Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Ghana music - Azonto, Akon and Alkayida

From the ‘Downtown’ booze shack over the road who turned on his bass heavy system at 6am, to the huge speaker we rigged up for our housekeeper’s 18th birthday party, music was a driving force in my fortnight in Ghana. Traditional local music, Jamaican-style dancehall, US gangsta and British singalong student staples all intermingled without prejudice, shared by local tro-tro drivers and volunteers alike. Add to that live reggae on Kokrobite beach, and a touch of karaoke. Yes I had to ‘get involved’ but could I really move the crowd like Jagger? Nah.

Perhaps looming largest was the emergent local Afrobeats/Afropop style Brits will recognise from Ghanaian-Brit Fuse ODG, whose autotuned percussive trance banger Antenna I noted on my return with happy symmetry has been in the top 10 on the back of a Wyclef Jean remix. My seven year olds were on this before me. Huge out there too, and indicative of a healthy cross pollination between the UK and West Africa, hits like these are riding the Azonto dance craze. Flicking round the internet (there are some good Ghana music sites here and here), the same producers seem to prop up – Criss Waddle, R2Bees, Dr Slim, and it seems to be coming as much out of the second city Kumasi as Accra, if the ‘Hitz’ CD I bought at the airport is any guide. An emergent subsector of the Azonto craze, and a true subcultural oddity, is Alkayida (al-Qaeda), wherein non-aligned young and aspirational Ghanaians (whether local or diaspora) seem, as much as I can discern, to mock both western fear of Islamic fundamentalism (Ghana is mainly Christian but mosques, mostly small in scale, are everywhere) and the Saudi-driven Wahhabist fetish for banning music, and therefore enjoyment. Guru may have been the first with this downbeat version, but versions are legion, lending an opportunity to incorporate Middle East motifs into the Azonto sound, and a host of new dance moves. (check the comments for a sometimes lively debate on the merits of naming the sub-Azonto dance music craze after jihadists.)

By far the biggest Made in the West star, bigger even than the stalwart Michael Jackson and ubiquitous Rihanna, was Akon. Chop My Money (I Don’t Care) - the Senegalese-American hip-hop star’s paean to spending dough with Nigerian duo P Square, was an unofficial anthem among relatively monied local co-ordinators and foreign volunteers alike. Sixteen million hits and counting on uTube, this blinged up anthem about 'getting plenty' (they dont care about money only because they have enough to give away) may be a bit de trop for bleeding heart liberals, but there were none of these to be seen when everyone enthusiastically did the ‘chop’ dance each time it came on. And it came on a lot. Seeing as this lad, whose melodic flow and west African roots lend him natural support from the region, would prove to bve inescapable, I had to end up choosing one favourite, opting for this one with Rick Ross. Give it to them.

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