“See how peaceful proceedings are here; no gidigidi whatsoever,” said a weary voice from a scruffy jacket in the yard, to no one in particular. “I’ve not even sighted wee around here,” he continued the unsolicited oration. “Had it been the other guy’s show, this whole venue would reek of illicit odors.” Passing by was a woman of say, forty, hawking bottled water also indulging in anti-Wale language, more plainly this time: “get your BHIM water, get your BHIM water…it’s good for Shatta fever.” A smallish man ordering kebabs chuckled at the scenario as he recalled a passage from the book of Job. In a realm far away, BHIM children gathered for a meeting, and Shatta Wale too was present. The man collected his kebabs comprising gizzard and goat meat, and walked off.
Shatta Wale, who, this very moment, was supposed to be headlining his own concert at the Mantse Agbonaa park, has sneaked his way here, not in person, but via the words of avowed BHIM Natives themselves; in heated arguments and expletive-laced hate speech. Strolling toward the ticketing area of the Fantasy Dome proper, the kebab-bearing man visualized a parallel scenario at Mantse Agbonaa—this time, with Stonebwoy as antagonist.
Stonebwoy, the decorated dancehall singer and Ashaiman native, announced the 2018 BHIM Concert under an ambitious (but not impracticable) mantra: to #FillTheDome. Since its erection last year, the La Trade Fair venue has added to an ever-growing index of unwritten requirements to consolidate a Ghanaian act’s position as number 1; a Billboard-charting record, iTunes and Spotify prominence, VGMAs, gigs at key global stops, a call on H.E Nana Akufo-Addo all constituting prerequisites. Shatta Wale, a musical archrival Stonebwoy inherited from mentor Samini, filled up the 20, 000-capacity venue months ago unassisted, at the launch of his new album, “The Reign.” Tonight, Stonebwoy welcomed that challenge, in the company of a dozen beloved colleagues and undercards: OV, Quamina MP, D2, Samini, Sarkodie, Joey B, Kwesi Arthur, Feli Nuna, Sista Afia, KiDi, Patapaa, Trigmatic, VVIP, Tinny, MEDiKAL, Morgan Heritage etc. To the kebab-bearing man, now the kebab-eating man’s mind, staging a top-notch live show was the real goal of organizers—not necessarily filling up the venue. Has Stonebwoy not been ready reference as the consummate live performer today? Has it not been running criticism against Wale in years? And, has it not been the focal point for post-event plaudits, never mind that the back of the VIP section still had room to accommodate a hundred more patrons?
Currently Ghana’s biggest dancehall export, with enviable collaborations with international industry cool cats under his belt, multiple high-profile albums and laurels to his name, appearance on a Grammy-recognized CD, and often the country’s sole representative at global festivals catering to the genre, Stonebwoy, born Livingstone Etsey Satekla, mounted the long black stage in a unique position: with nothing to prove, and yet so much to—ultimately, that he does not play second fiddle to anyone. As is now the pattern of the BHIM Concert, the Stonebwoy show opened with a highly moving reggae set, and then sweaty party session for dancehall and Afrobeats. All this was punctuated by rousing guest appearances. For patrons, many of whom have already seen a number of performances by the “Top Skanka” this year, the December 28 reggae session is the most hair-raising of Stonebwoy’s often hair-raising sets. Possessed by living rhythm, an endless repertoire and an untiring audience, the singer explored audacious notes and dissected sensitive subjects, invoked loud cheer and silent thought. Songs off Stonebwoy’s last album “Epistles of Mama” which have had over a year to sit with Ghanaian reggae lovers especially, assumed new life as they left the lips of the singer, to that of hungry fans, and back to his. There’s something about the reggae songs Stonebwoy pens—a spirituality in the way he renders them. Starting from “Run Go,” the man’s reggae offerings may not be his most popular releases, but are storehouses for true soul.
Stonebwoy has excelled across a multiplicity of genres, even if his primal competences can be found within reggae and dancehall. It is a contributing factor to his perpetuity since entering the industry. Coincidental or by design, it becomes a template worth emulating, especially by the up-and-coming reggae head. Let not your fixation with a single sound box you in. By all means, explore. Dynamism is the bedrock of longevity.
Once inside the dome, the kebab-eating man took in the momentous ambiance: the reverberating sound, the animated crowd, and most of all, the twirling waist before him. Belonging to a svelte dark woman in a bright dress, the midriff oscillates seductively between rapid twerks and a slow wind. Stonebwoy was performing alright, dispatching what is without question, one of his most iconic sets this year—but so was this shapely señorita, who has caused the kebab-eating man to advance sheepishly toward her from his spot in the back, for a closer view—maybe her WhatsApp number too.
The Mantse Agbonaa park was packed with SM loyalists with a number similar to what is present at the dome. They’ve been there since night began to form, and will remain till 6: 30 am when Shatta Wale, their messiah, dismisses them from the “Reign Thanksgiving Concert.” They would have to wait all night clad in “Reign” merchandise or bare-chested, wielding balloons in reference to Wale’s widespread new music video, “My Level” for the “Gringo” man to finally show up. Agitated by his tardiness, they hurled pebbles at the stage at moments during the wait—registering their disapproval strongly. But once Shatta Wale, got on stage at about 4 am, all discontentment vanished, as if by miracle. That is the effect of Shatta Wale!
There, the motive was to reaffirm Wale’s street charisma, and his ability to draw in the numbers, even at short notice—not particularly his performance. His fans wouldn’t even let him perform. He raised a song, and they took over from him, singing his lines back to him like they were actual co-authors. Everything Shatta Wale is doing now—the scale that he’s doing it—we’re all witnessing for the first time in all of Ghana music. His flaws aside, the latitude of his star power, and the reach of his (often husky) voice will only fully be understood decades from now.
Back at Fantasy Dome, several eyes dashed to the VIP gate. Maybe a scuffle was brewing, maybe somebody was foaming at the mouth. It’s neither. A tall dreadlocked man in denim dungarees lowered his head through the door. Recognizing him instantly as Togolese international, Emmanuel Adebayor, fans pulled out their phones for uninvited selfies with the man, to record the celebrity sighting. Later in the show, he would join Stonebwoy, and fellow soccer star, Asamoah Gyan, for a dance performance on stage.
The kebab-eating man, now holding a bottle of water to his mouth, has been thoroughly impressed by the quality of the concert, and the integrity of the lineup. He’s also touched by heartwarming eulogies by friends of Stonebwoy who joined him on stage for his big night. “Stonebwoy will go far,” he found himself saying. The show was only halfway through…