The Debt

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True story: I once met a taxi driver who explained Ghana’s developmental woes to me in simple spiritual terms.

Taxi drivers have all the answers, but we don’t hear them. Accra is noisy, and we like our rides quiet. Or we have just been raised to speak to people, rather than listen to them.

The way he told it, to perform a feat as epic as black independence from a hundred years of white rule, Kwame Nkrumah obviously cut a deal with a spirit:

A blood oath.

Citing biblical chapter and verse, the driver broke down how blood oaths are like loans except instead of borrowing money, you borrow power. As with a loan, you must put down a deposit: the more the deposit, the more power you receive. Nkrumah needed a lot of power to pull off the miracle of African independence.

So he pledged to the spirit the souls of all of Ghana’s unborn children.

The risk must have seemed small: Nkrumah believed in his plans for our fledgeling nation. He would have little trouble securing whatever was needed to alleviate the debt.

Unfortunately for us all – the driver explained – Nkrumah was exiled and died before he could repay whatever debt he owed.

And so our nation is destined to forever be stuck in developmental purgatory until we discover what the debt is, the spirit to whom it is owed, and settle it.

Accra This Week

I once wrote something in DUST magazine about how all great cities spoil their residents for choice with too many events to attend without missing others. At the time, Accra was the utter opposite of that city, but something has since changed and our city is abuzz.

Henceforth, I plan week-by-week on sharing some of the events I might go to. Maybe. Let’s see how long I can keep it up.

Already Started: Hanson Akatti’s Stargate Odyssey

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After years putting in work as one of Ghana’s very best visual artists (easily so), the homie Hanson Akatti is finally exhibiting his work with a series of pop-up exhibitions showing off all the shades of his colourful imagination.

The first event happened last Sunday, so make sure not to miss the next one this Friday.

21 November – 18 February: Akԑ Yaaa Hheko (One Does Not Take It Anywhere) by Paa Joe & Elisabeth Efua Sutherland

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Gallery 1957 will present this collaborative project between renowned fantasy coffin maker Paa Joe and the performance artist Elisabeth Efua Sutherland, exploring funeral practices of the country’s Ga and Fante communities, complete with a performance focusing on the fictional passing of a young girl. The event coincides with with Paa Joe’s 70th birthday and marks his 40th year in the coffin trade.

22nd – 25th November: The Buzz Meets Biz Concerts

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Earlier today, I gave a talk on contemporary Ghanaian music as part of Alliance Francaise’ Buzz Meets Biz (organized by Akwaaba Music). Throughout the week, there will be a series of performances by the young musicians from Ghana and across the world who attended the lecture. I suspect that all the venues they play in (including Alliance Francaise, Republic & Serallio) will need to invest in fire extinguishers.

25th to 26th November: the Seamstress of St.Francis Street

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The brainchild of broadcaster, dramatist, activist (& generally-awesome-human-being) Akosua Hanson, Drama Queens’ latest play will probably entertain as much as it will provoke.

25th November: E.L’s B.A.R Concert 4

EL BAR 25th

Following his mysterious split with the BBnZ imprint, there is an air of unpredictability surrounding E.L and I am curious as to what will come out of it.

I suspect dopeness.

See you around.

 

 

 

On Bad DJing & Ghana’s Ever-Changing Sound

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“Rhythms change every generation. The intensity and the drums change. And I’m not on the pulse. I can’t pretend…” – Andre 3000

Sometime last year, I screwed up one of my few public DJ sets.

I’d been invited by the mighty Keyzus to play the No Requests set at an event appropriately called A Memorable Night. The idea was simple: what songs would a DJ play if – free of crowd expectations – they could play whatever they liked?

It’s a good question here in Ghana.

While a good DJ combines songs people know with songs that they don’t, a great DJ establishes so much trust that their audience is willing to musically go wherever the DJ leads them. I’ve been to clubs elsewhere in the world where people danced all night to songs most of which they didn’t know, simply off the vibe and strength of the music. It’s harder to do that in Ghana. I believe this is because of radio.

