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IT IS MIDDAY in Accra, THIS IS Kweku Obeng Adjei on Starr 103.5 FM

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Starr 103.5 FM, Meridian House – Accra

It’s a minute to midday. Dark and muscly, Kweku Obeng Adjei struts briskly from the Komla Dumor newsroom into the studio across, a Lenovo laptop in his sturdy hand, an expression on his face which spells strictly, business.  He’s shadowed by a petite young lady of similar complexion. As they enter the studio, colleague broadcaster Kofi Okyere Darko, has just wrapped up his duties on mid-morning show “The Zone” and is on his way out.

A giant table occupies the center of the room. On it rests an iconic console whose channel faders are regularly caressed by on-air titans Bola Ray, Francis Abban, Giovanni & Berla Mundi, Jon Germain, Nii Aryee Tagoe among others. Black microphones, and swivel chairs surround the desk, and the day’s major newspapers rest on a small cabinet in the back. On a muted flat screen TV on the wall behind the glass door, an Al-Jazeera documentary is showing.

Kweku settles in the chair behind the console, from where he is faced directly by one of the microphones, three computer monitors, and a wide section of Ghana’s capital, who will be at the end of his voice in seconds. He sets the Lenovo down, beside the console, and begins to whisper something as he stares at the screen. The lady with whom he has just entered, offering production assistance, also sets up by his side. Suddenly, the familiar jingle announcing the Starr Midday News is heard in speakers in the top corners of the room. The news is live.

For the next half-hour, Accra and beyond, will be equipped with the very latest news items across governance, business, international happenings, and sports.

Classily attired in a chequered long-sleeved shirt, Kweku radiates the calm charisma of one truly in charge, his eyes darting about purposefully in this high-pressure enterprise, squinting at the screen of the Lenovo, working channel faders on the console, monitoring the fleeting hands on the wall clock, nodding for a voice clip to be played, whispering instruction to Ms. Petite, or taking feedback from behind the glass window to this left, bracing for an interview, mouthing the next story…

“I’ve always known that radio was going to be my thing”, says Kweku in his signature gentle manner, recounting how, as far back as his primary school days at John Teye Memorial, he has exhibited traits of broadcasting. This desire to utilize his voice even that young, led him to join such groups as the arts and debate clubs. Today, his old classmates aren’t surprised by his exploits, as hearing his voice invokes fond memories of the Class 5 pupil who once voiced a radio promo for his school’s anniversary celebration.

Possessing a soothing sleekness in a way that entrances you, Kweku’s voice is literally music to the ear. It is textured in a such a smooth tone and smooth inflections that everything it utters is instantly convincing. And as is the consequence of dedicating one’s self to radio, the voice is more popular that the person himself. He knows all about it, and has seemingly even made peace with it: “a lot of people don’t know my face but know my voice. Because I’ve been to places where, once I open my mouth and I’m talking, people then know and are able to relate, and even mention my name”.

For as long as Starr FM has been in existence (since 2014), Kweku Obeng Adjei has manned the afternoon bulletin. With a voice designed for radio, a superior interview technique, and an overall professional edge, he has earned an unquestionable spot among the nation’s top -notch anchors. Further testament: last year, he was adjudged Best Newscaster of the Year (English Language) at the Radio and Television Personality (RTP) Awards, and has been nominated on a number of other occasions. This year, due to how effectively he has maintained his steam, he may well retain it.

Obeng Adjei poses with EC Chairperson, Charlotte Osei, after an interview.

Owned by the Bola Ray – led EIB Network, Starr FM towers high in the media terrain. In order to maintain this rank, people like Kweku must remain on top of their game at all times. There is no room for mistakes, as the company risks a dip in ratings as a result. This is where trusted voices as his come into play. Master of the mic, Kweku’s many years of experience, starting from Radio Univers, through Joy FM, Choice FM, and then Power FM (which is now Starr), have purged him of the kind of pressure which accompanies this job.

“It’s just about doing what you have to do, and ensuring that you’re applying all the the skills and ethics of the profession. So for instance, if you’re do interviews, you have to ensure that you have information about what you’re going to be talking about. You must also know who you’re going to be interviewing, because you don’t wan to go on air and mess up. So there isn’t much pressure, but, of course, you must be on alert, because you never know what can be thrown at you” he posits. He can afford to say that now, because of how many years of professional service he has chalked. In addition, the brands which he has been associated with in the past, have built in him the confidence of a veteran.

“Because of competition and who may be on air around the same time you do the bulletin, you must always ensure that your presentation is apt and on-point, and you have all the big stories on your plate. For me in particular, I have worked with some of these competitive stations so I know how their bulletins are prepared, I know how the presentation is done. But of course, currently with Starr FM, I always focus on what I’m supposed to do to ensure that my brand is leading, and a choice for many”, he adds.

A reliable hand, Kweku not only runs the midday bulletin, but also produces a number of other programmes, sits in for other OAPs from time to time, and is a mentor to burgeoning broadcasters. His work culture is remarkable, and his contribution to modern Ghanaian radio, is just as noteworthy. Still, many hold that he doesn’t get as much credit for his efforts…that he may even be underrated.

But the broadcaster disagrees, stressing that he is acclaimed in the industry — where it matters: “I don’t think I’ve been underrated. I know my stuff. I have worked at great places, and at all these places, I have been able to deliver”.

During commercial break, an editor appears by the door: “let’s do something on Togo”. He vanishes almost as suddenly as he appears. A lady walks in and hands in a piece of paper with information hastily scribbled on it. Sports anchor Dennis Mepouri walks in to present the sports, and then rushes back to the newsroom, which is engrossed in usual seriousness; eyeballs staring keenly at the screens of computers, fingers tapping away on keyboards, assignments being written on a nearby white board. Named after Ghanaian broadcasting icon Komla Dumor (formerly of the BBC), the hall is home to many of the country’s brightest young journalists, who hope to follow in the steps of the late Dumor.

Like many newsreaders in this town, Kweku cites Dumor among his idols (alongside Matilda Asante, who gave him his first real break at Joy, Tommy Annang Forson, and mogul and boss Bola Ray, whom he also now considers a brother and friend), admitting that even today, he occasionally resorts to Komla’s old videos to, among other things, “relive and learn”.

Obeng Adjei’s relationship with Bola Ray has even earned him the nickname ‘Deputy CEO’ amongst a section of his peers.

