by Eromo Egbejule
We take a one-week trip to Ghana to explore its music industry, the aspirations of its young people, and how it mirrors the successes of the more established industry in rival Nigeria
Once, she was so inebriated she forgot her lines on stage and had to ad lib.
The dreadlocked Terry G has a doppelganger in the ‘madman’ Kwaw Kesse who once performed on stage with an ironing board, in criticism of the inefficient Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG). Yes, it does get too close to home.
But it’s not all negative. There is the amazing Essi, the 14-year old wunderkind with a voice to die for and who has been touted to be the next young African superstar after Wizkid, albeit her genre is the soul-hiplife mix.
“You know say money no be problem…”
And big money is pouring in, to the delight of this talented set.
Telecoms companies are leading the way with endorsements and sponsorships of talent and events – taking after Nigeria. Globacom Ghana for instance has soul songstress, Efya, Ewe rapper Edem and others on its roster while Airtel has E.L, the six-foot plus performer who produced Sarkodie’s smash hit, You Go Kill Me and sang the hook too.
Unfortunately, the Ghanaian music industry gets little backing otherwise. In his apartment at an upscale estate in the highbrow Spintex district, one of the partners at E.L.’s label BBnZ Live, the young and suave Alvin Bekoe tells me: “We are trying our best. There isn’t a lot of funding available from the private sector, unlike in Nigeria. And most people here want to move at a naturally slow pace but we like to think and move ahead, which is why we are where we are.”
He and his childhood friend, Kwame Blay set up the label, arguably Ghana’s biggest and most organized (after D-Black’s Black Avenue Muzik) two years ago because of “a lifelong interest in music”.
It seems to be the next big thing – record labels. Popular Ghollywood actor, John Dumelo recently established the Melo Music outfit, and a number of his colleagues are expected to follow suit. Industry heads say fair-complexioned actress Juliet Ibrahim is following suit soon.
And not a moment too soon. Promoters have been criticised for looking across the border and booking Nigerian performers at the expense of their compatriots, for events in the country. Bloggers and the media personnel generally also get blamed for refusing to promote Ghanaian acts and then charging big money to publicise them.
But everyone complains that the money is not getting around.
“Oh that’s true,” Esther Doe, an entertainment journalist and former presenter at ETV, nods. “The entertainment industry until a few years back was stale and unrecognized. Bloggers and journalists have taken the industry to another level, but it is not financially rewarding as most producers, actors and musicians want promotion done for them for free.”
Ameyaw Debrah, publicist and blogger, hated by many in the industry for his chutzpah, but popular with readers and influential with his blog, is undisputedly the one-stop centre for all things entertainment and lifestyle on the Ghanaian corner of cyberspace, agrees with Doe. “Ghanaian celebs and labels want to put their artistes out there and often do not have the right mechanism to do so,” he says. “There is often no budget for publicity in Ghana and yet they expect publicity to be done. It’s frustrating.”
But this might be limited the scale of what is in fact a major, systemic problem.
Album sales are generally low. Like Nigeria, concerts and carnival performances bringing in the most revenue for labels and their acts – but, unlike Nigeria, this isn’t nearly enough for the artistes to live like their colleagues.
A source within one of the labels who pleaded anonymity, informed this writer that most labels wait out for gigs like the Ghana Meets Naija concert on 29 June (Burna Boy, Wizkid and Iyanya are to join Sarkodie, EL, Edem, Lil Shaker, Okyeame Kwame and others) because “they bring in the dollars. No show, no chop.”
In Nigeria, the Alaba market has a stranglehold on the distribution and marketing of albums and the equivalent in Accra, Kantamanto is quite as bullish. However, while piracy is ingrained in the one, the other is actually a safe haven with CDs originating from there bearing the polygram seal from the copyright society.
Intellectual property theft is not as brazen, done secretly in other parts of the city, Debrah reveals, and ingeniously too. Intermittently, some of the offenders are caught and made to face the law, to serve as a deterrent to others. But then it continues.
The entertainment industry generally finds itself in a state of chaos – so that the music and movie industries are actually the better zones. Award shows and beauty pageants in Ghana for instance attract controversy with more ease than steel clings to magnet. The popular, annual Miss Malaika beauty pageant is forever making the news for significant blunders.
“As the date for Vodafone Ghana Music Awards 2013 (VGMA) comes closer and the number of controversies is also increasing step-by-step,” started a report by website Ghana Live last month. “It has been looking like the organizers of the VGMAs, Charter House, love the controversies that surround the VGMAs.”
Only a fortnight ago, rising dancehall artiste Bandana raised a storm when he lost to the (more-talented) Kaakie in one of the categories at the awards, cussing her and the organizers out and subsequently releasing a diss song.
And the beat goes on…
Everything good will come
On this Friday night, most of the streets of Accra are surprisingly quiet – very quiet – and the air is a refreshing scent; a striking contrast to that of the noisome but enjoyable pestilence that pervades its big brother, Lagos.
The cab driver drops me off at Osu, convinced he would be proved right. And he was: the first song that we hear from the first two clubs as we enter the busy (and even this might be an overstatement) area is D’banj’s Oliver Twist.
Will a time ever come when the sounds of good homemade music will lead the sounds of Accra, capturing its people with the fever that can be found in its next-door, domineering neighbor? Will Ghanaian music win the war on its own turf??
E.L. and Edem, two of Accra’s few superstars think so. “Coming soon,” the former jokes.
But Edem is more cautious, even wistful. “We really hope so,” he says, a quiet sigh following. “We have paid our dues.”