Nsɛmsɛm Bi: A Rap Collaboration with Visual Art

It is 7:40pm on the 28th of July 2023 in Accra and I arrive at the buro, a building in the city with multifaceted work spaces. I am directed to the back of the building by the security walking through an alleyway. Upon arriving, here I see the rapper Pure Akan seated on a bench outside the exhibition space. Cool. Calm. And collected. He has a mask on covering his entire face leaving visible only his eyes. As defiant as his genre of music, rap, he is also wrapped in a thick blanket despite Accra’s stagnant warm weather.

Yɛwɔ abɔnten (We outside)!

We exchange greetings and I walk into the main exhibition hall featuring ‘Nsɛmsɛm Bi‘ (translates to ‘certain words’ in English) a series of paintings on its walls; a collaboration between the artist TheManyPhacedGod (b. Samuel Blankson) and the rapper Pure Akan (b. Nana Kwabena Appiah). The paintings, neo-expressonist in style uses a variety of figures, symbols, text, colours, textures to communicate its intended message. The paintings are also heavily impregnated with Akan traditional imagery from the tiltles to the use of adinkra and are less concerned with invention than with repurposing what already exists.

Anomaa Ba Bɛtu Da Bi
Image Courtesy of Yaw Asare

For example, in the piece Anomaa Ba Bɛtu Da Bi (One day the nestling will grow wings and fly) which stands out to me perhaps due to the simplicity of its potent message frames in its centre a clock. Below the clock is an Anomaa ba (baby bird). A set of arrows pointing in an anti-clockwise direction giving credence to the Afrikan conception of time (see the dikenga) leads the eye to a bird in flight on top of clock evoking a sense of growth. Growth in this painting is also associated with abotrɛ (patience). In the centre of the clock an adinkra sits: Nyame biribi wɔ soro na ma me nsa ka (Nyame, there is something in the heavens; let me get my share). An appeal to the Supreme Force which makes up The Totality of Creation. A message of hope.

As I walk around the room, I cannot help but think to myself that this is what the legendary artist Jean-Michel Basquiat would be painting had he been from the place now known as Ghana. The exhibition statement found in the catalogue testifies to the influence. Here, it says:
Influenced by the artists who have left indelible marks on our generation and those who came before, I pay homage to their luminous souls."

Image Courtesy Yaw Asare

I shift through the exhibition hall observing the paintings and exchanging pleasantries with fellow creatives who are present to support their brothers. I am curious however, as I move through the hall, Pure Akan’s cumulative influence on the paintings. The catalogue gives a hint:
"Through Akan's artistic vision and the power of naming, the work before you springs to life."

Indeed, the paintings’ titular in Twi language bear semblance to Akan’s lyrics perhaps unreleased. ‘Di bi na fa bi yɛ adeɛ’ (Spend some and do something worthwhile with the remainder); Yɛbrɛ a, yɛhome (We get rest when tired); Megyina me nan so (Vitality); Adwene kɛseɛ Akoma kɛseɛ (Big mind, big heart) n.k.

Pure Akan
Image Courtesy of Yaw Asare

The ever-growing crowd present later gets treated to a live performance by Akan performing some of his songs including Yɛte apɔ, Nketenkete, Mensesa me ho and a fan favourite Me sika duro. Here Akan is centered in the exhibition hall delivering his artistry to the audience lined against the walls of the exhibition hall. The crowd gathered save for a few appear to be quite reserved in their engagement with the hiphop artist. This perhaps is due to an imposition by such a formal setting which is within the confines of the white cube gallery space. Hiphop was birthed in the streets. It demands active collective participation from its audience, either through movement, call and response. The white cube gallery space however extols quiet contemplation and reflection. Perception and meaning are a subjective experience. Perhaps, to bring hiphop into such a space is in itself neo-expressionist.

It is such a potent time for experimentation in Ghana’s capital, Accra and I am emboldened by such collaborations which experiment blending varying mediums of art. Nsɛmsɛm Bi was a testament to this bringing together in one space fans of the rapper Pure Akan and fans of the painter TheManyPhacedGod.

The performance is over. The paintings are on sale. We kickback wth fellow creatives planning and plotting our next moves. I keep turning over a thought in my head after this experience. Apart from making our indigenous thought and knowledge into commodities, objects of consumption, how else do we translate them into our lived realities?

Image Courtesy of Yaw Asare

I park my thought for the future. Plans are made and we decide to move on to the next location, The Republic Pub & Grill. A sort of after-party.

Anadwo deɛ ɛyɛ dɛ
Na abayifoɔ na ɛha adwene
Sɛ wo bɔtɔ mu nyɛ nso a
Ɛha adwene

(Nights are enjoyable
but witches are the problem
if your pockets are dry
that too is another problem)

-Pure Akan, Anadwo Yɛ Dɛ

Yɛwɔ abɔnten (We outside)!

3 responses to “Nsɛmsɛm Bi: A Rap Collaboration with Visual Art”

  1. very insightful presentation of the whole exhibition in words, making more clear the images that i saw but didn’t interpret or pay attention to.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: