Throwback: GHANA ALL STARS – Stop AIDS, Love Life

I was in my first year at Junior Secondary School when my dad called my siblings and I to talk about the deadly disease AIDS. That was around 1996. It was the first time he ever talked to us about sex, its consequences on life and our future-something many parents did. At that time, the statistics was frightening-about 200 people were getting infected every day according to the Ghana Social Marketing Foundation (GSMF); the government supported body spearheading the stop AIDS campaign.

So, when the Ghana Social Marketing Foundation , with sponsorship from the John Hopkins Foundation decided to use the medium of music to educate and sensitize the Ghanaian public about the menace of AIDS, it was deemed an excellent move.

The song has aged to become a classic. A true bop. The caliber of artists featured on the song were the best in the country at that time and spanned every genre of music – rap, reggae/dancehall, gospel and highlife.

The featured artists included Tic Tac, Chicago, Cy Lover, Cecil Pesewa (of NFL), Friction (of VIP), Reggie Rockstone (representing hiplife); Shasha Marley, Black Prophet, Ras Kobby (for Reggae/dancehall). Gyedu Blay Ambolley, Felix Owusu and Dasebre Dwamena doing it for highlife music, and the gospel wing of Ghana music was ably represented by Stella Dugan (Seal), Diana Hopson and The Shepherds.

The theme of the song was to advice for people to use protection (condom) during casual sex. With 200 people being diagnosed with the virus daily (as the information at the end of video indicated) and unprotected sex being a major mode of transmission, seeing celebrities of such caliber – young, old, ‘worldly’ and ‘godly’- joining voices in the advocacy was very impressive.

Listening to the song, one must give props to the producer who pieced it together on the soundscape of the record: how seamless the genres blend into each other. The initial beat was hip hop soul, with those record scratches by DJ Rab (dude in cap who came on after Shasha’s intro), then segued into a reggae/dancehall vibe before veering back to its soulful tone. The beat programming went with the tone of voices on the song as well. The renditions of Stella Seal, Ras Kobby and Felix Owusu are standouts in my estimation. It exuded this calming effect on the listener.

The AIDS pandemic is under control, thanks to advance in medicine resulting in the birth of anti-retroviral drugs. The campaign, however, is still on-going. Considering how menacing AIDS was in around the 90s, this campaign song was timely and very relevant; even today.

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Throwback: Nana King- ‘Champion’

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There’s a lot that Nana King did for hip life in its nascent stage: he founded Ashanti International Records which housed top acts such as Sonni Bali and Ex-Doe. This was in 1999 when the whole hip life movement was beginning to take shape. Embodying a flashy and sometimes gangster-like sense of American hip hop culture, Nana King, who, prior to settling in Ghana and establishing his record label, was domiciled in Los Angeles.

He entered the scene with a strategy that worked; resulting in some degree of success. He used his ‘ties’ with Tupac as a vehicle to promote his hip hop and street ‘credibility’. A claim many disputed until a video surfaced of the two sharing a stage during a 1994 concert in Santa Monica, Los Angeles recently.

One would remember him for instigating the whole Ex-Doe (as the villain) against Reggie Rockstone and Chicago rap beef. (Interestingly, Ex-Doe and Chicago had jointly released a smash hit ‘Daavi’ two years prior). The beef and the song, M’aba on hindsight, helped accelerate the ‘visibility’ of hiplife beyond the demography of the youth. Even older folks who seem unperturbed by hiplife at the very beginning began talking about how the beef could escalate into something a la Tupac and Biggie Smalls. Caution was advised. Resolution became the watch word on the lip of all major players within the entertainment scene especially the legendary music producer Faisal Helwani of Hewale Soundz.

It wasn’t only pitting two musicians against one another Nana King’s specialty. He was one of the foremost music sampling heads on the scene, along with DJ Rab and Zapp Mallet. He knew how to flip hip hop samples and infusing them within RnB or highlife octaves with such exquisite finesse. Tracks such as Ex-Doe’s ‘M’aba’ (I’m Here) sampled DMX’s ‘Ruff Ryderz Anthem’. Another hit song, Yebre (We’re Tired) off that album also used samples from Lauryn Hill’s ‘Lost One’ song. Nana King was also a good A&R whose legacy in that field remains the discovery of dancehall god Samini (formerly Batman).

One of my favourite songs from Nana King was his tune ‘Champion’ featuring Ex-Doe. Riding on sample chops from Fela Kuti’s classic ‘Lady’, Nana King laced his vocals over the mid-tempo, smooth R&B surrounded song whose base was built from ‘Lady’. What Nana King did was to keep the heavy horns and hard drums of the original composition soft. He added a gong and xylophone rendition of some elements of the beat to give it a very fresh outlook.

‘Champion’ was a proclamation of love to one other. Nana King confessed his depth of love to his lover: how much he’d care and treat her for ‘all knees to bend’ and appreciate the meaning of love. The lady in turn intoned: if we love each other then we are champions.

The initial reaction to the song was a full blown criticism for what was described as suggestive; citing the lyrics of the hook as evidence: ‘Give it to me. It’s not enough, you’ll kill me, when it comes to love then we are champions’. (As it translate from Twi).

The rapper, producer, singer and sound engineer went on to work with other artists such as Dasebre Dwamena (“Ahoofe” album on which he produced four songs and mastered the whole album), VIP and Akyeame among others during their early years as rappers.

Now back in the states and pursuing a different musical genre-Gospel, Nana King has certainly paid his dues to the music scene in Ghana.

Couldn’t find the full audio of the song online, except this mix by PM the DJ. Listen from the 4:40 mark

Throwback: Tony Tetuila Defined An Era With Hit Song ‘My Car’

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Tony Tetuila, the Nigerian artist did define an era with his hit song ‘My Car’. As the standout single from his album of the same name, ‘My Car’, released in 2002, won the dyed hair Tony Tetuila national and international recognition around 2003. Tony Tetuila’s breakthrough coincided with a new dawn within the Nigerian music scene, led by the likes of 2Face Idibia, whose classic song ‘’African Queen’’ had made him a household name across the continent and beyond. For over a decade, the imprint these artists (now veterans) has been built upon by a new generation of artists, leading to Nigerian music becoming a major face of afrobeats/afropop music in the world.

At the turn of the 21st Century, the pendulum was swinging viz the Ghana and Nigerian music dominance. The musicians and music labels were attempting to break into each other’s market. However, it was the Nigerians who had the upper hand, solidly planting their flag on the shores of Ghana. The influx of Nigerian music and its commercial appeal had a battering on Ghana music. And the results were very glaring.

Ghanaian music began to adopt the Nigerian style of singing: incorporating some of their famous Yoruba and Igbo lingos and most importantly, switching to the highlife template that the Nigerians were building their sounds around. Interestingly, that highlife sound was originally a Ghanaian sound that was introduced into Nigeria during the 70s when many Ghanaian bands moved and settled in Nigeria-particularly Eastern Nigeria following the oil boom. It was off the back of this highlife sound that Tony Tetuila, the Kennis Music artist, crafted his chart topping single ‘My Car’.

An enchanting highlife song that carried an infectious, groovy value, ‘My Car’ was built around a story about how a good day could be ruined by many uncontrollable incidents or factors. (In Nigerian parlance: ‘yanga dey sleep, man go wake am’). Tony Tetuila captured how the world could conspire to do you dirty when you least expect. In the lyrics, he touched on reckless driving; dangers of lending money to friends; death (dead body no dey pay person money) and police harassment.

Video

The video for ‘’My Car’’ was conceptualized in a short movie format, where Tony Tetuila began his day by pursuing his debtor, who, by the time they got to his house, was being mourned by family and friends. Frustrated, Tony Tetula and his colleague got their car crashed in traffic.

