“ARE YOU OKAY, MR. DARKO?” I finally ask. We are walking down the stairwell linking the third floor of Meridian House to the reception on the first floor, where we will sit and discuss his life thus far.
KOD looks unwell, but has managed to pull himself through the day’s edition of The Zone, his mid-morning show on Starr 103.5—unbeknownst to his listeners. The programme began, as it always does, with a Lauryn Hill rendition of Nina Simone’s uplifting anthem, Feeling Good—but he wasn’t.
All morning, observing his woozy look from a couch across the Starr FM studios while he engaged Accra by microphone, the question had dawdled on my mind. Why did he continuously massage his temples and rub his eyes while reading LPMs and announcements?
“I’m nauseated,” he admits, and sighs a weary sigh. He stops, and leans a shoulder against the wall. I cannot tell if he is gazing at his brown loafers, or considering the distance downstairs.
Something is wrong.
Maybe we should reschedule this conversation—and I am set to propose that when, suddenly, he straightens up and requests a moment.
“Gimme a few minutes,” he says. “Lemme go get something to eat. I’m sure it’s because I’ve had nothing all morning,” he adds.
I wait at the reception—not necessarily harboring hopes to go ahead with the interview—but to assure him upon his return, that I am fine with postponing our meeting. There are questions I’ve long wanted to ask Mr. Darko, who is himself a master of asking questions (he’s been a broadcaster for something like 20 years): what is the secret to his longevity? How has he managed to excel at so many things? Why is he this keen on heritage? Where from his audacity, overall?
But another chance will come.
Born in Winneba in 1978, Kofi Okyere Darko’s body has known little rest since the days of Radio Gold —where he began his career, learning the ropes from cousin and fellow radio legend, Kwesi Kyei Dakwah (KKD). Better known by the alias KOD, he started off as a production assistant at Radio Gold, became a deejay, dabbled in music production and artiste management, did multiple TV shows, was enlisted as a member of both the planning committee and selection committee of the Ghana Music Awards—twice hosting the main event, started NINETEEN57, dispatched several compering engagements, and put together a plethora of events.
DARKO DOES KNOW HIS BODY, for when he reappears half an hour later, he is in every way, KOD. EFFERVESCENT. MAJESTIC. ALIVE. Even his shirt—long-sleeved and buttoned down to his waist—has assumed added elegance. Bright yellow African print-on-plaid he designed himself, the number is a signature piece from the 2018 collection of NINETEEN57 by KOD, his clothing line. Today, he wears it over spotless white linen trousers. He slumps beside me in the sofa, ready for something.
The interview…right, right!
Throughout his career, KOD has held a reputation for always showing up, sometimes —as evidenced by this morning’s events —at significant cost to his health. I search his face again, around his eyes, for lingering dullness.
Back upstairs, when he ran listeners through motivational messages against the backdrop of rapper Big Sean’s inspirational One Man Can Change the World, the traffic situation, the weather, a chronicle of events on this day in history, or when Ama, a friend popped in to, among other things, request selfies, he obliged without question, concealing his discomfort well.
Today is packed—every KOD day is. There’s a lot of running around, catering to the many facets of his genius: MCing gigs, planning events, making appearances, media consultancy & brand architecture, family… His immediate next stop from here though, is “the shop.” He doesn’t elaborate on what specifically that noun refers to, when he divulges this to me—casually moving on to another matter, like I know/ should know what “the shop” names. I do know what “the shop” names —it’s the Osu Oxford Street venue where his fashion establishment is housed. Revered all across the land, NINETEEN57 by KOD has styled anybody who is anybody — from former president, Jerry Rawlings to soccer icon Stephen Appiah to satirist KSM to singer Sonnie Badu.
KOD’s fashion brand is inspired by Ghana’s year of independence—March 6, 1957. The date not only symbolizes liberation for the African nation, but is also telling on Darko’s audacity, and commitment to heritage and pan-Africanism itself. “I think it’s how I was brought up,” he says. His father, a former director of prisons born in the 1930s, gave him a love of country, as did his mother, although she wasn’t entirely comfortable with his choice of career.
“As a little child growing up, my mum knew I wanted to do everything that I do, and she was not for it—she’s one of those people who said ‘No! You don’t have to be a public toy’—that’s how she described it.”
Today, his idea for what a well-dressed Ghanaian gentleman should look like is securely in place. But he denies it. “I don’t have the blueprint for what the well-dressed gentleman should look like, I don’t think we are shot-callers.”
