Amazingly, the first time I heard Stonebwoy’s infectious-as-heck ‘Baafira‘ (featuring Sarkodie) was when Phiona Okumu brought to my attention this acoustic mashup of the song with Sarkodie’s (arguably more ubiquitous) collaboration with Castro (RIP), ‘Adonai‘.
The singer’s name was Adomaa, her mashup really (really, really) worked, her voice was beautiful, but – more than all that – I was struck by how much personality this artist projected from a video composed entirely of her singing while swaying from side-to-side in a chair. With her subsequent ‘Evolution of GH Music‘ video – creatively chronicling Ghana’s highlife genre’s journey from mid-twentieth century to date – she continued setting herself apart. Her videos oozed a quality and inventiveness (plus an understanding of the lineage from which she descends) that Ghanaian artists with bigger budgets often lack.
When I received an invitation to listen to the EP, it came with a warning that this was a very different kind of project. I did not take it seriously. Everyone and their uncle’s second mistress uses those words in Ghana, but our imaginations are often so stifled that our creative outcomes rarely depart from the norm.
Afraba is not the norm though.
Much like Sade is simultaneously the name of the artist Helen Folasade Adu and the band she plays with, Adomaa is both the singer and her team – VI Music; a 360 degree crew of young ARTists with art in mind. Willing to experiment. Push boundaries. Do things differently.
And this is where the EP reminds me of Rihanna’s new album, ANTI.
ANTI is like Rihanna handed us all an iPod containing thirteen or so songs she has curated from various genres, the sole connecting thread being that she enjoys them all. Good Girl Gone Bad? Try Bad Girl Gone Rogue; an artist who – freshly signed to her own label – will not serve up the bangers you expect from her, but who has found the confidence to share with you what she listens to, ignoring whatever the latest trends are (in EDM).
Surprisingly, albums are rarely made this way: music is a business, record companies like safe, quick returns, and it is rare that you will find an artist that does not pander to what the market wants. In Ghana, this limits artists to a few genres. Forget those diverse sounds you repost on Soundcloud: give the people that kpanlogo clap-clap-clap clap-clap they want.
Adomaa’s Afraba EP is cut from the same rebellious cloth as Rihanna’s ANTI.
With sterling production work by The Gentleman, Afraba is deeply ambitious in its deviation, eschewing electronics in favour of afropop (‘Traffic Jam’), pop-rock (‘Tempo’), stripped-down acoustic guitar (‘Shii the Song’), and classic palm-wine highlife (on the title track, which also has guitar work by the brilliant Kyekyeku, spoken word poetry by Nana Asaase, and storytelling by Maame Dorkono, no less). ‘Hollow Spaces’ sounds – at different points – like it either belongs on the soundtrack to the Lion King or the Dark Knight. The songwriting across the EP is genuinely personal, laden with poetry and concepts upon concepts. The EP’s skits are good enough to count as some of my favourite tracks (particularly the first, featuring a somewhat terrifying turn from Akosua Hanson). They reveal much about the lady behind the microphone, showing the process of Adomaa shedding her insecurity (hence her self-confessed obsession with the butterfly).
Adomaa is the daughter of a preacherman and addresses it on record on ‘Born Again’, playfully pointing out the ridiculousness of the imagined division between secular and sacred that is only ever expected of musicians. The song is followed by a message from her father that provides a touching example of that rare thing: an African parent providing support to their creative African child.
There are things to analyze here, to dissect and to respect.
I’m in awe that a young (and apparently shy) Ghanaian has been brave enough to be herself and let her creativity take full flight above market concerns. Butterfly? Please. Adomaa went from insect to dragon, creatively speaking. I hope other Ghanaian artists will listen to this, let loose and be more brave, more honest, more creative (especially in the area of songwriting). Some people will get it. Others won’t. But I hope that this will be a game changer or part of a bigger change in Ghanaian music.
The EP is not perfect. There are a few moments where witty dialogue isn’t as clear as it could be because there is too much going on musically. The music at times falls a little short of its creative ambitions… or -alternatively – seems overambitious. ‘Hollow Spaces’ (composed by her brother, Tronomie the Anomaly, who I am proud to call a former student) in particular divided the audience at the EP listening session, some balking at the complete shift in mood, suggesting it should either be toned down or cut into two. I felt the same way at first, but I have since changed my mind. While it needs just a little more tweaking to best reflect the fact that it is a tale being told in three movements, the song is a very strong statement to end the EP with and perhaps best represents what it stands for: it’s daring and deeply different to what else is out here (with the exception perhaps of Efya’s ‘Falou’). And – as Adomaa herself might put it – neither the song nor the EP have to be perfect to resonate: “You can shii the song.”
Afraba makes me proud to live in a Ghana where young people aren’t afraid to try new things and to be themselves. This is the kind of thing I live and work for.
It gives me hope.