We must change the narrative — Sarkodie, on dependency syndrome in African music

Rapper Sarkodie wants his colleagues to think as employers, and not merely hold out cups to the West for succour. After all, “we have the products; the next biggest...

Rapper Sarkodie wants his colleagues to think as employers, and not merely hold out cups to the West for succour. After all, “we have the products; the next biggest numbers when it comes to numbers, so, we need to talk like that.”

He made this stance in an interview with ENEWSGH during Music In Africa’s ACCES 2019 Conference, held in Accra over the weekend.

And particularly regarding the larger world’s renewed interest in the African sound via Afropop/Afrobeats, “we need to concentrate on self-worth—see ourselves as assets worth protecting,” Sarkodie advances.

Africa has remained a hotbed for the “new global sound” as it has been for the uneven exchange, one that, many say, has been fuelled by a general victim mentality by many an African musician. With the world’s attention refocussed on the continent’s music market due to its freshly exposed tempos, Sarkodie is among active champions of reciprocity and not a transaction overlayed by exploitation or underhand dealings.

“Until we get there, mentally” he cautions, “we will always give things out for free.”

Further ruminating on the African musician’s seemingly chronic victim complex, Sarkodie regrets, perhaps controversially, that “most blacks were built to believe that the brown paper bag is the ultimate. So, when people throw the bag at you, your pride goes away, [and] you could sell anything.”

While he concedes that “there are things you can sell,” he expects a level of prudence about it. The artist must be in control of “the structure,” he says, a term he explains as “what really controls what’s happening,” as well as “long-term” implications of his actions.

“If someone is going to be giving you money, the person should be working for you. You can change the narrative. You don’t give the power to somebody else!

“We should employ people,” he stresses, even if they happen to be “Sony, or Universal.” Sarkodie insists that investment interests by such global powerhouses toward Africa must neither be framed nor interpreted as “help.”

For the “Adonai” man, navigating the labyrinth that is the commerce of African music entails a number of things, but boils down to the confidence question: “how you carry yourself; how you present yourself.” It is how, in his experience, one comes to be anointed as leader.

Sarkodie has always held an unflappable conviction regarding his place within the African music value chain. Indeed, he finds it thoroughly enjoyable, he’ll have you know. Also, no, it’s never been an unreasonable demand of the SarkCess frontman (born Michael Owusu Addo); the responsibility of being marked as a model for modern African music branding. “I was born like that,” he says. “I’ve grown to understand that I have leadership skills, how to be able to accommodate a lot, and find a way to deal with it. So, that is not pressure. I like that, because that’s me as a person: I like to take responsibility. If it [were] the other way [round], I would even be offended.”

Sarkodie is held across a multiplicity of indices, to be Ghana’s rap lead today: He’s the most decorated, most referenced, among the most reliable suppliers of the perineal hit song, and among the most bankable of the country’s music exports. For the greater part of a decade, he has kept his reputation as number one, and met the attendant expectation expressly. In the rapper’s company is a minuscule roll that often comprises the reggae/dancehall hard-hitters Shatta Wale, Samini, and Stonebwoy. Black Love, his seventh album, is due in coming weeks. The project is supported by the singles “Saara,” “”Party and Bulls#!t” featuring UK stars Donae’O and Idris Elba, “Lucky,” and “Do You.” He’s also set to headline the eighth annual Rapperholic Concert, December 25.

The ACCES Conference, per organisers, is an annual “pan-African event for music industry players to exchange ideas, discover new talent and create business linkages. ACCES is held in a different African city every year attracting active music industry players from across the globe.”

Pop writer from Accra.