Video Review: Ko-Jo Cue and Lil Shaker celebrate their idols on ‘Untitled’

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‘We had wanted to screen the second video for y’all tonight. But, our video director say e no finish am’. This was Ko-Jo Cue talking to the very few who got invited to the album listening session for ‘Pen & Paper’ at the BBNZLive Bar at Nima, a week ago.

Both Cue and Shaker would, at the least opportunity, express their disappointment at how the planned screening didn’t pan out as expected. But, he made an emphatic statement to us: ‘If you loved the first video (Pen & Paper), this next one would blow your mind’.

Everybody who had seen the video for ‘Untitled’ would applaud them for conceptualizing an astounding piece of artwork. The video is the second to be released, after Pen & Paper. The duo are ‘hopefully’ looking to release videos for all the 12 songs on their joint album.

The video for ‘Untitled’ is a re-visitation of the past, and a homage paying venture for the legends that inspired these two young rappers to pick up the mic and rap. It is their way of saying thank you to their idols. When i asked Cue why they went with this concept, his answer was straight forward: ‘Homage. Everything i do has to pay homage to the old generation’.

Before I begin dissecting the video, slide by slide, let me state that, this probably is going to be the best piece of video you’d see in 2017. Ko-Jo Cue, Shaker and the video director Esianyo Kumodzi really put in work. As Cue and Shaker told MsNaa on her show some weeks back, all their videos would be shot by Esianyo Kumodzi. It’s very obvious to note why.

Back to the ‘Untitled’ video. This review would cover the many iconic musical references, the various interpretations for each scene and why they chose this concept.

The beginning opens with the two rappers, dressed in all black (seems that’s the costume for the album), walking towards a simple, open air music studio. Whereas Cue carries a microphone and chords, Shaker has in his arm a keyboard. As they proceed towards the ‘studio’, the two turn back, staring straight into the camera, and by extension, the eyes of the viewer.

That scene is drawn from the Jay Z and Kanye West Otis video (off their ‘Watch The Throne’ album). If you watch the beginning of the Otis video carefully, you’d see Jay Z peeping into the camera.

Ko-Jo Cue’s re-creations of his favourite music scene

Ko-Jo Cue’s love for Daddy Lumba runs deeper that you can imagine. Adopting the moniker YDL (Young Daddy Lumba) isn’t only because Lumba is from Kumasi as Cue, but an attestation to Lumba’s influence on highlife music and pop culture.  So, seeing a 24 inch black and white TV set beaming the visuals of the very iconic ‘Aben Wo Ha’ video is no coincidence. (Did you hear the music playing at the background?) Ko-Jo Cue goes ahead to re-create the opening scene of the ‘Aben Wo Ha’ video as it was done almost 20 years ago (video was released in 1998).

Pardon Cue for those dance moves (if we can call it such).   couldn’t have put it any better.

We again see the re-creation of that Obrafour ‘Kwame Nkrumah’ ‘rapping triplet’ scene (that scene had me wondering if Obrafour was a three-man group or just one person, days after watching the video some decades ago). Cue again re-creates M3nsa (of the Fokn Bois) ‘spitting fire on a mic’ video scene from ‘If You Don’t Know’ video (featuring VIP). We finally see him and Shaker, in their Last Two emblazoned T-Shirt living out moments off Edem’s ‘Keva’ (You Dey Craze) with Sarkodie video.  The re-creation of the images by Cue is his way of showing appreciation and paying homage to the past.

It is worth saying that, apart from the Daddy Lumba video, all the rest were directed by legendary videographer Abraham Ohene-Djan and his OM Studios acolytes.

Lil Shaker Re-creates Iconic Album Covers

Lil Shaker enters the scene to continue from where Cue left off. This time, he pays homage to the very iconic hip-hop idols he grew up listening to. Shaker did this by re-creating some of their major album covers like TuPac’s ‘All Eyez On Me’, Ja Rule’s ‘Pain Is Love’ (shot by the legendary Jonathan Mannion),  the iconic ‘Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ by 50 cents (shot by Sacha Waldman), and Jay Z’s classic ‘Black Album’ (shot by Jonathan Mannion).

Beneath the album covers is an interesting sublime statement about his own career path. Lil Shaker could be drawing parallels between him and 2Pac with the reference about his own path to greatness off Pen & Paper album. Don’t forget 2Pac was in jail in 1996, after being convicted (falsely) of rape. His album ‘All Eyez On Me’ became the No.1 album on Billboard. The legend of 2Pac was cemented by the album. So, Shaker is telling us this is his time to grow to greater things.