Running around with no money following the death of his debtor (his friend) and a dent on his car caused by another friend (Edeeris Abdul Kareem, a veteran hiphop artist), Tony Tetuila’s misfortunes didn’t end there. His car was again run into by another vehicle; this time the culprit was a government official/politician.

That brief encounter with the politician revealed the degree of reverence Nigerians accord their politicians. Tony Tetuila and his colleague were seen doing push ups to show their respect in an attempt to get paid and also praise him for whatever reason. In the end, they received payments and a bad day suddenly became a good one.

Watching the video again, one can’t fail to notice how bad it looked: the graphics, choreography and quality of video are ridiculous. The imposition of images into the video (check how Tony Tetuila’s benz looked like a flying car). The story however, was good. It captured the Nigerian way of life- hardship and humor.

Now a politician, Tony Tetuilacgave the world a good, border breaking tune that has become his claim to fame. The success of his single earned him collaborative efforts with the likes of Ghanaian rapper Tic Tac on hid smash hit “Fefe Ne Fe”.

Many music enthusiasts may not remember any other major hit from the Kawara State born Tony Tetuila. But, his song “My Car” and his trademark dyed hair (a new aesthetic being embraced by many New Age artist) shall remain a major reminder for us.

Throwback: TH4Kwagees – Nana Esi

Around the 1999, a four man rap group emerged on the music scene from the Sekondi- Takoradi area of the Western Region. The rap group, SASS Squad, however, disbanded after releasing their debut album under 4Ks record imprint.

Whereas Shortman and Sane Dogg stuck with the original group name, releasing another album which flew under the radar, Scooby Selah (now Fiifi Selah), Atsu Koliko, Olasty Bingo (RIP) and Papa Flavour, saw the breakup as another chapter in their quest for musical success.

Forming TH4Kwagees

Following the breakup of SASS Squad, Scooby, Atsu Koliko and Olasty Bingo went on to form a new group called TH4Kwagees around 2002/03.

TH4Kwagees released their only album, ‘Taxi Driver’, to critical acclaim. The album boasted tracks like the lovers rock toned ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘Wongye’, ‘Sika, Kwahemu’, ‘I’m Aware’, ‘Me Nu Meho’. One song that earned the group widespread notice was ‘Nana Esi’. The album was named after Scooby Selah’s radio show on Skyy Power.

In a 2016 interview on Hitz FM’s Daybreak Hitz, Scooby (now Fiifi) Selah revealed how they had decided to name their group TH4Kwagees instead of SASS Squad. (The acronym SASS was taken from the first letters of their names). According to him, they referred to themselves as Takoradi’s Highest Four (4) even before the name SASS Squad. They added ‘Kwages’ because the person who wanted to produce them had a record label called ‘4 Ks’.

It was, therefore, befitting for Scooby and Atsu to go back to the name, changing the meaning behind the name to ‘The Highest For Lyrics’. They however replaced ‘’lyrics’’ with “Kwages”, a Sekondi-Takoradi term which means killer vibes and sick moves.

‘Nana Esi’ carried a reggae/dancehall feel; with the three detailing how their love relationships went burst due to a change in behaviour of their lovers. As Olasty Bingo’s intro remarks revealed, Nana Esi was a constant trouble in their lives, resulting in them taking flight. “Nana Esi” had a gripping, mellow feel with its sing-along lyrics endearing to many. Scooby Selah’s display of vulnerability, tenderness and utter disappointment in his lover added to its glamour. He’s heard begging Nana Esi to confirm she doesn’t love him anymore, and that, he wants her to disclose this lack of interest before the crack of dawn (first cock crow).

This effect was scored largely to the fact that, Scooby Selah and Atsu Koliko chose to sing, leaving Olasty to do a bit of raga across the song. The whole reggae/dancehall vibe of “Nana Esi” isn’t surprising since Scooby is a known reggae head, from his days at Adisadel College (Adisco) through his career as a radio person, first on Skyy Power Radio and now, on Pluzz FM where he works as the Events and Promotions Manager.