Radio stations the world over are aware of the balance to be struck between playing what is already popular and breaking new songs and sounds, but I feel many Ghanaians radio stations lean a little too heavily towards popularity. It makes (short-term) commercial sense but results in a relatively limited musical diet for Ghanaian listeners: one we have become very used to. DJs – whose job it is to be exposed to more music than most – often find ourselves casting aside great songs because we have learned (from hard experience) that our crowds only want to dance to what they know. For a DJ, this can be more than a little frustrating.

Inspired by the younger DJs I shout out at the end of this piece, I decided I would use No Requests to step outside of my comfort zone. I come from a time when most songs were somewhere between 90 to 120 beats per minute (bpm: the unit by which DJs measure music).

Back when I was in early 90s Mfantsipim, most songs had a simple 4/4 pattern and you could do the Running Man to them. But something happened after hip-hop escaped New York and fled to the American South. You couldn’t run to it anymore, but you could snap your fingers to it, do the step (and do it all by yourself). Two decades later, the hip-hop sound is dominated by trap: a sub-genre that often moves somewhere between 70 to 80 bpm (or double-time at 140 to 160 bpm).

This was going to be a challenge.

What Happened

I got a selection of songs ready, arrived on time, plugged in in the corner of the room like a good little DJ, and started playing to the few people who were there on time. I was really pleased to play what I felt was a great set. However, I would later learn that No Requests was a way bigger deal than I had thought: I was scheduled to play later on. In the centre of the room. With the spotlight and cameras on me. While the crowd danced behind me.

Yie.

I could have just replayed the songs I had already played, but it’s not my style to do repeat sets so I tried to diversify. Unluckily for me, I QUICKLY RAN OUT OF OTHER 70 TO 80 BPM SONGS TO PLAY. And so, I started playing my more familiar 90 to 120 bpm songs.

Wrong move.

I mean, my set was okay but it wasn’t great. It didn’t connect with the crowd as much as it could have. It’s partly a generational thing. Three Stacks is right:

The rhythms have changed.

The Mix That Emerged

I put this mix together a few months after the event because of how dissatisfied I was with my set that night, and – while some of my transitions are a little jagged – I was really pleased with how it came out. I was even more pleased when Harmattan Rain – who do a magnificent job documenting new sounds – agreed to host it.

What surprises me about the mix is that – although I’m channelling my inner Eff the DJ – it’s still me:

Never Not Eclectic

Do not be fooled by the Daisy Age/De La Soul graphic accompanying the mix. While I remain massively Native Tongues-influenced, I hop between many non-Native sounds here (which is actually a very Native Tongues thing to do).

I’m particularly proud of what I did to Adomaa and Robin Huws‘ ‘Shii the Song‘: a gorgeous song that didn’t get the airplay it deserved when it came out (because such songs don’t: it goes back to what I was saying about radio). I was surprised to find that it too fell in the trap bpm range and so I slipped it in between some old drum and bass (because I’m old like that)… and Chris Brown’s ‘Look at Me Now’. Weird, but it works.

This. Is. The. Remix

I grew up in a golden age of remixes. Artists wouldn’t release singles without Puff Daddy (as Brother Love was called back then) or someone doing something dirty to them. I wish more Ghanaian musicians would release singles in that format:

  • The Song
  • The Instrumental
  • The Vocals (no instruments)
  • A Remix

There are so many more people who dabble in creating music these days. Giving them access to your instrumentals and vocals will allow them to fiddle and experiment with your music, which not only publicizes your music but sometimes results in gold. Take for example this blend I did of Efya‘s ‘Getaway’ with Breezy’s ‘Loyal’.

Instrumentals

I have become a big fan of Joe Kay of Soulection. One of the things I love about his DJing style is how many instrumentals he plays, allowing listeners to appreciate the work put into songs not just by the artist… but by producers. A great example of this is Beyonce’s ‘Ego‘: there’s this brief but sublime piano solo towards the end (it’s at around 43 mins 30 secs into the mix) that you don’t pay much attention to when you hear the song.

