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.

Montie: a Time for Anger

“If this country collapses, we will start from the homes of those who say it should collapse. I’ve told you and God has also opened the way. These judges who are trying to put oxygen in the raging fire, I know all their houses. I know where the judges live in Accra here. I can show you. I know their quarters; the Supreme Court Judges. I also know the High Court Judges. If they dare, they should bring something, it will start in their residences, in their neighbourhoods…”

“When we finish them, then it’s over. Then we come and govern our country because they don’t wish this country well so they have to go. When we say farewell to them, then those of us who wish well for this country can hold on to the country and govern this country. So you, they should sit there and think because they are Supreme Court judges, they can do anything…”

For reasons I’m yet to understand, I have deep reserves of patience. I can end a year counting on one hand the number of times I’ve felt anger. It’s usually a brief feeling. My brain kicks in: “What’s the point? Let it go.” I usually do.

Last week was different. I spent parts of it trying to contain an anger in my chest, keeping it from crushing my lungs, wrapping itself around my throat, and choking me from within, on its way to my lips.

The Montie Affair

Last week, the Supreme Court found three men from the radio station ‘Montie FM’ – Salifu Maase, Godwin Ako Gunn & Alistair Tairo Nelson – guilty of contempt, sentencing them each to four months in prison and a hefty fine. They had threatened members of the Court with violence and death during a live broadcast (more or less thirty-four years to the day that the body out of which the ruling party was born infamously killed three high court judges).

In response to the court’s judgment, a petition has been created, asking President Mahama to pardon the trio through a constitutional provision that gives him the discretion to do so. It has apparently amassed thousands of signatures, including those of several high-profile ministers of state whose inclusion has raised many an eyebrow.

The arguments for freeing the Trio vary. While there is some consensus that the crime was indeed grave, there is also consensus that the four-month sentence was ‘harsh’ (strange: I understand it is not the maximum sentence for such crimes) and that the three should be freed, as ‘they have shown remorse’ (don’t most prisoners?) In an official statement, the NDC framed the judgment as an attack on free media and freedom of expression (something disputed by the Ghana Journalists Association).

I’ll say this:

One of the first things I was taught during my law degree was that the law does not exist in a vacuum. Just because the President has the constitutional right to exercise discretion doesn’t mean he should. Context is everything and there is a lot of context to sift through here. There are others far, far wisermore informed and wittier than me who make compelling counter-arguments and perspectives. I hope the President listens to those perspectives as much as he does the cacophony surrounding him.

Baring My Biases

I have long believed that the ancestors reserve some of the darkest corners of the underworld for radio presenters who place party politics above a love of country, especially during the election season. I have marveled at the recklessness of presenters and panelists on stations often owned by politicians or their financiers; at how regularly such pundits push hard-won press freedoms to their absolute limit – taking us to the brink of violence with them – with utter impunity.

In places where the opposition is limited or ineffective, journalism is incredibly important. To call it the Fourth Estate does not do it justice. Journalists are our defenders. They become our daily opposition: doing the research, asking the hard questions, holding power accountable, advocating for change, risking their lives to help us all see the truth through the smoke; giving us the information we need to make informed decisions. It is noble, underappreciated but important work. It is central to democracy.

I responded to the Supreme Court ruling on the Montie Trio with relief. Finally, someone was holding these pundits-pretending-to-be-journalists accountable in a manner within the boundaries of the law, in a way that the National Media Commission has (understandably) not been given the teeth to.

Anger and Empathy

“At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love… We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.”

These words – by Ernesto Ché Guevara – are ones I try to live by. Anger too is a moving force, but it moves in a different way. It can twist Love, subverting it and transmuting it into something unrecognizable. I have had difficulty fitting anger into my worldview.

Back when I was on Twitter, for example, there was a news story (I forget which one) that prompted me to go on a rant about anger being ‘unconstructive.’ It provoked a series of annoyed tweets from my friend, KinnaReads, who called me out for my ‘kumbaya’ position, reminding me (if I recall correctly) that anger has a place, whether it is constructive or not. We discussed it offline and I came to agree with her. I just didn’t see how to reconcile it with my worldview.

I believe in (impractical) things like empathy because the act of stepping into someone else’s shoes – however different they are from me or however we disagree – humanizes them/their position, which in turn helps me see the entire picture.

It leads me closer to Truth.

