For someone complaining of menstrual cramps, my friend Yayera was having an awfully good time; rapping along to convoluted phrases that constitute M.anifest’s verses, both hands busy with hip-hop mannerism. She was not the only one. Down at the floor, just before the metal barricades separating regular ticket holders from VIP patrons, a dozen male youth were caught in the zealous frenzy of discharging bars too, as if trying to impress their Literature professor—unmistakable demonstration to him that they did their “recommended reading.” Dance steps overflowed, as were head nods indicative of agreement to clever rhymes and insightful philosophy. Manifestivities 2018—the annual end-of-year show by the lyricist known to his mother as Kwame Ametepee Tsikata—unfolded both as a rapturous concert and a really cool seminar.
Parading a compact list of famed performers between Ghana and Nigeria, the event, because of what ensued at the Bukom Boxing Arena, where it was held, shines very brightly among December events in this town. We were promised, aside M.anifest, sets from Kwesi Arthur, B4bonah, Efya, “Joromi” singer Simi, and Burna Boy. We got that, and Bayku, and Worlasi, and Trigmatic, and King Promise, and Sarkodie, with whom M.anifest had a lyrical feud in June of 2016. I can tell you that the whole time Sarkodie was performing, a gentleman, not quite 30, and not far from where we were stationed, had his hand to his mouth, visibly shaken by what his very eyes were beholding.
All through the buildup to the event, the rapper’s team stressed that their intention for Manifestivities 2018 (which ran under the theme “The GMT Live Experience”) was to curate a show of a specific quality—and they did. From stage to lighting, security to performances, patrons were treated to a truly fine experience. No, not every seat in the 4000-capacity arena was filled last night, December 23, but it was well patronized and a lasting memory was etched for sure. Even M.anifest, as he conducted his followers through some of his best-known offerings, radiated an extra sense of accomplishment. It’s a disposition he had embodied several days before the concert. Indeed, weeks earlier, when he had taken a section of pressmen on a tour of the venue, he was all smiles, shadow boxing elatedly at the spot where the stage would be, genuinely excited by the challenge of taking on the Bukom Arena. Aptly, he swaggered down from the upper terrace to the left of the stage when the moment finally came, dapper in long-sleeved African print, tailored pants, a hat and magnificent shoes, to “Azumah Nelson Flow,” his 2017 rap song which doubles as homage to Ghana’s most renowned boxer. Over a career spanning nearly 15 years, the “god MC,” (an alias he has born since his 2016 beef with Sarkodie, and was chanted at him at various points of his performance) has raised a formidable cult following, so that today, at the musical festival, he is truly celebrated.
Not long into the show, her left leg trembling from the customary monthly pain, Yayera turned to me and asked, “Do you have painkillers?” I didn’t, and instinctively made for the pharmacy at the main gate, hoping that it would somehow still be open this late in the night. But, smiling, she held me to my seat, her large eyes flashing in the way that gave me the impression that she’d remembered something important. She rummaged through her bag, and flashed me a blister pack of little white pills. “I always come prepared,” she declared. We both laughed. Relieved, I turned my face back to the stage, from where massive lights loitered and loud bass boomed. Yayera tossed one of the capsules into her open mouth, and then, keeping a straight face, downed it with bottled water. After a few minutes, she was back to full power.
All the performers on the night operated at full power. Yung Pabi impressed most, of all the undercards. Employing courageous storytelling and compelling theatrics, he quickly got the crowd on his side, repeating choruses they hadn’t heard just minutes earlier. Herman Suede, Bryan the Mensah, were also among up-and-coming acts on the night.
The nifty Trigmatic, proven across hiplife, dancehall, Afro-soul, and highlife, once again exhibited why his case for the label of “consummate performer” will not be overlooked. Without question, he’s not received as much credit as he should for his contribution to contemporary Ghanaian music, but it has never ruffled him. Via commanding and piercing vocals, and the stage confidence accrued as a musician amasses experience, he rode the highly capable band behind him in a way that was simply disrespectful. It goes without saying that only a handful possess this caliber in their live performances (see Stonebwoy, Samini et al). Whether he was wailing his frustrations on “My Life,” the socially conscious “Where We Dey Go,” or as he segued into the party passion of his dancehall classic “Hold Yuh,” his versatility and all-round know-how was apparent.
