Like a third of the population of Ghana, I have a small crush on Rebecca Acheampong. I’m ashamed to say it’s all physical: I like her smile, her shape and her style, the last of which I’d describe as ‘elegantly African’.
I’m not the biggest fan of Becca’s music though.
I have friends who have a problem with Becca’s voice. They say she can’t sing. I disagree. I don’t think you have to do Beyonce/Jennifer Hudson-style histrionics to be able to sing. Madonna and Janet Jackson are two examples of women with limited vocal ranges who have done pretty damn well for themselves. You just have to sing songs that suit your voice, which I think Becca could do just fine…
… if she was given the right songs.
Interestingly, Becca launched her debut album, Sugar, simultaneously in Ghana and in South Africa. She even had South African jazz legend, Hugh Masekela, on two or three tracks. That impressed me: South Africa is one of the continent’s biggest markets and if she makes it there, her team stand to make a lot more money than many of the local artists who stick so unimaginatively to the Ghanaian market.
The thing is – given her style (which owes a lot to artists like Miriam Makeba and Yvonne Chaka Chaka) – Becca is going to be compared in South Africa to other elegantly African acts like Zamajobe and Lira…
… and frankly her songs just don’t match up.
My favourite Becca joint is ‘Hey Ba‘: the horns and arrangement of that track make it sound both fresh and funky. ‘Daa Ke Da‘ isn’t half bad either, although not quite my cup of mellow. Most of B’s other singles however are somewhat banal. That’s not to say that things can’t get better. I think that with the right songs, she could live up to the praise she’s apparently received from the likes of Masekela and Freshlyground.
Right now though – from ‘You Lied to Me‘ all the way to her latest single, ‘Forever‘ (which actually isn’t half bad) – Becca’s songs may be popular here… but they just won’t cut it on an international level.
Take ‘Fire‘ for instance. Whose bright idea was it to release a song containing the lyrics ‘there is fire on the mountain’ when another African female singer – the brilliant Asa – has a song with that title out that is not only better (kraaa…) but which is also popular both here and internationally? It opens both songs up for comparison and even the most hardcore Becca fan would be hard pressed to say that ‘Fire‘ outdoes Asa.
Let’s bring it closer to home though. Right here in Ghana, Becca’s problem can be summed up in one name:
Efya Awindor has come a long way since her days on ‘Stars of the Future‘ and the group the talent show spawned, ‘Irene and Jane‘. She too is being managed by Ghanaians with South African links. She is also being projected as being musically mature, elegant and eclectic… with an added dash of Lady Day‘s inner chaos. Efya has a better range than Becca. In fact, when she sings, people stop and use words like ‘wow’, ‘damn’ and ‘ei’. She has a few songs that are unofficially in circulation (back when she was still just Jane) and with the time she is taking to craft her album, anticipation is high that she will deliver something that reflects the talent she consistently displays in her live performances. If she succeeds, we may just have a genuinely internationally-marketable Ghanaian album on our hands.
Becca and Efya are two completely different artists. Efya should be able to co-exist in the same market as Becca in the same way Becca did with her predecessors… but let’s not celebrate mediocrity. Becca needs better songs. If she does not get them, she can kiss goodbye to any international aspirations.
In fact, with competition heating up at home, she may just have to kiss goodbye to her local aspirations too.