Since joining BBnZ, Shaker has been criticized for his diminishing role at the label. The optimism which many, including myself, had when he joined the label began to wane, after he chose to be more T-Pain than TI. The bullet ripped glass scene he re-created from 50 Cent’s GRODT cover could represent the criticisms that fans have leveled at him-shattering the glass house he found himself inhabiting. Not incurring any injuries, he’s more inspired to be the best. The theme of inspiration segues into the re- enactment of the Jay Z Black album cover, which could also mean his aim at greatness or Pen & Paper is definitely a classic. In short, those images or scenes sum up Shaker’s past and offers an insight into his future (henceforth).

Towards the end, Lil Shaker ask us to rewind the song to the beginning and listen again. The video then shuffles back to the Ko-Jo Cue as daddy Lumba ‘Aben Wo Ha’ scene. This is where the Untitled video ends, unceremoniously.

Some few points of notice:

‘Untitled’ is a continuation of Pen & Paper video. There’s a striking theme between the two. The video is shot in black and white. And we saw in the P&P video references to Obrafour’s ‘Pae Mu Ka’ poster and old cassette tapes. In ‘Untitled’, these themes are explored on a wider scale- paying real homage to the legends.

Both Cue and Shaker referenced four idols each- Lumba, Obrafour, M3nsa and Edem/Sarkodie. For Shaker, it was 2Pac, Ja Rule, 50 Cent and Jay Z.  Splitting the number to the middle indicate how the making of ‘’Pen & Paper’’ is a shared creative effort. With Cue idolizing Ghanaian artists and Shaker referencing legendary hip-hop icons, they tell the story of many Ghanaian rap fans; inspired by home grown and US rap stars.

My only reservation is that, they could have done away with the reference videos they re-created. Imagine how compelling it would be if they had allowed the viewer to identify their scenes from the original sources that served as their inspiration? The nostalgic feel would have been outstanding.

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In the last scene of the video, we see the two rappers set up their ‘studio’ and a cardboard with the inscription ‘DIY Studios’ sitting at the left side of the screen. Despite the reeking humor in the name, it points to the DIY (Do It Yourself) spirit that many indie artists embody when chasing their musical dreams.

And could the last scene be the album cover?

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There’s Everything to love about Burna Boy’s ‘Rock Your Body’ video

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If you were expecting a video full of decadence-of scantily clad women gyrating with little or no care, then your expectation was half met in this new video by Burna Boy. The video is littered with moments of women in their seductive element carefully portrayed to not bore you.

‘Rock Your Body’ is a song produced by Ghanaian-British producer DJ Juls. It has all the elements that has come to be associated with Juls within the afro pop scene- mid-tempo, classic highlife chops with its joyous glow.  Weeks ago, Juls tweeted about the existence of a musical material between Nigeria’s Burna Boy and himself. He added that, the song is to be released as a single because of two reasons: One, it didn’t fit the concept behind ‘’Leap of Faith’’, his gorgeously crafted debut EP; and second, it’s being saved as a Christmas jam.

Listening to the song and its content, you realize why it is released a single. ‘Rock Your Body’, with its stealing someone’s girl and rocking her body like she deserves, could have distorted (slightly) the concept of ‘Leap of Faith’ which was about love- seek, find, appreciate and celebrate.

”If you give me your love/Then, I go give you my love too

If you give me the shit)/ Then, I ginger the jollof” – Rock Your Body 

The video for ‘Rock Your Body’ is a glimpse into life in the ‘Burna Boy Mansion’ when he wants to indulge in his shenanigans. In 3:42 minutes, one get to see a lot of well-staged, well-coordinated acts superbly stitched together into a portrait of enjoyment of the viewer – fans and non-fans alike. There is a lot to unpack in this video. It’s not about the women, but more about the work put in by the hands during the creation of the final product (video).

The visual appeal and subtle inclusion of certain elements is what grant the video its aesthetic beauty.

Here are few of them:

Video Concept: As mentioned, the concept offers you (the viewer) into life in the ‘Burna Boy Mansion’. The viewer is offered a private viewing of Burna Boy in full mode. We are introduced to two men standing in front of a door to a house in the first scene. From their dark shades and looks, you realize why they are there: guard the door to the building. Next, we see them turn their head to the right, as if looking at an oncoming object.

One of the guard’s walks up to someone (not revealed) and suspiciously scrutinizes the person with all his might or power (like bodyguard do to disarm you of any confidence). After satisfying himself, he beckons his colleague, with a head nod, who opens the door. In goes someone (we only see his combat boots). A long shot of Burna Boy sitting in a chair like a king, lighting up a smoke comes up next.

Two women (one in a lingerie and the other in a black fur coat) making their way into his ‘hallowed ground’ (cordoned off area with yellow tapes emblazoned with the word ‘CAUTION’. As the camera rolls, we see the two ladies dancing as well as shots of others. The set is designed to look like a strip club. Some of the ladies are dancing in a cage with barbed wires on top of the cage. Others swing on big hanging hoops. One of the dancers, draped with the ‘Caution’ inscribed tape performs a trance-like dance.