“We all don’t know why he had to leave that early”, says Kweku after a pensive pause, “but Komla was a symbol on the way that, if you wanted to be a journalist …if you wanted to build a standard or class for yourself, you’d look up to him, and I think that his values, his ethics, [and] the zeal with which he performed his duties professionally, encouraged most of us to give this profession all our hope and all our energy.

“Through studying Komla, we realized that journalism is very powerful. I mean, you had the mic to make and unmake, to impact lives, to straighten issues, and to hold people accountable”.

Though he worked at Joy FM, Kweku never got to work with Komla Dumor, as he was on his way to the BBC at the time. Nevertheless, Kweku regularly picked up a thing or two from him, often tuning in to the BBC in anticipation of Komla’s unmistakable smile.

To Kweku, Joy FM proved an impactful grooming platform, where he learned to read the news, conduct interviews, package stories to make an impact. At the Kwesi Twum- owned establishment, Kweku also learned key nuggets as patience, enduring frustrations, and navigating egos –all elements that have steeled him up as a formidable professional. At Starr FM, he has certainly blossomed into a real star!

As far as classic men go, Kweku cannot be overlooked. Always dapper in a blazer or crisp African print, the radio gem also stands among truly well-dressed men in these parts. Radio or not, Kweku believes that elegant dressing (which he picked up from boarding school days, and by associating with sharply-dressed colleagues/ friends) does something to one’s own confidence, and inadvertently influences output.

Behind these microphones, thirty minutes pass very fast, and every second counts. But when you have executed the bulletin as well as Kweku has just done, you too can afford a habitual calm sigh of accomplishment like he’s just breathed.

He makes his way back to the Komla Dumor Newsroom, slightly more relaxed than he came in …Lenovo in hand, and Ms Petite following. A mountain of work still awaits on his desk in the newsroom, as is a rice dish which will be consumed quickly, and out of necessity. A journalist has no rest.

*Born in Accra, and husband to “Pretty Anita”, Kweku is alumnus of Mfantsipim, NIIT, the University of Ghana, and the Ghana Institute of Journalism.  

 

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REVIEW: Edem stirs up “hurricane” on new joint

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All hip-hop is a battlefield, and one’s ability to drill panic into his opponent’s knees is core to the game. A specialist in this regard; Edem’s unique style of executing this menace has always been a delight to watch —from the fence, that is. As an opponent though, it must be a nightmare. In fact, the Heyba man is so poised in his proficiency as lyrical Goliath that, these days, he directly taunts his rivals; “hello, hi rappers/ I make you no dey bed eh?” 

Indubitably, Edem has attained gold status, and with his upcoming fourth album, The African Answer, he looks to seal that reputation for good. Throughout his career, every time he has tendered a rap number, it has come with a tide. On his latest single, featuring rock Lads Dark Suburb, Jojo Abot, and Teephlow, he whips up —well —a “Hurricane!”

Produced by American rhythm dons, DJ Pain and Coptic, the joint dispenses another vicious experience. If —for some reason —anyone ever derided Edem’s choice of title for the album, Hurricane, like Mighty Jesus, its predecessor of six months, is the sort of evidence which silences you. Hurricane is centered on amplified electric guitar, intransigent drums, unsettling sampling, and an overall loudness that is essential to the fear factor, and sounds off with a bold declaration via a throaty roar: “we’re here to win, we’re here to stay!” —and if that is not enough, it is reiterated in a haunted hook by spirit child Jojo Abot:

Believe it or not, we’re here to win

Like it or not, we’re here to stay

Pull up on your block, no masquerade

It’s a hurricane, it’s a hurricane

The VRMG founder (born Denning Edem Hotor), while he has excelled at genres outside of hip-hop, has always retained a diligence to the rap form which nurtured him. That attentiveness, which is the mark of an exemplary student, has now made him a master, ensuring that he’s able to build upon it by infusing other elements to craft striking new models. The song is a hybrid of hip-hop and rock, accentuated by a unique, aboriginal vibe —therefore, works as a local staple, while still holding transnational appeal.

Pascal AKA –directed visuals which complement the number, also entrench Edem’s status as repository of premium music videos. Everything you can’t make out due to your inability to comprehend the “minority” dialect that is Ewe —which constitutes majority of Edem’s poetic expression —is ably translated via the expert hands of AKA (who heads the Breakthrough Studios in Accra); who also worked on visuals for Mighty Jesus. Alternating between jungle scenes irradiated by the golden hue generated by fire-eating men in the background, where both Edem and Abot appear most —to smoke-filled sets off which Dark Suburb’s guitar sections echo —to an all-white one on which an Off-White clad Teephlow recounts his music journey using clever puns and an incisive stream, AKA reenacts the themes in Hurricane immaculately. The video also sees GH rap bigwigs as Tinny and Gemini make cameo appearances.

Hurricane is also a convergence point for old and new. Not uncharacteristic of Edem in recent years, he lines up the brightest of burgeoning stars; feeding them energy from an experienced hand as he feeds off their green energies. He also name-drops “brothers” from his native Volta-land who are making waves: Kemenya, Kula, Keeny Ice, Agbeshie, Cano- Z, or as he puts it; “Number 9 army, Togbui Tsali soldiers, Agorkolii soldiers.” It is a tested method, if you want to remain relevant. By all means, innovate, experiment, adapt, or —well— die.  And in all your gettings, guar your originality. When you have grasped that balance, you too can declare, like he does in the song; “this be ma playing field/ this be my arena/ don’t try to test me, let me manifest/ wontomi engyina!”

At the same time, the song also serves an opportunity for guest acts to assert themselves as worthy— at this point, one way to tell if an artist has washed his hands well enough to dine with elders, is if they land a spot on an Edem record. All three guest acts on Hurricane arrive to the table with space-age greatness and alternative genius; possessing an unnerving mystery for wearing skull masks, and their steady success with alternative rock in a country as Ghana, the quintet have courted fear and admiration in equal measure, and have landed collaborations with A-listers as M.anifest, and E.L. An eccentric goddess, Jojo Abot is currently among Ghana’s prized music exports. Creating music across Afro-soul/Reggae and Afrobeat, the chanteuse —who hails from Ho in the Volta Region, and is author of the 2015 EP FYFYA WOTO —has performed at the world-famous Times Square (New York), toured with Ms. Lauryn Hill, and shared stages with Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Wiz Khalifa, Charlie Puth, Jesse J, and Demi Lovato, and in May 2017, headlined the Bushfire Festival in Swaziland alongside South African jazz great, the late Hugh Masekela.

