On Bad DJing & Ghana’s Ever-Changing Sound

Andre-3000-Nike-Feature

“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

photo6042128244070788060

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.

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

Kuv-1

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

nu

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.

Music: Blitz the Ambassador’s ‘Native Sun’

For someone who doesn’t write much, I’ve been lucky to have received a lot of praise for my writing before. However, today I would like to shine the light on someone else who doesn’t write as much as he’d like to, but who makes me think of retiring every single time he does.

Eli @elidot Tetteh: this one’s for you.

#DayOfTheDot

Kobby Ankomah-Graham

Today marks the global release of Blitz the Ambassador’s brilliant new album, ‘Native Sun’, which you can hear in its entirety here.

I’ve been talking about this album since before I almost snapped my neck bopping my head to it at the preview party Blitz hosted at Rockstone’s Office a couple of months back.

I was going to write a long review about it using words like:

“A conversation between Africa and America. Highlife and hip-hop. Ebo Taylor and Big Daddy Kane…”

and…

“If ‘Native Sun’ doesn’t work then – seriously – any Ghanaian aiming at the international market may need to rethink the idea.”

Scratch that though. Instead, let me share with you the thoughts of someone whose musical opinion I value more than almost anyone I know – Eli Tetteh – who just tweeted the following:

“I’d like to issue a formal apology to @kobbygraham. I’m sorry…

View original post 319 more words

Music: Where I Get Mine

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.

soulculture

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.

afripop

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.

soulbounce

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

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

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

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.

2dbz

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.

akwaaba

Ben LeBrave’s website throws up many a gem, not just from Ghana but from across the continent. Just like his DJ sets.

metacritic

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.

pmoi

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’.

Video Download Helper

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”.

That’s pretty much it. These are the places I visit most often for music. At least once a week. I subscribe to most of them through Feedly or Flipboard so I don’t miss any updates. I hope they help.

Alternatively, you can just do the automaton robot sheep thing and wait to be told what is cool.

To each their own.

Music: What I’m Feeling (June 2013)

No one probably noticed but DUST LYVE is no longer on air. It was great fun sharing music from Ghana and the worldwide underground every week, but I needed to scale back a little, part of which involved reclaiming my Sunday nights.

I may or may not return but, in the meantime, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to resurrect my occasional list of songs I’m enjoying. At least while I work on the (long overdue) ‘cast.

So (in no particular order) here goes.

Jai Paul – Jasmine

jai paul

It’s been interesting following the hype around Jai Paul. Not sure whether it was my brother or Jason Nicco-Annan who hipped me to him first but his ‘leaked’ album is often blinding and this broody track is my favourite… this week. In previous weeks, it’s been BTSTU, Genevieve, Str8 Outta Mumbai, his bananas remake of Jennifer Paige’s ‘Crush’

I could go on.

Kyekyeku feat. Koo Nimo – Pay Me (Friday Night)

kyekyeku

Bra Kyekyeku has showed promise for years as one of Ghana’s most visible session guitarists and it pays off beautifully on this track. More than just being original palm wine highlife, it is also old school versus new with the presence of the master himself, Koo Nimo. It doesn’t hurt that the lyrics remind me of Kay Ara’s (DJ Juls-produced) ‘Me Dough. Between that track and this one, I might have to start a soundtrack of songs to play while debt-collecting.

Show Dem Camp feat. Boj & Poe – Feel Alright

Show Dem Camp

Yet another DJ Juls classic. Juls, man… As far as I’m concerned, Juls is King. The mixtapes. The remixes. I could go on and on. I’ve felt honoured watching him grow into his craft. The track – ably flowed over by Nigerian outfit SDC – pops up in My Africa Is’ video on Kunle Adeyemis Floating School.

D.E.M – Nya Asem Hwe

d.e.m

I’ve been helping out a budding community of beatmakers at Ashesi. I keep throwing old highlife songs at them in the hope that they can take them and run with them the way Anansi and Juls do. It’s come together nicely in the form of this beat by D.E.M. Every time I listen to it, I feel like a proud father. Not happy to stick with music alone, Edem also recently wrote a rather brilliant piece of flash fiction. Must be in the genes, given that he is  brother to rising sci-fi star, Jonathan.

The Album Leaf – The Light

AlbumLeaf

My girlfriend introduced me to this instrumental group. I kept getting stuck on this beautiful, beautiful track and was later surprised to hear it pop up in the TV show, Scandal: it’s the song that plays whenever Olivia has a moment with Fitz. The song thankfully lacks any of the latter’s annoyances.

