“Now this story begins in a small town, in the ass crack of nowhere. A mining town of yonder, on the edge of the frontier. A land of crooks, villains, gamblers, drunks and wild women. Even in this crazy old town, there has to be some sort of law and order…”
While one group, after seeing Shatta Wale’s new visual offering, hails it as an unprecedented display of creative valor, making it the most iconic submission by a Ghanaian musician in a long time, another, a more cynical faction, simply can’t fathom the fuss, and deems the work as exclusively an ostentatious picture of contradictions.
Whichever standpoint you take on the Gringo debate, the talkability that it has commanded upon release, is massive. And seeing that it is in Wale’s nature to fester daily debate, more so ahead of a new album, it has proven wildly successful. It currently sits atop both iTunes charts and the YouTube index.
Directed by the famed Sesan Ogunro (who also shot the singer’s Bulletproof, among other works for other top GH acts), the 7-minute video/ short film complements Gringo, the first single off the dancehall firebrand’s forthcoming The Reign album. It is also his first major release since joining new creative powerhouse, ZYLOFON Music. Clearly this wasn’t just another release, hence the pomp that has characterised both its making and eventual release.
“Now here’s something you don’t see everyday. Who do we have here? A wandering stranger. Skin’s dark as night. Clad in the finest of silk, gold, and cotton. Is he lost? Whoever this ombré is, he sure ain’t here to ask for directions”.
The Shatta Factor:
Since the turn of this decade, Shatta Wale, who is known to his mother as Charles Nii Armah Mensah, has remained at the heart of the GH showbiz discussion. A combination of factors has ensured his perpetual residence on tabloids in these parts; for one thing, he has been a core contributor to what songs truly move Accra.
On Don’t Try, a scorching 2016 warning to whomever it concerns, he roars: “we dey drop hit song each and every year”. At the time he made that claim, he had amassed an extensive catalogue to back it up, and his infinite penchant to unleash street anthems with little effort, continue to corroborate him as prophet, for he is what one may call “a hit factory”. For another, he is bearer of an abrasive fearlessness which knows no bounds. Many of his actions as a result, because they stir controversy, have kept him newsworthy. Thirdly, his fierce charisma has courted for him, a mammoth constituency of disciples. It takes something to be Shatta Wale.
Now, on any other day, folks would get on about their business, but you see, this ain’t just another day.
ZYLOFON Vrs. Cultural Imposition
The ZYLOFON approach has always meant a bigger budget, and so though official numbers have yet to be published, it shows in the video –the ample financial dollar on which the work is founded.
Again, the ZYLOFON approach, as has been pontificated to us all along, is one of cultural imposition; Ghana has so much wealth in terms of craft and culture. For a long time, the rest of the world had tasted it in little doses, but this was a new dawn; and they were going to be inundated by it. And yet, it is difficult to identify anything relating to this theme in the highly-publicized work – not in the song, not in the video, which was shot in Texas, USA. If anything at all, the reverse it what appears to be happening –Shatta Wale rather seems enamoured by, and is keen on perpetuating the cowboy culture. And that causes great unease. But hey, he made country folk sway to dancehall music. That’s something.
And so here we are. Sundown. There can only be one big dog around these parts, and as the saying goes, every good thing must come to an end. I guess bad things come to an end too.
Song Vrs Video:
Gringo is set in Smalltown (1886), on the edge of the frontier. EL Shatta, played by the dancehall firebrand, having won the heart of Jasmine, the beautiful girlfriend of the dreaded Snake Eye (sheriff of the land) fights to defend his love and honor. Insofar as it captures Shatta Wale’s heroism, the work is well-made. The remarkable journey of an outlier who, against all odds, swoops in fearlessly to challenge the status-quo, and prevails, is rendered compellingly via powerfully rich narration, arresting cinematography, and immaculate post-production. That it doesn’t really do justice to the song is for another paragraph.
The school that holds that the video conflicts with the song, presents a solid argument: the song loiters about many themes which are hard to piece together: approved apparel for a “bad man”, how far into the womb a good penis should reach, rapper Cardi B’s luscious body, why Shatta’s crew is the talk of town, who is custodian of the best marijuana, bleaching, domestic violence…On the song, he hollers at one Gringo; in the video, he turns out to be the Gringo (which translates from Spanish as “stranger”). It sounds like Shatta was led by rhyme and not much else, for the dissonance couldn’t be more glaring, and real substance is lost on the consumer.
Peculiar reticence to music videos:
Typically, Shatta Wale would rather release music than focus on publishing a video. The streets don’t demand much…just the download link to the song. Because he’s modelled his career on street love, music videos have never been the priority. It is apparent in how many of his hits cannot boast of fitting accompanying visuals, or visuals at all. Indeed, sources close to the singer, divulge that he only recently got purged of his curious reticence towards publishing music videos. And so, one may even say he deserves some accolades for releasing as many music videos as he did last year, for instance.
In a way, Wale does have a point; a good song needs not a video to sell, and examples abound to back this assertion. But when a musician gets to the heights that he has, a music video –a great music video — becomes fundamental. And if it arrives as anything less than the quality expected of an A -list name, then backlash is close by.
Shatta Wale hardly gets enough plaudits for what a mastermind he is with (self) promotion, and how versed he’s demonstrated to be over the years, in the dynamics of branding. If a music video is now a prerequisite, it will be done only on his terms. More likely than not, the brouhaha surrounding the video to Gringo was all deliberately planned, and in a boardroom somewhere at East Legon, team members are popping expensive champagne, laughing and congratulating one another for such a genius plan.
Artistically, a video does so much for a song/ album in terms of determining its overall tone, and even serving as an extension of the work. David Nicol – Sey’s work on the first couple of videos off Sarkodie’s Highest is testament to this. Sey’s videos were excellent in packaging the overall feel of the project. It is unclear that Gringo does same for The Reign, aside making it showbiz fodder. Again, time will tell.
But Gringo will fly, solely because it relates to Shatta Wale, and as an artist, he complies by no rule. Again, the Shatta demographic consists no pushovers. They will find a way to seize mainstream buzz. However, as his best foot forward regarding The Reign, it is unconvincing, especially going by the singer’s own standards. After the Storm, his last album, followed a plethora of explosive singles (Mahama Paper, Baby Chop Kiss, Kakai, Hol It, Kill Dem Wif Prayers, Bie Gya, If I Collect, Dancehall King). The same cannot be said about The Reign, which remains very much a mystery at this point. Perhaps this new approach has made all the difference, and posterity will prove Gringo’s merit, and by extension, The Reign‘s.
As one story ends, another begins. Who is this strange cowboy? Whoever he is, he will never be forgotten.
Christopher L. Winbush
Cynthia S. Dire
Vicky Dempsey Burns
Linda Jo Dominey