Alumnus of of the ‘Next Big Thing in GH Hip-hop’ reality show, Teephlow is already acclaimed as a wordsmith. Earlier this year, his 2017 record, State of the Art, off his Flowducation EP, was named “Record of the Year” at the Ghana Music Awards. When he sets out on his verse 2 minutes 38 seconds on the joint, a new exuberance is instantly felt. This vim elevates steadily, and by the 4: 30 mark, it has exploded into real danger – a brisk jaw-dropping fit. Edem receives the baton back from his fellow Da’Hammer disciple, at a similar pace, and then guides it into Abot’s concluding hook —the exact four bars the mediocre lot will dread to hear. Going by Edem’s work since 2009, it will ring in their ears for a very, very long time.

 

Believe it or not, we’re here to win

Like it or not, we’re here to stay

Pull up on your block, no masquerade

It’s a hurricane, it’s a hurricane

 

*A multiple-award-winner, Edem is author of critically received albums as Volta Regime, Mass Production, and Books and Rhymes, as well as numerous singles including Ghetto Arise, Bra Fremi Fremi, Nyedzilo,Kpordawoe, Wicked and Bad, Gogaga, Fie Fuor, Power among others.
“The African Answer” is due for release this year.

Get Hurricane on iTunes

Artist: Edem ft Jojo Abot, TeePhlow & Dark Suburb

Song: Hurricane

Label & YearBrooklyn Bridge Ent / VRMG 2018

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In search of a paying ‘Mugu’

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Ashia is three hours into his time at an Internet Cafe, south of Accra. It is 11:58 pm – in time for Curtis, the attendant, to change shift.

Ashia dozes off his remaining energy; the snooze doesn’t produce enough reprieve but he attempts to stay balanced, hoping the sleep would clear from his rather tired eyes.

There is grace in the way he perseveres to stay sane but his efforts at maintaining immovability are anything but significant. Soon, he would make himself a bed on the hard surface composed of two of the twelve chairs meant for customers of the 24-hour facility.

He goes off completely, snoring his pitiful self into the first few hours of a chilly Saturday morning.

It is business as usual for the 22 year-old Ashia, who has been frequenting the facility, two miles from where he lives in a community – compact and busy – in pursuit of an advanced-fee fraud venture.

While he catnaps, there is continued heavy, web-surfing activity inspired by the loud blurting of ‘Freedom’ by Ghanaian musician Shatta Wale, which is kept on repeat as though no other song mattered. Many here are in search of their cyber liberties, too.

The happenings make up for the eeriness of a night haunted by the humping noises of a nearby tree. A young man checks Instagram updates of Accra’s ‘big boys and girls’ to crowd-source his self esteem while another gobbles down his trepidation over a frozen Google Translator webpage, with a pack of spiced noodles that seesaw their way through his wide and ready mouth. Two seats north, a dreadlocked, pant-sagging participant is frustrated and red-eyed, constantly thumping his feet. A seat away, another negotiates a sneeze that proves hard to crack until an unprovoked Hausa counterblast of mutum banza cues in, inches from his left. He’s all good now.

Altogether, the scenes make for a mini festival of young minds holding on to dreams that wilt on and off their keyboard solaces. United by one resolve, all that matters to them is to make mince meat of paying culprits, mugus (West African slang for victims of internet scams) as they are code-named.

The occupants of the café are bonded by a common deed, one that they are not ashamed of. All of them are committed to their absolute code: they are entitled to whatever funds they are trying to get from their victims and would-be victims. It is a stance that is jealously guarded and inspired by schools of thought nursed and made up in many communities here in the national capital, Accra.

Ashia would finally come off his ‘bed’ at around 1am. He exits the cafe briefly to wash his face and rinse his mouth with a litre of bottled water. While the rinsing goes on, a second-hand Hyundai Accent shows up with enough loud music to drown a wayside preacher’s call for ultimate salvation and loving one’s neighbour as ‘thy self’. Kumi, Ashia’s friend of few months, owns the Accent; he got it after successfully making away with a decent sum from a victim. The money has also financed his rent and takes care of his high-flying lifestyle that knows little rest, and speaks many languages including chasing patriotic and benevolent butts in skimpy skirts.

Like most advance-fee fraud operators, Kumi likes his foolishness and courtesies where he can feel them both. At this very moment, he has chosen the former, and opens the front door of the car to increase the sound of the continuously screaming music. As he climbs up to join Ashia, his two other guests in the car – females with hour glass figures and extra minutes – step out to stretch their limbs, which have been cramped, a result of trekking heavily all night across the national capital, Accra. They return to the car, passing out in minutes on the reclined seats, leaving Kumi and Ashia to take care of the remainder of the early morning’s business.

The advance-fee fraud scene in Accra is bristling, operated by multifarious actors who stay relevant and irrelevant at many times. Ashia is currently aiming for another break, after splurging his virgin scam involving a US-based ‘lover’.

The tease. For eight months, Ashia sold himself as a Ghanaian ‘female’ beauty in search of love. Over many schemes, he weaved his way using various aliases – fake images, voices, and videos – to land what eventually became a good rip-off. Marcus, his victim, still believes he is loved and adored even after being sold lies in exchange for a romance that dies when a webpage is shut from the dark, empty internet underworld in Accra.

Ashia says the advance-fee fraud venture is a patient game, only pursued and sustained by persons who are willing to go the extra mile in search of their breakthroughs. Patience, he adds, is a talent that must be exercised if one is to make any headway.

“Some of the ‘clients’ are very difficult to convince so you have to try and try many times before getting them. Because of that, some give up. You have to work hard for it and that means you must be willing to wait; that is why I waited for eight months before I got my first breakthrough.”

Determination, persuasion, advanced scheming, and intense mind-games are added advantages to the trade, says Ashia, who went from being a six-pack hunk to his current status as a black female with breasts the size of a district.

“Before the US man, I was ‘chatting’ with this woman from Australia. That one, I went in as a man. She was a retired nurse who was also divorced. We got along well but she lost interest. Maybe she was distracted and saw through my ways.”

Ashia shows no remorse for the act he is engaged in, insisting the monies he gets from his victims are rightly his. Linking the stories to colonial rule and ‘what they took from us’, many here in this trade insist the Kingdom suffered violence and will take it back. By force.

Kumi believes same, too. A lanky young man who left school in the early 2000s due to lack of financial support, he goes about his trade with two hearts – the Kumi hard to submit, and the other who is dewy-eyed. All, he says, are part of a long game card.