Burna Boy is seen either sitting outside of the cage singing, or with the two ladies belly dancing or seen alone and topless. His body tattoos in your face. Watching that scene, one image readily came to mind: Lil Wayne in the ‘Mirror’ video with Bruno Mars. The director effectively used slow-motion effects where necessary and ensured that focus wasn’t prominently placed on the dancers especially the strip club scenes.

Use of Colour and Light: The whole ‘Rock Your Body’ video is dipped in neon lights. From the moment we meet the two guards at the gate to the dancing scenes, colour and lightening are employed to full effects. The use of neon lights is both for aesthetic value and emphasis. The eyes of the guards and dancers, the room setting is geared at making a statement: it’s going to be real here.

The lights transition from red (when he’s with the girls in his hallowed grounds) to denim blue (the guards) to something chrome-esque (when it came to the dancing girls). You sometimes see the use of dark colours to black out certain distractions (they want you to see the dancers only). Did you see the girl who pulled that Undertaker hide-your-pupil stunt?

The quality of lighting is seen in how the dancers/ models are illuminated on camera. The close-up shots and the tone of illumination provide the viewer with detailed skin tone of the dancers/models. (Did they use Fenty makeup?). It must be said that, all the dancers/models featured are all dark skinned. It seems the use of dark skinned women is becoming a thing.

Symbolism: Before the guards finally permit us into the mansion, you are shown the image of two sculptured dog heads, serving as door handles the house.  The dog head could symbolize a lot of things including protection and bravery. In ‘Rock Your Body’, the depiction of those dog heads could mean a protected or well secured house that can’t be invaded without an invitation.

Another visible symbol we see immediately after the dog heads is golden many golden skulls. Here, it could reference the number of intruders’ slayed -a show of power.

The lyrics of ‘Rock Your Body’ is about stealing someone else’s girl and ‘rocking’ her body to her satisfaction. It’s a catchy, fun song. The video walks a fine line between glossy and moderate. That is, the video looks expensive watching it yet, it’s not excessive. Everything is neatly tucked. My only disappointment? The director isn’t credited on the Youtube credits.

Sarkodie celebrates love, solidifies his spot as the best on ‘Highest’

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For Sarkodie, the pressure was on to prove that he is still the indomitable force within the music scene, the rapper whose spot everyone wants, the Negus of his time. Changing his moniker from ‘King’ to ‘Highest’ were all calculated to drum home his credentials. For his fans, Sarkodie was infallible. Critics, however, had their own perceptions especially when Sarkodie became somewhat of a ‘Drake’ – keen on jumping on other people’s songs to advance his own clout.

This kind of strategy was considered by critics as vulturous. His fans saw it as a well-intentioned move to not only bring attention to himself but also, help propel the songs of these artistes into the reel of mainstream music. A verse or endowment by Sarkodie became the seal of approval for most of these youngsters. Every artist has his own ‘tricks’ that ensure their survival; that keeps them floating above the musical Bermuda. For Sarkodie, hopping on other artistes songs was his survival trick.

So, the question was this: what more has Sarkodie got to offer?

For almost a decade, he has been the burning light. We’ve heard him rhyme on a variety of themes or subjects which for many has become monotonous. What new themes would ‘Highest’ broach? What would Sarkodie do differently? What is inspiring his new album? Legitimate questions that, perhaps, crossed his mind after all, his safe nest had been threatened a year ago by M.anifest.

Whereas some artistes go out of sight when working on new material for an album, Sarkodie was never out sight. It’s interesting to note that, he released two songs – Gboza and Painkiller- from January till this point. All the rest were jumping on remixes or getting featured. Yet, it was as if he released over a dozen songs. For two years, the album was being recorded. And on Friday 8th September, the ‘Highest’, his fifth studio album, was released.

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Within the two years, a lot had happened to Sarkodie- growing his brand beyond Ghana, he became a father. His daughter, Titi and long time girlfriend Tracy offered the inspiration for ‘Highest’. And it doesn’t take long for one to notice it-songs like Baby Mama, ‘Come To Me’, Far Away, Your Waist, All I Want, All Night, See Only You– celebrate his love for Tracy.

On the Joey B assisted ‘Baby Mama’, Sarkodie is heard highlighting Tracy’s seductiveness ‘Somebody tell Tracy Titi isn’t asleep‘, he raps. On ‘Far Away’, the featured Nigerian crooner, Koredo Bello’s words ‘Far Away, lady don’t go far away/I no go break your heart‘ is an assurance of his undying love for her.

