Takashie is Our National Philosophy

The subject of dumsor came up briefly at our Friends meeting two Sundays ago.

I cannot remember the question she was responding to, but my fellow friend Edwina said something along the lines of:

“If you are sitting in dumsor and they are trying to tell you that there is no dumsor, why should you take anything they say seriously?”

I couldn’t agree more.

It is deeply depressing (and actually really insulting) when – in fear of its potential effect on their power – our leaders deny the very existence of our problems. Or try to get technical about them, playing word games… with words that we created.

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I’m not saying our government has done nothing towards ending the power crisis: things had improved until a month or two ago. I’ll do that rare thing and commend them for such small mercies.

However, when I am sitting in dumsor, don’t try and tell me that it is not dumsor. It’s bad enough that you haven’t solved our problem; don’t insult our intelligence/experience too. Just give us our dumsor schedule. You know: the one you won’t stick to anyway. Yes. That one.

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We will be voting at the end of the year. I believe in actual choice, and I just don’t see enough difference between our two leading parties. Some – maybe – but little by way of genuine, inspirational, transformational leadership.

My dream candidate (another post for another day) would be a little more radical than Ghana is presently used to. For what should be obvious reasons, there are certain things he or she would ban senior government officials from access to, including:

  • The right to fly abroad for medical treatment
  • The right to educate their children abroad (before Masters degree level)
  • Generators
  • Water tanks
  • Motorcades to cut through traffic

I could go on.

I’m not saying politicians need to work for free, but we do need to find urgent ways of getting people to look at politics as public service and not some fast track route towards personal gain (or a way of repaying the massive debts our politicians incur in order to become politicians). And we need politicians who feel what we feel, and who put people over politics/money/resources as a result.

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Example: way back in the day, there was a general belief that the social value of land was more important than its commercial value (you know… the kind of thing South Africa’s Abahlali Basemjondolo are all about). That alone is as good an example of people being more important than money as any. But that’s only the beginning of this story.

When the British colonial government basically tried  (with the Crown Lands Bill of 1897) to claim all land they saw just ‘sitting there’ (ancestral/inherited lands) for the British Empire, Ghanaians were understandably horrified. Patriots including John Mensah Sarbah founded the Aboriginal Rights Protection Society to shut that nonsense down, partly by:

  1. Studying all proposed colonial measures
  2. Giving political education to the people
  3. Making the people understand the effect of these measures

Yet another example of putting people first.

After the Society campaigned successfully for the Bill to be rescinded, Sarbah refused to take any money for his role in their success, explaining that it was an honour to serve his people.

Now that’s leadership I can get behind.

Today we have a new national philosophy and it has little room for crazy ideas like public service and putting people first. It’s not Christianity: please. We might wear fine robes on Sundays, pray in loud tongues and such, but look around you: we are waaaaay too practical a people to actually practice such universally lauded religious principles as turning the other cheek or treating people the way we would have them treat us. Our society would look very different if we did.

No. Our real national philosophy is takashie: forcing our way ahead by any means necessary, often at the expense of others.

Where we have a choice between demonstrating a love of others or using takashie, the latter usually wins. Open your eyes and you’ll see examples, everywhere and every day. In little things. Like driving in traffic. In haggling prices. In (not) queuing. Etc, etc.

Each man/woman for him/herself and God for us all… and that’s the problem:

Takashie is an understandable response to the frustrations of living in Ghana. Nevertheless, our leaders come from among us. They are living reflections of what we really believe in: not as individuals, but as a society. If we each resort to daily takashie, why should we expect our leaders to – by some random miracle – do any different?

Sure: some countries are lucky enough to get officials who think differently and who help move their countries forward as a result. But that’s just it, isn’t it: luck. Such leaders are miracles.

Which makes our choice a tricky one: ‘Aben Wo Ha‘ vs. ‘Dabi Dabi 3by3 Yie‘.

Either we continue to get by on takashie, continue to produce more of the same leaders and vote them in with the expectation that they will suddenly and miraculously become benevolent (with enough competence to match that benevolence).

Or maybe we should all start thinking about our individual roles in changing the society out of which our leaders emerge.

 

 

Why I Left Twitter

Image Credit - wewillraakyou dot com

I get asked about this a lot.

