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

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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.

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.

What I’m Feeling: August 2016 (Part Two: More Than Music)

As I explained last week, there is a lot more local content than just music that I’ve been feeling recently. So – as promised – here is my non-musical accompaniment to last week’s list. Again: those in the know will already know most of these, but – in the immortal words of Fela Kuti – “who no know go know”.

Cornfields in Accra

13419066_282892668718036_1329141475390550252_nIf you have not gone to see Cornfields in Accra – the annual end-of-year exhibition of the KNUST’s Painting and Sculpture Department – happening now until the end of August (ignore the flyer date: it’s been extended) at the Museum of Science & Technology (opposite the Tigo HQ) – you’re really, really, really missing out. And next time, don’t miss the launch: it’s always busy, but the artists are on hand.

The AccraWeDey Podcast(s)

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More than just listening to the podcast(s), I have watched the entire AccraWeDey movement for the past year or two, and – alongside Signatures and Swaye Kidd’s CulArtBlog (and each in different ways) – I really think they are the successors to what we were trying to do with DUST magazine back in the day: curating Accra in a manner that speaks as much to conscience and community as it does to style.

Others often focus solely on things that are shiny and largely inaccessible (think of all those write-ups you see in international newspapers talking about how Accra is the new cool, for example). They fail to capture Accra’s spirit and all the things that bring us together across all the other things that could divide us. Accra We Dey rise above all that to find depth, and I cannot help but be proud of their hustle.

Signatures Magazine

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At the launch of Issue Zero, Signatures’ co-founder – Jason Nicco-Annan – jokingly introduced himself as (being better known as) Julian (DJ Juls)’s little brother. I hope that mess is over now. Sure: Juls was in the mix, but every single page of Signatures jumps with the same attention to detail and eye for beauty, trends and movements that Jason possessed way before he was Associate Editor back at DUST. 

Issue Zero was a good test run. Having heard a few rumours, I’m very much looking forward to Issue One.

CulArtBlog

Ending the post-DUST troika is Swaye Kidd’s CulArtBlog. There is more than one Accra, and Mr. Kidd seems the man most in touch with the one that I inhabit. I am pretty sure CulArtBlog has covered every single artist I featured on last week’s list. And more. If you are looking for what’s going on in underground Accra, CulArtBlog is a pretty good place to start…

AccraDotAlt / The Chalewote Street Art Festival

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… and AccraDotAlt is a good place to end. About a decade ago, there were a number of us who each set out to shape an alternative Accra to the mainstream before us. DUST was a part of that. SoulNMotion was a part of that. PY Addo’s Bless the Mic was a part of that. The Kweku Ananse Show on Vibe FM was a part of that. There were many more, but of all us, the last entity standing – if not stomping – is very much AccraDotAlt and we have all thrown our collective weight behind Mantse Aryeequaye and Dr. Sionne Neely’s brainchild and all its cultural fruit: Sabolai Radio, the Talk Party Series, and of course, the big one… like winter in Game of Thrones, Chalewote is coming. Peep the AccraDotAlt Radio blog too: the artist updates ahead of this year’s event are pretty dope.

YoyoTinz

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The recent Sarkodie & m.anifest beef was the best representation of the evolution of Ghanaian hip-hop/hiplife/GH rap (or whatever you choose to call it) into a genre that has begun placing as much emphasis on lyricism as it does on its ability to move your body. It was no surprise when YoyoTinz hosted a talk on the topic: they are the outfit who have done the most to champion the genre – past, present and beyond mere promotion – into something that is dissected, documented and discussed.

The Studio

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Another creative collective who have my attention and respect is the one including photographer, Francis Kokoroko; illustrator/graphic designer Sena Ahadji; stylist Mawuli FudogloDJ Steelo; producer Yaw P, and more. Besides being better dressed than you, they have been curating some of the finest artists and talks of 2016 in the Osu-based studio around which they loosely operate.

The Nubuke Foundation + ANO Ghana

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One of my favourite art spots, Nubuke is all about recording, preserving and promoting Ghanaian art, and they have been supportive of younger artists and groups, including the Accra Theatre WorkshopEhalakasa (Alliance Francaise Accra gets a shoutout for doing the same). The last time I was there, I saw the latter half of one of the best ever performances I’ve seen by the force, talent and majesty that is Poetra Asantewaa.

That event was organized by Nana Oforiatta Ayim who – in addition to her cultural research work with ANO Ghana – has been doing a magnificent job of making Gallery 1957 more than just a commercial art space, but a home for excellent programming around the younger, fresher faces of Ghanaian contemporary art.

