It is nearing midday, and a gentle sun shines on this calm street in North Kaneshie. In the flat to the left, a crowd numbering about 10 is arrayed in bold urban-wear. They have taken up the entire entrance: sitting on steps smeared with different colours of paint, or leaning on railings forming the corridor’s fence. Under a tree close by, an old generator blares away.
Video director Nana Asihene is swinging a RED toward, and then away from dreadlocked singer Lord Paper, who is shuffling between wooing the light skinned damsel sitting to his right, and gesticulating into the camera.
Paper is starring in the video to his recent single Call on Me, featuring Mr. Eazi. “He is five minutes away,” my colleague Kwadwo Amoah tells me as he concludes his phone call with our contact with the Nigerian singer’s crew.
“Shoddy you too fine for this…call on me,” Lord Paper mimes to the sound of his own voice emitting from the small red speaker inches away.
Asihene is content with the shot, for he nods approvingly, and asks all to take 5. The porch is quickly cleared, and the generator dies down.
Our interview with Mr. Eazi is scheduled to take place during this break, and then he would go in and perform his verse to the swinging piece of visual lens; RED.
“That’s him,” Amoah indicates at the blue Hyundai parking by the side of the road. We approach the car, and the backdoor opens. Indeed, it’s Mr. Eazi. The crown of his trademark high-top fade is lightly dyed with rainbow colours, and there’s a wooden necklace branded “Eazi” hanging from his neck. He looks dazed with fatigue — all morning, we have heard him on various radio stations across Accra, discussing his recent BET Awards nomination, the Ghana Music Awards scheme, touring, etc. This has been his schedule since he arrived on Monday: from a radio/TV studio to the set of a video shoot. Still, we too have questions of our own for him, and we are bent on asking him before he leaves in two days to continue the UK-leg of his ongoing world tour. With pleasantries out of the way, we all make our way to the steps for our interview, where ENEWSGH cameraman Eben Yanks is setting up.
He takes his seat on the steps, and starts to play with his hair. It is obvious that Oluwatosin Ajibade (as he is privately known) requires rest. But he can’t afford to. What is his reason? He wears his sunglasses and starts:
“I don’t even feel like I work hard enough.” That statement provokes more than mild surprise all around, for he is currently rated among the hardest working acts from the continent — with several hit singles under his belt, lending contribution on the records of others, and constant touring/appearances. Still, he believes there’s more to do. Illustrating with label-mate Wizkid’s work culture in spite of his global reception, he stresses that one cannot afford to be tired, especially if he looks to be consistent in success: “To stay on top, you have to keep working, and this is the necessary evil. I’ve not had proper sleep for like two weeks, but I can’t complain…this is the life I chose.”
“What is interesting is: no matter how hard or how long I work, I see the results, so as long as I keep seeing results, I can’t be tired”, he further states.
Like Mr. Eazi, we too are witnesses to dividends of his effort – the most recent being his BET nomination. The nomination is hardly out of place, many would argue. In the year under review, he has managed as much global presence as those he has been nominated alongside in the Best International Act: Africa category — Stonebwoy, Wizkid, Tekno, Davido, AKA, Nasty C, and Babes Wodumo.
Mr. Eazi’s place in the Afrobeats story
Now, more than any other time in history, the “African sound”or “Afrobeats” is being embraced the world over, and just 25, Mr Eazi brings to the table, contribution that has been both enormous and pivotal. Like Wizkid, he is among the most sought-after African acts globally – his Banku Musik, a living proof.
Named after the local maize staple that is Eazi’s favourite dish, Banku Musik is primarily a fusion of West-African highlife and the vibes of island music rendered in Ghanaian pidgin. Melody is key, and even though it is an amalgamation of influences, it still feels minimalistic and straightforward. Mr. Eazi’s signature to the sound transcends just “zagadat” or “it’s your boy Eaaaazi” –which are his adlibs of choice, but also, incorporating a peculiar Ghanaian-ness –usually a food item: Banku, Shitor, Tilapia, all of which have provided a Bankulize eco chamber he now is famed for, and eats from.
This feature has become a trend, for as he points out, nearly every Afrobeats hit since last December has incorporated a piece of Ghana – a word, melody, cadence…something.
The absence of regular collaborator DJ Juls from “Life is Eazi”, and Mr Eazi from Juls’ “Leap of Faith” LP
Mr Eazi first hit the limelight with Bankulize, off his 2013 mixtape About to Blow. Before that, he worked as an event promoter on the campuses of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana’s Ashanti Region, where he was studying for his first degree. The record features rapper Pappy Kojo, and was produced by the London-based Ghanaian DJ, Juls. Since then, singer and producer have gone on to build a great partnership, earning recognition as pioneering forces in the Afrobeats wave.