If Efya is not the most valued chanteuse of her time, she’s surely among the most valued. She’s classy, and exciting, and funny, and unpretentious. A real sweetheart. She joined M.anifest for “Asa.” The twosome took me back to seven years ago, when I first saw them render it. It was at this same show, at Alliance Français. The joint is as cheer-inducing now at it was then. “Until the Dawn,” her reggae song produced by Maleek Berry, “Mamee” featuring Mr. Eazi also featured on her playlist for Manifestivities 2018. Her ample soft power, ensured by her sultry vocal texture and relatable takes on love, is still very much intact.
Nigeria’s Simi is sublime. Not just because of her attentive songwriting, but also for her endearing butterfly demeanor. Her set was characterized by smooth, unhurried movement on stage, and around the VIP section. She was recipient of as many cries of “I love you Simi” as there were patrons at Manifestivities 2018. Respected in Ghana, her fame has broadened over the past year particularly, “Joromi” playing a cardinal role to that. “Lovin,” “Jamb Question,” “Smile For Me,” “Aimasiko,” “O Wa N’be,” “Complete Me,” “Shake Your Body,” off Chemistry, her 2016 joint album with rapper Falz, and “Surrender,” the Mr. Eazi song she guest appeared on, were all constituents of her Fuji-underlined live medley. Princess of the love song, and clearly made for the big lights, Simi made sure to leave an enduring imprint. She just kept performing and performing, even at the risk of overstaying her welcome. But until she has performed “Joromi,” one cannot really say her time is up. She was fully aware of this, and held off raising it for a significantly long time. She was onstage for something like an hour. Finally “Joromi” came, and it gave us life anew.
Sarkodie appearing at M.anifestivites this year was a prime highlight of the night. It is among the reasons it is the biggest one ever held. Nobody saw it coming. And even when patrons were sure that it was DJ Mensah, the rapper’s official DJ who was setting up, it still didn’t truly register. Not until the rapper appeared himself. Donning blue denims, he climbed onstage, embraced M.anifest, and both of them bounced to Sarkodie’s “Original.” It rained confetti. The cheers multiplied. Finally, two of this generation’s most sought-after punchline practitioners, unmatched in their craft but on opposite sides of Ghana’s rap spectrum, stood side-by-side, not as foes, but as co-regents. Before he sang “Can’t Let You Go,” Sarkodie would quip that he had to show up as soon as he heard “god MC”—the dis song targeted at him playing. The sight of their reunion is surely one for the books—the biggest rap beef of this decade, comes to an end under the very eyes of the gazing world. There’s something both instructive and empowering about that gesture—of M.anifest and Sarkodie holding each other’s hand up high is oneness. It is the ultimate lesson for the new generation. We are only stronger together.
Kwesi Arthur and Burna Boy—who were tasked with the final lap of energy duties on the night–more than rose to the occasion—Burna Boy especially, whose arrival was heralded by an instant jama composition consisting only his name. Both acts, custodians of majority of 2018’s hits, and dictators of the new wave, led the post-Sarkodie crescendo.
Manifestivities didn’t start on time. Frankly, nobody realistically expected it to commence at 6 pm. Maybe it’s all that “Ghanaian-ness.” But, that it started several hours later, causing the show to drag well into the following day, a working day, cannot be excused, even if the show itself, when it started, flowed seamlessly and was stupendous overall.
“The GMT Live Experience,” as we are told, does not obsess with designing a M.anifest-centric event, but a festival that transcends him as an artist, and that can stand in his absence. It shows in how the night went.
It was well after 2 am, Monday, December 24. My lungs were sore from screaming, my feet hurt from all that careless bogie. I could hear exhaustion in Yayera’s voice too, and weariness in her movement. Show over, and drenched in my own sweat, I waited in my seat a while, to catch my breath. I was smiling, and panting like I had just completed a drill of fleshly isometrics. Yayera smiled too, as if to say: “What a night! What a night!”
Signed to Singitdamnit, M.anifest has issued five albums so far, his latest being the 2016 record, “Nowhere Cool.” In weeks past, the rapper has implied that two projects: one by himself and another with Worlasi will be published soon. Manifestivities 2018 not only consisted a musical concert, but also catered to DJ battles, culinary exhibitions, and other art showcases.