I joined Twitter not too many years after it launched. Back then, there were so few of us on there that when I ran a search for ‘Ghana’, I would only come across NGO country reports, international news clippings with Ghanaian elements (like the ‘Mabey & Johnson’ story, which I subsequently chased up and broke on Joy FM), or kokonsa from the likes of my sister and her other early-adopter friends. It’s far more populated now and infinitely more interesting as a result.

I suspect I was the first DJ in Ghana to start live tweeting my playlists, something I started doing (first at Vibe, then at Joy and later at YFM) because ads and Live Presenter Mentions (LPMs) kept getting in the way of giving credit to all the artists whose songs I played. I talked about the platform so much that my bosses at Joy actually nicknamed me ‘Twitter’ and tasked me with drafting the station’s social media policy. I smile every time I hear a radio presenter read out a tweet these days. Back then, only a few presenters saw the point and it was a real struggle persuading most of my colleagues that Twitter wasn’t some dadabee fad.

Sometime last year however – a few weeks after attracting my 7000th follower – I deleted my Twitter account.

No announcement.
No goodbye.
Nada.

I was out. Why?

The short version: blame Elidot & EDVWN (and maybe Mitsifantsi too: my most unapologetically analog homie in the history of ever). I kid: they were as shocked as anyone else. That said, the long version does begin with the rambling conversations we’d have on the bumpy drive up to Ashesi every week; GH Twitter’s all-seeing Eye of Sauron at the wheel, me riding shotgun and Yung Fly-Lo in the back.

Twitter came up a lot.

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Ghanaians love humour. Kevin Hart’s is regularly the highest-ranked non-religious podcast listened to by Ghanaians on itunes. Make the mistake of watching a moving, Oscar-worthy, tear-inducing movie scene in mass Ghanaian company, and you shouldn’t be surprised when the solemness of the moment is ruined by someone making a joke – however lame – to diffuse the tension. We make jokes out of anything and everything: it keeps us sane through the daily insanity that comes with being Ghanaian.

The land of a million memes, Twitter is a funny place. The character limit lends itself perfectly to punchlines, and there are users on there who have built entire personas from wit. Which is all well and good, really (unless you’re Boris Johnson: a cautionary tale for every writer with more wit than foresight). But somewhere during my time on there, I also saw Twitter turn… dark. It’s hard to describe it in any precise way. My best attempt would be to say that something that started out as a hive started feeling like a pack. Sure: bees can sting (and I’ve done my fair amount of stinging too). Packs though? They can rip you apart.

There are so many thin lines on Twitter; between ridicule (healthy) and bullying (not so healthy), for example. I’ve seen arguments that start out constructively nose dive into something that looks suspiciously like trolling, which is something that happens on any platform. On Twitter though? No holds barred. I can quickly and easily shut down trolls who show up in my blog comments, for example. That is much harder to do in Twitter: just ask Leslie Jones.

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It’s not just the trolling though. At least that’s overt. There is something else on there that can change even activism into something less noble at times. Maybe it was people I was following who I should simply have unfollowed, but the crux of it reminds me of a close friend who avoids horror flicks, gory scenes and general violence; not just because they scare her, but because she thinks they slowly, insidiously run the risk of desensitizing her to violence and bloodshed.

Insidious (ɪnˈsɪdɪəs) (adjective )

Definition: proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with very harmful effects.

Example: “Sexual harassment is a serious and insidious problem” , “the insidious erosion of rights and liberties”

I started getting that feeling on Twitter. That and a depression of sorts. Something sinking. It came up time and again during those rides and conversations up to Ashesi, and with it, a slow-growing need to shield myself from it all.

The Weight of Expectation: at some point I cannot remember, the number of people who wanted me to follow them back, or who tried to guilt-trip me because I’d promote one thing/person and not the other, or who tried (directly or indirectly) baiting me into subscribing to outlooks on the world that don’t ultimately work became more irritating than they should have. Maybe it was cumulative. Maybe I was paranoid. Either way, suspending the account put an immediate end to all that mess. It actually felt good letting it all go.

Writing: I’d long suspected that my reduced blogging was partly because tweeting allowed me enough of an outlet to vent my thoughts and feelings on things I would otherwise have written about in long-form.

With all of these in mind, I decided one day – on a complete whim – to suspend my account and see how I felt about it.