So that even today, once a new Mr. Eazi joint is out, one unconsciously assumes that it was made by DJ Juls. It is why Juls’ absence from Accra to Lagos remains significant, as is Eazi on Juls’ Leap of Faith (released this month).
But for Eazi, the tape was to serve as an avenue for testing new sounds with producers other than Juls – specifically between Accra and Lagos, the two cities which form his identity.
“If I put out an album today, and I ask you what songs should be on the album, you’ll say Skintight should be on the album. I knew it wasn’t time for me to put out an album. With Accra to Lagos, I wanted to do an experiment – I wanted to work with all the producers I’ve ever wanted to work with between Accra to Lagos, and all the artists I’ve ever wanted to work with between Accra to Lagos, and that’s what I did”.
“If you listen to Accra to Lagos, there’s no familiar sound. There’s nothing like Skintight, there’s nothing like Hol’ Up, there’s nothing like Anointing. It’s different. I’m trying different sounds.”
This sense of experimentation can be seen all over the mixtape. He explores with ragga on a song like Two People, raps on Detty Yaself, and channels Wizkid on a record like In the Morning.
“…I just wanted to express myself and say: Okay, this is my interpretation of the sounds of Lagos and Accra”, and he achieves that masterfully on the mixtape.
The explanation for him not being on Juls’ LP is simple — work schedules: “On his [Juls’] project as well, I think he sent me a song to do, but I couldn’t record because I was on the road.”
Life is Eazi Vol 2: Lagos to London
Eazi confesses that whereas he is constantly recording new material, it is not necessarily for an album. He lets us in on his intention to release a second installment of the Life is Eazi tape though: Lagos to London. And why not? London is among the first places where his music started making waves after Ghanaian universities. His numbers are unbeatable out there –serving as his highest streaming market globally, and his concerts seeing tremendous patronage.
From Day 1, London has been an indispensable audience; a strong third force in the cities that form his base. As he explains, Lagos to London will also represent sonically, his interpretations of the sounds of London.
The project will see him work with artists and producers from London, and Juls’ presence here will be widely looked forward to.
Mr. Eazi’s global repute grows by the day, and how he has managed this much traction this quickly is nothing short of astounding; Bankulize didn’t properly become a hit till somewhere in 2014. Skintight, his follow-up featuring Ghanaian chanteuse Efya, and his collaboration with London-based Eugy on the latter’s Dance for Me ended up being the real jewels he made capital from. Skintight saw covers and remixes from all around the world, from music gem Cobhams to a million aspiring acts on social media.
This year, Mr. Eazi looks to stop by at least 50 destinations worldwide in his Life is Eazi–DETTY World Tour…including Japan, Singapore, and South Korea.
“For me, it’s just like a pastor sharing the word of God –the gospel is not for you alone; the gospel is not for the Jewish and the Gentiles, it’s for the Hebrews, it’s for the Romans. In the same way, once I have any sort of listenership in a particular location, I go there and service them.”
Service; and that is the key word that has seen him build his kingdom into a global sensation so much so that he’s become an instant media delight across key portals.
But the journey to this new found status has and will always come down to Mr Eazi’s fighting spirit. From the streets of Kentikrono in the Ashanti Region of Ghana, he gradually prepared himself for what was to come. Back then, as a promoter, despite making decent income, he honed his singing, and reached out to colleague musicians like the Ghanaian duo R2Bees (made up of Paedae and Mugeez), who kept pushing him to release a sound of his own.
He listened. That sound is what today has made him the Mr Eazi of so much value.
For the next months ahead, Mr Eazi will be focused on living his fantasies and reaping from the labour of his hard work. For an artist who took off properly in May of 2016, it makes a not too surprising sense that he’s become a hit. The twitter trends may not matter to his life’s story, same as the obvious snub he got in the infant stages of his career; award schemes, et al – what really matters to a Mr Eazi career tale now, is how far his sound travels.
Soon, he would get to live one of his fantasies; playing to decent stadium numbers. At the beginning of this year, he told his team that playing to a stadium crowd would be IT for him. It is already happening. Dates are being sealed.
A year feels like a long road for the Nigerian-born, but Mr Eazi’s story was crafted the way he wanted it; you can be unpopular in creative direction and still shine. Largely, he represents many whose definitive sounds are shaping the way music is prepared and consumed; toss and flip laid-back lyrics over a bowl of Banku and Tilapia and reach out to Abena (Popular Ghanaian name for a female born on Tuesday) to serve you because you are hungry.
And when the food (music) is finally served, you are reminded that Life is indeed Eazi.
Upcoming Tour dates
Friday 9 June, 2017
Motion, Bristol, UK
02 Ritz Manchester, Uk
The Limelight 2, Belfast, UK
Waterfront, Norwich, UK
St Luke’s, Glasgow, UK
02 Academy 2 Newcastle, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK
02 Academy 2 Liverpool, UK
02 Institute Birmingham, Digbeth, UK