His ‘Sakawa’ (as the advance-fee fraud is known locally) story has been shaped and prolonged by his resolve to stay afloat in a ship that has been rocked so many times by news of arrests.

“We hear of them [arrests] all the time; I don’t know why they keep arresting us. This is my job, too,” says Kumi, whose current lifestyle competes with the one of old; he is remembered in his community as that boy who could not afford the fine things of life.

“If I had not done this, I don’t know how I would have survived till now. This is enough to get me going. We all can’t be in suits and work in offices. Before this, I decided to look for a job but it didn’t work out. So I got introduced by some friends, who were living very well and could take care of their families.”

Daily, Kumi shadowboxes his Sakawa ways against society’s acceptance of what he calls a trade. Enough punches (criticisms) have landed on his face but all, he says, have done little to keep him away from the webpages of deceit and thievery spread across many, old system units and monitors in Accra’s fraud-friendly internet cafes.

Despite reminders that this could go terribly bad someday, Kumi insists too much wealth goes around the Sakawa world for him to quit, adding that as difficult as it is to resign, mainly for the good-bad context society judges it by, there is also a quick reminder of how unattractive poverty can be and why it shouldn’t be tolerated. The latter wins. All the time.

Nonetheless, Kumi agrees that the criticism do get to him, especially on one occasion when his father asked him “is this all you want to do?” Those questions – from close family relations who don’t approve of his fraudulent ways – are what usually cause turmoil in him, sticking up dark night moments, only subdued by alcohol and substance abuse that offer a messy outlet of self-hate.

“Sometimes, I just try to stay strong but it is not easy. When I think of the good life, I also reflect on what my family thinks of me. I have tried to explain to my father that I am doing this for the family; I don’t want my kid brother to struggle like I did. There has to be a way and I feel I am the one who should get things done. I hate poverty so I don’t want to go back to that.”

Kumi proudly backs his stance with how he comes through for the family, ensuring his brother and sister are able to, at least, live a decent life.

“I may not be doing the right thing but it pays the bill. My dad is getting used to that fact and I think I have not showed signs of stopping. It is true this is not how he wanted me to turn out but sometimes things happen. Maybe, one day when I am done getting enough, I will go out of this.” He laughs.

Conversations around Sakawa have generally portrayed it as a phenomenon which is gradually corrupting most of Ghana’s youth. It is propagated by constant stories of fetish-seeking young men and, sometimes, women going great lengths to cast spells on their victims.

But Kumi says, while those stories exist, there are a good number who have stayed ‘decent’, preferring to use their ‘naked eyes’ to get the goodies in.

“I have also heard about what some of the boys do to get these white people. I know some of these people. Some come here and, most times, try to talk me into it. But some of us, we started this thing long ago. I have not even visited one shrine before.”

He continues that the internet itself offers a sizeable vault of wisdom that should enable one to manoeuvre what may seem a daunting fraudulent task.

“There are ways you can go about this. There is so much on the internet. I don’t need to go see a fetish priest before scamming someone. It is all in the mind,” he says, getting a nod of approval from Ashia who also points to his head and yells ‘adwen keseɛ (Twi word for big brain).

The fetish (sorcery) industry has a strong hold on the activities of Sakawa traders. It ties into a bigger societal obsession for wealth – irrespective of how it is acquired. On most local radio and television stations, daytime and nighttime programming have been hijacked by self-professed money makers whose services range from lotto doctors with answers to the week’s puzzles, to pastors selling ordained oils of prosperity. It has so far proven a successful business enterprise as it continues to attract a lot of interest.

There are major players. Accra-based ‘lotto doctor’ Agyengo has airtime on some of the city’s radio stations. All week, he hops from one medium to the other, selling what he says are ‘two sure, two direct’ numbers that are yet to fail.

“Why do you want to be poor when I can easily change your destiny with these numbers? It is time for you to stand out in your family; why do you want to continue begging for food? Come and patronize my service and you will know that there are different levels to this. This is no fraud; I am just trying to help. Others are benefiting; this is your time to also drive that car, and own that house. Give me a call now, it is time for you to move out of that house and become your own boss,” he pitches on one of his radio shows.

Often aggressively pushing his craft, he ultimately asks his targets to send mobile money commitments after which they will be given the lotto numbers. Agyengo’s craft is aided by phone call-ins that seek to authenticate his claims of him being a saviour with enough lotto numbers to spare.

“I called to thank you for everything you have done for me. When you asked that we send the mobile money transfer, I did and you sent me the numbers. I went to stake them and won. I am grateful, Agyengo,” said a caller whose voiced appeared worked on in a studio, and only played back.

Despite often claiming innocence, the activities of these fortune sellers do not sit well with the larger Ghanaian public.

“People want to be rich overnight, hence the clamouring. It is normal to aim and dream big but how you get it also matters to the whole process. Unfortunately, these days, people don’t seem to care about how the wealth is got,” says Accra-based Pastor Gideon Opata-Bentum.

At the Madina-Atomic Roundabout in the capital, Accra, posters promising everlasting wealth and instant fortune have defaced a good portion of the pillars and walls, getting enough attention from passersby. One reads: “Say bye bye to poverty.” With numbers clearly written and directions indicated, the supposed witch doctors have their targets in sight. While most of these advertisements are convincing, they are only part of a ploy to dupe unsuspecting people including the Sakawa traders, says Kumi.

“A friend saw an advert the other day and he went to see the ‘witch doctor’. They went back and forth. The man asked him to do many things, like bringing some animal skin types, and a sample of his urine. He did all of that; gave the man a lot of money. But in the end, it turned out to be fake. Till date, he is yet to see the riches he was promised. The man does not pick his calls again. So, that is why I don’t believe these things work.

“Some of these witch doctors are themselves chasing the same money we want. So, it is surprising people believe in these things.”

For most players in the advance-fee fraud industry in Ghana, it is always a case of what pursuit threw at them. Kumi and Ashia say, theirs is passion to portfolio and a daily resolve to tackle the difficult sport of poverty.

“Ohia yɛ ya (poverty is painful),” says Ashia.