Bad Boy Steelo & Yaw P – N’agba (Problems)

yaw p steelo

The dance-leaning duo from XFM turn their attention to dubstep. Like DJ BBrave of AkwaabaMusic – where I heard it first – I’m a big fan of this. Plus it mixes beautifully with that dubstep remix of the FOKN Bois ‘Lungu Lungu’. Ghana is definitely not all about azonto and I love our increasing musical diversity.

I just wish the radio stations had the balls to play everything instead of focusing on the famous few. Grrrr.

Yuna – Let Love Come Through

yuna

When I first heard Yuna‘s ‘Live Your Life, I flipped. Dope life-lesson filled lyrics over a beat by man of the moment, Pharrell Williams (who has his paw prints over two or three tracks in the Top Ten right now). I thought the album was a bit of a throwaway though. Leaning more towards a breezy pop sound, I think it needed a light dash of the kind of hiphop that Pharrell specializes  in. ‘Let Love Come Through’ is a return to that formula and a return to form. “That’s how we do. / Live a little let a little love come through…”

Sums up much of my approach to life, really.

J Cole – Cousins

j cole

I’m yet to listen to Born Sinner (and compare it to Yeezus) but this track from his Truly Yours 2 mixtape is the realness. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like for an artist to achieve success and start getting pressure from family and friends, this may answer your questions.  Cole deserves to shine but – as Musa Okwonga hilariously pointed out – he’d better hurry up before Jay Electronica comes out.

NEXT Collective – No Church in the Wild

NextCollectiveMain

I gave a talk at SOS once, and my (very cool) walk-on music was ‘No Church in the Wild’, in reference to (my blog post about) my first class in Ashesi in which I used the song as a text. I picked up this jazz remix on the mighty Soulbounce. Just like the writers on that website, I find most jazz remixes too smooth for my liking (hello Hidden Beach). But this? This sounds like Jay & Ye as interpreted by Davis and Coltrane. If you prefer Kenny G over this, let’s please never get into a discussion about jazz. Let’s spare each other the agony.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Same Love

macklemore

Having given up on TV (unless its downloaded), I missed the boat on the brilliance that is Macklemore‘s Thrift Shop, and it took a more than a little pressure from DJ K3V before I corrected my mistake. Dr. Mack’s got skills but what impresses me the most about his album is that its filled with positive messages and depth. ‘Same Love’ is a great example of this, perfectly capturing a message on homosexuality that is often missed not just in Ghana (though particularly in Ghana) but the world over.

Tawiah – Freedom Drop

Tawiah2

Tawiah’s mixtape is all kinds of nice. She has loomed large on my radar ever since I was a young DJ in London peddling in underground musical goodness. There are so many lesser artists who have blown up in the interim: the universe had better give Tawiah the same shine. Her talent deserves it and it shines here. Download it for free here & download her last mixtape, ‘In Jodi’s Bedroom’ while you’re at it.

Big KRIT – Banana Clip Theory

big krit

My friend Frankie schooled me to Big KRIT a few years ago. I wasn’t as convinced by him as I was by Kendrick & Cole, but there are several moments on his recent (as usual self produced) mixtape where it all comes together, and this jazzy track is one of them. It’s almost as good as ‘Red Eye, which – for me – was a perfect example of hiphop at its most reflective and sublime.

Foreign Beggars – Loose on the Leaves/Stresses Pt. II

i-am-legion-noisia-foreign-beggars-560x346

Yep. There is a new Foreign Beggars album out soon and my brother has been kind enough to give me a pre-listen (sorry folks: not sharing). I’m still not over ‘Amen‘ and their collab with Donaeo, ‘Flying to Mars from the last album, but these are my favourite tracks so far. Metropolis tears up those uptempo tracks, but I love hearing him most over subdued beats like these.

I’m old.

That’s all folks. I’m curious though: what songs are you feeling right now? Especially if it’s off the beaten track, I’d be grateful for the knowledge: you probably know something I don’t.

Event: Living the Hiplife

ImageLet’s get this show on the road… and what better way to do so than with a party. Of sorts.

  • What: The launch of the book, Living the Hiplife – Celebrity & Enterpreneuship in Ghanaian Popular Music
  • Where: Grandpappaz (next to Rockstone’s Office)
  • When: Thursday, 11th April at 6pm
  • How (Much): Zero Ghana Cedis for your pocket
  • Why? Well… read on:

I completely missed the boat on early hiplife. I simply wasn’t around when it happened. I remember coming to Ghana on holiday sometime in the ’90s and hearing Reggie Rockstone for the first time. I think the song was called ‘Plan B’ (the one where he impersonates a car horn…) Loved it, but as a DJ, I have this huge gaping hole when it comes to old school hiplife.

