Mark Asari Shows His R&B Side on “Minus To Plus” EP

Steeped in mid- 90s R&B sound “Minus To Plus” is a celebration of love, success and a better future.

The late 80s and the early 90s babies had their teenage years defined by R&B music. From memorizing and karaoking some of the soul bearing lyrics from black American singers to slipping few romantic lines into letters to their childhood crushes, R&B music was a precious gift that many held on to with great care.

By the end of the 2000s, the appeal of that genre was beginning to wane. Artists who were once noted as proponents of that genre began to bend over to a new genre that wasn’t much a favorite of black American populace.

By the middle of new millennium, pop music (majorly a white genre) was stealing R&B artists away to it’s side. The reasons range from it’s popularity to it’s economic appeal. R&B market, compared to the pop music market, was very insignificant and the need to profit and expand their fanbase into a white demographic meant creating the kind of music that serves their interest.

That gradual switch in focus, however led to the gradual demise of R&B from their main music space. This development had led to some music critics to label R&B a dying genre. But, it appears the revitalization of R&B is gradually happening. That’s a conversation for another day.

For an artist, and for that matter a new one, to choose to go the R&B route on a project, in a market that accept pop induced music readily, could be seen as unimaginable since a pop record(s) is a surest bet for a new artist to earn acceptability. But, this isn’t the preoccupation of Ghanaian-UK act Mark Asari.

His 6 track EP, “Minus To Plus”, is an enterprise in self reflection, celebration of self and self belief. As the EP title indicate, “Minus To Plus” is about growth; it’s about resilience; and about victory. Mark Asari obviously has chalked some losses and wins in his life, especially in his career as a musician.

Steeped in mid- 90s R&B sound – with it’s mellow vibe, catchy melodies and mid-tempo feel- “Minus To Plus” is a celebration of love, success and a better future.

Mark Asari’s nasal falsetto offering peels through the kick and bass driven beats. The second song- which is also the title of EP- is a victory celebration. He sings about making it as these lyrics reflect: ‘School of hard knocks, I guess I’ve learnt enough’. He proceeds with, ‘I’m numb to the pain, I’m numb to the love, I’m numb to the hate’. These experiences are the backwood on which he’s floating to success : ‘Riding through the city with my windows off‘. Mark solicits help from Geovarn, whose voice is a something close to Bryson Tiller- sends caution to all the fake love spreading girls to stay back now that he’s successful.

Issues of love is dominant on the EP as heard on the opener ‘Ain’t Gotta Talk’, a request for a girl to back up her words with action (let your action speaks louder/You can’t be here selling a dream). The calamatic side of this joyous affair is heard on the Tion Wayne assisted, guitar synths and flashing piano chords dominating, heartbreak story ‘Baby Yo’.

The ebullient ‘Stay With Me’ carries a ‘ride-or-die-chick’ theme while ‘Me & You’ touches on a spending a life with a loved one. Whereas the beats on ‘Stay With Me’ sounds like something from Timberland’s playbook (think his drum heavy works on a Timberlake song), ‘Me & You’ tilt towards more traditional R&B influence.

The closing song ‘God Bless My Hustle’, despite it’s message of praying for godly mercies disrupts the feel of the EP. ‘God Bless My Hustle’ is a more up tempo, afropop song which doesn’t fit the overall R&B mood of the album. Perhaps, not a big deal but it snuffs something away from “Minus To Plus”.

Technically, Mark Asari’s shrill voice was within a perfect range. The producers did their best to highlight it’s beauty since poor mastering could have made his voice so piercing.

R&B might be on a downward slope, sad to say. But, for some artists who grew up on this genre of music, departing from it would be unthinkable. They’d rather be part of recuscitating the genre than abandoning it. And Mark Asari belongs to this brave crop of artists.

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Concert Review: A FOKN Party The Rains Couldn’t Stop

Half way through their set, the rains began to fall; first in drops and latter in sheets. Earlier in the afternoon, the city had been washed by rains. But, the party wouldn’t be stopped by the showers. The adrenaline was high and the rains, it appears invigorated the fans even more.