I’ve always presumed that anger is incompatible with love and empathy. Last Sunday however, I was reminded that it isn’t:

How Hill House Helped

After expressing my anger and dissonance to my Friends Meeting last Sunday, we discussed some perspectives that helped me to connect more than a few dots:

1. Empathy is cool, but it has to be complete

Much as I disagree with what they do, my inner pacficist forces me to empathize with the Montie Three. They are people too. They are afraid of jail. They have families. They are sorry. Etc etc. Empathy demands that I acknowledge that they spoke so passionately for a reason: the ongoing mess over the voters register – an important matter that should concern us all. Their frustrations clearly ran over.

That said, someone at Hill House who I have endless admiration for reminded me that my empathy should also extend to the judges whose lives were threatened. It should extend to their families. It should extend to Ghanaians who wish to live in a peacefully country that is not pushed to the brink in the name of party politics and the punditry of stations like Oman, Gold and Montie. Or Ghanaians who want to leave the dark days of killing judges behind. It should extend to the 13,000 or so remand prisoners who have been scooped up from our streets on suspicion of crimes and have since languished in jail waiting for one common trial – not even at the Supreme Court, mind you. It should extend to their families who haven’t seen or heard from them since.

2. Anger is a secondary emotion

Anger is usually a product of fear. So when you feel it, it is worth asking oneself what fear is behind your anger. For example, as a dear friend’s mother pointed out at the meeting, there is a fear in parts of the world that is resulting from all the various civil rights advances and the perception of being under attack. That fear has now become an anger that is threatening to undermine those liberties and advances.

My anger is the result of a fear that media impunity will result in our country plunging into chaos. It reminds me of Rwanda’s Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines: the station that catalysed the Rwandan genocide.

One’s response to such anger should always be to slow down: pause, think, reflect… and only then to react. If the Montie 3 had done this, they wouldn’t be in their predicament today. And we wouldn’t be facing yet another prospect of party politics being placed over the national interest.

3. Jesus and the Whip

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I always forget about John 2:15.

The anger itself isn’t a problem: it’s human. Divine too, apparently. The issue is perhaps what you do with your anger. Again, perhaps this is where the Trio slipped and as my good friend put it at the meeting, “punishing people is the price we pay for having standards.”

So what am I doing with my anger?

It’s made me think. I’ve shared it (first at the meeting now here). And I’m adding my voice to those calling on the President to not undermine the Supreme Court (it’ll be constitutional but, as I mentioned earlier, the law does not exist in a vacuum). I’m afraid I’m not his biggest fan, but that does not deny him my empathy too. I suspect that he needs as much pressure from everyone else as he has from that petition if he’s going to make a decision in all our best interests, and not just those of his party disciples.

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.

Takashie is Our National Philosophy

The subject of dumsor came up briefly at our Friends meeting two Sundays ago.

I cannot remember the question she was responding to, but my fellow friend Edwina said something along the lines of:

“If you are sitting in dumsor and they are trying to tell you that there is no dumsor, why should you take anything they say seriously?”

I couldn’t agree more.

It is deeply depressing (and actually really insulting) when – in fear of its potential effect on their power – our leaders deny the very existence of our problems. Or try to get technical about them, playing word games… with words that we created.

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I’m not saying our government has done nothing towards ending the power crisis: things had improved until a month or two ago. I’ll do that rare thing and commend them for such small mercies.

However, when I am sitting in dumsor, don’t try and tell me that it is not dumsor. It’s bad enough that you haven’t solved our problem; don’t insult our intelligence/experience too. Just give us our dumsor schedule. You know: the one you won’t stick to anyway. Yes. That one.

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We will be voting at the end of the year. I believe in actual choice, and I just don’t see enough difference between our two leading parties. Some – maybe – but little by way of genuine, inspirational, transformational leadership.

My dream candidate (another post for another day) would be a little more radical than Ghana is presently used to. For what should be obvious reasons, there are certain things he or she would ban senior government officials from access to, including:

  • The right to fly abroad for medical treatment
  • The right to educate their children abroad (before Masters degree level)
  • Generators
  • Water tanks
  • Motorcades to cut through traffic

I could go on.

I’m not saying politicians need to work for free, but we do need to find urgent ways of getting people to look at politics as public service and not some fast track route towards personal gain (or a way of repaying the massive debts our politicians incur in order to become politicians). And we need politicians who feel what we feel, and who put people over politics/money/resources as a result.