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God, those first few days were surprisingly rough. I kept feeling the impulse to check on the Tweitgeist. I’d come across an article and feel like other people should know about it. Instinctively, I’d hit my share button and scroll through all the options Android gives you, looking for the Twitter logo… but alas, I’d deleted the app. I’d stare blankly at the phone, sigh, and keep it moving. This happened more times than I now recall. Twitter knows this and counts on it. You cannot just up and delete your account immediately: they suspend it and only finalize deletion if you don’t log in for

Four
Entire
Weeks.

I found it interesting just how entrenched my desire to share had become. I was born at a time when the internet as we know it didn’t exist. I started thinking about those born after sharing became the default, and suddenly started to understand why selfies, internet sex tapes, and Class Talkative had come into existence.

All the while, I had Elidot’s voice at the back of my mind, explaining (like the ZenGuruJediSageBuddhaMaster that he is) that virtual real estate was like actual real estate: it has value. And there I was, ready to swing a wrecking ball.

After two weeks or so, all those feelings and thoughts passed. The overwhelming need to share subsided. I figured out other ways to keep tabs on things (not Facebook: that’s another mess for another day). Elidot and EDWVN always filled me in on the rest. Some of it I missed, much of it I didn’t. I was surprised by the extent to which I didn’t mind being behind on information. I experienced a brief writing spurt but soon went back to my writing indiscipline, although I have since gestated about 150 ideas that all feel ready to emerge now. Two weeks later and the account was gone.

I miss it sometimes. Yesterday, a friend (who also recently left Twitter) mentioned a name I had not heard in awhile and I realized that our friendship had mostly gone down in the DMs. There are a number of such people. Beautiful, awesome spirits. I look forward to reconnecting with them in other ways. I’m not about to launch some ‘Leave Twitter’ campaign: no. Everything said, I still actually like Twitter. Overall though, I feel happy with my decision…

Or maybe I just needed a break. Maybe I’ll sneak back in under a pseudonym and make the occasional sagely observation, looking like I’m following no-one while actually tracking everyone through secret lists.

Or not.

Never say never say never.

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The Gospel of Pablo

There’s a scene in the biopic Ray where an irate group storm one of Ray Charles’ shows to (basically) insist that he stop taking gospel songs and ‘secularizing’ them.  I think of this scene every time I hear Christians who complain about ‘secular’ music.

Why do we always have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the zeitgeist?

Modern gospel music is a strange thing. From a musical standpoint, it’s not actually a genre per se. Instead, it borrows the sounds of other genres (including those its listeners sometimes criticize) and slaps God-related lyrics over them; both reversing and copying what Ray Charles did.

I remember all the shade Kirk Franklin caught (back when I was in secondary school) for his ‘gospelization’ of ‘secular’ hip-hop and R&B. His critics could have looked at it as some kind of reclaiming for gospel of what Charles adapted. After all, R&B is the musical descendant of the soul music that Charles co-invented through secularizing gospel music in the first place.

But no.

Thankfully (and regardless of such creative conservatism), Franklin’s kind of gospel is now very much the norm in Christian circles, at least out here in Ghana. Yet some who have no problem listening to Kirk are still at great pains to draw distinctions between the sacred and the secular; criticizing artists like Adomaa (a preacher’s daughter catching flack for singing outside the church although all her lyrics are in line with her Christian principles), Paapa (who has also shared labels/stages/songs with non-gospel artists) and (still!) Kirk Franklin for anything from not limiting themselves to gospel to associating themselves with sinners. They must be doing something right: Jesus was accused of the very same in his lifetime.

… aaaaand in walks Kanye West.

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Say what you want about his out-of-studio shenanigans: seven critically-acclaimed albums deep, the man has had one of the longest runs in music history. Ever. Kanye’s politics may bore me to tears, but the man is talented. That said, no one in my musical circles had particularly high hopes for his new album (it’s a long story: we’ll tell you about it in a podcast someday).

What rekindled my interest in (‘SWISH‘… sorry, I meant ‘Waves‘… Oh: slight correction…) ‘The Life of Pablo‘ was this headline from Relevant Magazine:

Kanye West’s New Album May Be a Gospel Album Actually

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the word ‘gospel’ that gave me hope here.