The venue, Alliance Francaise wasn’t full when the party commenced. But, people trickled in as the show progressed. The venue was almost full a few performances later.

And the Fokn Bois – consisting of Wanlov The Kubolor and M3nsa- as usual, kept the audience excited throughout their two-and-half hour set.

What is fascinating about the Fokn Bois and their concerts is this: they are able to re-invent their performances each time they mount the stage. You can see them ten times performing the same songs yet, you wouldn’t have two sets being the same.

Their performance was a combination of comic dramatization, serious political commentaries, introduction of new artists -Fiddy and 730 (Seven Thirty) and of course, a strange appearance by a certain Donald Trump. (You read right). Ironically, this was during the performance of ‘Help America’, a humanitarian chant.

They performed songs from their classic album, “FOKN Wit Ewe” and “FOKN Ode To Ghana”. It wasn’t much about the songs they performed on the night. It was the manner it was performed that would stay with the many who were present.

The impressive backdrops and the dramatic interpretations of some songs handed their set a theatrical feel. It was like watching a musical being performed by master actors.

They had two ‘gays’ on stage to help dramatize the lyrically visual song ‘Strong Homosexual Guys’. The acting- from Wanlov being awoken by a phone call, to the ‘gays’ chasing them- as unexpected as it was-added to the overall excitement, especially when they got chased around on stage and through the audience. The backdrop did change with each song, including a Bruce Lee and a crop of lawyers during the performance of ‘Famous In China’ and ‘Laughing At Cripples’.

“Sextra Terrestrial Sex” went with a space odyssey backdrop adorned with graphics images of aliens, space ships and galactic impressions. Sitting on a couch, rapping out lyrics felt like two old buddies relaxing at a porch casually daydreaming about sexual escapades with aliens.

When we thought we’ve seen it all, they, like politicians on a podium, read out a joint ‘speech’. The speech, as politically and socially toned as they were, were taken from four songs off their “Fokn Ode To Ghana” album- ‘Live The Highlife’ (The price of lies/ the price of lies dey rise/ The price be right/ To my cit it taste nice), ‘Muga Yaro’, ‘One for Aniki’, ‘Africanspirit’.

They called on stage Medikal who joined them performed their new single ‘Wo Nim Mi’ (You Know Me). Watching the Fokn Bois on stage is amazing. Their ability to improvise and even crack jokes and start little off the cuff conversations is in itself an art. And on the night, we witnessed many of these instances.

The fever pitch moment, interestingly coincided with the rains; something they jokingly described as a godly ejaculation session. Fans weren’t perturbed. They joined the Fokn Bois in the performance of what had became a cult favorites: ‘Gimmie Pinch’, ‘Broken Lngwjz’ and ‘Super Chompia’. And when they were done with their set, the audience requested them to perform ‘Beeches’, which they had no objections to.

Like all their concerts, the Fokn Bois performed live. They had on stage a MacBook Pro which contained the instrumentations of their songs; some were a re-creation of the original.

The only downside on the night was the discomfort that some of their lyrics caused among some of the elderly folks who were in attendance. I couldn’t help but notice the facial expression of discomfort on the face of one elderly man who sat two places from me. He had his young family with him as well and hearing the Fokn Bois sing about genitalias obviously was uncomfortable.

But again, this is a Fokn Bois concert where irreverence rules. Like I always say, the FOKN Bois are masters of their trade. And they keep proving why they are one of the best performing artists in the country, by far.

Photos used in this article are sourced from the twitter pages of @revyboadu @mutomboDaPoet @arkiim_ @_kwnbnx @dadaeli_

Edem takes us to church on ‘’Mighty Jesus’’

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In his 2015 speech after winning the VGMA ‘Best Video Award’ for ‘The One’, Edem appealed to all to support artists by patronizing their works. This, he indicated was one of the ways, artists like himself would release very good works-both audio and videos for fans to enjoy and sell Ghana music to the world. According to him, he spent about GHc 40,000 on that video. In short, money helps in creating excellent visuals for artists.