African/Diaspora DNA

I travel far beyond the African continent for this mix, but there’s still some African & diaspora DNA in there, including Yasmeen Helwani (Ghana), Ibeyi (Nigeria/France), The Weeknd (Ethiopia/US), Adomaa (Ghana), Robin Huws (Ghana. Check out his new project), Sarkodie (Ghana) & Samini (Ghana), Wanlov (Ghana), and Odunsi (Nigeria).

I’ve spent much of my DJ career in Ghana supporting underground African music, whether writing about it, playing the music during my stints on Vibe FM, Joy FM and YFM, DJing at underground events, or even DJing – for free – for some of my favourite artists. There are more platforms now (like Harmattan Rain) for such artists and this is a great thing, and I hope it continues.

However, I continue to be obsessed about broadening our national musical palate. Like I said in my last post, Ghanaian music is one of fusion. If you follow where highlife has been, you will find its roots in the merging of local music with styles derived from Caribbean calypso (think of Koo Nimo‘s palm wine guitar) but then it has gone on to fuse itself with whatever genre of music has been most popular with black people across the world. In Nkrumah‘s era, jazz was what was poppin’ in the streets and all of a sudden, highlife sounded like ET Mensah. Then James Brown and (early) Kool & the Gang funk comes along and highlife became afrobeat, captained by Fela but championed in Ghana by the likes of Gyedu Blay Ambolley. Later, we got the electric pop boogie of a post-Jackson 5 Michael Jackson and highlife gave us Charles Amoah. Somewhere in there, Kojo Antwi championed a reggae variant of highlife, no doubt inspired in part by Bob Marley, who remains iconic out here. Hip-hop comes along and we get hip-life, but then American R&B artists discover European-style dance music through the likes of David Guetta and Calvin Harris. All of a sudden, Ghanaian music speeds up and you get azonto (which falls within the same bpm as most dance music). And now, trap is all the rage and suddenly, we have the likes of pappy kojo and more recently, La Meme.

Like most great music (and like us), Ghanaian music is adaptive. It absorbs and evolves and changes. I am increasingly obsessed with what other formulations our music can take. There are so many other music forms out there and I want to know what highlife would sound like if it mixes with less popular genres and artists. As part of DECAF, I try to give space to these broader sounds within the Ghanaian space, in hopes that we will absorb, evolve and change it into newer forms of Ghanaian music. In this regard, the work that the likes of VI Music are doing – particularly on Robin Huw’s sonically expansive EP HUES – warms both my ears and my heart.

I dedicate this mix to Keyzus, to K3V, to Eff, to Steelo, to Michy and all the DJs younger than me here in Ghana who are out there taking risks and pushing musical boundaries. You all inspire the heck out of me.

And apologies to Aubrey Graham, who somehow has two songs on this mix without actually featuring in the mix.

 

Church for Music Geeks

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A while ago, the homie Eli Tetteh and I started exchanging songs with each other; two geeks communing, ten tracks at a time, followed by some great conversation/argument about what makes music good or bad. A few months later, two more friends – EDWVN & Oku Tetteh – joined in. We came up with a format and started recording our conversations. That became a podcast: DECAF.

The day we launched the podcast, we decided to do a live version to introduce people to the format. It was so successful that we have since made it a regular event that has already seen us outgrow two venues.

Highlife music has always been about fusion: from calypso through to jazz, funk, reggae, pop, hip-hop, dance and – most recently – trap, highlife has always, always been influenced by foreign sounds. But while we’re heavily exposed to popular sounds, what would happen if we started drawing our influences from a broader palette, mixing it up with all the musical gorgeousness that exists under the radar? Both with our podcast and our live event, we shine a light on some of those underground sounds in the hopes that it influences some of our very own. And even if it doesn’t, it makes for endless fun and debate, both preceded and followed by a DJ set by Eff the DJ.

It’s basically lit.

If you’re in Accra and feel like hearing some sounds you probably haven’t heard before, drop by (follow @nkenten on Twitter to know when). And if you can’t, but you’re as geeky as we are about music, do tune into the podcast.

To Aris

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Nine months and a day ago today, I pondered heaven’s poetry.

The doctor had just informed us that you were due on September 5th: a day before your late grandmother’s birthday. My mind dug through my DJ crates and pulled out Lauryn Hill:

“Consequence is no coincidence.

