Student Project: Blitz the Ambassador’s Contribution to being Afropolitan

This video-podcast showcases Blitz contribution through a definition of Afropolitan and the description of how Blitz embodies this idea through his own musical recipe. The videos featured are Make You No Forget, Shine, and Running, which can be found on YouTube.

Palm Wine no Whisky

 

Ghana is known for being a pioneer of African Independence. Kwame Nkrumah lead a crusade to reclaim Africa for Africans and invited the whole Diaspora to seek refuge inside the West African land.  During the 1960s and 1970s,  many African Americans moved to Ghana and reclaimed their African roots, so Ghana over the years has had a special linkage to American Blacks and other members of the continent and the Diaspora.

The Diaspora is comprised of the many lands of exile Africans inhabited after their enslavement. The Diaspora is outside of Africa, but Africa is at the heart of everything.  Showing pride for African roots and your Diasporic home is common among many hip hop artists. M.anifest, a Ghanaian hip hop artist who has spent his life living in Ghana and the United States, shows love to both Ghana and America. In M.anifest’s aesthetic appeal, he wears kente cloth, beads, African clothing, and other jewelry that shows a pride in his African heritage. In his music, M.anifest uses language that both his American and Ghanaian listeners can follow but also slips in colloquial that each audience will understand respectively. While listening to M.anifest’s music, it was evident that he uses his worldly view of not only being familiar with Ghanaian culture and American culture, but culture all over the world as a powerful tool to broaden the scope of his lyrics, maximize his audience, and to enhance the overall sound and presentation of music.

I particularly studied  M.anifest’s song “Palm Wine & Whisky” The title totally sums up his ties to both American and Ghanaian culture. Palm Wine is a common African alcoholic beverage and an American parallel could be whisky. Both are made from natural sources like palm trees or grain. Using pidgin English, M.anifest uses the trope of “being tipsy” to symbolize how people think that he’s unaware or easy to be fooled, but he asserts that he’s aware of the game and steps ahead. The meaning within a meaning in the song is a very African American hip hop thing to do. Many hip hop artists in America make songs where on the surface it’s just a song about drinking, having fun, and beautiful women, but often interwoven into the lyrics are deep, metaphorical messages that you have to sift through to find which the chorus of “Palm Wine & Whisky” supports.  The chorus, rapped by Dex Kwasi, in the third verse says, “palm wine, not whisky” I see this as a rejection of American culture as symbolized by the whisky, and saying that I’m going to choose the African way, my African culture. Also to know that both the American culture and African culture exist, but not letting the American culture overpower the African one.

In class, we focused mainly on the immigrant experience of many African people. The overarching theme through the stories and music of African immigrants is trying to find a balance between an African and American world. This desire for balance could be argued to be a struggle for all Black people wherever they find themselves. How do I stay true to my African self? I think through hip hop, there is an avenue to really make sure that the two selves exist harmoniously. It’s vital for survival. As evidenced through the very nature of this course, hip hop is a language that all black people speak and it’s how we can stay connected.

 

The Diaspora as depicted in Wanlov the Kubolor’s “Smallest Time”

Emmanuel Owusu-Bonsu, also known as Wanlov the Kubolor, was born into a Ghanaian-Romanian family in Ghana. After years of living in Ghana, he moved to the United States to study Computer Science and Business Administration at the University of Mary Hardin Baylor. Two years later, in 2002, he dropped out in order to become fully immersed in his music career.

From his move from his hometown in Ghana to an entirely new continent and country, the United States, it can be gathered that this move was not an easy one. Knowing Wanlov’s background, the lyrics in his song “Smallest Time” are probably telling the story of his journey to a new place where he believed he would be afforded more opportunity, but instead it is the complete opposite.

The song begins: “Seems like just yesterday, left home so far away/ Memories remind us that destiny would find us…/ Africa I miss you…”. Already with the intro and into the hook, the listener is being exposed to a story of diaspora through Wanlov as he expresses how much he misses his home in Africa.