This is evident in his new video, ‘Mighty Jesus’. The song celebrates the goodness of God (or Jesus) in his life and career. Produced by Coptic, Edem drafts fellow rappers, EL and Jayso, who took turns to express the favour of God in their various endeavours over hard hitting hip hop beat.

The Video:

The video is directed by Pascal Aka and is set in a church. There is a choir, a pastor and violinists providing extra musical texture to the song. The video runs through a series of shots- dancers in a praying posture (heads bowed), choristers, a pastor, violinists and evil forces seeking to cause harm to Edem, Jayso and EL. We also see Edem (dressed in all white) and a view of a mountain battered by winds. The video is shot entirely in black and white.

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We get introduced to Jayso courtesy a panoramic view of him lying in a big drawn crucifix adorned at the edges with candles. There are scenes of him rapping while standing with the choir behind him. Interspersed are scenes of a ‘kayayie’ (head porter) and an ‘albino’ mother who’s being tormented by evil forces.  EL is shown in a room full of evil forces trying to attack him. On the white walls of the room are blood stains- he is killing them through the grace of God. Next comes Edem, looking all dapper in his white shirt and black trousers, sitting comfortably on what looks like a wooden throne (made of sticks and palm fronts).

The ‘Mighty Jesus’ video has some interesting scenes that advances the narrative including the albino mother who’s separated from the evil forces by a grace enclosure she’s in. That wall connotes the grace of God. The video marries Western (charismatic) Church culture with Traditional African Religious themes as seen in the Christian symbols of crucifix, candles, choirs and the preacher. The animated expressions of the pastor is flawlessly performed. The depiction of African themes or symbols via the body paintings, Northern warrior horn helmet and raffia wearing priestess all point to the contrast and commonalities existing between these religions although the Christian values are positively highlighted. At the end of the day, the evil forces all succumbed to one God, the Christian God.

Compared to his video for ‘The One’, ‘Mighty Jesus’ has less graphic works. Pascal Aka and Edem chose to keep it very simple (concept, colour grading) yet the story is clearly told and could be understood by anyone who may have no sense of what they may be saying. In sum, this gospel themed video is perfect for a gospel themed song as ‘Mighty Jesus’.

‘Mighty Jesus’ is the first single from his soon to be released album, ‘The African Answer’. Cop a copy and support the artists so they could continue to create the way we want them to.

Amaarae’s “Passionfruit Summers” is a Perfect Sonic Gift

The anticipation which surrounded the announcement of a new EP by Amaarae was, upon listening very worthwhile. Amaarae’s name began swirling on my twitter timeline months ago-videos of her performances accompanied various tweets.

At first, I thought it was one of those hype team efforts at building steam for an artist who may be just average (that’s uncommon though). But, I got baited, followed by a change of mind and heart when I watched one of her videos. That Voice. The falsetto voice is charming and luxurious. That was the gripper. Then shifting through her words, you realize her pen game is absolutely fantastic. That combination of talent in voice and writing is fully accentuated exposure on her latest project “Passionfruit Summers’’.

The six track EP is a well knitted, pleasuring experience that transports you into a place of pure serenity and joyous pain. “Passionfruit Summers” is an exercise of sonic exploration and a magical trip into a world of absolutely bliss. It’s a portrait of Amaarae: a confident, bold woman who knows what she wants and isn’t scared to face her feelings.

‘The shawty with the bald head’, as her twitter bio read, assembled some of the best minds and hands in the music front in Ghana to curate this EP. Rvdical, EDWVN, MikeMillz, Dex Kwasi dug deep into their sonic vault for this project and the outcome is one that should elicit an eternal smile across their faces. The EPs opener ‘Sundays’ uses an inviting bass guitar chords and percussion for this ‘don’t-stress-me’ tune.

