The Giant and the God Get Festive

If a single image encapsulates last Sunday’s Manifestivities, it is one by Azumi Habib, in which Burna Boy, clothed in a red tracksuit, frolics towards the edge of the...
M.anifest and Burna Boy reunite at #Manifestivities19 | Image by Azumi Habib

If a single image encapsulates last Sunday’s Manifestivities, it is one by Azumi Habib, in which Burna Boy, clothed in a red tracksuit, frolics towards the edge of the stage. Behind him, M.anifest, sharp in a double-breasted suit and hat, smiles contentedly, looking off to the side of the stage, from where his compatriot had rushed in with his entourage.

For the second year in a row, the high-achieving pair, one a god, the other a giant, joined forces for an electric Accra performance. Having both recorded a significant 2019 culminating in critically received bodies of work and Grammy recognition, they returned to the Bukom Boxing Arena, which M.anifest is now effectively mayor of, and where exactly a year ago, their onstage connection began. At the time, they had no songs together–only mutual adoration for each other’s talents, and a strong ambition to collaborate. By the time another December came around, they had turned prospect into two class pieces — incisive arrows seamlessly dispensed to a breathless audience.

Memorable previous editions have affirmed M.anifest’s end-of-year showcase as the place to be for people on the quest for premium auditory pleasures (last year, it was the musical experience to beat. So far, it retains that accolade).

And when the show eventually kicked off, hours after the advertised time of 5 pm on the night of Sunday, December 22, it was clear that a similar experience awaited patrons.

It told in concertgoers’ general temperament, for everyone was alive to the luck of being partakers of the night. As they awaited the show’s commencement, fans collected in huddles, appraising the lyrical genius of M.anifest. Others captured their presence in selfies in a customised lotto kiosk, among a number of installations pointing to the rappers The Gamble EP. Others still, jammed to galvanising choruses, prominent among them being a succession of records by rapper Edem, who was in attendance (other high-profile guests were Rocky Dawuni, Lydia Forson, Obrafour, and Kwame Yeboah) and “Parte After Parte,” Big Tril’s continental anthem. The Ugandan rapper’s joint, since going viral months ago, has become the go-to dance generator at public raves.

Though curated for the alternative circuit, the programme has accrued exoteric appeal too. Since its inception, organisers have ensured a fervent and unconditional commitment to the former, and yet, M.anifest’s expanding influence in the mainstream has also guaranteed the latter. Once perceived to be the meeting ground for the “cool kids” alone, Manifestivities has become the people’s forum. Hence, the likes of Young Pabi and Kula, both respected up-and-comers looking to court mainstream notice, flourished like well-nourished plants, and won for themselves additional numbers to their growing constituencies.

For Kojo Manuel, who shouldered hosting duties on the night, it was another prime opportunity to assert himself as the face of the new generation. Last year was his first shot at Manifestivities. He was more than impressive. This year, he upped the ante. Like many of the musicians who performed on the night, he too has witnessed a solid year, as superintendent of key events. Just weeks ago, he assisted Eddy Blay during Cardi B’s Ghana concert. All these experiences crystallised at the Bukom Square where, attired in a T-shirt bearing the image of the great Azumah Nelson, and backed by competent turntablists, he chauffeured the night faultlessly, holding an elegant balance of spirit and charm, and ensuring a continual party bounce.

There was a noteworthy performance by Cina Soul: a born star and galvanizing performer who continues to uphold the unblemished majesty of traditional Ga medleys. The consequence of the show’s late start, Ms Soul’s set was short — and sweet. When she dismounted from the stage, the crowd beat their breasts, yelling encore. She didn’t return.

Ko-Jo Cue is greatly appreciated. The BBNZ man has been a Ghanaian hip-hop staple for years. Is 2019 album, For My Brothers is a frontrunner for Album of the Year by all indications. And with the lively mashup of his cover of Kwesi Arthur’s “Devil Knocking” and “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” “Dua,” and a line from “Up and Awake,” he too indented his mark. A rapper with a purpose, he also made sure to continue dialogue on mental health with his set.

Next came the beloved Worlasi, barechested, like the Senku band behind him, a talking drum held tightly in his armpit. He regaled audiences with the ubiquitous “You Saw Me,” and “Nukata,” as well as offerings off his widely praised new collection, WORLA: The Man and the God. (He would return during M.anifest’s set to assist with “Cucaracha,” one of the many collaborations he shares with the respected rapper).

2018’s Manifestivities had Nigeria’s Simi as a special guest performer. This year, Adekunle Gold, her now-husband, bore that task. He emerged at twenty past midnight, his head crowned in miraculously long dreadlocks, and picked up right where his wife had left off. “Ire,” “My Life,” “Kelegbe Megbe,” and “Young Love” constituted his playlist. A proven performer, he left no box unticked.

The minutes during which M.anifest and Burna Boy stood side-by-side on stage, trading hooks and verses with one another and the crowd, provide abundant material for the highlight reel. After offloading “Rapper 101,” and inviting Bayku and Kelvyn Boy for “The Gamble” and “Yawa No Dey” respectively, he called forth Burna Boy for the political lamentation, “Another Story,” (which was performed with the joys of a celebratory anthem. The musicians then segued into M.anifest’s love manifesto, “Tomorrow,” after which M.anifest stepped to the side of the stage, allowing for Burna Boy to address his second home with mostly songs from his current album. Singalongs ensued. Lamba flowed. Wild applause greeted his proclamation that M.anifest is his “fucking brother!”, a sentiment that was reciprocated by M.anifest when he took over from Burna Boy.

A songwriter’s words, paraphrased, conjures the moments aptly: The heavens came down, and glory filled partygoers’ souls.

If not, Habib’s photo, depicting god and giant aflame and in charge, and taken minutes before Moelogo, the South London vocal weapon who guests on The Gamble joined M.anifest for a dazzling rendition of “Ohemaa,” is inch-perfect tour d’horizon.

Pop writer from Accra.