Nuku Studio + The Beyond Collective

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More than just taking pictures, photography is art too and there is probably no collective in Accra that is more of a testament to this than Nuku, whose workshops are as much about photography as they are about philosophy. Nuku’s Nii Obodai and Seton Nicholas also play roles in Beyond: a collective who have very much been in the business of setting new standards for art out here. I cannot wait for Beyond 3.

Bright Ackwerh + the Kuenyehia Prize for Contemporary Ghanaian Art

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Attending the unveiling of this year’s Kuenyehia Prize with Mrs. A-G a few months back, we wanted Bright Ackwerh to win but we didn’t think he would. His art turns many industry conventions  on their head. Besides being digital in creation, understanding Ackwerh’s work often requires an understanding of Ghanaian popular culture and whatever topics are trending on local radio/Twitter. His works are thus far more accessible to the ordinary than they are to the elite or to any (career) appreciators of fine art. Not unlike the FOKN Bois, Bright’s work makes you laugh as much as it makes you think.

I let out a shout when Bright was announced the winner. And I really have to commend the Kuenyehia Prize (and its founder, Elikem Nutifafa Kuenyehia) not only for having the vision to award Ackwerh, but also for existing in the first place; for finding a way to support contemporary art. Not for personal profit but at personal expense and for the sake of community.

It’s a beautiful thing.

Tea Baa + Cafe Kwae + The… Spot Just Off Spintex I Won’t Name

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The three food & drink joints I’m in love with at the minute, particularly on holidays. I have spent almost everyday of my summer break writing (and randomly bumping into awesome people) at Kwae. While Republic will always, always hold a special place in my heart, Dedo Azu’s Tea Baa has become the place I’m most likely to DJ at (heck, I’ll be even there next Friday 19th). Oh, and while you’re there, make sure to pop in to The Shop by Eyetsa next door: purveyors of very dope ish.

Dedo and I share similar tastes in music. More importantly, there’s no dancefloor at Tea Baa: great for DJs like me who play sounds from off the beaten track and who don’t want dancers complaining because we’re not playing enough Lil’ This/That or whatever the hell else is popping on Billboard.

(Update: visited Zen Garden in Labone last night, and I have a feeling they too will be chopping my money soon).

… and as for the Restaurant-I-Refuse-to-Name, I’m deeply torn about letting people know about it lest people flock there and it ceases to be the hidden gem that it is.

So here we are.

The Thing My Crew & I Will Launch Next Week

Hints above and below, but – as of the time I’m typing this – it’s not next week yet.

So you’ll just have to wait.

 

 

What I’m Feeling: the August 2016 Comeback Edition (Part One)

It’s been awhile since I did one of these.

Regardless, here it is: my monthly occasional once-in-awhile rundown of music that I’m feeling right now. Today’s edition is all local (to avoid clashing with something I’m a part of on another platform that will reveal itself in a week or so. I’ll update this post with a link when it drops). A couple of these are a little dated but – like I said – it’s been a long time. Besides, dopeness is timeless.

Warning: it’s pretty packed. Up next, I’ll do a non-music one. We’ll see if I can keep it up. Here goes.

Kuvie

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A couple of months back, I wrote my thoughts on how I thought Kuvie had low-key invented a new genre/subgenre of music or something. I would later see him do a live music set as part of DJ Keyzzz’ BeatPhreaks Live gig at Alliance Francaise, and it exceeded my already high expectations. I would definitely pay money to go see Kuvie headline. He hasn’t let up since then, especially on the named ‘Grind’: Vision DJ’s collaboration with Ayisi Ican (AI). One of my favorite tunes of the moment by my favourite producer of the moment under the auspices of one of my favourite DJs.

RedRed – How Far

The most important/topical/urgent song on this list. Awhile back, RedRed – the outfit consisting of M3nsa (who is still cedi-for-cedi the most complete Ghanaian artist in existence and needs to bless us all with another solo album ) and ELO – dropped a video with a live performance of what sounded like a sparse, next-level electronic rework of the Ghanaian national anthem. It got a lot of my people excited. After it finally premiered on Ms. Naa’s Ryse & Shyne – suitably on independence day – Malaka wrote a whole blog post about it. There was awhile there when I thought the lyrics would date because the President ‘solved’ dumsor bi saa.

False alarm.

VI Music

The admiration I have for Adomaa extends to her entire crew, really. VI Music is fast becoming less of a label than it is an entire creative movement encompassing Adomaa herself, and the collective dopeness that is Akotowaa, Robin Huws, Reynolds the Gentleman, Tronomie and more. More than just their music, I like the whole ‘squad’-ness of their operation and how they really are not about fitting into modern Ghanaian musical templates; even with each other. Their sounds are actually diverse as heck. No artist here sounds like the other. And even their artwork drips with attention to detail.

