), Sarkodie, Stonebwoy, KCee, M.I, Samini, Kwaw Kese, Guru, 4×4, Timaya and a host of others.

Lil Win

Though the night belonged to Shatta, a number of other performances deserve mention – like Kwadwo Nkansah Lilwin (celebrated Kumawood comic and musician), whose performance, too, was met with eruptive cheers. His record, “Mama Boss Papa” is, after all, among the most spun tunes on radio right now. When he promised in an interview to give off his best performance yet, it wasn’t just smooth talk. Opting for a chequered Irish skirt in his 3-piece suit, it was clear he was there for more than merely a good impression. “Mama Boss Papa” made lunatics of all present, especially when intermittently, he would lift his skirt to expose red leggings, or fellow comic actor Akrobeto charging unto the stage in a surprise appearance. Lil Win’s set was thoroughly entertaining, and will linger on the smiling cheeks of patrons for years.

MAVIN diva Tiwa Savage also made a mark with her act. Equipped with a classic pizzazz, sultry voice, and a set of steamy dancers in flowery island costume, she poured forth an infectious vim which equaled (perhaps surpassed) most of her male counterparts on the night.

It is important to leave while the applause is loudest, and analysts say that she may have performed a song too many. Still, it hardly takes from the top-notch performance of the RED singer, who recently inked a management deal with Jay Z’s ROC Nation. A unique entrée, vivacious choreography, impressive song choices, and overall energy level did the magic for the mother of one.

Tiwa Savage

“Soft Work” rapper Falz, too, who clearly understood the dynamics of gigs thus: this is the battlefield, this is a war. And so, fire dancers cleared the stage for him, and his name was announced by the dominant baritone of an imposing hype man. It was the perfect way to set the stage for the BET and AMVCA laureate. And what better song to kick things off than spraying from his artillery, the mighty “Clap”. Featuring colleague Reminisce, it is among the brightest points of his sophomore studio album “Stories that Touch”, which ranks among top African works of 2015 for the critical impact of records as “Karishika”, “Celebrity Girlfriend”, “Soldier”, and “Ello Bae”. Falz is set to release his third album later this year. It will be big, judging by recent releases as “Weidone Sah”, and “Baby Boy”, which we anticipate to end up on the album.

Rule 2 of a stage as big as Ghana Meets Naija is to invoke dance. Falz is a party technician, so he dispatched this instruction too expertly, even topping it with his rib-cracking specialised English “azzent”.

This “Bahd” performance ended with his collaboration with Davido and Olamide. The crafty title, which acknowledges the aliases of all three featured acts on the song, also comes in handy in summarising his time on stage: “Bahd, Baddo, Baddest”.

Falz

Ghana’s M.anifest, who came right after Falz, managed a perfect balance between a performance to be listened to, and one to be danced to. Described as a classic presentation which confounded critics and delighted purists,” it saw the “god MC” commendably shuffled between live instrumentation and the skillful fingers of DJ Keyzuz.

On stage for about half an hour, the left-of-center performance made him a top trend on social media. As is characteristic of him lately, the night was not all about him, for he was joined by the talented Worlasi for “100%”, and up-and-coming rap act Kwesi Arthur, who made a bold statement with his “Prekese” freestyle over American singer Future’s “Mask Off”.

M.anifest

M.anifest is among a handful of artists who have achieved commercial success not by conforming to popular trends and methods, but strictly on his own terms. It is what he reiterates in his latest single, released soon after Ghana Meets Naija 2017, and featuring singer Big Ben – “make you leave me make I do my own”, the song demands in Pidgin.

Tema-based B4bonah, Article Wan, Kuami Eugene, Ko-jo Cue, King Promise, Tee Phlow, DJ Switch, and the gothic Eno, all rendered impressive accounts of themselves as supporting acts. DJs on the night, led by Starr FM’s Nii Ayi Tagoe also kept energies at a constant high with rich and timely selections across a wide spectrum of genres.

Ko-jo Cue

Tee Phlow

DJ Switch

Davido’s set was straightforward, yet very potent. At this point in his career, the mere sight of him causes uproar. He mounted the the stage with a glowing playlist he has racked up since first mounting the Ghana Meets Naija stage in 2012. On this particular night though, it was all about one song: “If”. Now, don’t be mistaken, the crowd bellowed along to every song he performed – “Dami Duro”, “Skelewu”, “Aye”, “The Money” etc. But “If”, is what it all came down to. For when DJ Obi cued it in, it was nothing short of chaotic. Word for word, patrons thundered out the lyrics to this brilliant highlife number, which is turning out to be the biggest of his career. A million covers have flooded the internet, including from global R&B icon R. Kelly.  Accompanying visuals to the record have been over 17 million times on YouTube alone. Davido called his Ghana Meets Naija 2017 appearance “emotional” in a tweet afterwards. If you were there in the auditorium on May 27, or have seen any of the numerous videos of his performance via social media, there’s no question about it.