‘Highest’ features an array of artistes, Ghanaians and Nigerians alike. The likes of Joey B, Worlasi, JaySo (who executive produced the album) offered their talents to their projects. Big Narstie, Bobi Lewis (UK), Moelogo, Flavour, Koredo Bello, Praiz, Jesse Jagz also came in waving their country’s flag. And it’s obvious why he put them on – friendship and economic reasons. According to Sarkodie, his decision to feature these artistes were based on Jayso’s recommendation.

It’s not all Tracy love on ‘Highest’. Sarkodie’s hip-hop sentiments, which has been capped in recent times by the rise of afropop across the globe was revisited on the album. On songs like ‘Silence’ (featuring poet Suli Breaks), the poet is heard exalting Sark as ‘the beast who wrestled with rap legacy and came out victorious’. Sark takes time to reminisce and thank all who helped him on his come up. ‘Dr. Duncan is the one I’m thanking cos you’re the only one who ever saw the dream’, he reminds all.

On the Jesse Jagz assisted ‘Overdose’, Sarkodie lived by the Jay Z lyric that ‘sometimes you need to remind these fools’. This is classic boastful, I’m-the-greatest- to-do-this talk with lines as ‘90 percent of rappers copy my style/I ain’t mad, I feel proud’. On the second verse, he drops the line ‘on Jay Z and Kanye’s level/don’t bring your Bobby Shmurda life close to me‘. For Sark, there’s a dichotomy between relevancy and hits. In his words ‘that philosophy doesn’t exist‘. An artist’s relevance is measured by how he’s impacting the game and selling Ghana to the world.

‘We No Dey Fear’ (with Jayso) is a brazen display of bravado: ‘we walk up in a room full of vultures’, Jayso sings on the hook. The way up isn’t light work. It’s not even done when you’re the top contender. Haters will always be clandestinely watching and readying to prey on you. Sark is heard taking shots at those with weak lines on this menacing 80 dictated beat.

None of the songs capture the two sides of the album- sound-wise- than ‘All I Want Is You’ featuring Praiz and ‘Certified’. The Nigerian crooner, Praiz brought a dose of warmth on the confessional ‘All I Want Is You’, courtesy his soulful, gospel-esque vocals. Despite Sark’s adoration of Tracy, it is Praiz whose delivery will be remembered. One can loop his vocals and listen to it all day. He has earned himself a new set of Ghanaian fans.

On the other hand, ‘Certified’ with Jayso and Worlasi, carries a banging hip-hop beat that rattles through you. Jayso comes in with his verse about not rolling with people who aren’t productive. Did he say he’s the matador to the bull? Worlasi is the Tom Hanks of our era. He executes magic no matter where you put him on a song.

‘Love Yourself’, an inspirational song about self-love which features Moelogo carries a sparkling afro pop feel.‘Insecurities only allows you to look down on yourself, but it’s not true’. In an era where no one escapes the scrutiny of others, self-hate is on the ascendancy, leading to depression and suicide on some occasions. ‘Highest’ the title track is about being smart with your finances. The beat feels like a fast tempoed version of ‘Bossy’. The theme also sounds like an extension of ‘Hand To Mouth’. This is typical Sarkodie in his element.

‘Glory’ officially ends the album (if you ignore the bonus, Pain Killer).This is clearly a praise song to God. A motivational tune to strive higher. Over it’s mellow or mid-tempo vibe, Yung L’s crooning is a standout- somber, introspective and emotive. Excellent closing song for this album.

The ‘Highest’ has clearly lived to its expectation. It’s a carefully conceived and executed piece of work. The production shall remain a talking point. Lyrically, we’ve heard almost every line used by Sarkodie before (in a different realm) but it still sounds great. One can’t also take a dig at him for showering Tracy with so much love on this album-she inspired it. It’s also clear that Jayso crafted a beat that brought the best out of Sarkodie.

In the album vault of Sarkodie, ‘Highest’ will rank at the top more on profits (sales) than wholesale impact on the music scene. That’s, it won’t be a game changer. However, ”Highest’ isn’t only an act of vindication, but a solidification of Sarkodie’s position as the best around. There was pressure on him to deliver considering the positive reviews his arch-rival M.anifest’s ‘Nowhere Cool’ received. It also confirms why he has the rap scene under his thumb for the past decade. Add all these together, and it’s clear that, he is indeed the highest. At least for now.

Initial standouts: Overdose, All I Want, Certified, Glory, See You Only

 

Poetra Asantewa undergoes ‘surgery’ in ‘Love Yourself’.

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There’s a story I heard of a young ‘celeb’ who had to deny her identity to save her face. She had stepped out of her house one early morning, under a state of emergency, to an ATM nearer her house in her unpolished state.  After withdrawing the money from the machine, a lady who worked at the bank nudged her with the ‘are you (this person)?’ question. Her response was a simple ‘NO’. She flatly denied herself. Her reason: answering yes would damage her brand. Her ordinary look was bad for business.