*Enter Jesse Shipley from stage left*

So, it turns out that instead of simply listening and dancing to the music, ONE person set about documenting it. I heard of the documentary, ‘Living the Hiplife’ almost as soon as I moved back to Ghana (wow. Almost a decade now).

I was lucky enough to meet the man behind the documentary – Jesse Weaver Shipley – the other day. Quite an honour: when Dr. Esi Ansah suggested to me a few years ago that I switch over to academia (as it was the only thing that would allow me to do all the different things I wanted to do… and make a living), she used Jesse as an example. An Associate Professor at Haverford College in the US, Jesse is also a filmmaker, writer, and ethnographer.

He recently turned the documentary into a book: ‘Living the Hiplife – Celebrity & Enterpreneuship in Ghanaian Popular Music’. The good news is he’s launching it this Thursday (11th April; 6pm) – where else but at the house that Rockstone built: Grandpappaz, next to Rockstone’s Office.

It’s basically an historical and social account of hiplife, from the 1990s until today, featuring an all-star cast that includes Gyedu Blay Ambolley, Reggie Rockstone, Panji, Hammer, Obrafour, VIP, Tic Tac, Sidney, Buk Bak, Okyeame Kwame, Tinny, and Abrewa Nana as well as newer stars like D Black, R2Bees, Samini, M3nsa, Wanlov, M.anifest, Efya, Edem, Mzbel, Sarkodie, and Kwaw Kese.

I’m a popular culture fiend, so I’ll definitely be there. I hear he’ll have a few exclusive signed copies and besides showing the documentary, there will be DVDs too. All that and some of the aforementioned GHelebrities will be there. Plus my old office-mate from Joy FM, Bra DJ Black (naturally, on the wheels of steel).

Hope you can make it too.

Music: What I’m Feeling (August 2012)

Once more, it’s been more than a minute since I did one of these. No promises, but I will try to be more regular with them. In no particular order, here are the tracks I currently have in constant rotation.

1. Sarkodie & Jayso (TMG) – Pizza & Burger

I think Sarkodie is a genius. Really. He doesn’t always pick beats that set my radio on fire, but on lyrics? I don’t think there is anyone in Ghana touching him. Besides actually sounding Ghanaian, his lyrics are almost always sensible, his subject matter is always relevant and no one does subtle popular culture commentary like Sarkodie, as evidenced on this track. Even his English flow is improving. Throw in Jayso (the man and the motivator of artists/producers the likes of EL, Paapa, Krinkman, Ball J and more) on rhymes and production here and you have something that sounds pretty fresh.

2. Robert Glasper feat. Bilal – Letter to Hermoine

I have been playing this since before my recent trip to South Africa for OpenForum and while I was there, it was on repeat. The entire Black Radio album is classic, as far as I’m concerned. Not to state the obvious, but David Bowie (he did the original)’s songwriting is incredible. Just a beautiful, real, honest track. It’s rare that I hear this kind of sentiment from male writers. Glasper can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned and when he joins forces with Bilal? To quote the recent Batman movie, “…you are in for a show tonight, son”

3. Lady J (feat. EL) – Monkey Money

Argh! I’ve been waiting for Lady to drop something for a minute. She finally does & it’s a nice slice of azonto fun featuring one of top three Ghanaian MCs, EL (who I’m still convinced should form a supergroup with Sarkodie and Yaa Pono). Lady sounds FIERCE in the middle of this: ei. Now waiting for her to drop ‘Turn the Bass Up’ now, something she’s been cooking up with ART’s Sewor Okudzeto that isn’t even finished yet but already sounds dope, partly because of a nice azonto-inspired bassline and a Boney M-improved style rap by none other than Sewor himself.

 

4. Kankam – Me Kon Ado Bebi

Someone in his twenties making afrobeat that sounds like it could fit right into the 1970s? In Twi? Right up my street. I predict big things for Steve Kankam. Big tune.

5. Kendrick Lamar – Swimming Pools (Drank)

More than his flow, what I think sets Kendrick apart from his peers is his imagination. That’s what draws me to his sound. Here, he has a conversation with his subconscious as the latter tries to tempt him to drink. Most rappers would just name check whatever alcoholic product their favourite rapper says is hot. That is the difference between Kendrick and other rappers.