Birthdays are no exact science. Babies come when they are good and ready (I debuted seven weeks early – one of a few times I was ever early for anything). The doctor said a few things that day but – in my version of things – all I will remember is him saying that you would be born on your grandma’s birthday.

We hear what we want to.

Although she would have many in a spiritual sense, your African feminist grandmother never had a daughter; something I always thought most unfortunate. Grandma would have raised one of those girls who leads, shatters through things, and emerges unscarred, brushing the glass off her shoulders as though it were lint. The firstborn of her two boys, I dreamt of giving her that girl. I still have memories of walking home from classes, picturing an older, wiser version of myself with a daughter who would think of me as a father and a friend, much as your grandmother was a friend to me. The thought of her playing with her granddaughter filled me with light.

Ever the upstart, my younger brother (your Uncle Ebow) gave Grandma her first grandchild. Men may not have biological clocks, but something definitely started ticking somewhere within me the day I met your cousin. Something screamed at me that I had to give this boy a cousin. Uncle Ebow and I spent the latter part of our childhoods in my grandmother’s Cape Coast home with my three cousins (your uncles Awuku and Addo, and Aunt Boatema). Four boys. One girl.

Your cousin Cassius was a boy. There was still a chance…

And then, there wasn’t.

I met your mother and married her within two years of Grandma’s passing: something I still put down to Grandma arriving up there and whispering something in God’s ear.

I was surprised when – a few months into the pregnancy – a French doctor told us we were having a boy (and the due date was September 12th).

I had always told myself that I would love my child whatever their sex (and whoever they are). But – in that moment – I realized that I had no imagery whatsoever of what it would be like raising a son (in spite of having once written about the importance of it). It was something I simply had not taken the time to picture before. My mind was working with a blank slate.

For some reason, I panicked.

I pictured teenage rebellion and the way in which the young often begin defining their own adulthood and identities in opposition to their parents’. I remembered the many times your grandfather and I had massive disagreements, and I imagined oedipal arguments and rifts with you.

At some point in my paranoia however, I remembered that I am surrounded by many examples of men who have friendships with their sons. Uncle Seton and your cousin Ekow who shares his name. My siblings – your uncles Ebow and Ekow – who both have beautiful relationships with their sons. In particular, I remembered my first-ever best friend, Ben, and his (now late) father, Mitch; a second father to me as a child. I have watched Ben and Mitch’s relationship since I was seven, and I remember marveling at how they would meet up once, even twice a week, for coffee and a catch-up. Or how Mitch – a renowned neuroscientist – once came by the house to share an afternoon smoke (*ahem*) in the garden with his son (don’t get any ideas).

Images of a son really started forming when I remembered how many times people had told your mother and I that we look alike (with more than one person confusing our fathers at the wedding). All of a sudden I could picture what you would actually look like: both of us. And finally, I read this article about inherited geekery and then I really started looking forward to fathering you. Who else but a geek would overthink such things? And who do you think I inherited that from? One of my earliest memories is of sitting on your grandfather’s lap, watching the original series of Star Trek. If you think your father is uncool, blame your grandfather.

In the end, you were not born on my mother’s birthday. Arriving a week early, you were born on a Tuesday. The same day of the week that I was born. And so, although we gave you a host of other names, by Akan custom you too are a Kobina.

My name is yours.

There is something symbolic about this to me. I feel like my mother has passed me the buck. And it’s comforting. Ultimately, like all my ancestors, my mother lives in me. In my memories of the past. In my present worldview. I am her. She is the royalty inside my DNA. And you will know her through me. Her influence (and that of many other good men and women around me) will dictate how you are raised and – with any luck – the man that you will become.

Which is why on the anniversary of her birthday, it seems appropriate for me to celebrate and be thankful for yours.

Welcome, Son.

Pidgin Won’t Die (& You Need to Get Over It)

I have already spelled out my thoughts on Pidgin. Predictably, I have taken flack for those thoughts, so the first time I heard that the BBC is launching a service in Pidgin, I had a really good laugh. Like many, I still have memories of all the warnings from my Ghanaian teachers that Pidgin ruins one’s English. To hear that the British Broadcasting Corporation (of all the world’s English-exporting corporations) is launching a service in Pidgin…

Okay: I’m still laughing.