The next verse chronicles the obstacles that he faced as an immigrant in a new country which many people of diasporas face. Wanlov says: “US border, visa requiired/ College degree, unexpired/ No school fees, visa expired/ Funds wired, money perspired/ Now broke, day job desired/ You are hired, then I got fired/ Got married, green card acquired/ But now I am tired, so I retired”.

Following that verse lie more portrayal of Wanlov’s struggle to adjust to the loneliness that moving to a new country brings. He depicts this despair by saying: “I never know say there hard/ Sometimes I got so lonely, wanted to see my family/ Spent money on phone calls/ Voices helped me cross those pitfalls…/ I don’t know if I can make it through another day”.

Through learning a bit about Wanlov’s early life and decision to travel to the United States alone, “Smallest Time” begins to speak volumes for other people in the diaspora as well. Many immigrants experience the sense of loneliness and unhappiness on the journey of searching for the “better life” in a new country. “Smallest Time” was Wanlov the Kubolor’s way of being transparent with his audience about his journey to the United States and what strifes he encountered living here.

Hewale and Revolution

Ghanaian artist: C-Real

Senegalese artist: Didier Awadi

Instantly I could detect differences between these two artist. C-Real has the ” harder ” sound though he is trying to spread a positive message just like Awadi. C-Real’s song title, “Hewale”, in the link that I have attached translates to strength. “Hewale” is about being strong and staying strong and follows the old saying, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. In summary, “Hewale” is about not letting your bad experiences or struggles define or break you, but rather growing from them as a person. This can be taking politically because he’s probably referring to his environment or possibly those power being the forces trying to break him. Although some of the lyrics and even the video do not so much reflect that. Awadi’s song, on the other hand, is clearly for the people and is about making a stand. In the video you can see him traveling through the town and interacting with the civilians like a “man of the people”. Although Awadi does not rap in English, based on the title we know that he is rapping about a revolution, a revolt by the population against authority causing a change in political power usually occurring in a short time. His video doesn’t really express this idea in an extreme way but subtly him showcasing where he is from, the conditions the people are living in and how close they are supports his message. In conclusion, C-Real’s song is a good representative of a lot of Ghanaian hip hop music. It’s political, however, it also focuses on other topics and isn’t as direct. Whereas Awadi, the Senegalese artist, makes music about his people and the progression of his home. The Senegalese music seems to be more religiously-inclined in some ways. Both artists touch on social struggle, but lyrically and in terms of the videos they have two clearly different approaches.

 

 

Ghana & Senegal: Letters to the People

There are many types of hip hop songs: some sample old songs, some create their own back track, some tell a story and some send a message. In many African countries, the voice that hip hop artists have due to their popularity has been used to speak to it’s community of listeners (typically the youth) to send positive and political messages. Protest and Combat type hip hop songs have been ways of stressing an issue that is affecting the lives of many. An example of this is the Senegalese group named  Y’en a Marre  who took their talents and urged the large population of young people to vote against corrupt actions that were taking place by the government. Besides these common characteristics, there are also songs with a message to the people that are simply enlightening.

Ghanaian hip hop/ hiplife artist m3nsa has a song that speaks to his audience in a way to reassure them about life’s doubts called No One Knows. The video begins with a young girl in a yellow rain jacket and red boots lip-syncing to the song No One Knows by Asa about the uncertainties in life with a big smile on her face. M3nsa then enters with his positive verses. The big picture that the entire music video as well as his lyrics were trying to convey was that despite the constant fear of the unknown, it’s okay to not know what will happen, just trust in yourself and live each day one step at a time. This song’s message and visual imagery conveys positive energy and reassurance to it’s audience.