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A Queen’s homage on Ghana Music’s Biggest Night – Ebony’s VGMA + A Fancy-full One Corner Surprise

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In the packed hall, and the foyer outside, the speaker, whom we cannot see, but in whose voice we have constantly found jollity and a solid bond, summons great hush with her monologue on the subjects of life and destiny. On another day, it would be driven on peppy dance rhythm. On this night, those rhythms have been replaced by a rather solemn violin descant. Who could miss that charming cheeriness in her giggle; the same good humour by which we’ve long been enamored? Hands move towards purses, bags, breast pockets — where tissues and hankies have been neatly tucked, just in case… just in case…

And then, in the saintly clouds on which all eyes are fixed, where white doves soar peacefully, a beaming image of the late singer, whom this night is truly about, appears. She’s alive again! Ebony Reigns!

The tribute performance which follows, is poignant and fitting. And who else to execute such an extraordinary task, and on this night, than the all-star quartet comprising MzVee, Akosua Agyepong, Adina, and Efya? Between them, the singers embody the very attributes that Ebony Reigns (Prisicilla Opoku Kwarteng) demonstrated during her time here: grace, courage, soul, and love – elements that culminate into generational impact.

As a performer, Ebony  epitomized energy and delight. Whenever she mounted any stage, she was sure to bring the fire. Usually, an artist with a catalogue as hers, would have simply rode on the popularity of her songs. But not this Rufftown chanteuse. She exhibited superior mastery over the live performance, and always found a way to own the crowd. The four ladies rendering her songs tonight, excel at reenacting that.

Through four of her most notable songs (Date Your Fada, Hustle, Sponsor, and Maame Hwɛ), the beholding crowd, gathered at the Accra International Conference Centre this momentous Saturday night, and the multitudes watching around the continent, are taken through an intense journey of emotions. Dismantled and rearranged expertly, these renditions invoke grief, joy, and awe equally. During MzVee’s submission of “Date Your Fada”, Ebony’s family and team are still, grappling inwardly with the harsh sadness that the song strikes within their bosoms. For Ebony’s mum, it would quickly prove a fruitless venture as, moments into the performance, she simply wipes her eyes of tears, shaking her head in despair. Nobody prepares to confront the passing of her beloved daughter. Nobody teaches that.

Akosua Agyepong, the vivacious Highlife legend, inspires a more upbeat mood with her submission of “Hustle”. When she set out professionally in the 1990s, the singer had had to work twice as hard to prove herself as one to be taken seriously, never mind that she had been handpicked by an industry luminary, Nana Kwame Ampadu. By not allowing herself to be held back by the peculiar obstacles facing a woman pursuing music, she swiftly became an undisputed beacon, one whom Ebony unquestionably drew inspiration from. Tonight, 48 and with nearly 30 years of musical experience under her belt, the “Frema” hit maker, unscathed by age, is present to honour her musical daughter in the most apt way, discharging dance steps as though she is 20.

Adina delivers “Sponsor”, with honorable class and flair, and even draws a smile from the eyes of Ebony’s mum.

“Maame Hwɛ’, the last, and most absorbing in this medley, is rendered by Efya, Ghana’s leading female vocal technician since the mid 2000s. Before she starts, Ebony speaks again. This time, there’s a fear in her tone. She’s relating a prophecy about her death in a road accident. The emotion is a bit too much to take, and it is at this point that goose bumps are most chilling, and mourning sighs reverberate strongest.

The reason tonight is Ebony’s night, is partly down to the fights the quartet has put up over decades to make it possible for the Ghanaian female act to shine just as brightly as her male counterparts. And even as she ascended from being merely a fan to become their colleague, Ebony thrived on the knowledge that she had sisters and mothers as those onstage tonight, who have made her journey fruitful.

Ghana lost quite a number of renowned names in the past year or so: journalist Christopher Opoku, film veteran Kofi Buknor, Asempa FM’s Kwadwo Asare Baffour Acheampong (KABA), highlife doyens Awurama Badu, Paapa Yankson and CK Mann, but Ebony’s death hit us hardest — so much so, it eclipsed every other person’s demise.

On the night, the 19th edition of the scheme, Ebony is crowned “Artist of the Year” — the first ever woman to do it,  the first to do it from the grave, as well as the youngest. She also bags three other awards, reiterating her dominance on the night, as well as her impact in the year under review.

Ebony becomes the first female act to win the coveted Artist of the Year award. The laurel was received on her behalf by members of her family and her management. Credit: TWINSDNTBEG

Eulogising the singer in a video preceding Ebony’s tribute performance, ace rapper, Sarkodie was grateful that she shared her gifts with the world at all, however little:

“…she could have gone without giving us anything, but she actually did give us something to hold on to”.

Fondly called the “90s Bad Gyal”, Ebony’s time here was awfully short. She died days to her 21st birthday, but her influence was astounding; multiple hits since she was 18, numerous memorable performances which can be revisited via a quick search on YouTube, and the outstanding BONYFIED album, which is also named “Album of the Year” at the event.

“Thank you for giving us this incredible time,” said Sarkodie, concluding his farewell video. He speaks for himself, but also aptly captures the exact sentiment of all who witnessed her talent.

 

==================================================================

Put together by Charterhouse Productions, the 2018 Vodafone Ghana Music Awards, which was compered by broadcaster Berla Mundi and actor Jon Dumelo,  also witnessed performances from top names as Joe Mettle, Sarkodie, King Promise, Kwesi Arthur, MzVee, KiDi, Kuami Eugene, Nigeria’s Tiwa Savage, and South African hiphop act, Nasty C.

Like Ebony, Sarkodie picked 4 awards, but in lesser categories. Stonebwoy was named Best Dancehall act for the fourth year straight, and Northern star, Fancy Gadam caused the night’s biggest upset winning Most Popular Song of the Year over Patapaa’s “One Corner”. 

Shatta Wale’s return to the scheme after four years made little difference as the “Taking Over” man, together with his “Militants” won a single award for Best Collaboration.

Joe Mettle, who won Artist of the Year in 2017 walked home with laurels for Gospel Song of the Year for ‘Bo Noo Ni’, Male Vocalist of the Year, and Gospel Artist of the Year.

Finally, Mary Naa Amanua Doodo, lead singer for the famous Wulomei Band, was handed the lifetime achievement award. 