The pressure to project a certain look in order to fit in or earn validation from others has always been an item many have grappled with. It’s not a new thing. The difference this time is that the pressure has been notched ten folds thanks to the media projections of what is or must be the ‘standard’ for beauty.

Social media has evidently become a pressure hub since everyone with an account can grimly comment on all shared pictures. These twitter fingers would fire some very uncouth 140 character comment that could leave you questioning who you are in terms of your looks. Those at the receiving end of such vile judgments have been mostly ladies.

A year ago June, (2016), this subject inspired ‘’Love Yourself’, a poem by poet, writer, sometimes singer Poetra Asantewa. The lyrics of ‘Love Yourself’, as the title suggests, is about embracing your flaws. Like Tyrion Lannister told Jon Snow: ‘Once you’ve accepted your flaws, no one can use it against you’ is the crux of the poem.

If the lyrics are inspiring, the video, released six days ago is very descriptive, intense and beautiful. Directed by Eames, this black and white toned video has Poetra, on what seemed like a surgeons table, about to get a surgery performed on her.  A surgery to FIX HER looks to conform to the ‘standard of beauty’ and earn a validation among her friends and society at large.

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The first image one encounters in the video is the face of Poetra, embroidered in all of its natural glare. The camera rotates in an anti-clockwise direction and posits it at the 90 percent angle. With her braids spread out and eyes closed momentarily, we see a blurred image of five faces examining something lying below them (obviously Poetra). These five faces are the ‘surgeons’ to fix her flaws.

Watching the video felt like watching someone make a power point presentation, where the visuals aptly reflect the words being spoken. The words: ‘Chisel approximately 3.5 inches of flesh out of the waist area. Lift the breasts to a firm position until it is perky and a perfect D cup. Add three layers of skin until the backside can vibrate with a single poke. Tone the leg muscles until men can see their reflection in your gleaming skin. Widen the hips until it is the exact curve of a bass clef’ are graphically captured from the 0.30 sec- 1 min mark.

One gleans an expression of displeasure and lack of enthusiasm with the whole ‘fixing’ as depicted by the straight face that accompanied the line ‘Soften your muscles, don’t be too boyish’, the swinging of head, the holding of her hand by one of the ‘surgeons’ whilst the others make her up and the tears shed attest to the discomfort or stress associated with image enchantment procedure. Eames creatively magnified portions were necessary to emphasize some of the points she touched on.

”You have to look natural but not the kind of natural that makes you look like you just woke up from a 36 hour sleep”

In the second part of the video, the black and white toned visuals are replaced with a colour-filled image of an elegant, ‘well fixed’ Poetra. Like someone delivering a televised speech, she goes on about the need for women to love themselves by embracing their flaws; to ignore this so-called beauty standards.

She was quick to remind all women to be comfortable in and with their body – size, shape, colour – and not seek people’s (either men or women) validatory comments first before loving themselves: ‘Love the part of you you’re waiting for someone else to love before you learn to love yourself wholly’

Poetra further draws attention to one of the big issues that women globally grapple with: their bodies. With fashion magazines, fashion brands and TV shows constantly projecting a certain physical acceptability code for them, women are forced to take certain measures, sometimes drastic and injurious to the health, just to avoid the obnoxious culture of body shaming prevalent today.

You keep running away from your body like it isn’t home. You keep trying to fit your body into negative spaces. Like you aren’t magic’

It’s ironic that, even those who get ‘fixed’ are sometimes not spared the criticism. As it is with life, no one is spared, hence the more reason to embrace who you are. As Poetra rightly observes ‘Everything you do is an open invitation for condemnation, so go ahead and love yourself anyway’.

In regards to the topic of loving yourself, there’s no truth more valuable than her statement above. We at CulArt, therefore realize how important it is for women especially, to embrace this.

THE CUTS: EP 02 VOL 09

THE CUTS is your weekly round-up of songs and videos that has caught our attention and think you must hear or see. The music featured aren’t genre specific. THE CUTS is delivered every FRIDAY


             Sammy Forson – I’m Tired

It was a matter of time before he made his formal entry into the music space by having his credits on a song. The pull factor to be an ‘artiste’ grows very strong especially when you’ve been around artistes and music for decades. For radio presenter and artiste manager Sammy Forson, ‘I’m Tired’ is his first official record. The Live FM Mid-morning radio host goes for some top cherry MCs like Cabum, EL, Kojo-Cue, Obibini and LJ on this hard hitting hip-hop beat. And they both slayed, with each teasing out some identifiable tiring experiences. 