But consider this: when he started making NINETEEN57, kaftans almost instantly came to be identified as NINETEEN57. Surely, it meant that his company was doing something right. This year’s collection—the LEO—is the edgiest of his designs so far—colour-wise, at least. This decision is steeped in African culture itself. “We are royals —you need to look the part.” From smocks that adorn peoples of the north, to intricately woven kente fabric of the Ashanti, and flashy gold ornaments that complement their ensembles, colour and class have always identified the African. In 2018, NINETEEN57 is leading this renaissance. With wife and fellow fashion designer Ophelia Crossland, he is one-half of a true power couple.
KOD’S FASHION PROFICIENCIES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN APPARENT. Many years ago, he had travelled to England as a young man, with aspirations of becoming a model. Though that didn’t quite materialize, he did get a job in the fashion industry—as a security guard, often being posted to establishments as Ted Baker and Paul Smith. Security guard or not, KOD maintained a dapper look.
In a way, he still held on to his modeling desires, only, the streets and duty posts became his runway. One day, noticing the modishness of KOD’s dressing, a manager at Paul Smith advised that he quit his job as a guard, and instead, apply as a sales representative.
He took the manager’s counsel, and duly landed the job. When he returned to Ghana a couple of years later, NINETEEN57 was born, and over the years, has blossomed into a Top 3 fashion name in Ghana, needless to say, it is also making impressive inroads on the continent and beyond. “It’s one of the reasons I’ve been around for all this while,” he notes. Not many colleagues can boast of such illustrious longevity, and while NINETEEN57 is a pivotal aspect to that, he holds that absolute diligence is the magic ingredient. “Whatever you decide to do—whatever you plan to do, you have to go beyond 100%. I give my all in everything I do, and I believe once you’re committed in everything you do, God touches it. That is why I’m still here.”
OF ALL THE MEDIUMS OF HIS CREATIVITY, KOD has been on radio the longest. His two decades on the airwaves have been shared between Radio Gold and the EIB Network. When he first joined EIB in 2015, he worked at Live FM as OAP and Events & Marketing Manager, before replacing Naa Ashorkor on Starr FM. Describing himself as a 90s product, his module has always been a blend of a prototypical, nostalgia-inducing style, and an evolved, modern feel.
“I’m from the 1990s. If, for instance, you produce a song, and you have MC Hammer on it, he’s still going to rap 90s style—he’s not going to rap like Lil Wayne. So, you add a bit of what is happening today, but you stick to your roots.”
Because of his deep chest of experience, KOD fits the Starr FM configuration perfectly. At 40, the man is at a fine intersection between “young” and “old”—a position only he (and a few other of his contemporaries) can steer.
“What is the target of Starr FM? Starr FM is not for the 20-year-old who’s getting ready to go for lectures. Starr FM is for the discerning listeners—people who are settled in, and are on top of their game. You need to find information that appeals to them. We’re not talking about where the next party is. People generally don’t believe that young people care [enough] about certain things—with young people, it’s more of ‘let’s go have fun.’”
“Radio comes easy for me—I believe it’s easier than TV,” he begins, before going on to furnish me with a rare lecture on the art of radio: “What you’re doing is having a conversation with that person who’s at home, whether they’re happy or sad. You try to capture that mood, and affect them positively. Radio is very relaxed, you know. You can be dressed anyhow.”
We both smile at this last sentence, because he DOES NOT dress anyhow. An undisputed style icon, it is not for nothing that he is also known as “Mr. Classic.”
Radio or TV, all broadcasting comes easy for KOD, to be honest — for there’s no doubt about his magnetism on both. “TV is also easy —unless it’s not pre-recorded,” he submits. Silver-tongued, his voice deploys the presence of both a beloved uncle and a dependable friend. Complemented by a dignified and amiable temperament, KOD is truly, a man for all seasons. A man of the people.
To him, when it’s all said and done, it comes down to the following: “how you affect people when they come into your life.
“It’s our responsibility as those who have been around for a while to be mentors to certain people — so it’s about giving direction”. The rims of his eyes tighten purposefully as he utters these words. He also shoots me a deep look, indicating how seriously he takes the task, and how critical it is in the conversation of legacy.
When, by the end of our conversation, he declares, “I’ve seen it all, done it all,” it’s not so much a pronouncement in self-aggrandizement as it is a statement of fact. At this point in his career, he has done enough to merit being mentioned in a discourse about a new class of media legends. Still, he continues to give of himself, even when he’s hurt and in the grip by nausea. It is all he’s known.