AICC – Accra, Ghana. Happy thoughts, Gabriel. Happy thoughts!
I search my mind frantically for memories that will distract me from this packed furnace I’ve willingly walked into—and quickly settle on the one item that has been proven to give me comfort: Yayera’s pork. This afternoon, when I tasted the spiced meat, it had instantly brought a smile to the sides of my lips, and as that has been my most gratifying experience all day, I return to it this troubling night, my tongue recalling that desirous minute. Yayera herself, my bubbly buddy and December sidekick, would have loved to come along, but as you probably know, she’s still undergoing her monthly bleeding cycle, and has had to stay in today. I’m glad she did. Only one of us must endure this much suffering at a given time.
Rapperholic 2018: To begin, I draw your attention to slay queens; specifically, the twosome who have pitched camp three rows ahead. For starter packs, the duo, petite and curiously light-skinned, opt for blond hairpieces reaching down their lower backs, copious makeup over sheer dresses and high heels, and most important if all, smartphones connected to power banks in their bags. The high-end iPhones are in active use for the entire duration of the show; for filter-engineered perfect selfies and live clips for SnapChat and Instagram. You see, the slay queen enterprise (the recent social media—based celebrity phenomenon run by young female beauty obsessives) is appearance-led, so if you manage a ticket to any of these high-profile shows and don’t Snap or Instagram proceedings, wetin you gain?
I guess my real conundrum relates to how this twosome remain undisturbed by the skin-crawling heat their fellow party-goers are grappling with. All around the auditorium, down to the VVIP section in front, people are undertaking desperate measures to manage the situation; wiping their brows and arms with already drenched handkerchiefs and face towels, fanning themselves with anything their hands find (in the absence of that, their bare hands), or simply meandering through thousands into the foyer for actual air.
The Accra International Conference Center—the venue for this highly anticipated Christmas Day gig— is bursting at its seams with nearly double the number it can officially contain. And who else to draw such multitudes to the venue if not rapper Sarkodie for his annual Rapperholic Concert. Since 2012, and following the remarkable commercial fruitfulness of his sophomore album, Rapperholic (Duncwills /Konvict) the accomplished rapper has announced the show as a Christmas present to his supporters. 7 editions later, the act, 30, continues to solidify his brand as a fixture within African showbiz circles. This year, the show is graced by globally adored figures such as soccer star, Emmanuel Adebayor, and British actor and musician, Idris Elba.
While Sarkodie is the only advertised act for the night, the concert has historically dished out esteemed colleagues the world over as surprise acts on the D-Day. Wizkid, Fuse ODG, the Compozers, Michael Dapaah (Big Shaq), Patoranking, Shatta Wale etc. The just-ended edition, compered by broadcaster Nana Aba Anamoah and assuming a nostalgic theme, brought out 90s and 2000s hiplifers: Ex-Doe, Chicago, Akatakyie, T Blaze, Tinny and Bright of Buk Bak, Nana Boroo, Stay Jay and 5five (who were assisted by producer Appietus for their performance of “Move Back/ Muje Baya”). Others responsible for sternum-ringing sets the concert has come to be characterized by are Don Itchi, Epixode, Wendy Shay, Kojo Cue, Shaker, Joey B, Pappy Kojo, KiDi, Kuami Eugene, Mr Eazi, La Meme Gang, Kofi Kinaata, Kwesi Arthur, King Promise, Strongman, Akwaboah and Efya.
Next, I throw you a question. What keeps patrons returning to Rapperholic? We already know it will see a late start. There’ll be a live painting to announce Sarkodie’s entry. We can already predict what songs he will perform—and to a large extent, which guest acts will come due to the rapper’s collaborations over the years; the band of emerging rappers who appeared on “Biibi Ba,” Efya, SarkCess signees, Akwaboah and Strongman, KiDi, Kuami Eugene, Kwesi Arthur, and King Promise, because they summarize GH radio today are all constant. We know that surprises are now no surprise with the show. We already know the auditorium will be overcrowded due to the inescapable fact that Sarkodie has outgrown the traditional venue; that we will swelter like nervous thieves about to yield to mob justice. From recent years, we have even come to expect the premiere of a new record. So, why attend Rapperholic? Why willingly submit to such perennial torture and inexcusable negligence in the area of security and crowd control?
I’ll tell you why. Rapperholic is like Christmas, or Sundays, or birthdays, or the spanking that follows a child’s disobedience, or the guilt that engulfs one on the morning after unplanned sexual congress — it’s customary, a December destination. We already know what will ensue, but have no other choice than to embrace it. For Rapperholic in particular, it is now a customary musical pilgrimage; we must attend — if only to say that we were there some.
And so, here we are, young men properly dressed from home, but who have had to bare our chests — not in a quest to display particularly sporty bodies to interested females, but as a desperate attempt to deal with the unbearable heat…some still managing boogie, others too uncomfortable or exhausted to. In my spot, a chair missing a seat, I hope to God that what I’m smelling is not burning wire. For who would survive in this hall, whose aisles and doorways have been packed with several Rapperholic pilgrims? Organizers must, moving forward, go beyond the mindset that their pre-show prayers alone will assuage all danger, and take actual steps to protect against danger. The country is not unfamiliar with worst case scenarios as a result of poor crowd management. Complacency by organizers, which reeks from this year’s show must not be entertained.