The picturesque view she describes is one of a ‘good day with palm tree breeze’ with her ‘smoking purple and drinking’ is pleasurable experience. Bringing on board Fingers, helps bring the song ‘home’. What stands out is how their voices blend to perfection-whether singing together or throwing in ad-libs. Her voice slices through it effortlessly, like a knife through a butter cake. She sings those low notes with easy comfort.

The EP can be described as Amaarae’s parting of ‘ways with her fear over lost love and demonstrates an undeniable lust for sonic freedom’. These themes run throughout the six tracks. Sometimes, the songs sound like a yearning for a loved one; or stuck somewhere she doesn’t want to leave. Some of the songs also feel like confessional diary entries; a showcase of her love life. The theme is demonstrated profoundly on the sensually tinged ‘Catching A Wave’, where she sings about letting a lover go. Her opening words, ‘I think the time has come for me and you to let it go’ is uttered in a casual mode. But, there’s a sense of hurt in the lyrics that follow: ‘You changed the game I’ll not be the same, I’ll let you know’. The slow-tempo beat on which her words float serve as the perfect canvas on which she paints her pain; of wanting someone you can’t have.

The influence of songs from Ghana and Nigeria (on their respective artists) is evident on ‘Happy Mistakes’ where she does an interpolation of D’Banj’s classic ‘Oliver Twist’. ‘Happy Mistakes’, as much an oxymoron, has her crooning about her feelings towards a lover. The honesty in the lyrics, ‘sometimes, you treat me like a fool, I went crazy over you, you don’t have a clue’, is definitely proclaimed from a place of truth. The happiness that the slapping hi-hats in the first part evoke is stripped away in the second part.

As she indicated in her interview, these are real life experiences shared over minimal, kora string beats. The second part of this song slowly builds, rising with each thump of the kick. Here, she sounds like one coming to terms with the end of the relationship. The Usher ‘U Don’t Have To Call’ interpolation is the perfect, painless closure to a satisfying encounter.

Listening or hearing the story behind the making of a particular track adds a ton of beauty and also, helps you appreciate the artist’s creativity. As she disclosed in an interview with Kozie on Accra based YFM, they (she and her team of producers) had to go the extra mile to create the perfect product that is “Passionfruit Summers”.

This is how they came about creating the dreamy song “Hawaii”, as she shared on twitter

‘’It took me Rvdical, EDWVN and David Edem an entire day of mostly just talking about random stuff, chilling in my guest room, listening to Jerry Plange and mostly interrupting Rvdical while he was making the beat, EDWVN actually came up with the melodies first. He had been singing it all day so we drove to MikeMillz’s studio and talked for another two hours, watched Ryan Leslie’s Black Mozart film while Rvdical was finishing the beat. Rvdical finished, EDWVN hopped in the booth, killed it, gave me vim, hopped in right after. Boom’’.

‘Hawaii’, a 1 minute and 45 seconds song carries a whispery vibe. The beat and her singing rise contemporaneously, her voice sliding along the rising soundscape of the song. Her checklists what she’d do for her lover (I’ll give you all my time). The trap soul influence and sharp piano chords add to the ambience of the song, thus encapsulating with perfection the song’s title. On the title track of the EP, which happens to be the closing song, she enlists another incredibly gifted singer, Sutra and together steamed into the sunny summer season.

‘Passionfruit Summers’ is the perfect introduction of Amaarae to lovers of neo-soul/bluesy music, although she’s able to subtly embed few strands of trap and hip-hop influences. The EP is a trip down the clichéd memory lane-staying with the golden moments and trying to purge yourself of the sour moments.

The decision to keep it at just six tracks is perfect- it doesn’t get boring. Her falsetto and her ability to hit those low notes effortlessly reminds me of Solange on her Grammy nominated album, ‘’Seat At The Table’’.