Impact

The success of the album was both a validation to their talents and vindication of their decision to part ways with the original group. There were concerns after the breakup if any group that would emerge from its ashes could replicate the astounding success story of SASS Squad. The pressure on them to either confirm the doubts of critics or shut them up. TH4Kwagees came up tops in the end.

TH4Kwagees, and SASS Squad helped ‘popularize’ the Fante language. They emerged at a time when hiplife was at its nascent stage, with the main actors being Twi speaking rappers. They coming into the scene added balance. The beauty of the Fante language was felt across the country.

They also made strong case for western/central region rappers, adding meaning to the popular mantra that ‘the best comes from the West’. It can be argued that, they indeed were one of the best groups to have emerged on the scene during that era. The building blocks they laid at the early stages of rap is what some of these current rappers from the region are standing on.

It has been decades since the release of Nana Esi, yet anythime the song is played or the title tweeted, it still elicit great reactions from people like they heard it for the very first time. That’s what good music does. Not only does it provoke nostalgic sentiments, it feels alive years after it is made.

Throwback: Akyeame – Bra Ma Yen Tsena

 

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When you mention Akyeame, M’asan Aba is the song that readily jumps at you. The song was their breakthrough tune and in a major way, helped define what the genre called hiplife was to become. At its inception, there was a degree of uncertainty around what hiplife was among the older generation when the genre was formally introduced to Ghanaians by Reggie Rockstone in 1995. Four years after, there were skepticism and unacceptability from many Ghanaians, including radio stations.

But, the wave had caught on and rappers, mostly in or out of Senior Secondary Schools (now Senior High School), who were hip hop lovers weren’t going to be dissuaded by the expression of disdain from these old heads. Akyeame were arguably the group who helped bring hiplife into the mainstream. The Zapp Mallet produced M’asan Aba, the group’s first single, has after almost 20 years remained a cult classic. (There’s a very interesting story behind the making of this record).

Akyeame’s debut album, “Nkonsokonso” (the Akan name for Shackles) had many bops. The album (cassette) featured 11 songs – 9 tracks and 2 instrumentals. Released under the Spider’s Web Records in 1999, the album had production work by legendary producer Zapp Mallet and Ashanti International’s own Nana King.

Despite boasting songs like ‘M’asan Aba’, ‘Effie Wura’, ‘Charlie Why?’, ‘Asa A Aba So’, ‘Ɔbanyasafɔ’, ‘Damirifa Due’, ‘Paradise’, ‘Raplawz’,Bra  Ma Yen Tsena’ was the third single released off the album.

The Song

‘’Bra Ma Yen Tsena’’ (Come Let’s Settle Down) was the second song on the Side A of the cassette. And the third single after ‘M’asan Aba’ and ‘’Asa Aba So’’. Produced entirely by Zapp Mallett, the song sampled the instrumentals of the classic funk song Fresh from the group Kool & The Gang. What Zapp did with the beat was to speed up the BPM, replaced the guitar strings with one from the Yaa Amponsah guitar and added DJ scratches, handing it this hip hop feel.

The song explored the issue of love with the two rappers, Okyeame Quame and Okyeame Quophi detailing the infidelity of their respective spouses whom they mistakenly thought possessed beautiful characters akin to her physical beauties. They ended up realizing beauty is rather skin deep.

Okyeame Quophi hopped on the beat first, serving a verse that painted a picture of a failing relationship. The rap verse came after a chorus with a brow raising yet truthful observation: ‘’even if you have a ring on (married), come and settle with me ‘cos in this town, everyone is somebody’s lover’’.