Thebeat is too inviting for any MC not to dream of hopping on. Obibini and LJ (his name isn’t familiar to many) were incredible, holding their own against the other three certified MCs. ‘ I taya say underground MCs just dey suffer/ the money dey but Miss. Malaika s)) dem dey sponsor’, Obinini makes his tiredness known. As Sammy Forson himself did intimate before the beat kicked in: ‘The people all around the world try to make a difference. Just like me, they’re tired’. THIS IS HIP-HOP

Adomaa – BRA

Watching this video, I kept wondering what could top having your girl invite you to an afternoon date where she offers not food but some nice musical performance as a way of assuring you of her love. That’s precisely what Adomaa did in the video for ‘Bra’. Shot entirely at the Kona Cafe, Osu, Adomaa takes centre stage and croons to her boyfriend whose identity is hidden for a few minutes. The video is simple, appealing and colourful. It’s very clear that the three (Adomaa, her boyfriend and the saxophonist) had extreme fun on set. It’s also a nice advert for Kona Cafe. If you’ve not been there, better check it out. 

Juls feat Nonso Amadi & Maleek Berry – Early

There couldn’t have been a better first video after the release of ‘Leap of Faith’ EP than this standout track ‘Early’. A warm, well toasted love song has a video that carries such same clout. It’s another date themed video with Juls and Maleek Berry on what appears like a vacation trip to the beach with girls they picked up a night ago. Even though the visuals isn’t as evocative as the song, seeing the characters in full bliss is in itself superb. Makes you want to take a trip at the beach with the one(s) you love for a good time.

Eboo – Good Life

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It’sbeen almost a decade since afro dancehall artist Eboo captured the attention of Ghanaians with his debut single. Many may remember the hook to ‘Once, Twice’. After a very long hiatus, Eboo makes a return a new single ‘Good Life’, a dancehall, tune with a this-is-why-I-love-you theme. ‘Good Life’ is an average yet decent output (compared to his decade old single). It’s a forgettable song.  Wth backing from Empire Entertainment (which his big brother media mogul Bola Ray runs) you may find yourself singing along to it before long.


Tony Bryte ft Serge – Aaliyah

If you are expecting some crazy, ‘put me in my feelings’ type of lyrics due to the title of the single, sorry for leaping before watching. Tony Bryte abandons his R&B scales for something far off his comfort zone. For what the lyrics fail to offer, the beat provides thanks to it’s spikey, experimental sound. ‘Aaliyah’ is a love song where Tony Bryte and Serge serenade and confess their love to their ‘Aaliyah’. Forgive me Tony for thinking you were a Nigerian all along. Just got to know you are Takoradi abrantie. 

Bryan The Mensah is moving at his own pace on ‘Friends With The Sun’ EP

 

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Knowing how to move in this young and vibrant, yet fast changing Ghanaian music industry is an advantage. Knowing your worth as an artist is the gunpowder to your survival. While some break through by following the latest trends, those who adopt the often long and arduous road to success need to have the patience of a Buddhist monk.

Veterans like Jayso took their time to build their profile before releasing a body of work. Newcomers such as Worlasi, AYAT and to an extent, Adomaa entered the music scene through the ‘backdoor’- they stuck to a certain style and cracked the code. Bryan The Mensah has joined this list.

‘Friends With The Sun’ (FWTS), his eight track EP released on August 5th, is an invitation into Bryan The Mensah’s world and musical journey. He side-steps the usual narratives that rappers of his age indulge in- wild shenanigans, boastful talk, wealth flaunting (which is mostly a faux). Bryan The Mensah rather shares his philosophy in life, friendship, career and his resolve to stay and steer a certain course he deems comfortable.

There’s a lot that has changed about Bryan The Mensah, both physically and mentally since I met him some years ago. This was during his time with the collective called TH’ FRVNCHMN’. Since his transition from ‘Denny. MadeIt’ to ‘The King of Tea’, Bryan has shown glimpses of a wise and matured rapper as evidenced by songs like ‘’The King of Tea’ and ‘Sharp’.

For those who have paid attention to his singles prior to ‘FWTS’ won’t be surprised by the content heard on the EP. For those who followed the rollout of FWTS on twitter, it compares to those done by AYAT and Worlasi. The inspiration behind the EP is summed up in these words:

I really wanted to introduce people to a more unique, personalized and innovative approach to music and creative art in general. I want this EP to inspire anyone who comes across it in anyway possible to be able to find growth from whatever their current predicaments may be.

‘All This Life’, with its brightly laid sounds (hip-hop, electro, house elements) has Bryan The Mensah shifting through the essence of living and striving for the best: ‘Some people wanna live life/some people wanna leave legacy’. As the verse progresses, he comes with the reminder ‘people go feed you with choices but you nor you for make am officially’.  This message is further emphasized on another Seyyoh assisted tune ‘Good Design’, a song that seems to be inspired by the notion of ‘we were created in God’s image or perfection’. Here, he aims for perfection: ‘I no really get time for temporary goals/ Everything I do is going gold’. Seyyoh, who I’m hearing for the first time, spreads her soulful vocals over the track.