How do I feel about it though? Part of me thinks it is a great idea. It allows information about our world to reach more people, and for more people to potentially participate in sharing their information and experiences with the rest of the world. It also celebrates a language that has thanklessly served and entertained us for centuries. What’s not to like?

However, another part of me hates the idea that people will see it as some kind of validation of Pidgin. The thought that the language Fela once used to force people to think about their colonial mentality can somehow be validated by the very people he was railing against is galling. My inner cynic sees it less as a validation than a cashing-in, but the truth is that there is a beauty to it.

My teachers were not entirely wrong: research does suggest a link between Pidgin and problems with proficiency in mainstream English. Nevertheless, I do not think the solution to those problems is a ban.

The idea to ban Pidgin is incredibly unimaginative. For one, it simply doesn’t work: ask successive generations (upon generations upon generations upon generations) of educators –  from the colonial period to date – how successful they have been in banning Pidgin. Any success stories you find represent battles won in a war lost:

Pidgin prevails.

Students may not speak it when their teachers are nearby, but as soon as they are around other Pidgin speakers (as they inevitably will be, whether in school or outside), you had better believe that their Pidgin will flow like palm wine at a tapper’s convention. The audacity to think that you can halt pidgin in its tracks when centuries of educators have failed to do so is the kind of audacity we need to keep moving our societies forward, and I commend that. However, there is a word in English for doing so in the same failed way as all your predecessors.

A clue: it isn’t ‘audacious’.

The point of English in a country like Ghana should be to unite us across our vast ethnic diversity. But if more Ghanaians speak (and get the chance to shape) Pidgin than they do English, then maybe English is not pulling its weight. And that is not exclusively Pidgin’s fault.

In my personal opinion, Pidgin is blamed for many problems that far predate it. Anyone I know who was given a strong foundation in English before they were exposed to Pidgin is able to shift between English and Pidgin without any problems. This was certainly my own experience. It reminds me of research that shows how babies are able to learn more than one language at the same time. As such, rather than banning pidgin, it makes sense to make sure more people get stronger foundations in English much earlier in life. The fact that so few of my students raise their hands when I ask them who loves reading is a testament to things that we will need to dissect if we are ever going to improve English proficiency in this country, whether we speak pidgin or not.

Sadly, improving early education isn’t possible for everyone. But that’s another thing: we also need to start thinking about why English (or any other European language) is the main language of African white collar employment. There are countless tweets and videos laughing at Ghanaians who do not speak fluent English, but – while there may be some links between language and intelligence – there is no link between the English language in particular and intelligence. Our society would be a better one if we all remembered that. English is great for those who leave our shores, but less so for the vast majority of people who do not. Until it is, maybe English – and its champions – need to sit down and be a bit more humble. Let’s not kid ourselves: the ‘either (English) or (pidgin)’ argument is a losing one and has been for a very long time. Pidgin is not going to die.

And neither should it have to.

Multiply

A Holy Man was once chased far from town by a crowd of a few thousand people, each of whom wanted something different from him:

Health. Purpose. Freedom. Signs. Wonders.

Touched by the weight of their need, he walked among them and healed as many as possible for as long as he could. But that only satisfied a part of the crowd. His apprentices grew concerned: the sun was setting, their location was remote, and, unless they left immediately, all the food sellers would be closed before anyone made it back home.

The Holy Man heard them out, balancing patience with impatience. Had they not heard this story before? He asked if they had any food they could share out, but all they had found was a small stash of bread and fish donated by a little boy:

Five loaves and two little fishes.

Though his apprentices were an often-bumbling bunch, he could tell they were being sincere. But he knew how unlikely it was that – in a crowd of thousands – the only person with any food was one boy. He knew what he had to do, but wished he didn’t: he wished they would all just believe. But people have a need for spectacle.

They need to be fed.