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Example: way back in the day, there was a general belief that the social value of land was more important than its commercial value (you know… the kind of thing South Africa’s Abahlali Basemjondolo are all about). That alone is as good an example of people being more important than money as any. But that’s only the beginning of this story.

When the British colonial government basically tried  (with the Crown Lands Bill of 1897) to claim all land they saw just ‘sitting there’ (ancestral/inherited lands) for the British Empire, Ghanaians were understandably horrified. Patriots including John Mensah Sarbah founded the Aboriginal Rights Protection Society to shut that nonsense down, partly by:

  1. Studying all proposed colonial measures
  2. Giving political education to the people
  3. Making the people understand the effect of these measures

Yet another example of putting people first.

After the Society campaigned successfully for the Bill to be rescinded, Sarbah refused to take any money for his role in their success, explaining that it was an honour to serve his people.

Now that’s leadership I can get behind.

Today we have a new national philosophy and it has little room for crazy ideas like public service and putting people first. It’s not Christianity: please. We might wear fine robes on Sundays, pray in loud tongues and such, but look around you: we are waaaaay too practical a people to actually practice such universally lauded religious principles as turning the other cheek or treating people the way we would have them treat us. Our society would look very different if we did.

No. Our real national philosophy is takashie: forcing our way ahead by any means necessary, often at the expense of others.

Where we have a choice between demonstrating a love of others or using takashie, the latter usually wins. Open your eyes and you’ll see examples, everywhere and every day. In little things. Like driving in traffic. In haggling prices. In (not) queuing. Etc, etc.

Each man/woman for him/herself and God for us all… and that’s the problem:

Takashie is an understandable response to the frustrations of living in Ghana. Nevertheless, our leaders come from among us. They are living reflections of what we really believe in: not as individuals, but as a society. If we each resort to daily takashie, why should we expect our leaders to – by some random miracle – do any different?

Sure: some countries are lucky enough to get officials who think differently and who help move their countries forward as a result. But that’s just it, isn’t it: luck. Such leaders are miracles.

Which makes our choice a tricky one: ‘Aben Wo Ha‘ vs. ‘Dabi Dabi 3by3 Yie‘.

Either we continue to get by on takashie, continue to produce more of the same leaders and vote them in with the expectation that they will suddenly and miraculously become benevolent (with enough competence to match that benevolence).

Or maybe we should all start thinking about our individual roles in changing the society out of which our leaders emerge.

 

 

Why I Left Twitter

Image Credit - wewillraakyou dot com

I get asked about this a lot.

I joined Twitter not too many years after it launched. Back then, there were so few of us on there that when I ran a search for ‘Ghana’, I would only come across NGO country reports, international news clippings with Ghanaian elements (like the ‘Mabey & Johnson’ story, which I subsequently chased up and broke on Joy FM), or kokonsa from the likes of my sister and her other early-adopter friends. It’s far more populated now and infinitely more interesting as a result.

I suspect I was the first DJ in Ghana to start live tweeting my playlists, something I started doing (first at Vibe, then at Joy and later at YFM) because ads and Live Presenter Mentions (LPMs) kept getting in the way of giving credit to all the artists whose songs I played. I talked about the platform so much that my bosses at Joy actually nicknamed me ‘Twitter’ and tasked me with drafting the station’s social media policy. I smile every time I hear a radio presenter read out a tweet these days. Back then, only a few presenters saw the point and it was a real struggle persuading most of my colleagues that Twitter wasn’t some dadabee fad.

Sometime last year however – a few weeks after attracting my 7000th follower – I deleted my Twitter account.

No announcement.
No goodbye.
Nada.

I was out. Why?

The short version: blame Elidot & EDVWN (and maybe Mitsifantsi too: my most unapologetically analog homie in the history of ever). I kid: they were as shocked as anyone else. That said, the long version does begin with the rambling conversations we’d have on the bumpy drive up to Ashesi every week; GH Twitter’s all-seeing Eye of Sauron at the wheel, me riding shotgun and Yung Fly-Lo in the back.

Twitter came up a lot.

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Ghanaians love humour. Kevin Hart’s is regularly the highest-ranked non-religious podcast listened to by Ghanaians on itunes. Make the mistake of watching a moving, Oscar-worthy, tear-inducing movie scene in mass Ghanaian company, and you shouldn’t be surprised when the solemness of the moment is ruined by someone making a joke – however lame – to diffuse the tension. We make jokes out of anything and everything: it keeps us sane through the daily insanity that comes with being Ghanaian.