6. Nas – Stay

Nas’ entire Life is Good album is in heavy rotation and is – to me – his best album since his first album. I am enjoying it more than I enjoyed Stillmatic and – at last – his beats are as good as his rhymes across an entire album. Nas always has dope verses – standard – but, besides his singles, I am often underwhelmed by his choice of beats (same goes for Talib Kweli come to think of it). Not here. He should work with the beat beast that is Salaam Remi more often.

7. Delilah – Love Drug

Delilah popped up on my radar most recently with her scorching hot (without being uncreative) video for her remake of Roberta Flack’s classic, ‘Inside of Me’. YFM’s DJ Vision hooked me up with her EP 2-4am. Eight tracks of moody pop music at its finest. Highly recommended.

8. Foreign Beggars feat. Donaeo – Flying to Mars

Yep. Freshly signed to Dedmau5’s Mau5trap records, my brother’s group enlists the help of another diaspora Ghanaian, Donaeo to breathe life into what I think is their second preview single ahead of the release of their new album later this year.

9. Villy – Follo Follo

More afrobeat. Golda Addo introduced me to this new artist coming soon out of Nigeria. I don’t know much about him besides the fact that I like his voice and energy a lot, and this tune is a banger.

10. Frank Ocean – Bad Religion / Pink Matter

The man everyone was talking about last month for both the wrong and right reasons. My friend, Daniel, recently wrote a blog post in which he mentions how  ‘Bad Religion’ strays from being just another formulaic song and I completely agree. I cannot choose between this and ‘Pink Matter’ though, for one reason: Andre 3000. I cannot wait until the man drops another album (that goes both for Ocean and 3000).

Been listening to ‘Thinking About You’ a lot too… For entirely different reasons.

11. Phantom Lover feat. Jesse Boykins III – Subtle

Thanks to Mantse from accra[dot]alt for hooking me up with this one. Boykins seems to be the go-to guy for sparse, beat driven moody soul at the moment.

12. Boss – Make You Feel My Love

I LOVE Maria Bossman. Alongside Efya and Lady J, she is currently my favourite Ghanaian songstress. She reminds me of Tawiah (a good thing) and I always listen out for her accapella remakes. This is her version of an Adele joint. Watch this young lady.

… and there you have it. If you want to hear me play them on radio, tune in to DUST LYVE on YFM (107.9 on your dial) this and every Sunday from 9pm to midnight.

Music: Efya + Hans Zimmer + Duncan Mighty = Falou

Image

(Photo credit: ARISE Magazine)

Efya Awindor has always held promise.

One of Ghana’s brightest stars, her live shows back in the day always saw her steal the spotlight from any artist unfortunate to claim to be the headliner. These days, she is a Ghana Music Award-winning artist who has somehow pulled the feat of becoming a household name here without even releasing a full album (Love Genesis will apparently drop later this year). It’s no wonder Arise Magazine gave her some shine last week.

On Twitter, she often shares with her ‘Gingams’ the beautiful music she listens to – James Blake and Frank Ocean spring to mind – but I had never heard her do anything that reflects the sophistication of her listening tastes…

Until now.

With her new song, ‘Falou’ she has taken an infectious Naija pop song and turned it into this sweeping, powerful, epic love song. Here is Duncan Mighty’s original:

… and here is Efya’s ‘Falou’ (trust me: you’ll want surround speakers for this one):

More than anything, it’s the concept that completely and utterly melts me. Anyone can take an instrumental and slap some vocals over it.

But a Hans Zimmer instrumental?

Yes. Homegirl has taken Duncan Mighty’s lyrics from ‘Obianuju’, slowed them way, way down and placed them on top of Zimmer’s brooding score from the Christopher Nolan-directed, Leonardo DiCaprio-starring hit movie, ‘Inception’.

Image

To have even picked up on the fact that the two songs were compatible… consider my mind blown. But to have merged them like this?

There is precious little I don’t like about this song.

Having been written in pidgen, it has that simple authenticity often missing when we try and write in English.

Hans Zimmer’s theme rises slowly from a whisper until it becomes an epic tsunami of horns and strings destroying everything in its wake.

Then there’s my girl…

With her impassioned vocals, Efya changes what was a lighthearted chancer’s anthem into a passionate, pleading love song. The combination is emotional and quite atypical of anything I think I have ever heard from any Ghanaian artist or song. Possibly ever.

Moreover, this is the sort of musical bravery I have prayed, begged and pleaded for from our music scene – unrequited – for a very long time. It’s not a typical Ghanaian song and while some will argue whether it can be called Ghanaian at all – given Zimmer’s score and the Nigerian lyrics – Efya commands the song.

To say I’m proud of her would be a massive understatement.

http://efyamusic.com/