So, he had his apprentices each find a basket. Then he had them calm the crowd down, seating everyone in groups of fifty. And once they were the only ones left standing, he said a prayer of thanks; asking God to bless what the little boy had so selflessly shared. Then he broke each loaf and put a little food in each basket, asking his apprentices to make sure everyone received some. They stared at him, but he smiled and, having learned to trust that smile, they went.

And that’s when the miracle happened:

The baskets went around, those who lacked took and, inspired by the example of a selfless little boy, those who didn’t lack gave. And there was so much that each of the apprentices brought back a full basket. They marvelled, and the people – having each received what they needed – left.

And the Holy Man shook his head and smiled at how these events would end up being told.

Death’s Digital Etiquette

I originally wrote this a few years ago after the passing of Komla Dumor. The topic it covers seems especially poignant today; not just on account of Major Mahama’s funeral, but because of the departure of yet another witty, intelligent, glorious young patriot who I won’t name for reasons explained in the piece.

Mourn the living today, because the ancestors’ gain is our genuine loss.

If there is one thing that Ghanaians do better than anyone else, it is death. Not dying; anyone can do that. Death, however, is very much ours. Our Nigerian cousins can keep their banquet-like super weddings:

We have Death.

Entire weekends can be spent hopping from funeral to funeral. Cross-country, for those who can afford the time and money. We have bank loans that target the bereaved because that’s how much money we spend sending off the dead. And that’s what it’s all about really: honouring those joining the ancestors. Our funerals involve heavy mourning followed by heavy celebration. We place that much bearing on ancestry. The past. Where we’re from. The white man may have changed our attitudes towards many of our traditions, but they couldn’t touch death.

Death is ours.

You see it in coffins carved to the point of high art along the Ga coastline; or in the absence of obituaries in newspapers, because the space is taken up by funeral announcements. Why focus on one person’s passing when you can take money to advertise ten? We advertise death on mega-sized billboards across the city; not just to show off, but because – although specific details are often kept private – death is an experience shared. Everyone must know so that everyone can get involved.

How then do we do death when sharing is increasingly such a digital experience?

Nothing brings this question into sharper focus than the events online following the recent passing of the broadcaster, Komla Dumor.

As I type, the ancestors are yet to receive Komla, but they have surely heard word that he is on his way to them. I am sure that they are as shocked to receive one so young and so brilliant as we are to have lost him.

Word of his sudden passing started making the rounds early on Saturday the 18th of January. When death happens, Ghanaians call family wherever in the world they are. In an Africa where the mobile phone has become a fixture across space, age, class, and such, text messages, Facebook updates and emails started flying around. One or two websites posted the story. The rapper, Sarkodie, tweeted that he was waiting for confirmation from the BBC. There was something comical here: waiting for confirmation of the passing of a local son from the mouthpiece of the old colonial master. To be fair however, this was a special case: Komla actually worked for said mouthpiece, doing his part to change the popular African narrative of negativity into a multifaceted one telling the story of all the Africas: rich, poor, young, old, north, south, black, white and everything in between.

As the leaked news was eventually confirmed, people scrambled for explanation. Komla was a public figure, savvy (and Ghanaian) enough to have a Facebook page, as well as a presence on the likes of Instagram. While some dug up and shared pictures they were lucky enough to have taken with Komla, others ploughed through Komla’s online photographs. Very soon, someone had posted a picture of one of Komla’s children with the caption, ‘Is this child too without a father?

Somewhere, a line had been crossed.

It would perhaps be crossed again when a Whatsapp conversation between Komla and a close friend leaked out and went viral. The message was recent, ending with Komla thanking God as he walked out of a meeting in which he had landed the job as the BBC’s point man for Brazil 2013. However, it also divulged arguably private details about the state of his health, and pointed fingers at an unnamed few who had caused him considerable stress at work.

Courtesy of an active few, Ghana has a heavy presence across social media. Ghanaians are engaging with the internet – in one way or another – in increasing numbers, from posting pictures on Facebook to holding simple conversations on Whatsapp. We download indiscriminately: not just movies, music and TV shows, but – importantly – images. Few businesses in Ghana use original photography to advertize their wares. Ludacris seems to have had his hair cut at every barbershop in the city. Rihanna, Beyonce and Denzel will each be surprised to find how many little boutiques they have modelled for across Accra. If any law exists here banning the use of anything other than original images in their advertising, it has been broken a million times over. In such a space, what is Death’s digital etiquette?