Then again, I dare ask: Who’s Amaarae? A cross between the sublime sultriness of Jhene Aiko and a girl next door Solange? Or, she’s AMAARAE! Make your decision after listening to ‘Passionfruit Summers’ here. https://soundcloud.com/amaarae/sets/passionfruit-summers

King Promise – Selfish

There’s something worth pointing out about this video. Was the ‘accident scene’ really necessary? Perhaps it was. Just that, it wasn’t really done well. It looked super fictitious. The director could have created a good scene to capture that bit of the story than what we saw.

King Promise is working. A few weeks after releasing the audio of this love-tinged song ‘Selfish’, the video is out. A good video concept that highlights the beauty of a love relationship: trips to the cinema, the long night drives, sharing food, warm cuddles, shopping trips and the inescapable, sometimes volatile arguments.

King Promise and his lover seem very comfortable with each other as the video show. Of course, they are in love. The love between them seem all genuine. Then.. Tragedy hit. She is knocked by a car. She passes on. We see King Promise dropping a flower in her grave. The lover he promised to be selfish about has been snatched crudely from him.

So, the video is King Promise in a flashback mode, reminiscing about her and the good times the two shared. Interesting, the story isn’t as obvious from the start. The colour grade of the video was as colourful as it should be. Elsewhere, a video director could have shot some of the scenes in black and white for flashback effects.

Need to say, King Promise is working hard to be a top prospect in this competitive music scene. He’s trying to be ahead of the pack. And his wave is catching on albeit gradually. ‘Selfish’ is another good time to help propel him to his desired destination. Expect the song to be a ‘couple first dance’ tune at weddings.

Concert Review: M3nsa thrilled at ‘Accra Hip Hop Festival’

One can easily tell an experienced artist from an amateur by how they carry themselves on stage when performing. Their stage movement, sequencing of songs and overall act- ability to find balance between performance and audience interaction. This divide becomes more apparent when they are performing with a live band.

These were on display last night when rapper, producer, singer, M3nsa headlined the ‘Accra Hip Hop Festival’ at Alliance Francaise, Accra.

With his four man band- a drummer, two guitarists and a keyboardist- M3nsa, known also as one half of the FOKN Bois (with Wanlov) and Red Red (with DJ ELO), proved once again that, he isn’t only a great musician, but a performer who can sell an experience.

Scheduled to begin at 8 PM, the show kicked off half an hour late; a situation Wanlov, who was the MC for the evening, humorously ascribed to the massive traffic that engulfed the city during the visit of French President, Emmanuel Macron.

It was sound check when I got to the Alliance Francaise a little after 8PM. The band and the sound man where working on the sound frequency and quality. When all was set, M3nsa joined the band on stage for mic check.

As a curtain raiser, M3nsa returned back on stage to begin the show. Wanlov (MC for the event) introduced three artists who took turns to rap on fresh made M3nsa beats. First act was 7:30, a 17 year old rapper who won a rap competition the FOKN Bois had organized three years ago. Now under the care of Wanlov, he earned his name after scoring 7 out of 30 in a French exams.

Hip-hop act, Lykay performed a series of verses over beats by M3nsa. His composure and confidence on stage was incredible. Sister Deborah came next to perform the famous ‘Ghana Jollof’ track. Wanlov took over and rhymed out lyrics of ‘Super Chompia’, off his debut ”Green Card” album.

When M3nsa came back on stage to perform his set with his band, The Light Off, the sizeable crowd were ready to be thrilled. In his ash T-shirt over a coffee dark khaki pants and black sneakers, he wasted no time in adding to the positive energy swirling among the audience .

Most of the songs performed were from his album, ”No. 1 Mango Street” as well as singles from the DJ Elo collaborative ‘Red Red’ album. ‘Anaa’ set the tone for what was to come. ‘Fante Love Song’, ‘How Far’, and ‘Kelewele Pimping’ got the crowd singing aong with gusto. So impressed was he with the crowd during the performance of Fante Love Song that he shared his surprise with ‘I love the GH boys romantic style’

‘Gimme Pinch’ got people playfully pinching each other as the song demanded. M3nsa rolled back the years to the excitement of fans by performing the classic ‘If You Don’t Know’.