Okyeame Quophi went ahead to share the foundation of this relationship, rapping in Twi: ’y3 si mo aky3, na ’83 k)m no mpo mba y3’’ (which to wit: ‘we’ve been together prior to the hunger years of 1983). Despite his sacrifices, hard work, love and provision of her needs, she left him for another guy when she became successful, defeating her promise of sticking with for better or for worse. What followed were a torrent of retaliatory thoughts, the pains and regrets.

Okyeame Quame on the second verse was literally dusting himself off the pain and moving on with his life. But that wasn’t after he laid out her sins including the pressure she’s putting him through- how he keeps growing lean despite eating well.

The third verse had them itemizing how they’ve turned their misfortune into riches and success, and how they are now ready to throw money on girls and cater to all their need-buying them Grand Cherokee vehicles, Versace clothes.

References:

The song had a couple of interesting references. The few that comes across are found on the pre-hook where they referenced the name of Monica Lewinsky as one of the women who they could date. This song came at a time when details of the Bill Clinton- Monica Lewinsky affair was a hot topic around the world.

Another reference had to be the ‘A La La Long’ line used by Okyeame Quame towards the end of the 2nd verse. That was taken from Jamaican reggae fusion group Inner Circle’s 1993 smash hit ‘Sweat’ (A La La Long). Okyeame Quophi also went back in time to reference a very recognized comment popularized by late actor/comedian Super OD. This line is heard on his opening verse where, in highlighting the ordeal his ex had put in through blurted: ‘s3 wo y3 me boni a m’atu wo wig’- to wit: I’d take off your wig if you hurt or wrong me. (Wigs are important accessory for women as a beauty enhancer so if taken off in public, it’s considered a sign of disgrace).

The album and its lead single, ‘’M’asan Aba’’ went ahead to win the Hiplife Song of the Year accolade at the 1999 Ghana Music Awards.

Akyeame went on to release three additional albums-‘’Nyansapo’’ (Spider’s Web), ‘’Ntoaso’’ (Continuity) and ‘’Apam Foforo’’(New Deal/Testament)- before breaking up as a group in 2004. Whereas Okyeame Quame (now Kwame) has evolved into one of the most prominent and successful rappers around with over two decades of experience, Quophi ventured into music production, video directing and multi-media activities in addition to his stint as a radio person (he was a radio guy before he took the mic as a rapper).

Akyeame’s legacy still reigns supreme. Their lyrical dexterity, showmanship and ability to compose not only bangers but songs with good messages made them one of the best musical groups to have done this music thing. They shall remain the pride of Kumasi and Ghana forever.

 

Throwback: Tommy Wiredu – Wo Do Mu Y3 Du

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First things first, RIP to Tommy Wiredu, one of the most beautiful voices that graced the Ghanaian music scene in the late 90s till his untimely his death-through suicide on April 7th 2003.

The circumstances surrounding his death wasn’t readily confirmed-albeit speculations suggested he was driven to his untimely death by debt. Tommy Wiredu had before his death become a household name on the contemporary music scene for his soft voice and his openness to new musical influences, mostly R&B cum hip-hop productions.

One of his incredible songs was ‘Wo Do Mu Y3 Du’ (Your Love is Real). The song was produced by Zapp Mallet. Tommy Wiredu drafted Okyeame Akoto and rapper, Freddy B for this tune. The song carried a Teddy Riley new jack swing quality (Zapp Mallet modeled most of his productions on Teddy Riley’s productions) with Tommy Wiredu, in his signature emo-tinged voice confessing his love for a lady. He admitted to being a casanova in his previous life; giving it up upon realizing its vanity.

He finally met the ‘one’, for whom he shall be a good husband to as the chorus indicated: Afe na me hyia me do a/ Wo do mu y3 dur o/Menso me y3 ne de3 e/ Na menso me do mu y3 dur. (I’ve finally met the love of my love/ Her love is real/I’m forever hers/’Cos my love is for real).