One of the blond-haired ladies whispers to her companion, who soon gets up from her station, and heads out the door nearby. Minutes later, the companion struts back inside, holding two small beers and disposable cups. The party is what you make it.
It is known that Sarkodie had been exhausted in the build-up to the event, honoring invitations to colleagues’ concerts, and granting a hundred interviews as part of pre-show promo. In a video released not long after the event, he confesses to not being in his best shape. But a seasoned performer, he ran an efficient stage. Still, this is Sarkodie. Efficient doesn’t cut it. We shall not tolerate “efficient” from Davido, or Wizkid, or Cassper Nyovest, or Kendrick Lamar. The metric for a Sarkodie show this deep in his career, is the “global standard.” Outstanding is what we have come to expect— a fresh feel to songs, particularly in the area of arrangement and rendition is what is the norm the world over. It is what we deserve. Nothing short of that will suffice—maybe for a lesser-known act—but not Sarkodie.
Rapperholic patrons have demonstrated annually that they come strictly dancing. In fact, once the show started, people were up on their feet till it closed around 3 the next morning. Therefore, a venue free of seats is most appropriate. It’s only logical.
For the “Biibi Ba” performance (hugely looked forward to) I reckon that Sarkodie was supposed to have remained up top where he had performed his opening song, and watched down like a hawk as Lyrical Joe, Tulenkey, Frequency, Kofi Mole, ToyBoi, Yeyo, 2fingers, Amerado, OBKAY, and CJ Biggerman filed out to discharge their verses on the rap song. A technical glitch hampered that, seeing only the first two guest acts on “Biibi Ba” come out. So, Sarkodie has to descend to the floor of the stage, and request that DJ Mensah, his official turntablist bring that particular joint back. Mensah did, and the acts got to perform alongside their icon, and have their moment. It also made for a thrilling moment from the concert.
Even more important than the “Biibi Ba” performance, is the collaboration with “Iron Boy” Amakye Dede. A highlife practitioner for over 4 decades who bears the legendary status that Sarkodie aspires to, Amakye Dede is the ultimate music model. To be able to perform alongside him is evidence that an artist has truly arrived. And so, Rapperholic 2018 is, among other things, proof that Sarkodie has arrived—if it isn’t already common knowledge, that is. Obrafour, the rap veteran may have overseen his coronation as modern rap god, but Amakye Dede registers him among all-time music greats. Dede not only sang his evergreen “Sese Odo,” “Sokoo” medley, and a Sarkodie-assisted rendition of “Odo Ho Akyere No.” Lord of the live performance, Dede’s 16 minutes at Rapperholic 2018, and the euphoria it induced, can only be experience and never adequately narrated.
Also worth pointing out are the outstanding showings by fast-paced rapper Tulenkey, officially the city’s favorite “Fuck Boy” because of the success of recent self-deprecating song in solidarity with “good-for-nothing” boys who now feel comforted (if not celebrated) in the record; Kofi Mole and Kwesi Arthur, who have influenced hip-hop this year in a way that is truly monumental; and Akwaboah, the gentleman, unassuming in his conduct, but mastermind of the country’s most loved love songs now, even without encouraging radio support.
It will be inaccurate, and dishonest to call Rapperholic 2018 a failure in its entirety solely due to willful excessive ticketing. Across the auditorium, a huge party did ensue, in spite of uncontrolled streams of body fluids on every inch of one’s body. Sarkodie’s brand will do that. Nevertheless, I posit respectfully, that a patron cannot come to a show to dance, and frequently also have one eye open for impending danger. It is not a situation a party-goer should have to grapple with—not on Christmas day, not on any other day. He cannot fully concentrate on the performances, and so cannot have a great experience. It is not fair to him.
The crowd grudgingly disperses after Sarkodie announces the end of the show with a performance of “Can’t Let You Go.” Yes, Sarkodie was joined onstage by singer King Promise, whom he featured on the song. One gets the sense that they expected more—not in an overjoyed manner, but in the way an unsatiated woman eyes her man after unsatisfactory coitus. Perhaps, this is as a result of standards set by previous editions.
I don’t know when the blond-haired slay queens vanish into the rest of the departing crowd. But on my way to the bathroom adjacent the main hall, I come upon another contingent, busy with post-event selfies. Their poses come down to the following look: angling their bodies to expose their butts, and pouting their lips like their very lives depend on it.
Born Michael Owusu Addo, the recording artist, famed across Africa and beyond, and celebrated extensively, is author of five albums: Maakye (Duncwills, 2009), Rapperholic (Duncwills /Konvict, 2012), Sarkology (Duncwills, 2014), Mary (SarkCess, 2015), and Highest (SarkCess, 2017). Rapperholic returns to Accra December 25, 2019.