Full list of winners below:

Artist of the Year

Ebony

Gospel Song of the Year

‘Bo Noo Ni’ by Joe Mettle

Hip-hop Song of the Year

‘Grind Day (Remix)’ by Kwesi Arthur

Reggae/Dancehall Song of the Year

‘My Own’ by Samini

Hiplife Song of the Year

‘Total Cheat’ by Fancy Gadam ft Sarkodie

Afropop Song of the Year

‘Sponsor’ by Ebony

Highlife Song of the Year

‘Odo’ by Kidi

Gospel Artist of the Year

Joe Mettle

Highlife Artist of the Year

Kuami Eugene

Hiplife/Hip-hop Artist of the Year

Sarkodie

Songwriter of the Year

Bullet for ‘Maame Hw3’

Reggae/Dancehall Artist of the Year

Stonebwoy

Best Collaboration of the Year

Shatta Wale & SM Militants (Taking Over)

Rapper of the Year

Sarkodie

Best Group of the Year

Wutah

Best Music Video of the Year

‘Obi Agyi Obi Girl’ by Gyo of Phamous Philms

Best Male Vocalist of the Year

Joe Mettle

Best Female Vocalist of the Year

Adina

African Artist of the Year

Davido

Record of the Year

‘State of the Art’ by Teephlow

Best New Artist of the Year

Kuami Eugene

Song of the Year

‘Total Cheat’ by Fancy Gadam ft Sarkodie

Album of the Year

Bonyfied (Ebony)

Traditional Artist of the Year

Amamerefo Music and Dance Ensemble

Instrumental Artist of the Year

Dominic Quashie

Lifetime Achievement Award

Mary Naa Amanua Doodo of Wulomei

 

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Hail Mufasa, FULL of Grace, Everlasting King – CASSPER Nyovest – AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

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MUFASA [noun]: king!

Of Swahili origin, the word feels like thunder. It implies exemplary leadership, and assumed global prominence via the 1994 Disney classic, The Lion King. These days, it’s also an alter-ego that South African hip-hop titan, Cassper Nyovest, functions under.

When, in 2004, he sought his parent’s blessings to drop out of school to pursue music fulltime, it was a heavy blow to them. His father, Latsebela Phoolo, for one, was a renowned teacher in the town –and it was not a good look. The house was not exactly thrilled. But 16-year-old Nyovest (whom they named Refiloe Maele Poolo) was resolute in his ambition: “…I’d rather chase my dream, which I believe is going to work out, than keeping it safe and regret it my whole life,” he had told them.

Today, at 27, the rapper is in every way, Mufasa – emperor of African hip-hop, a multi-platinum selling act who has shared stages with the very greats, and is famous for regularly drawing multitudes to his concerts, including a record-shattering 68, 000 fans at the First National Bank (FNB) Stadium, Johannesburg last December.

Today, at 27, the rapper is in every way, Mufasa. Images: Instagram/ CASSPER NYOVEST


STARR FM, Meridian House – Accra.

A young photographer rushes into the studios first, holding a black camera with both hands. Nimbly, he pans the shooting device around the room. Starr Drive host Giovanni Caleb, is blending pop tunes behind a console, and co-host Berla Mundi’s eyes are glued to the screen of her MacBook.

The camera’s lens returns to the glass door through which it’s handler has just walked.

Enter Cassper, leader of the force!

He is followed by an entourage of four, and holds an iPhone to his face. Handshakes and felicitations bounce around in the room. Before he sits down in the sofa by the wall, Cassper takes several selfies and, alongside a picture of the Starr FM logo on the purple wall, he tweets: “Ghana tune in!!! We here!!! STARR FM!!! 103.5!!! 

Cassper in the studios of Starr FM, Accra. Image: Instagram/ CASSPER NYOVEST

Accra is clearly home to the Mafikeng native just as much. Notice the calm liberty in his gait, and the overall peace in his demeanor. He sports a full beard, and sparkly jewelry hang from his neck, out his ears and left nostril, and on both wrists. But for the black sunglasses behind which his eyes are hidden this afternoon, his colour of choice is pink. His t-shirt is bereft of sleeves, and his majestic biceps are on full display. His shorts end at the knees, and his feet are covered in trendy white trainers. He’s just climbed up the Meridian House for a radio interview, but he could well be going to the gym.

When Ed Sheran’s “Shape of You” comes on, he nods and sings along ardently. He’s deeply impressed by the mix, and his face contorts into one of intense passion when he yells to Giovanni over the loud music: “Is that you doing the mix?”. Giovanni smiles and nods in the affirmative. “That’s sick bro!” says Cassper (who also constantly uses urban jargons “lit” and “dope”), shaking his head in awe.

Due to time constrains, my conversation with the rapper, which happens over a fleeting ten minutes, but which he describes as “dope” nonetheless, takes place right in the Starr FM studios, during a lengthy musical break, contrary to a nearby restaurant we had earlier scheduled it.

 The rapper’s motives for visiting these parts are simple: “to check out the scene, spread the name, record some music…”. But, in 2018, what is the evidence that one’s trip to Shatta Wale’s Ghana has truly been worthwhile? He must perform the “One Corner Dance”, submit positive judgment on Jollof from this town, and experience Shatta heat simply for calling someone else his favorite dancehall singer. Before he flies out to Uganda on Thursday for the Full Moon Party, Cassper undergoes all these rites. Therefore, he was here some!

The alias Mufasa, more than aptly defines the rapper’s stature in African hip-hop, especially over the past few years. For one thing, it is testament of how steadily and imposingly he has proven himself in the ranks of African hip-hop. If anyone still harbors misgivings on why his name is so frequent in discourse about the continent’s biggest rap exports, here are one or two facts: all three albums he’s published have gone platinum; he’s been honored nearly 40 times by a plethora of high-profile schemes (Channel O Music Video Awards, MTV Africa Music Awards, South Africa Music Awards, SA Hip-hop Awards, All Africa Music Awards – AFRIMA, Urban Music People Awards, etc); topped many “Best MC’ lists, collaborated with culture elders as The Game, Talib Kweli, MI Abaga, Kwesta, HHP, DJ Drama, Black Thought among others; and filled up arenas where pop giants as Justin Timberlake, Rihanna, Chris Brown, and Trey Songz have all fallen short.

“I felt like I was in the position to…kind of…lead in African hip-hop,” says Cassper about his decision to adopt Mufasa as alias, and there’s no debate there. Easily the fastest –rising act South Africa has ever witnessed, Cassper’s feats have yet to be matched.

Easily the fastest-rising act South Africa has ever witnessed, Cassper’s feats have yet to be matched. Images: Instagram/ CASSPER NYOVEST

Family!

