Please go and listen to this song for a moment.
Cool tune, right? So how come I am one of a handful of DJs who has been playing it for the past two years or so?
I was once on-air playing my usual eclectics when a DJ from another station called to ask me where I get my music from. I get asked this question often. Many a DJ would respond vaguely: no one wants to give away ‘trade secrets’. I don’t have that luxury though. The music I play has to be shared, otherwise there is a chance that it will die.
I choose to play music that isn’t very popular here in Ghana. I like some popular songs, but the way I see it, everyone plays the popular stuff, so popular artists don’t need support. Artists on the fringes however – wherever they are in the world, whatever genres of music they are making – do.
Some people still leave it to radio to tell them what is cool. They delegate, thinking that radio DJs receive everything, sort the wheat from the chaff and play them the best music. If a song or artist is not getting airplay, it must be because they just aren’t very good.
While sometimes true, it’s usually way more complicated than that.
Often, music doesn’t even reach the DJs. Many artists simply do not know how to
take advantage of new media and use it to promote their own music. Not every musician is good at the business of music. You see, creativity isn’t really about money-making. It is simply about being creative. The two require different skill sets and few people have both.
Even when they do have both however, musicians still encounter DJs who dabble in pay-for-play. Other DJs may want to play their music but find their hands tied by management, forced to stick to particular formats, genres and songs. Other DJs choose to literally play it safe by only playing what is already ‘poppin’ in the clubs.
To each their own.
I feel that – with one or two exceptions – Ghanaian radio stations are incredibly lazy when it comes to making hits. They like to play what is already popular. It’s a safe formula: push no boundaries. Do not play anything that might alienate anyone. Radio stations make their money from big audiences. Advertisers pay big money to reach those audiences. The way the stations see it, why go through the risk of making hits when you can play old hits or songs that are already hits elsewhere.
This is quite acceptable for adult stations. Adults like (in fact, need) to listen to the songs that were big around the time they lost their virginity: everyone loves a bit of nostalgia. But what about youth stations?
Youth is about rebellion. Teenagers go through this period of differentiating themselves from their parents, who suddenly hear their children describing them as ‘uncool’ (even kids who like their parents’ tastes rarely admit it to their peers). It’s not a bad thing. Children do this in order to discover and become more confident in themselves. It is an important part of the natural process of becoming an adult. During this period of self-discovery, youth often express themselves through art forms like music, creating and reveling in sounds and rhythms that their parents may not even understand. It’s a phase, but it is a defining one. Parents should understand: they went through it too. This constant state of flux pushes the boundaries of art and music.
So what happens when youth stations peddle conformity rather than rebellion?
Money isn’t inherently a bad thing, but too often in Ghana, we get the balance wrong and lean everything so severely in the direction of money that art suffers. In the case of radio, we end up with stations that fail to grow our musical palate. They fail in the task that you have delegated to them: to play you the best music out there. Instead, they play you a little of it. This is a shame.
Thankfully, there is a growing number of people in Ghana who know that there is more out there. For this group, the good news is that artists can now connect directly with you without the help of middle men, music companies and radio stations. You don’t have to wait for DJs to play what they think (or have been told) is cool. All it takes is internet access and a willingness to look for music instead of waiting for it to come to you.
Here are some of my favourite places to look. Click on the logos to see them for yourself.
My underground isn’t limited to Ghana, so SoulCulture is always my first port of call. Great music and many an exclusive. On-point geek culture too.
The ladies at Afripop! (especially Phiona Okumu) have excellent taste in music from Africa and her diaspora. Theirs is also my favorite website for everything related to African/Diaspora popular culture anyway.
Whatever you choose to call it, if you like neo-soul then this is definitely the place for you. I get a LOT of music from the good people at Soulbounce.
Twitter has always been a great source of music for me. The trick is to follow your favorite artists. Smart artists always let their followers know when they have released new music. Once you’re there, also follow accounts like BigxGH.com – a one-man 2DBZ for popular Ghanaian music whose website is also worth regular check ups. Also follow the likes of Museke and GhanaMusic.com.
Soundcloud is social media for music lovers. Open a Soundcloud account and – here too – find and follow the artists that you like. Many a Ghanaian artist is finding their way onto Soundcloud and you’ll know whenever they release new music, mixes and more.
Okayplayer is – and always has been – one of the best websites to visit if you like your hip-hop and soul a little left of center. With the addition of spin-off sites including OkayAfrica, OkayFuture & The Revivalist, it is a formidable one-stop shop for music around several genres in the worldwide underground.
One for the hip-hop heads. Whether you like it overground, underground, whatever… 2DBZ is for you. Pretty damn comprehensive, and updated several times a day with brand new music, album art and tracklistings.
Ben LeBrave’s website throws up many a gem, not just from Ghana but from across the continent. Just like his DJ sets.
I also visit Metacritic for quick reviews and to check their release schedule to make sure I don’t miss out on any major record label releases.
Championing artists like Lianne La Havas and Azealia Banks long before it was popular to do so, PMOI is especially dope on account of my home girl Amelia’s ‘We Love…‘ download series, which is – as she puts it – ‘for the broad of mind and empty of hard drive’.
Possibly the most important tool in your quest. While I am a fan of Chrome, I highly recommend you use Firefox when looking for music and intimately familiarize yourself with how to use the plugin ‘Video Download Helper’. Trust me, it works on more than just video. As the old saying goes, “a word to the wise is enough”.
Alternatively, you can just do the automaton robot sheep thing and wait to be told what is cool.
To each their own.