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FWTS isn’t only a display of Bryan’s bravery in terms of sound experimentation. He also brings on board fellow young rappers like Tim Lyre, Fii, Tano Jackson and Kwesi Arthur, who joins him on ‘Darling Falling’; a song that doesn’t deviate from the theme of being great. ‘We come from greatness I know it’, he raps on the song. ‘We ain’t alive to just sit around and congratulate other dudes’. Kwesi Arthur questions the mindset of some Ghanaians who ‘sell our country for coins’ and those who ‘still dey sit on the fence’, watching the rot that is crippling our country.

In the game of love, being real is a must. On ‘Jesse’, he put on display all his cards to the girl he’s after. Tim Lyre with his The Weeknd-esque vocals and Fii help make this radio formatted, afro-dancehall tune a jam. Even in his sleep, his subconscious self keeps reminding him not to fail on ‘Last December’ which features Tano Jackson. Staying focused, knowing what you need and putting in the necessary work is the fuel needed to ignite the fireball of success. Both are expressively laid in its true form on the introspective ‘See The Move’ where he denounces fair-weather friends: ‘Ewiase (world) as you know it is a single man journey/ That be why I dey put only conscious men near me’. On ‘Wallabow You’, he tells a relatively successful guy to leave him alone to his own ways- moving at his own pace, direction and systematic growth: this thing no be competition/If you get your wave masa go catch fish with it’, he raps.

It’s on the deep cut, a potential anthem that he declares his true intentions. ‘Pop Mandem’ carries an infectious vibe thanks to its catchy hook. It reveals a self-conscious Bryan who knows his worth: ‘I’ll always stay true…you can’t mix me with the fake dudes’. Putting veteran artiste/producer Jayso is clever. Jayso is one of the few artistes who has stayed on the periphery of fame albeit his enormous contribution to today’s rap scene. Whilst Bryan talks about steering his course, Jayso is a believer in building a compelling catalog and not live for the moment: ‘lately rappers acting phoney here… dropping all these radio singles but they last just for a year’. ‘Pop Mandem’ is Bryan’s own version of ‘Light Up’, where he plays Drake and Jayso takes the role of Hov.

‘Fake it till you make it’ is an unwritten rule in showbiz. Bryan The Mensah isn’t sold on it. He believes in himself and his own greatness as his comments below indicate:

I was inspired to make friends With The Sun by some life experiences of mine. They helped shape my perspective of life now and I really wanted to share them. The purpose of the EP was for me to have an opportunity to fuse all creative concepts with real life situations. I really wanted to introduce people to a more unique, personalized and innovative approach to music and creative art in general. I want this EP to inspire anyone who comes across it in anyway possible to be able to find growth from whatever their current predicaments may be.

Being talented isn’t enough to succeed. Being aware of who you are, knowing the obstacles on you path and embracing them is equally crucial in surviving. Bryan The Mensah is aware of this hence his friendship with the Sun (a metaphor for life’s obstacles). ‘Don’t listen to the ones wey dem no dey agree/(Don’t) listen to the ones dem no dey see/ They just want a life/We just wanna fly/ They just under pressure cos they don’t believe’. A profound reminder.

I Told You So: Curating a Piece of Ghanaian Storytelling through Artistic Experimentation

On Sunday, August 6th, a predominantly young audience sat ready to be taken in by Abdul Karim Hakib’s stage adaptation of Bob Cole’s classic film, I Told You So. Those familiar with his work know that Abdul Karim usually uses artistic experimentation to re-familiarize his audience with the ordinariness of humanness that we seem to run from, especially the not-so-beautiful parts. I witnessed this when he staged Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues, (twice in two years) at University of Ghana’s Efua Sutherland Drama Studio – he held the emotions of the audience at ransom, conducting it however he pleased. 
Clad in their Kente the Hi-Life/Afrocentric band, Palm Wine, regaled the audience before the play began. Their melodies, like a good shepherd, guided the audience throughout the play. In this way a sort of unconscious tribute was paid to the chorus of Ancient Greek Tragedies. Yet, the play is not necessarily a Tragedy. It is probably closer to a Tragi-comedy than anything else.

Palm Wine’s contribution to the actual play as far as addressing events in it, was limited to musical fables. Songs that hang on folk music traditions; songs like “Ɛdwen Dɛ Ɛreyɛ Me” and those of Akan Nwomkrɔ traditions such as “Takoradi Police”. The few oldies among the audience could do nothing to wipe the nostalgic grins from off their faces. 

