“We No Dey Hear” and M.anifest’s Afrobeats argument

It is not enough that the Ghanaian rapper known to his father as Kwame Ametepee Tsikata has secured himself a place among the country’s hip-hop top plate (hardly a...
M.anifest/ BOB PIXEL

It is not enough that the Ghanaian rapper known to his father as Kwame Ametepee Tsikata has secured himself a place among the country’s hip-hop top plate (hardly a week has passed since he dropped “No Long Talk,” a vicious consolidation of that claim). An all-rounder, he also has his hand on the contemporary Afrobeats/ Afro-fusion pulse: “We No Dey Hear,” his latest, Kelvynboy-assisted single, is the new testament. 

The song, released this morning, is, as has become customary of his craft, top draw. It is hardly his first foray, though. If you’ve followed his career keenly, you would find harbingers throughout his catalogue, particularly on 2015’s “Forget Dem” — both in sonic persuasion and subject matter. Nothing shall obstruct a man with focus. 

And oh, before this goes any further, and to all unsolicited pontificators holding that “M.anifest is polarizing,” he merely scoffs: “Boys no dey hear, who are you advising?”

Now that that’s settled, let’s move to the magical pleasures of a M.anifest-Kelvynboy partnership, shall we? Perhaps, since Worlasi, and recently, Bayku, and Burna Boy, few singers have achieved the synergic heights that M.anifest enjoys with Kelvynboy. Like Bayku and Burna Boy, it has only required a couple of songs for that to manifest. “Yawa No Dey,” Kelvynboy’s splendid re-imagination of Slim Young’s W’ayɛ a Fɛre is the first public demonstration of a musical bond with the rapper

“We No Dey Hear” is a convincing doubling down of the argument of their chemistry. When he first showed up years ago, as a Stonebwoy protégé, Kelvynboy was promptly labelled as Ghana’s answer to Wizkid. Steadily, he has grown into his own, mapping out his own path and shedding off all “Starboy” comparison. This past year, his most turbulent, proved beyond doubt that he is the vocal leader of his peer group; emerging, not only as a sought-after hook man, but also, among this country’s foremost Afrobeats champions.

What is Afrobeats without a bit of vain crowing? Hence, on the playful but self-assured pre-chorus, Kenvynboy sings among other things:

“If I say I no dey hear/ All my guys no dey hear/ M.anifesto no dey hear oh/ All my people no dey hear/ Put the song pon repeat mek the people dem feel oh/ Me I mek the girl go low low low/ My ting e no be pilolo…”

On his part, M.anifest’s verses are carried out via a resounding tactic of poetic wit, a profound sliting effect achieved with fricatives, and an easy-going sing-song polish.

In Ghanaian street parlance, “we no dey hear” is how the concept of resilience is vocalised. Often, resilience can be misconstrued as insolence. “No be say we no dey respect,” line one of M.anifest’s second verse clarifies. “We no dey hear.” Big difference.

And so, in his caution to “a low-life that we on the upper tiers,” his “channelling” of “Young Cassius Clay,” or his statement that, at will, “Pop styles every day we’re transmitting,” there’s no onomatopoeia here. These are only statements of fact.  

The brass section for “We No Dey Hear” listens like elegant fenestration; spectacular both in function and appeal. Together with folkish guitar tones and ancestral percussion summoned by Nigeria’s Kel P, it serves as the sonic heart of the song.

The above instruments, primary ingredients for whipping up traditional highlife (and to a large extent, Fela’s Afrobeat) also constitute foundational material for contemporary, globally accepted iterations of Afrobeats/ Afro-fusion; the musical styles that now have the Grammy-nominated Burna Boy as arrowhead.

Over a glowing career, the Ghanaian intellectual has, with his work, articulated a number of radical arguments about the music vocation and how it works in these parts, proffering innovative perspectives and on a number of occasions, even contributing infrastructure. That is how, one reckons, he has succeeded as the outlier,or, as he once described himself, “an alternative in the mainstream rather than an alternative to it.” On “We No Dey Hear,” he submits that contrary to the widely believed zeitgeist, pop rhythm can be a tool — not a hindrance — to forward rap.

Pop writer from Accra.