Like the character in the Disney film, the rap Mufasa holds his household very dear. Two of his albums: Tsolofelo (2014), and Thuto (2017) were named after his sisters, and his family has constantly been the subject of his songs. When anyone has made unsavory comments about his kinfolk, they have had to face legal action for instance, because he’s always held that his family functions as his backbone, and will be respected. The man even christened his record label Family Tree.

“Family means everything to me. I’m family-oriented. Also, my blessings, I believe, come from the prayers my family send up [to heaven]. My family has made a lot of sacrifices for me to get to where I am… and t’s just my support structure. I live with my sisters. My mum is also practically at my house all the time, so I come from a very loving family”.

He divulges, with genteel pride, that his grandmother, at a point, had not less than 26 people living under her roof – something that has influenced his culture of having a large family around. Indeed, he also admits that, for his FNB gig, he was willing to part with everything (including his cars, and resort to taxi service, Uber) to make the concert happen, but could not bring himself to letting his house go – not just because it was a beautiful place, but more importantly, because of who inhabits it – his family.

FAMILY! Image: Mzansi Stories

It is Possible!

Hip-hop portrays a precise story: the journey from penury to opulence. It is perhaps, why the philosophy of trophies is so dominant in the culture. Whether they are plaques, or jewelry, or cars, or record sales, they represent a redemption. For the teenager who nurses faith in a better tomorrow, the aggressive profligacy displayed in the lyrics and music videos resonate with him in a peculiar way.  “It is possible! My life will not always be like this”, he would assure himself with a sigh and a smile. Young Cassper experienced these exact thoughts: “I grew up loving cars and stuff…”

“I grew up loving cars and stuff…” Image: Instagram/ CASSPER NYOVEST

It’s Bigger Than Hip-hop! 

By all means, supercars are a significant accomplishment. But having finally achieved all these, he would realize that higher desires existed in this life, such as the need to shift culture: I got to a point [where] I still enjoy having sports cars and whatever, but they don’t mean as much to me anymore”.

Rather, he deems them as investments. It is why he didn’t hesitate in putting his cars up for sale for the FNB show:

“At that moment, my dream meant more than having a car…you know what I’m saying? Having a car doesn’t mean anything when the stadium is empty, or you don’t have [the] exact stage that you wanted to have, and you don’t give people the experience that you wanted to give them…so, I would [rather] do without everything I didn’t need to make sure that this dream comes true”.

 Again, the FNB gesture was to prove how seriously he takes his craft, and the influence that it has accorded him, “… to show people that I’m all in – and I needed them to be all in as well. I’m not half-stepping”.

“I wanted to’ to show people that I’m all in – and I needed them to be all in as well. I’m not half-stepping.” Cassper performs to 68,000 at the FNB Stadium (Johannesburg) in December, 2017.  Image: Instagram/ CASSPER NYOVEST

 Also known as Soccer City or The Calabash, the FNB is the largest stadium in Africa. Casper’s bid to fill it was the boldest attempt by any SA musician. Just 7000 shy of the 75, 000 target, the numbers were still an iconic milestone, swiftly catapulting the show unto global headlines. But what did it mean to Mr. Nyovest himself?

 “It was important for me as an African in general. When you break it down to me firstly being a South African, then me being a South African Hip-hop artist, and then being an independent South African hip-hop artist, then it becomes too personal. But for me, it was really more about just being an African and making headlines all around the world about what happened in Africa last night”.

 “…it felt good for me to make news as an African for the good reasons –cuz we’re always in the news for …you know what I’m saying…corruption, poverty, and all that stuff that’s going in our continent, so it was just dope to be in the news for some dope stuff.”

At this point in his career, filling up stadiums has become normal. This year, he intends to take the series to the 85 000 capacity Moses Mabhida stadium, Durban. Fearless ambition has ensured that the man is ahead of the pack by quite a stretch.

At this point in his career, filling up stadiums has become normal. Image: Instagram/ CASSPER NYOVEST

Cassper is not only music overlord of the “rainbow nation”. His inroads elsewhere are also noteworthy. For example, he has performed in more African countries than any other rapper, and this year will see him consolidate his impact on the continent. Indeed, his trip to Ghana is in this direction.

Rap virtually requires an arrogance from its practitioners. It’s about mounting your flag and defending it with every drop of your blood. And yet, at its very core is respect for the efforts of other worthy soldiers in the game. This is a key element to his solid footing as a leading name in rap circles. He does not hide his admiration for fellow African acts who are excelling too, because he subscribes to the notion that everyone is king in their land. “The best thing to do is collaborate […] it’s all about growing together as Africans, and building each other…”, he suggests –so that, a time will come when he will be able to sell out venues in Ghana, and colleague Sarkodie for instance, can do same in South Africa. It’s bigger than hip-hop.

Often, the man a person becomes is homage to the man who raised him. Specifically, in this regard, Cassper’s dad is Superman. Image: Instagram/ CASSPER NYOVEST

Superman!

Often, the man a person becomes is homage to the man who raised him. Specifically, in this regard, Cassper’s dad is Superman.

“My father is a great man cuz he made a lot of great people. He was a teacher. So, my father was never like a successful businessman, but he taught successful businessmen. There are so many people that came from him…from his teachings. I’m one of them…my popularity mostly comes from my humility, and that’s what I learned from my dad, so I’m a product of my father”, Cassper relates about his dad.

The way he closes this glowing homage, one gets the impression that Latsebela Phoolo is not merely a name, but a title too: “his name is Latsebela Phoolo!”.

Full Circle!

Cassper’s mum, Mme Muzuki Phoolo, calls him “messiah” now.  And why not? His career thus far is proof of what a powerful visionary he was, even at 16. The decision to allow young Refiloe to chase his dreams has paid off richly.

“It’s overwhelming for my mum to put me on such a high pedestal and to motivate me in such a way, especially with Bible scriptures …because she’s such a great person, and such a wise person. So, anything that my mum could say that shows that she’s proud of me really makes me proud …it makes me feel good about myself and the steps that I’ve taken. Because, also, I come from a point where my parents were not really happy about me dropping out of school, so the fact that they’re happy about how my life turned out is really dope”.

With our dialogue over, Cassper walks up to one of the swivel chairs, across the massive table from Giovanni. He wears one of the large headphones, and before he sits to engage Accra, he does a minute of the famous Shaku Shaku dance, a recent pop invention by Nigeria’s Olamide. Guy’s got moves, too.

All hail the Mufasa.

