JANUARY 4, 2019 – ROUND PAVILION, TRADE FAIR CENTER, ACCRA
“Azonto Never Dies”
As he has hardly mastered any modern dance steps, Paddie Man leaves boogie duties to the colorful revelers around him, mainly Yayera; sweet yellow-skirted dark chocolate with effervescent eyes, most at home in the crook of his right arm. At public settings like this, Paddi Man, a pro in the presence of his dressing mirror, can only manage head bopping and gentle sway, both hands rested on his crotch.
Contrary to popular opinion (and M.anifest’s famous rap line from “Keep Shining”), Azonto never expired. The evidence is unfolding right before his eyes. The moves were never forgotten. Instead, the frantic African jigs, like treasured memories, were carefully stored in able limbs, to be evoked in moments thus.
African pop is predicated on dance—and dance is heavily represented here. The Azonto rears its head most, but various other dance forms catch Paddie Man’s eyes: the Shaku Shaku, Gwara Gwara, the Kupe, and Angwa. Involving unique maneuvering of youthful body parts, but underlined by the zeal sparked by lively rhythm, the step sequences pour fluidly from luscious mademoiselles as they do from the bleached hair and goatee of a vibrant backup dancer. That bleach-haired performer specifically, wearing a big smile on his face, and a fanny pack across his torso, is awfully nifty in his movement, and inspires copious cheer: “that guy dey force waa,” “as for that boy, he invests all of himself into his performance,” remark a man in the company of his boys boys, and a woman amidst her girls girls.
There’s rumor that Shatta Wale is in here somewhere. Stonebwoy too. Afrobeats music reverberates about this strong tower. An eager mix shuffles into it, and they are saved. The party-goers—a cosmopolitan assortment of expats and indigenes clad in African fabric have converged here for something momentous—a party to crown the December round of parties, as well as a ceremony honoring the Ghanaian cultural essential that is kente.
There are three layers to the fun that has been orchestrated here: The ground floor is the site for the main stage, and center of goings-on. Above it, two other levels housing VIP patrons, spiral upwards to meet the high ceiling. For most of the night, the venue—the round pavilion of the Trade Fair Centre in Accra was near full with fans engaged in casual revelry. There are also, three layers to the programme, dubbed the T.I.N.A (This is New Africa) Festival and curated by Afrobeats forebear, Fuse ODG. First, there was a January 2 excursion to Akosombo in Eastern Ghana, to a primary school founded by Fuse in collaboration with Wood World Mission Charity. Next, the Global Diaspora Conference and Exhibition a day later. Held at the Accra International Conference Center, that gathering was aimed at marshaling the African Diaspora toward accelerating the continent’s development. And then tonight, the ultimate display of all things Ghanaian: food, fashion, friendship, flow.
The festival, which organizers have declared as an annual event, aims chiefly, at “re-uniting the Global African Diaspora.” It is something Fuse (born Nana Richard Abiona) ideates frequently in his music, most recently, “Bra Fie,” his collaboration with Reggae icon, Damian Marley. This year, more than ever, that message harbors an urgency. 2019 marks 400 years since Africans were first shipped to the Americas to work as slaves, in what is known as the most egregious chapter in the history of the continent. Proclaimed by Ghana’s president, Nana Addo Danquah Akufo-Addo as “the Year of Return,” the period is expected to witness a mass exodus of the diaspora back to Africa, in commemoration of the 400th anniversary.
Shatta Wale doesn’t show up. Stonebwoy is here, but not to perform. Head concealed under a white towel, the “Top Skanka” is hurriedly escorted upstairs into a lounge, from where he will enjoy proceedings. Sarkodie, Steflon Don, Joey B, KiDi, Kuami Eugene, and Lethal Bizzle, who were announced weeks earlier, as co-headliners with Fuse ODG, all take their turns to pleasure patrons. But they’re not the only ones who mount the round stage, which Paddie Man struggles to see fully due to its low height. Kojo Taylor, Skepta, Eugy, Pappy Kojo, Feli Nuna,Sneakbo, Kojo Funds, Kwamz & Flava, Mista Silva, Ko-jo Cue and Shaker, Eugy, MEDiKAL, and “Koko Master” D’Banj all emerge, often out of nowhere, to opened jaws of astonished patrons.