We share. We share. We share.

But do we feel?

I read a recent piece I can no longer find about a hierarchy of grief; about the right of the bereaved to not hear of (or be assaulted by) their loss from strangers.

I agree.

 

#YouGonLearnToday

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This is for the many people who have told me over the years that they wish they could attend one of my classes… but haven’t been able to make it up the road to Ashesi.

The always-awesome Nubuke Foundation have given me the chance to present a public lecture this evening as part of their ‘Ghana Must Go’ series. I plan on using the opportunity to connect a lot of dots together including:

  • The importance of meme culture
  • The significance of Shatta Wale and his entire movement
  • White Jesus
  • Oprah
  • Fake News
  • The merits of Pidgin English
  • Your parents’ addiction to Whatsapp
  • Heritage Africa
  • And all manner of seemingly random stuff…

… all in the name of getting education out of the classroom and out into the streets.

It’s at 7pm, it’s free and it will be followed by a DJ set by Eff the DJ.

And you’re very invited.

Before & After

 

Images by Sena-8402

Today marks exactly two years since I first kissed the woman I would subsequently share my life with.

Born of a cocktail of chance, heart and insanity at Kotoka International Airport, that kiss was when our companionship began. Sure: we celebrated a year of being married a few weeks back. But (though beautiful as it was important) our wedding was merely social validation for something we already held true. I know I still owe everyone an explanation (incoming) for what made me ‘change my mind’ about marriage. For those who can’t wait, let me sum it up in a word:

Shari.

I learned the meaning of divorce at the age of 7. A year or two later, I told my grandmother that I would marry as soon as I turned 18. My mother had just moved my brother and I from London to Cape Coast and I had already heard about people having problems abstaining from something called ‘sex before marriage’ (or as we kids called it, ‘Oh James!‘ because that’s what Bond Girls always exclaim before the screen faded to black). Early marriage seemed the obvious solution to my purity-culture-indoctrinated mind. I remember how hard Grandma laughed, but I did not care: I was going to marry as soon as I could. Years later, I – of course – discovered that there are other variables to the damn thing.

Many variables.

So many variables.

Today, I remember all the people who dismissed me as not serious (or worse). People who thought I was waiting for perfection. All the advice (“don’t be so scared of divorce” and “expand your horizons: you’re expecting too much from just one woman” still stand out). I remember trying (to the point of tears) to make relationships work. The agony of defeat when they didn’t. With regret, I remember hearts broken. And I remember eventually locking my heart in a box so it would stop hurting people. People including myself.

All these things exist in a nebulous time in my life that I will henceforth refer to as ‘Before Meeting Her’.

‘After Meeting Her’ on the other hand has been a period marked by a daily kind of joy. Two years is too short a time within which to celebrate a relationship. I’ve always looked with immense skepticism at young couples publicly celebrating their love (with beautifully orchestrated and posed-for pictures) on social media. My awe is reserved for grandparents who still laugh with each other after years of love and struggle, the way my step-grandparents did (before Grandpa left Mamaa – and all of us – a few years back). Years from now, I hope Shari and I still get in the car to go to events, only to turn around because we would much rather just spend time laughing in each other’s company. I hope that we are still as comfortable with each other as we are now, sharing everything from finances and duties around the house. And Love. I hope we remain awash in it.

Two years into this thing we have, I am thankful.

Possibly the warmest person I have ever met, Shari is a force; one who daily shifts my life’s motion towards light. She is better than me at so many things. She reads and plans and hoards and curates. She has a better ear for music than I do, and this weird ability to absorb a song after one listen, forcing us to be VERY CAREFUL about what we listen to, lest a maddeningly annoying song gets stuck in her head for days on end. She is a professional I have much to learn from, only just beginning to understand the extent of her potential: the kind of person who receives compliments graciously but has yet to believe them.

This is the woman I’m lucky enough to love.

Images by Sena-8396

(Photos courtesy of Sena Kpodo)