Same as it was before I became Christian, gospel is rarely a particularly interesting or innovative genre to me. I hold gospel to a higher standard. It’s not enough to simply praise God with your lyrics. The way I see it, if you’re dedicating your music to a being you worship, then it should blow minds, stretch paradigms and birth new forms. I’m a DJ and when I’m mixing songs together, I may string together songs with similar themes but I’m mostly focused on beats, melodies and such. If your music is a reflection of a God-given gift, then your instrumentation and arrangements and concepts and production, mixing and mastering should all push the envelope. You should never be accused of sounding stagnant. Why? Because creativity is the closest thing (besides reproduction) that humans have to creation. It is a chance to emulate the being you claim created you.

Show it.

The gospel music I usually hear often presents watered down (or watered-up, depending on how you choose to look at it) versions of other genres, without adding anything creative. There are exceptions. Sadly, they aren’t that popular. In contrast, hip-hop (especially Kanye West’s style of it) is often based on samples, opening it up to accusations of being derivative, and yet it still does something creatively interesting to those original sounds.

So, it was obviously the combination of the words ‘Kanye West’ and ‘Gospel’ that caught my attention. Kanye’s public persona is that of a man unhinged and listening to ‘The Life of Pablo‘ (apparently a reference to Paul) confirmed my suspicions, while also shattering any of my doubts in Kanye’s ability to produce yet another creative, interesting and at times awesome album (‘Ultralight Beam’ and ‘FML’ are on loop right now). I have a bunch of problems with the album and I’m not sure I’d call the final cut gospel (whatever that really means), but it’s a deeply human one, and somewhere in there is one of the most earnest cries to God – both in praise and in need – that I’ve ever heard.

There is not much I can say from a critical perspective about ‘Pablo’ that has not already been written elsewhere. I had wanted to write a post looking at it as a gospel album. Then I listened to the Forth District podcast dedicated to dissecting the album track-by-track, and it says everything I was going to say and then some.

So I highly recommend you listen to it too. Especially if you’re not interested in gospel.

A (Mad Late) Review of Lady Jay’s ‘Venus’

I don’t remember who preceded Lady Jay the first time I saw her perform at an AccraDotAlt Talk Party a few years back. I vaguely remember that there were two or three other acts, but specifics evaporated the moment Lady breathed into the mic. She tore two ballads so beautifully apart that my eyes argued with my ears over how a voice rich with that much pain could emerge from such an obviously teenage frame.

After that, I would regularly bump into her at Panji Anoff’s Pidgen Music home studio (alongside the likes of the FOKN Bois and Yaa Pono). I watched while she tried various genres on for size – under the patient mentorship of African Relaxation Techniques’ Sewor Okudzeto (*salute*) – in search of a musical persona balancing the fun and rebellion of her youth with the maturity of her pain. For a while, the latter came more easily to her than the former (except on loose tracks like ‘Turn the Bass Up’ or DJ Juls’ remix of ‘Chillin’’ ).

With ‘Venus’ however, Lady cracked the formula, finding a sound that perfectly captures her fun, but even more so her quirkiness and rebellion. I was once worried about how she would differentiate her style from her friend, Efya’s. On ‘Venus’ however, she did so with confidence, setting herself very clearly apart from the ever-expanding roster of Ghanaian R&B singers.

‘Venus’ is NOT for everyone: it’s poppy, it’s abrasive and – with the exception perhaps of ItzTiffany – I doubt any singer out here would be brave enough to try out something this different. But somehow (as the song progresses) it works.

I’m going to honest here. Ghanaian songwriting in English can be quite um… basic. Okay, I’ll be Poetra Asantewaa-honest: it’s ***t. On ‘Venus’ however, Lady mixes it all up with her Pidgen Music influences and it works for what it is, creating the kind of singalong that has powered many a recent pop hit. I doubt she is actually “badder than Erykah Badu…” but the fact that Erykah is Lady’s standard for badness says a lot about Lady. Like Badu, she is not afraid to chart her own creative style. With an impossibly bigger budget, Venus would actually work well with a Missy Elliot-style video. Missy made an entire career out of converting quirkiness into commercial success: Lady could aim to do the same.

A major part of what makes Venus work is its production.