A number of thoughts occupy his mind throughout the night. For instance, the curious position that singer Feli Nuna currently occupies in Ghana’s music space. She’s hardly an “underground” act. At the same time, she’s not quite fully “mainstream.” As she dispatches her set, in the company of seductive dancers in covering only essential body aspects, Paddie Man observes her with keen, concerned eyes. Nuna has an impressive portfolio. She’s an infectious performer. She’s got the work ethic of someone deserving of bigger success than has been accorded her. So, why is she not top tier, Paddie Man wonders? He searches his own mind, and a bespectacled dark man standing to his right. “Time,” replies the bespectacled man, slender and obviously popular, judging from how many ladies recognize and lean in for deep embraces. The bespectacled man cites many other musicians, housing worthy talent, but still hidden from the big stage. When it comes to talent, no two journeys are the same. Kuami Eugene found fame at 19, Ebo Taylor is enjoying it as an octogenarian. Rufftown’s Bullet is most relevant as songwriter and label head, as is Lynx’s Richie Mensah. Some acts hit the limelight with a single song; another, after multiple albums. Therefore, as long as she’s working, Nuna is an achiever. Ko-jo Cue and Shaker are, too. Mr. Silva is an Afrobeats veteran in his own right, too.
Another, what it feels like to be Sarkodie this very night. In Ghana today, there’s no concert that Sarkodie will not own. If he’s on the bill, he’ll steal the show. With an unparalleled hip-hop repertoire in one hand, and Afrobeats bangers in the other, he’s an undoubted crowd favourite. When he takes the stage for his own set, or as he joins Fuse for his, he commands extra thunder. At just 30, the rapper is central to the very fabric of the African sound.
Yet another, why 6″5 mellow rappers Joey B and Pappy Kojo have still not published a joint EP yet. Together, they have been responsible for inflammable joints; “Wave,” “NewLords,” “Greetings From Abroad,” “Wow,” “Makoma”…Often, it is only on nights like this, when they perform side by side, that one realizes what a subtle creative bond they have cultivated since they both entered the music industry. The joint EP must come. Surely, even the famed duo, style dictators obsessed with retro culture must realize that it’s been long overdue. If the dreadlocked half hasn’t realized, surely, it should cross the mind of the one sporting the blond hair.
And yet another, how come the dancing white girl near him is this proficient in African waist twirls. Crowned by long golden hair, and propped by golden stilettos, the westerner swiftly becomes the focus of impressed patrons nearby. She realises this, her smile broadening as she continues her sensational routine.
Organizers prepared for an overflow, stationing large LED screens around the pavilion. An overflow didn’t happen, and Fuse ODG, who closes the show, doesn’t exactly perform to a full house, never mind that the live band performance he leads is truly first-rate; the surprise acts he brings out, incredible. Heralded by triumphant trumpets regal drums, and euphoria fit for a king, the “Azonto” man, stomps onstage to make a statement; to pour out his passion about the need for a “New Africa Nation.” The music he’s rendering is only positive—a specific veneration of a glorious Africa, even if the rest of the world is tediously narrow-minded to it.
Watching Fuse perform; hearing him sermonize about the continent that gave him his life and identity, is watching a man go on about the object of his primary interest; the location of his utmost devotion. That it looks currently looks like a “one man quest” does not discourage him. It is a dream he holds a firm conviction to. And so, for as long as he’s still physically able to, he will keep singing. He’ll keep speak of his vision for a more dignified Africa.
That he’s able to champion a “kente party” is telling of his growing star power. His people listen to him. Needless to say, an entertainer’s ambition should never be underestimated. Like his stage name suggests, and like he’s done with Azonto, a revolutionary movement, brewing steadily for years, is about to spread at dizzying speed. A new Africa may not be so far off after all.
Fuse ODG gained global recognition with his 2013 hits “Antenna” and “Azonto.” President of the TINA movement, he is considered by music listeners the world over, and colleagues who joined him at TINA Fest 2019, as Afrobeats custodian. Often Ghana’s foremost representative internationally in the genre, Fuse intends to expand the frontiers of that sound, and use it to offer fresh wholesome perspectives about the African story.
Fuse’s debut album TINA (This Is New Africa) was released in November 2014 and peaked at number 25 on the UK Albums Chart. Grammy-recognized, the singer has also partnered global music icons including Damian Marley, Wyclef Jean, Elephant Man, Sarkodie, Sean Paul, Shatta Wale, Ed Sheeran, and Major Lazer.
Paddie Man suspects—no, Paddie Man is convinced that in twelve months, when the sophomore edition is slated, and, perhaps, Eddie Kadie, the British-Congolese comedian, presenter, and actor, returns as host, it will rival established concerts, and become another staple date on Ghana’s showbiz calendar. Yayera concurs.