The Video:

Tommy Wiredu recruited Terry Bright (DART) to direct the video. Like any other DART video, his signature video features – choreography, colourful background (cringed at the colour combinations watching it again) and low budget look- were present. The video followed the story of a man who lost his girlfriend to another rich guy.

Like the era it was shot, the video showcased Tommy Wiredu and his friends in both their corporate and street guy look as was the case with many R&B/hiphop videos from the US. Also present were the baggy jeans and durag culture.

Tommy Wiredu broke into the music scene in 1999 following the release of his debut gospel/inspirational hit, ”Enso Nyame Y3” . He released three studio albums  Enso Nyame Y3′ (It’s Not beyond God) ”Fa Odo Bo Odo Mu” and ”Susubribri”.

The highlife crooner left us some fifteen years ago but as the Akan adage goes: the body of a man rots after death, but not his tongue. His memory is forever preserved in the tons of music he left behind.

RIP Tommy Wiredu.

Throwback: Noble and Sandra – ”Ayalolo”

 

You can’t run
The time is now, do what you can don’t you know
Look at us now, our ancestors have seen Canaan
But we are just seeing things in this world”

The above lyrics is part of the opening lyrics to “Ayalolo”, a song performed by Noble and soul singer Sandra Huson. The lyrics portray a song about patriotism and the need for us, as a country, to take responsibility to better our lot.

Noble and Sandra Huson recorded this song somewhere around 2010/11. The Jayso produced song can be classified under ‘criminally underrated song’ category.

Noble Nii Nortey was part of Black N Peach, consisting of Noella Wiyaala and Emma Orleans- Lindsay, the 2012 winners of the of ”Vodafone Icons Mixed Edition”. But, this song was released prior to him joining the ranks of the music reality show.

Sandra Huson, on the other hand belongs to the Skillions camp and has built a reputation over the years as a soul/blues singer. In 2010/11, she was a young voice occasionally making appearances on songs by her fellow label mate.

“Ayalolo” was the first collaborative efforts publicly released between Noble and Sandra . The song carried a soulful tone and began with a series of keyboard notes and mellow bass line pierced by a sucked out horn throughout the song before the kick and bass dropped. The horn seems to be the foundation around which the soundscape was built.

The contrasting vocal expressions and language of choice also added a ton of flavour to the already engrossing song. Nobel, with his timbering voice sang mostly in Ga, bringing to the fore thought provoking messages. Noble had a voice belonging to an older male. Sandra’s vocals exuded a charming warmth that balanced the heaviness that Noble’s delivery had kicked up. Their vocal display on the interlude and chorus emitted chemistry and blatant passion.

Noble’s lyrics reminded us of our history and the legacy left behind for us by our ancestors and Kwame Nkrumah to build on; something we are failing to do.

Why, why, why have we relaxed ourselves for poverty to cause us death
Nkrumah come and see what you have left
Your children are crying and calling unto you
Don’t relax on this earth because you have got the power
Heaven we going, Heaven we going, we going higher
At your field of work and your doings let’s see the fire
If this country will succeed it depends on you, your desire
What are you waiting for? The journey is long? We still going

Sandra, on the second verse urged us to stay focused, believe in ourselves and put our collective strength together and build a better future.

‘’So, c’mon now, let make it work

Cos we all want to be the first

Take my hand and show the world, we do survive the worse’’

 “Ayalolo’’ isn’t a political song albeit the theme of building a better country or place is largely considered a political issue. Inherent in the song, however, is the fact that, we can all help in building a better future for us and the next generations by playing our part with excellence.

Many years after its release, “Ayalolo” still sounds fresh and relevant, like old wine as the cliché goes. The vocal deliveries are still lush, the theme very relevant and the production is exceptionally amazing. (Of course it’s a Jayso produced track). The decision to sing in both Ga and English was meant to have a broader reach. Unfortunately, the song didn’t attain that traction. But, one thing is always clear: a great song would remain a great song, notwithstanding the number of ears that hear it.