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 On this night, those rhythms have been replaced by a rather solemn violin descant.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.
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
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
Highlife Artist of the Year
Hiplife/Hip-hop Artist of the Year
Songwriter of the Year
Bullet for ‘Maame Hw3’
Reggae/Dancehall Artist of the Year
Best Collaboration of the Year
Shatta Wale & SM Militants (Taking Over)
Rapper of the Year
Best Group of the Year
Best Music Video of the Year
‘Obi Agyi Obi Girl’ by Gyo of Phamous Philms
Best Male Vocalist of the Year
Best Female Vocalist of the Year
African Artist of the Year
Record of the Year
‘State of the Art’ by Teephlow
Best New Artist of the Year
Song of the Year
‘Total Cheat’ by Fancy Gadam ft Sarkodie
Album of the Year
Traditional Artist of the Year
Amamerefo Music and Dance Ensemble
Instrumental Artist of the Year
Lifetime Achievement Award
Mary Naa Amanua Doodo of Wulomei