Davido

The Accra International Conference Centre was graced, not just by regular folk, but by some of the most important stakeholders in Ghanaian entertainment, sports and business: Renowned broadcasters KKD and KOD, Yasmin Behzadi (international fashion icon and co-creator of Sark Collection), MUSIGA president Bice Osei Kuffour (Obour), EIB boss Bola Ray, The Ayew brothers Dede and Jordan, Confidence Haugen, Footballer Daniel Opare, Kwabena Duffuor II (MD, uniBank) etc.

This year (like the ones before), the concert did live up to the hype, and as usual, received widespread praise for how professionally it was put up.  This year also represents a major milestone in the Ghana Meets Naija franchise as plans are far advanced to stage a UK version come August 25 at the famous O2 Arena. A Dubai leg is also reportedly in the works.

*Ghana Meets Naija 2017 is powered by Empire Ghana and proudly sponsored by uniBank’s Smile and Mastercard products, Alomo Gold-Natural Herbs and Fruits, Paba Cosmetics, Tang Palace Hotel, Nasco Mobile, Kasi Express, 7Fold, Emerge Ghana and Maaha Beach Resort and ENEWSGH.COM.

More images:

Photo Credit: Kwabena Awuku, Frozzen Second, Vine Imagery, Twinsdntbeg.

 

 

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Powerful culture, majestic heritage – a day at the AFRICAN MARKET!

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There, on this Thursday afternoon, adjacent the A & C Mall and painted all-white, stood the famous African Market Shopping Center. A magnificent edifice, it was littered with numerous artefacts of African origin. Soothing Kojo Antwi classics filled one’s ears, and a cool breeze caressed his forearms.

An exhibition was ongoing. All around the building, and in its compound were stands showcasing colorful wares which demonstrate the perpetual rich heritage that the black race has been associated with since Kemet was founded circa 300 BC: fabrics and fashion, beads, paintings and fine arts, pottery and ceramic ware, leather crafts, sculptures among other accessories.

First held in 2001 in Osu – Accra, the annual exhibition parades some 24,000 exotic and modern artefacts from iconic destinations as Egypt, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Niger, Ethiopia, Ghana, South Africa, and Burkina Faso.

This year’s event – a 10-day marathon, started on May 17. Frequent testimonies from acquaintances and social media had led me there on this fateful day (May 25), which coincidentally was being marked around the globe as African Union Day.

Crafts from the continent a renowned globally, and today, the world’s appreciation of them is ever so vehement. From museums, to music, to fashion, the influence of Africa’s peculiar creativity is infinitely felt.

Also going by the acronym AACD, the gift fair, put together by a skilled team of curators, is a key backbone for the esteemed reputation of African art and artefacts “out there”.

Working in close consultation with artists, suppliers, and other stakeholders, the African Market takes all submitted works through rigorous checks in order to ascertain their fitness for exhibition and/or export, because in the final analysis, it is not about the quantity (as Managing Director Serwaa Evans Amoah tells me in an interview: “we need to send out there, quality”).

And rich quality was indeed spattered in every direction. Patrons marveled with wide eyes and broad smiles at the many alluring intricacies of historic meaning on wood, fabric, metal, plastic, and other materials. Excited tourists, collectors and members of the general public took photos of many of the works, or posed next to them. Because of how astonishingly affordable items are at the African Market, brisk buying and selling went on too: t- shirts, beads, footwear, masks, bags and shopping bags, sculpture of various sizes were being plucked off the stands by eager buyers (a refreshingly cosmopolitan mix of arts lovers).

“The handicrafts sector in Ghana has the potential to contribute US 10 Million or more instead of the US 4.27 Million per anum earned in 2015, if given the requisite support, like Kenya, because Ghana and Africa abound in huge material and human resources to turn the artefacts concept into economic gains”, experts believe. Without doubt, the African Market is spearheading this conviction into reality, distinguishing itself as a one-stop destination for treasures as these.

The African Market has assumed the stature of a true institution, and ubiquitous acclaim as a “cultural renaissance center for schools, tourists and individuals to learn African symbols and their meanings, Kente weaving, beads-making, wood carvings, sculpture, etc”.

Truly living the accolade “Gateway to Africa”, successive Ghanaian governments have regularly incorporated local artefacts in their diplomatic function. For example: Ex- president Jerry Rawlings is credited as being the diving force behind the artefact agenda, specifically with his  Kente Christmas card initiative.  These cards, which also had local symbols on them were produced for use by government officials and people of Ghana during the Ghana @ 40 celebrations. His successor J.A. Kufuor, presented a framed Kente cloth to Oxford Union Society (Alma Mata) during Ghana’s golden jubilee celebrations. J.E. Atta Mills presented framed Kente cloth to former US President Barrack Obama, during his visit to Ghana, and President Nana Addo Danquah Akuff-Addo presented African art pieces to visiting heads of states at the recently-held diamond jubilee celebrations. These gestures remain extremely symbolic in how as a country, we project our culture.

Serwaa Evans Amoah revealed in our conversation, that their numerous feats aside, the African Market nurtures plans to take Ghana’s tourism space to a whole new level. Judging by what I experienced on May 25, I wouldn’t put it past them.

A bowl of Fufu —served with a chilled beverage under a summer hut in the premises –proves the perfect crowning of one’s day at the African Market. Those final steps out of the large gates left me with a renewed sense of pride, royalty, and confidence in the following words: I am African.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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