Artistic experimentation, especially of the kind that Abdul Karim is known for, always wraps itself in a cloth of uncertainty. Many plays have been adapted for stage long before Abdul Karim, and some like August Wilson’s play, Fences, have been successfully made into stunning films. The challenges of adapting a film, especially a classic like I Told You So, are many. During one of the embryonic scenes, a relatively substantial number of characters flood the stage. They collectively play the role of customers at a restaurant. While it would have been easier for a smaller number to play this role, more numbers provided cover for those among them who stylistically doubled as stage hands. 

In the same scene, these characters become involved in very articulate and deliberate dancing. The dramatic experience was here enhanced by the very fact that the dancers were many as opposed to few. By the simple tactic of inflating cast size, Abdul Karim conveniently tackled what would otherwise have been a loophole of stage adaptation – transition of scenes. So instead of the audience being bothered about characters they were expecting to act setting up a scene, their attention was fully arrested by this time-saving strategy. And once their attention had been surrendered, they were thoroughly amazed by the theatrical display that occurred.

In keeping with bringing to the fore the ordinariness of the human condition, the set of the play was bereft of any flamboyance. The use of the simple and plain reflected the penury of the majority of the characters, both in economic and psychological terms (Mr. Jones is a wealthy man and yet no time is wasted in redecorating the set to convey his wealth during those scenes that are clearly in his house). It also emphasized the pervasiveness of human ordinariness when all else is stripped away. 

The play, in a subtle way, presents a reimagining of Henrik Ibsen’s modern realism ideas in a retro-Ghanaian setting. Like Ibsen, the characters in Abdul Karim’s adapted play are influenced by their environment and what society expects of them. Rosina considers herself worthy of a rich man, marriage with whom would up her social status and reputation in the eyes of her peers and the community at large. It is for this reason she aligns herself with her uncle, Esuoabroboɔ and her mother, Araba Stamp, to prepare for her marriage to Mr. Jones.

Again, in typical Ibsen realist fashion, the characters are psychologically motivated and their actions expose their socio-economic standing. Esuoabroboɔ and Araba Stamp see Rosina’s marriage to Mr. Jones as a way out of their poverty. They stop at nothing to ensure that the marriage goes through. In several instances the patriarchal set up of the times is alluded to. In a scene where Araba Stamp expresses her contradiction of Esuoabroboɔ’s opinion, the latter tells her, as more of a reminder, that women have brains but are not known for their thinking. This psychological disposition dictates how the women in the play are expected to behave. The cultural trait of matrilineal inheritance among the Akans, provides a kind of psychological boldness to Esuoabroboɔ. He is thus motivated to supersede his brother-in-law’s decision to not give his daughter Rosina’s hand in marriage to a rich man.

Regarding plot, there were causally related scenes, just like in Henrik Ibsen’s plays of Modern Realism. When the play began, those present seemed to be the typical non-responsive Ghanaian audience. In their defence, everything seemed rather hazy in the beginning as the audience was unsure whether this was a Ghanaian musical or something else entirely. As the play progressed however, everything made sense (Is that not how stories usually go?). 

The songs the characters sang at the beginning were the same musical fables that guided the audience throughout the play. Scene after scene, the play kept getting better. The humor grew and the auditorium’s ricocheting laughter with it. Much like Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, the play floated on a steady crescendo until at the end there was an undeniable wave of immense satisfaction at what had transpired.

Perhaps the most ingenious element of Abdul Karim’s experimentation with Bob Cole’s I Told You So, was the way he employed anachronism. Throughout the play, Mr. Jones magnanimously doled out cash to anyone who would take it. While this may have served to provide a hint at the ill-gotten source of his wealth, it appeared to hold a more profound role. Mr. Jones was giving out modern Ghana Cedi. It could be that attempts at finding money from that era proved futile. But the brilliance of going ahead to use current Cedi notes is this: by so-doing Abdul Karim conveyed the idea that just like in those days, the psychological structure of our humanness has not changed. We are still motivated by money and many, especially the poor, are still too afraid to speak up for the things they believe in and would rather leave it to fate. These flaws define the ordinariness of our humanness. They are pervasive in our lives today as they were in the days of Esuoabroboɔ and Araba Stamp.

The play adaptation of I Told You So, was a well-executed endeavour.  The themes and lessons portrayed are relevant for our time and will likely remain so for posterity. The boldness of the entire enterprise cannot be overstated and neither can the praiseworthiness of the performance. 

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Akyempo is a poet and writer whose poems and essays have been published by Brittle Paper, African Writer, Kpodola, Three Sixty Ghana and Circumspecte. His poems have also been anthologized by Afridiaspora. He is the 2016 winner of the Three Sixty Writers’ Challenge. His latest works are available on his personal literary website – greymural.com. He can be found on both Twitter & Instagram via the handle: @Akyempo