The Gentleman could be Ghana’s Wizkid. He sure has the energy (as anyone who was at the Afraba concert can testify). Unlike Wizkid however, he is also a producer, which might be why he sings about more than just how he wants to part with his money on account of someone’s ass/body/waist/dancing/whatever (And the occasional song about poverty. Don’t get me wrong: I love Wizkid. But daaamn… he always sings about the same things). I don’t know how my people will respond to that, but it works for me.

Robin Huwes is all about love, stripped-down acoustics and a genuine vulnerability rarely heard around these parts:

My (adopted baby cousin) Akotowaa beautifully blurs the lines between spoken word, rap, singing and the good old fashioned art of actual songwriting on IWITP. And I love it:

Adomaa’s brother (& my former student) Tronomie just dropped his debut track, ‘Breaking Bars’. I’m hearing Kwabs and Gallant influences (at a time when few musicians out here have probably even heard of those two): not a bad thing at all.

VI gives me hope.

DJ Juls feat. Mr Eazi x Eugy x Sarkodie – Teef Teef

It’s beautiful to see a good thing come together. Juls has been crafting this African-sample-heavy sound for years without getting the due he deserves. For awhile, I thought he’d left it behind to explore other (equally dope) sounds with his homeboy Mr. Eazi (their creative collaboration is to Ghanaian music what Martin Scorcese’s partnerships with DeNiro and DiCaprio have been to Hollywood). But then he comes back with this. Beats 1’s Julie Adenuga named it the sound of the summer and she’s right. If this is not on your playlist, you’re failing.

Cina Soul – Julor

I was late listening to Cina Soul’s brilliant single, only doing so after the homie Paa Koti schooled me to it and my mind’s twin, Debbie Frempong insisted to me that it features what may be the most flawless vocals she’d ever heard from Ghana. And then I learned that it was produced by Elidot’s former student, Odunsi and that it also features different-sounding raps by the man M Dot. Cina (who really is the sweetest human being in person) just dropped her EP, and while  I don’t think it quite matches the brilliance of this track, it’s clear that her potential is crazy. Watch this one.

IFKR ft. Odunsi – Omo Gbono

I should be mad at Ashesi’s finest two DJs – K3V and Franklin – for keeping from me the fact that their Major Lazer-loving asses are also creating original ‘afro-EDM’ tunes. But by the time that synth-y sound drops after the chorus, all is forgiven really. Fun track. I’m curious to hear what else they are cooking up.

Odunsi ft. Okuntakinte – Happy Hour

Odunsi is the future. There: I said it. I remember thinking this when EDWVN drew my attention to his tracks Nasty Horns and Nikki. Crisp production. Diversity. Imagination. The man whose influence is felt on the last two tracks I mentioned has also released an EP and my favourite cut by far is this one, featuring his (unapologetically controversial) Ashesi  classmate, Okuntakinte, who is on good form here.

Villy & the Xtreme Volumes – WMM (Wia My Money)

Villy has been owning Accra’s live music scene for a few years now. He reminds me of two of my old friends from London – Lyric L & Ty: artists whose live performances are so on point that they make fans of people who have never heard their music before. Villy’s EP Humanimals shows musical growth and this is showcased perfectly on this angry, Miles-Davis-sampling, African blues track, WMM.

African leaders: come take your subs… and bring us our money while you’re at it.

Worlasi

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Yoyo Tinz have been evangelizing about Worlasi for a minute and it’s easy to see why. Charisma, a unique style, lyrical depth and locally-relevant content that all Ghanaians can relate to all make Worlasi a contender. He shines on features, as he does here with m.anifest:

And – just like King Kendrick – he’s dropped an EP of unreleased tracks:

Honorary Mention

YG & Nipsey Hussle – FDT

Hardly local, but I must admit that it does capture a few of my sentiments on a topic of potential international significance. The part two featuring Macklemore and G-Eazy is on regular rotation in the Ankomah-Graham household.

Speaking of part twos, stay tuned for Part Two. Next week. Maybe.

Dear Generic Ghanaian Radio Station

  1. Why should I tune in to your station specifically: what exactly what makes you different?
  2. Have the bulk of your presenters/DJs been mostly poached from existing stations (and offered back to us like some radio version of a reshuffled cabinet)? (if not, skip Question 3)
  3. If so, why do you think regurgitating so many familiar voices will result in fresh, awesome content for your listeners?
  4. Do your presenters/DJs play awesome music/create fresh content that is actually different from everything else on radio? (if yes, proceed to question 6)
  5. If not, then what exactly is your purpose (kindly refer to your answer to Question 1)?
  6. Is your real purpose less to do with providing choice & quality content and more to do with making money for your generic owner?
  7. Is that enough of a reason for me to tune in to your station?

Well, okay then.

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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