A hilarious conversation ensued between M3nsa and Wanlov during the performance of ‘Gimme Pinch’- they both showed what the phrase could mean (Pin chow (noodles) and Pee In Chow all sound like Gimme Pinch o but mean different things).

The throwback set continued with the performance of VIP’s ‘Ahomka Wo Mu’ and the surprise appearance of Reggie Rockstone, who together with M3nsa (who as produced for Regg in his younger years) performed including ‘Men Sesa Da’ and ‘Sweetie Sweetie’.

The curtain finally came down (so we thought) after the performance of ‘Adwuma’ (Work). The crowd who had gathered in front of the stage matched the energy behind the performance. So thrilled was one of the guitarist that, he forgot to strum a solo section when M3nsa signalled.

A.I, who was scheduled to perform earlier showed up after M3nsa’s set, but got the audience to stay for the ‘after party’. He got the crowd to sing and dance along to his set of songs like ‘Grind’, ‘Burn Fat’, ‘Paper’, ‘Moving On’, ‘Marry Jane’ and ‘Anger Management’. Even though he didn’t perform with a band, he didn’t mime either. He sang over instrumentals of his songs.

The event didn’t attract a full house. There were a lot of empty pews at the concert venue. The reasons for that was obvious: the event wasn’t promoted that much and again, there were a lot of events in the city that evening.

The size of crowd, however provided an intimacy that ‘filled to rafters’ events often don’t offer. Also, the sound was great and the performances were well sequenced and coveted no dull moment.

As M3nsa indicated at the end of his satisfying performance, he was the only act (from FOKN Bois) out that night. And he held his own. Imagine the two of them on December 9th at the ‘FOKN Party’. Be prepared.

Songs Performed by M3nsa

Anaa

If You Don’t Know

Fante Love Song

Kelewele Pimping

No One Knows Tomorrow

Gimmie Pinch,

How Far,

Show Me How

VIPs Ahomka Would Mu,

Mensesa Da & Agoo (with Reggie Rockstone)

Adwuma

Adomaa, Efya sing about Freedom on new song

‘E.F.Y Adomaa’ won’t be a bad group name. Neither will it be a bad title for a joint project, be it an album or EP (yes, it’s an EP season lately). E.F.Y.ADomaa is a nice, ring-able name mentioned a couple of times on the new song released by singer/songwriter Adomaa (as an intro).

‘Free’, as song is titled, is a 3: 06 minute song featuring the incomparable Efya. ‘Free’ is a call for excellence; a song about positive thinking and breaking down barriers and rising to the top.

Produced by Reynolds The Gentleman, ‘Free’ blends afro-soul, RnB and hip-hop influences. The beat, towards the end switches into a traditional adowa rhythmic vibrations handing the song it’s Ghanaian identity.

Efya taps into her known soulful vault, (something we miss) dishing out a memorable crooning about staying positive whilst reminding us of the exigency of time: ‘Set your mind free, my brother/Set your mind free, my sister/Be who wanna be today cos no time dey again’. Her voice floats rather than sit on the beat.

Adomaa spreads her operatic cadences over ‘Free’ on the second verse, brining to life, the beauty of the composition and of course, the song. ‘Don’t take my energy/ Don’t be my elegy/ We need that synergy/ No time for lethargy’, wraps up the message of the song.

‘Free’ is is about self-belief and empowerment, a song to remind and inspire all especially women to rise beyond the obstacles that seeks to break, cower or stifle their progress. Despite the world being one of ideas that continues to shape the world, there are many who are held back by reasons of self-doubt and perception of others, which ultimately shrinks their dreams.

For such individuals trapped in this mindset, Adomaa and Efya are urging them to ignore what the world think of them, step out into the sun and run their own race.

The two joining voices to sing the memorable ‘Freedom Is Coming’ hook feels like a celebration of a victory. ‘Free’ is nothing short of a daily message of inspiration.