When the conversation on highlife music of the 80s is broached, a lot of deserving names would be thrown into the mix as those who not only shaped the new sound of highlife music- from the classical or traditional highlife sound of the 50s and 70s to the burger (borga) highlife (named after the German city of Hamburg). These artistes helped propagate this new sound across the borders of the country courtesy its ‘hip’ style.
One of the musicians whose music helped furthered this new genre of music is Ben Brako. Ben Brako, a native of Cape Coast recorded his debut album Baya whiles residing in London. The 7-track Baya album, recorded at the Sultan Sound Studios, London, in 1987 was produced by Ben Brako and John K with S.G Eshun as Executive Producer.
Baya boasted hits such as Etui, Anokum, Mawie, Ntaase, Mok) Me Krom, Angel and Adom Tomorrow and following its release won Ben Brako some prestigious awards including Album and Musician of the Year Awards at the Leisure Foundation Awards in 1987. He again won the Entertainment Critics and Reviewers Association of Ghana (ECRAG) Awards two years after Baya was released.
One of my personal favourite songs by Ben Brako and for which this article is based is Ntsaase (Understanding), off the Baya album. Like most Ben Brako songs and songs of that era, the instrumentation is lush, melody; spot on and rhythms invitingly groovy. It readily invites the listener to either bump the head, snap the fingers or tap their feet along. For those who love to dance, Ntsaase readily inspires you to take a few steps.
Despite these qualities, it is the lyrics of the song that hits home. The song, with its two verses touch on very important issues in society; a very typical attribute of Ben Brako. On the song Ben Brako speaks about the abusive nature of patriarchy and how women’s (in) actions are restricted or defined by society.
Ben Brako, on the first verse of Ntsaase, sings in Fante, which loosely translates as ‘It’s about a man and a woman. Should a woman do it, we say she is ‘spoilt’ or un-lady like…’ Here, Ben Brako is highlighting a very social construct where a man is free to express and prove his sexuality yet a woman is called many derogatory names once she does it.
He proceeds to point out, in the next line ‘everybody has dignity. So, if a woman is selling her body (prostituting), try and understand, the world has caused it’. He is highlighting the fact that, lack of economic opportunities forces a lot of women into prostitution as a means of survival.
On the second verse, he ample depict the evil workings of patriarchy. He tells the story of a young beautiful girl Mansa, who is sent to school by her parents to become a lady (educated woman). A teacher named Banza uses his influence- money and status- to impregnate Mansa despite having three wives, effectively truncating Mansa’s education.
The chorus asks ‘where is your husband, woman? Where’s your dignity woman? Where is your reasoning, you man (human)? These rhetorical questions are the same which is asked when misfortune(s) befall them, often with men as the instigators or perpetrators.
The theme emphasized by Ben Brako judging by the release date of the song (1987) surprisingly is still on-going today, where women cannot embrace and demonstrate their sexual freedoms without getting slammed or tagged with despicable labels. Today, it is still the case that, women who are abused sexually get blamed for ‘attracting’ men to abuse them. There still exist a wide gulf in terms of job opportunities between the two sexes.
One of the attribute of a great songwriter is the ability to make songs that last a lifetime; a classic song which generations could come and dance to it and also carries a theme or message that transcends it time; a message that captures happenings in our society at present and in the future. On Ntaase, the veteran highlife ace proved why he is one of the few musicians whose songs will resonate with time for so many years.
This article was originally published on TotalShowbiz.com