Music Review: Serwa Akoto by YOM (Writer Poet)

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Yom tackles the issue of skin bleaching on his latest poem Serwa Akoto

The name Serwa Akoto has somehow become synonymous to beauty thanks to the classic hit song Serwaa Akoto by the Yamoah International Band released in the 1970s. The name, based off the song title and lyrics, celebrated the beauty of Serwa Akoto. (Note: Serwa Akoto was a real individual resident at Dansoman, Akoko Foto).

The latest act to reference the name is Yom The Poet. His celebration of beauty carries a twist. YOM tackles the subject of how today’s generation perceive beauty: the adoration of light skin and the culture of skin bleaching (or is it toning). Through the character called Serwa Akoto, the ‘African Geisha’, Yom shares his views on this trend; exploring reasons behind it.

Featuring singers Tara and Bella, whose ballads and background harmonies are as ornate as Yom’s words, the two describe the contradiction Serwa Akoto is: ‘Serwa Akoto, African Geisha. She’s beautiful. She don’t know it’. They proceed to tell us how her ‘smile light up the day’.

The first verse situate the poem in context: ‘she aspires to be the crème of the crop so she applies cream to crop out the darkness’.  Serwa Akoto’s motive for bleaching is borne out of her realization that, being dark skinned was a disincentive.  Light skin, holds a lot of power and influence over men (so they say). The advantages-both social, economic and colonial- compels her to ‘photoshop’ her body.

‘Somewhere in the syllabus I suppose someone forgot to teach that,

 A painting possesses more value that a photoshop version’

The subject of skin bleaching (or toning) and the continuous fuss about the measure of beauty has become topical in recent times. In some African countries, measures including banning of bleaching creams has been instituted. In Ghana, the advocacy against skin bleaching is alive. The harmful effects of bleaching are well known. These facts notwithstanding, many women seem unperturbed. Like Serwa Akoto, their actions are borne out of an obtuse cultural thinking (light skin is beautiful or superior) and to an extent, its socio-economic benefits. Yom captures the ‘prestige’ associated with being light skinned aptly: ‘now she speaks in pounds and sprinkles of cedis’, adding ‘her dialogue is unlocked by sparkling Mercedes’.  ‘The Barbie, never been offered a penny for her thoughts/Pennies are often offered for what’s beneath her frocks’, he points out the irony.

Yom doesn’t only chide them for bleaching. He blames society for playing a role in this whole situation including Kwame Nkrumah, when he married Fathia (ha!). He asks: ‘Must we find beauty in this beast disfigured by the pressures of an unforgiven society?’ He muses over the reasons for bleaching: ‘mouths to feed? Or a misguided need to belong?’ (social factor). Yom finally concludes on a leg of despair: ‘African Geisha seems lost yet only she can find her’.

There’s a stunning calmness in the manner Yom delivers his words. They are unforced and languid; rolling off his tongue like they are draped in silk. The background music-a mix of jazz, soul and afrobeats- along with the singing of Tara and Bella hands the poem a soothing sensation. There are moments when the soulful tunes are replaced by high tempo highlife groves. A good stunt to pull for it’s important to cheer the listener after delivering such heavy, disturbing yet truthful message (in the midst of drinking is when thinking is done, as they Akan proverb goes).

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