FRIDAY NOVEMBER 2, ABORIGINES BEACH RESORT, KETA — It’s 9 in the evening, and Edemfest 2018 has picked up properly.
It’s exactly how rapper Edem (host and headline act) envisioned it weeks ago, when we had come to inspect the venue ahead of the concert. As soon as we had taken our very first steps into the lavish sands at the beach that afternoon, something sparked within him. Mildly possessed, he proclaimed: “the stage for go that side,” pointing to his far right —”we go put barricades for the front there — the crowd go be massive — the drone shots go be sick…” Right there, in the middle of nothing but peaceful sands under a peaceful sun, the dreadlocked man, wearing a white T-shirt, shorts and slippers, saw what would ensue tonight — his own answer to Coachella.
They say artists are prophets too.
The drones are up alright, documenting happenings within a mammoth crowd of revelers. White tents line the edges of the square. Sunlight has given way to night, and noon decorum has been replaced by cheers from patrons, sweating in boogie despite beach breeze. On the stage, musicians — upcoming and A-listers alike —are taking turns, rousing the gathering with a rich repertoire of h-i-t-s: HITS! The line-up of performers will do that – a levered contingent, it includes (but is not limited to) Shaker, Ko-jo Cue, Keeny Ice, Method Ranking, Obibini, Agbeshie, EL, Gemini, Kofi Kinaata, DJ Black, and rumored surprise act, Stonebwoy.
This is the second year Edem (Denning Edem Hotor) is holding the festival. It could as well be the tenth, for it has arrived in a permanent spirit. Like Hogbetsotso, the local traditional festival it precedes, Edemfest has come to be expected and taken seriously by the Volta folk, and indeed, all of Ghana. This has informed plans by the artist and his team to take it to other parts of the country. Last year, Edemfest was held at the Keta High Street. The numbers were just as explosive – an estimated 20,000. Compered by Bright Elis, a gifted broadcaster and MC based in the region, Edemfest is a deliberately curated never-ending bash. At every point during the show, more partygoers pour steadily into the already chockfull grounds from the bus stop 300 meters away, down the beach road. They are insistent on partaking in this musical pilgrimage, however little – these believers who have come to behold their champion –they are resolute about retaining individual memories of this notable affair between their temples, and in the storehouse that is their iPhones. They’re dressed like American youth, in denims and bright shoes, funky hair and contented smiles. Once they are within earshot of the music blaring from the stage, they assume the role of choristers, bellowing punchlines and hooks of songs that have constituted the region’s soundtrack for several months.
While it is customary for an artist of his stature to put up a show in honour of his homeland, Edem, custodian of an enviable stock of albums and laurels, also planned Edemfest with CSR impetus. This year, the event operates under the objective of tackling sand winning, and open defecation. Last year, it addressed the perils of illegal fishing.
The daily devastating effects of illegal sand mining on Ghana’s coastlands cannot be overemphasized. Environmental degradation and the plummeting of tourism opportunity as a result are among an array of repercussions. Indeed, some experts have compared the effects of sand winning to the galamsey menace.
A 2017 UNICEF report reveals that 208 districts in Ghana still engage in open defecation. Earlier this year, the Global Media Foundation (GLOEMF) reveales that open defecation cost our economy about $79 million each year. “These are clearly staggering statistics that must be addressed as a matter of urgency,” said Edem during the press launch launch of Edemfest 2018.
The road trip from Accra commenced while the sun still shone brightly in the sky. When we arrived at the festival grounds, anadwo was already in session. A smooth and tiring journey, the ride was complete with good stories and an unbelievably satisfying 90s hip-hop/hiplife playlist that segued into a Sean Paul—dominated reggae session by the time we reached.
Who is Verbs, whose dancehall performance swiftly finds a fan in a stranger like me? Who is DJ Prospect, who holds the fort without fault, until DJ Black, the legend took over? Who is Lyrical Joe, a sweltering hip-hop act whose live performance I am witnessing for the first time, but whose place as new king is, in my estimation, only months away? Who’s the handsome young man whose lovely Agbadza number heralds Edem’s entry? That gentleman too, for his astounding awareness and competence of ancestral melody, is set for greater heights. Therefore, Edemfest not only allows for top-tier acts to reconnect with their fans, but also provides a significant platform for new voices to be heard. Where else would they get to perform to thousands at this stage in their careers? How else would they be noticed, for their big break to be truly facilitated? Edemfest has also become an avenue for reconnecting to heritage, and reviving confidence in our potential as a people, as well as contributing to the economic development of the area.
Edem himself, when he takes those first few steps across the stage, does so with the majesty of a lion overseeing his pride, then stops, looks around and imbibes the cheers as gasoline. A microphone is handed to him from behind. He turns it into a wand. He jumps from the stage, unto a giant speaker in front of him. It is where he will rain down the first verse of “Heyba,” the ferocious battle cry which sets him on his way at Edemfest 2018. With his wand, he begins to steer the crazed multitude that has gathered for him, with personalized incantations: “Heyba,” “Over Again,” “Girlfriend,” “Fokoloyor,” “Delilah,” “The One,” “Go Harder,”“Power” etc.
Since the start of his career, he has asserted himself as musical lord, feeding his people with rich anthems while still helping emerging talent with his strong right hand.
The apogee of the event; a streak of performances crowned by Stonebwoy’s unannounced appearance onstage alongside the “Koene” man for a medley of their cherished duets (most prominently, “Power”), invokes live tremors under our feet. My media tag is rendered useless as I am suddenly now sharing the designated press pit with animated fans, bare-chested and trembling with the joy of being within arm’s reach of an idol’s touch –doing everything to get noticed by him; to land a handshake, or a knuckle-to-knuckle greeting. Their eyes are wide with something: an aggression which reveals itself as joy, or a joy which reveals itself as aggression. In the end though, they mean no harm – these fans who brave fierce resistance from security personnel in front of the stage. They only want him –their icon –to know that they have been fans since March of 2006, when “Witine Woshi” first came out –and that they will remain fans long after both they and the artist have vacated the earth. It is a remarkable exchange.
In these moments, when my view has been completely obstructed by a dozen flags displaying Edem’s face or logo, my height proving little help, it is via friend and colleague, NYDJ’s camera screen, held aloft in a steady hand, that I get a piece of the action. It is how I watch the entirety of Edem’s set, and EL’s, and Kinaata’s. When they are onstage, these acts become something else –half man, half beast. Their faces contort into strange shapes, only the whites of their eyes showing through the corners of sunglasses while they are roaring rap threats, shiny sweat dripping down the sides of their faces as copious white smoke curls up behind them. It presents both fascinating and bloodcurdling view.
Another 5-6 hour journey awaits me in a few hours, when I set off for Accra. I’ll have a rich story to relate; on heroes and culture, music and influence, pure sands and blue skies, elegant dams and the fair-skinned Ewe dame.
Edem is head huncho of his independent label, VRMG. His new body of work, “The African Answer” is scheduled for release early next year. That project has so far been led with the singles “Mighty Jesus” and “Hurricane.” Edemfest 2018 was put together in partnership with Clayman Impression, Griddle Kitchen, Gbevunation, Rythms Africa, and Genet Services. Sponsors include Snappy Snacks, MTN, Aborigines Beach Resort, and Betway, while JK Horgle Transport, OBZ Group of Companies, and Top Oil constituted key donors.
Images (Courtesy Edem/ FACEBOOK):