* A multiple-award-winning musician, producer, and businessman, Cassper is CEO of Family Tree Records, his independent imprint. At the forthcoming Vodafone- sponsored Ghana Music Awards, he has ben nominated alongside Davido, Wizkid, Toofan, Cassper Nyovest, Nasty C, Tiwa Savage, and Olamide for “Best African Artiste of the Year”. Get Thuto, his latest album here.

Cassper reunites with Stonebwoy while in Ghana for a follow -up to their 2015 joint, “Fever”. Image: Instagram/ Cassper Nyovest

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A Queen’s demise, a country’s LOSS…. She is our Ebony & SHE Reigns – OBITUARY

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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.

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Throughout the YEARS: A Sarkcessful rap King still Living a Dream

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Sarkodie belongs to an elite group from the continent who have proven doyens across multiple genres. Thus, while he is considered a hip-hop god, he is perceived in a similar light within Afrobeats circles. Seamlessly, he moves from rap, to pop, and back; dance-ready music with Runtown, followed by a hard-hitting partnership with Jayso and Big Narstie.

The SarkCess man’s adaptability to rhythm, coupled with the fact that he ranks among the most decorated performers from these parts, have secured him constant presence in debates pertaining to true greats of his generation. In a terrain dominated by Nigeria, and South Africa to an extent, the rapper (born Michael Owusu Addo), has on numerous occasions, defiantly and single-handedly, kept the Ghana flag high, and made an important case for art from the West African nation.

Over five albums and with smooth charm, Sarkodie has cemented his place as Ghana’s most influential rapper in this new millennium, but does this reputation extend to the rest of the continent?

Is Sark the greatest African rapper now working?

While there may not be a straightforward answer to this question (because of the likes of MI, Nasty C, Nyovest, Olamide, AKA, Kaligraph Jones et al), it is hardly erroneous to include Sarkodie in any “Top 5” list worthy of the name.

Choosing to rap in his native Twi (periodically augmenting it with English and/or Pidgin), Sarkodie has constantly fashioned memorable auditory experiences employing a brisk, engaging flow. When he first began, it was feared, despite numerous precedents, and the overall perception of music as a “universal language”, that Twi would prove a disadvantage for him. But staunch support from the diaspora, and the world’s inquisitive palette toward Afrobeats (via Ghanaian sub-genre Azonto, which Sarkodie is pioneer of), ensured that he became a bona fide superstar.  Really, no other rapper has affected modern African rhythm quite like Sarkodie has –Wizkid, Tekno, Mr Eazi, and Davido’s contributions have arrived through singing; Juls, Masterkraft, and Legendury Beatz achieved it playing beats. This is a key component that sets the “U Go Kill Me” man apart from his contemporaries.

KINGS! Sarkodie poses with MI ABAGA backstage a recent award ceremony. Credit: Instagram/ SARKODIE

In his polemic 2017 offering, “You Rappers Should Fix Up Your Lives”, MI courted flak for suggesting that African hip-hop was now –being dictated by South Africa. Music debates around here tend to be very political, and assertions like MI’s quickly fester rivalry like you would find among siblings, and so, whether it is deeply-founded in fact or not, it is not something everybody would readily accept.

Not long after filling up the FNB stadium (Soweto) in a historic hip-hop concert, South African colleague and fellow contender for the accolade of “greatest African rapper today”, divulged observations that corroborate the MI’s argument on “You Rappers Should Fix Up Your Lives”. Within those statements which ultimately saw him discuss the state of hip-hop on the continent, he also acknowledged Sarkodie’s excellence.

“South African Hip-hop is in the forefront of African Hip-hop in general. It might not be as popular as it is in South Africa in Nigeria. But I know for a fact that rappers from Nigeria are kinda unknown in SA, he told Pulse.ng in an interview. “If we talk about crossing over, I know that a lot of people in Nigeria know about my music. I know that in Kenya and Ghana, it’s the same thing.

“I’m not just talking about me; I’m talking about a movement. Sarkodie is big in Ghana, but are there other rappers who are as big as Sarkodie from Ghana? The South African hip-hop movement is big across, also in London, New York…we are out there performing in different countries”.

Sarkodie and Cassper Nyovest. Image: Instagram/ SARKODIE

Now, when an act who has drawn crowds of nearly 70, 000 in a hip-hop show –not Afropop –makes such a pronouncement, it must be taken seriously. And his point is valid to a point. As a collective, South African acts generally do hold the fort today, followed by Nigeria.

Cassper’s also right when he suggests that Sarkodie lead’s Ghanaian hip-hop by a decent stretch. With over 60 local and international awards in his cabinet, the Tema native also stands as among Africa’s most decorated hip-hop performer. Indeed, in an October 2017 tweet reacting to Sarkodie’s list of laurels (consisting honours from the Vodafone Ghana Music Awards, BET Awards, MOBO Awards, EMYs, MAMAs, AFRIMMAs among others), Cassper deems Sarkodie’s feats “inspiring”. Similar messages have come from English Grime act, Stormzy, for instance. “Legend in this ting”, he acknowledges. Despite clear dominance by South Africa and Nigeria as premium hip-hop nations, Sarkodie’s efforts have raised Ghana as an impressive third force.

For the school that holds that Sark is the greatest African to do it yet, it is rooted in something more than mere fanatic exuberance. In Ghana, the distance he gives other hip-hop acts is so glaring, it makes little sense to contest it. Most rap acts in this town pale against his brand in terms of catalogue, consistency, and overall craft. Of course, all this has culminated in the fact that he has remained default nominee for the coveted Artist of the Year category at the Ghana Music Awards for the greater part of a decade.

An impartial comparison of Sarkodie and say, Olamide, would prove that the former has made more pronounced inroads with an indigenous language. “Rendezvous’, MI Abaga’s latest project, could be the most influential hip-hop work published by a Nigerian this year, without doubt. But really, that’s it. Much of the glory MI Abaga enjoys currently is as a result of previous work. And so truthfully, Sarkodie occupies today, the level that MI used to be at. Of course, that is not to take anything away from Mr. Abaga’s place as African legend. Cassper’s milestones are as a result of the efficient infrastructure that South Africa boasts of, still, he’s not as popular, frankly.  There’s no question about Khaligraph’s mettle as lyricist, only, he’s too obscure.

This very moment, Sarkodie does stand tall among his peers on the continent. It may not be by such a stretch as is being witnessed in relation to his Ghanaian colleagues, but he is the highest. Consistency and an unflinching dedication to game plan that actually works, have proven this. Posterity will too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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