The land of a million memes, Twitter is a funny place. The character limit lends itself perfectly to punchlines, and there are users on there who have built entire personas from wit. Which is all well and good, really (unless you’re Boris Johnson: a cautionary tale for every writer with more wit than foresight). But somewhere during my time on there, I also saw Twitter turn… dark. It’s hard to describe it in any precise way. My best attempt would be to say that something that started out as a hive started feeling like a pack. Sure: bees can sting (and I’ve done my fair amount of stinging too). Packs though? They can rip you apart.

There are so many thin lines on Twitter; between ridicule (healthy) and bullying (not so healthy), for example. I’ve seen arguments that start out constructively nose dive into something that looks suspiciously like trolling, which is something that happens on any platform. On Twitter though? No holds barred. I can quickly and easily shut down trolls who show up in my blog comments, for example. That is much harder to do in Twitter: just ask Leslie Jones.

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It’s not just the trolling though. At least that’s overt. There is something else on there that can change even activism into something less noble at times. Maybe it was people I was following who I should simply have unfollowed, but the crux of it reminds me of a close friend who avoids horror flicks, gory scenes and general violence; not just because they scare her, but because she thinks they slowly, insidiously run the risk of desensitizing her to violence and bloodshed.

Insidious (ɪnˈsɪdɪəs) (adjective )

Definition: proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with very harmful effects.

Example: “Sexual harassment is a serious and insidious problem” , “the insidious erosion of rights and liberties”

I started getting that feeling on Twitter. That and a depression of sorts. Something sinking. It came up time and again during those rides and conversations up to Ashesi, and with it, a slow-growing need to shield myself from it all.

The Weight of Expectation: at some point I cannot remember, the number of people who wanted me to follow them back, or who tried to guilt-trip me because I’d promote one thing/person and not the other, or who tried (directly or indirectly) baiting me into subscribing to outlooks on the world that don’t ultimately work became more irritating than they should have. Maybe it was cumulative. Maybe I was paranoid. Either way, suspending the account put an immediate end to all that mess. It actually felt good letting it all go.

Writing: I’d long suspected that my reduced blogging was partly because tweeting allowed me enough of an outlet to vent my thoughts and feelings on things I would otherwise have written about in long-form.

With all of these in mind, I decided one day – on a complete whim – to suspend my account and see how I felt about it.

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God, those first few days were surprisingly rough. I kept feeling the impulse to check on the Tweitgeist. I’d come across an article and feel like other people should know about it. Instinctively, I’d hit my share button and scroll through all the options Android gives you, looking for the Twitter logo… but alas, I’d deleted the app. I’d stare blankly at the phone, sigh, and keep it moving. This happened more times than I now recall. Twitter knows this and counts on it. You cannot just up and delete your account immediately: they suspend it and only finalize deletion if you don’t log in for

Four
Entire
Weeks.

I found it interesting just how entrenched my desire to share had become. I was born at a time when the internet as we know it didn’t exist. I started thinking about those born after sharing became the default, and suddenly started to understand why selfies, internet sex tapes, and Class Talkative had come into existence.

All the while, I had Elidot’s voice at the back of my mind, explaining (like the ZenGuruJediSageBuddhaMaster that he is) that virtual real estate was like actual real estate: it has value. And there I was, ready to swing a wrecking ball.

After two weeks or so, all those feelings and thoughts passed. The overwhelming need to share subsided. I figured out other ways to keep tabs on things (not Facebook: that’s another mess for another day). Elidot and EDWVN always filled me in on the rest. Some of it I missed, much of it I didn’t. I was surprised by the extent to which I didn’t mind being behind on information. I experienced a brief writing spurt but soon went back to my writing indiscipline, although I have since gestated about 150 ideas that all feel ready to emerge now. Two weeks later and the account was gone.

I miss it sometimes. Yesterday, a friend (who also recently left Twitter) mentioned a name I had not heard in awhile and I realized that our friendship had mostly gone down in the DMs. There are a number of such people. Beautiful, awesome spirits. I look forward to reconnecting with them in other ways. I’m not about to launch some ‘Leave Twitter’ campaign: no. Everything said, I still actually like Twitter. Overall though, I feel happy with my decision…

Or maybe I just needed a break. Maybe I’ll sneak back in under a pseudonym and make the occasional sagely observation, looking like I’m following no-one while actually tracking everyone through secret lists.

Or not.

Never say never say never.

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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).

Phreak-Out-Live-After-Party