Continuing what he started with E.L’s (much slept on) ‘Agbadza’, Kuvie may have created an entirely new highlife/hiplife sub-genre while no one was watching. I remember listening to the BBC World Service’ documentary, A Short History of Five Notes, and hearing (the great) Professor John Collins tell (the brilliant) DJ Rita Ray how the ‘clap-clap-clap… clap-clap’ beat that underlies most Ghanaian music is a simplified version of a more complex beat from way back.

Kuvie’s genius has been to go back to that original beat and juxtapose it against the speaker-destroying 808 basslines that characterize today’s trap music. It’s a brave move, as it does not automatically lend itself to Ghanaian dancefloors. It will – however – bump the absolute heck out of your car’s trunk.

The weakest thing about Venus is Sarkodie’s rhyme. As he himself might say, ‘HUH?!’

I am as big a Sarkodie fan as the next Ghanaian (he’s such a force out here that it will soon probably be a citizenship requirement to like his music), but I have to admit to face-palming almost every time he deviates from delivering Twi/pidgin rap masterpieces and tries rhyming in English. He showed promise on ‘New Guy‘, but his rhyme on ‘Venus’ sets the movement back – waaaay back – both in terms of style and (bizarrely American-aping) content. Obidi is capable of so much more than this.

Either way, I look forward to more GH genre-bending from Lady Jay and other local artists. And I look forward to the challenge of dropping Venus the next time I DJ at the Phreak Out Live Music Festival After Party this Saturday (Feb. 20th).

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The Stubbornness of Sugar

Once upon a time, there was a cake baked over centuries; its ingredients fusing in the heat to form a moist, rich, lush vanilla cake. It wasn’t perfect, but it tasted delicious to anyone with a taste for vanilla. To anyone with taste, really.

One day however, some people without a taste for vanilla came along and decided that the cake did not taste right. A somewhat privileged bunch, they demanded that all the cake’s brown sugar be extracted and replaced with white sugar.

Those who originally baked the cake were confused. The brown sugar had been mixed in with all the other ingredients a very long time ago. It formed part of the cake, and was infused throughout it. There was no real way to extract it.

The people without a taste for vanilla would not listen though. The cake obviously had something wrong with it, they figured. Otherwise it would taste like chocolate cake.

Obviously.

Eventually, they cut out a slice of the cake – somehow convincing themselves that this slice contained all (or enough of) the brown sugar – and they replaced it with a big wedge of chocolate cake.

At first, the chocolate wedge looked a little awkward. It was somewhat shorter than the rest of the cake and – although it slotted relatively neatly into the cake – its diameter was a little too wide.

Neither did it address the continued existence of brown sugar in the cake.

Nevertheless, the people without a taste for vanilla were happy. They were convinced that – while it was certainly not as good as a complete chocolate cake – the vanilla cake was now better than whatever it had been before.

After awhile, the people without a taste for vanilla left. And over time, the people with a taste for vanilla acquired a taste for chocolate. They tried to cut the wedge’s diameter a little and raise it (with additional chocolate slices) to the same height as the rest of the vanilla cake, so that it was all at least well-shaped.

As more time passed, they developed a distaste for the vanilla part of the cake, consuming more and more of the chocolate part, importing more and more replacement chocolate wedges. Some said that the vanilla cake with the chocolate wedge tasted more chocolate than chocolate cake and tried exporting it to the people without a taste for vanilla. They convinced themselves that they had made marble cake. Others described it as vanilla cake with chocolate layers.

While such cakes certainly (can) exist, these suggestions are sadly laughable to anyone with eyes to see.

Because – deny it though we might – the people do not have marble cake. Or vanilla cake with chocolate layers.

We have a vanilla cake with a (somewhat random) chocolate wedge in it
And the brown sugar is still very much in the cake
Affecting its taste far more than we care to admit.

Whether we like it or not.

Trips to Thug-O

I was going to write a long rant about this, but there’s no point. So I’ll just say this.

1. It makes no difference whether you enter Togo through the official border or the illegal one. Tried both. Your choice is simply whether you wish to be screwed by people in uniform or people without. Choose wisely. Choose unwisely. Makes no difference.

2. If you ever want a reason to feel like Ghana is progressing, visit Togo by land.

I’m sure my Togolese brethren are wonderful people.

But by the time you go through Togolese customs, you’ll miss Ghana Police.

Fin.