m3nsa

There are many hip hop songs that are similar to M3nsa’s that bring comfort to a common fear that many have. On the other hand, there are times when an artist makes a song that comforts an audience who are experience a certain situation. The Senegalese hip hop group Wagëblë has the perfect example for that with their song titled Message of Hope. This song is not in English but there are many elements within it (and obviously the title) that are clear signs of a song with a message. The first thing the audience sees and hears  is a clip from a news report explaining how despite the great poverty in Senegal, there are young musicians who are developing a “unique brand of hip hop, sending a message of hope to the country’s younger generation”. This sets the mood and theme for the video. Wagëblë are those artists and they want to bring that message of hope. Throughout the music video you see them performing live which shows not only their connection with their fans but their influence. There isn’t much imagery or any theatrics in this video like in m3nsa’s but I believe it’s for the simple goal of the audience having their focus on the lyrics. This is also hinted during part of the video that only show their lips mouthing the lyrics.

wageble

Both these songs come from different artists from different countries and yet despite their differences they both have a common goal of getting a message across. The message doesn’t always have to be about politics and it doesn’t always have to be about mundane anxieties but what does matter is that the audience can understand and relate. Hip hop will continue to change, warp, and evolve but one thing that keeps it alive is what makes us human: empathy.

M.anifest – “Cupid’s Crooked Bow”

Immediately, M.anifest’s “Cupid’s Crooked Bow” begins with a smooth, African drum beat, fused with South African artist Nomisupasta’s unique voice – a kind of tone that is completely original but also, to me, sounds like a mix of Adele and Erykah Badu’s voices (especially when Nomisupasta sings in English). M.anifest raps in English, creating a familiar sound that that reminds listeners of classic, slow-beat American hip hip. Because of the elegance of his lyrics, M.anifest’s rapping style is a kind that likens that of American artist Common, with the way he describes and admires his encounters with a woman.

The video is in a pleasant high quality, and the images offer watchers a relaxed, night scene that includes an abundance of dancing and some drinking. The refraining lyrics in the song “There’s something special about you”, along with M.anifest’s nostalgic verses offer a sentimental mood to the song, easily making it an admirable one with its use of piano and occasional electric guitar licks.

The use of guitar makes “Cupid’s Crooked Bow” a song heavily rooted in Ghanaian music, because Highlife – a Ghanaian genre that predated hip hop in Africa – consists of European instruments and is especially guitar-heavy. Because M.anifest includes this in this piece, he is able to be a true representative of hip hop and decidedly remains close to this distinctly Ghanaian sound.

dancer2

After the 3 minute mark on the video (around 3:06, to be exact) “Cupid’s Crooked Bow” suddenly takes on a “trap beat” – something especially prominent in modern rap music, and very unlike the African drum beat that is present throughout the majority of the song. This is a profound artistic touch because by adding this trap beat, M.anifest displays the growth and diversity of African hip hip music – over the years – through his song (beginning with traditional African sounds and ending with a mainstream rap beat, used worldwide). As soon as this beat appears, a girl simultaneously appears in the video and begins to dance while holding a strong eye-contact with the camera. Her dancing is representative of West African dancing styles, and is therefore another significant cultural element of the video.

Watchers of “Cupid’s Crooked Bow” see and hear it all at once: the Highlife elements, the classic slow-rap style, the traditional African rhythmic beats, the West African style of dancing, and the Western music elements. They are able to identify all of this; and because of it; the song is sophisticated, easily admirable, and is an undeniably good track.

143 M3nsa

Boundaries are meant to be pushed. Boundaries are usually created out of false norms and restrictive rules. Hip Hop oftentimes finds itself stuck in a box that set the boundaries as grimy, hardcore, sexual content, when Hip Hop can be so much more. Hip Hop is a genre borne from rebels who set out to test and expand the existing limits, and I credit any emcee who lives up to these original doctrines. I decided to focus in on one Ghanaian emcee, M3nsa, who coupled with his American experience and love for his West African roots, is a perfect example of testing the limits of not only Hip Hop but individually as an emcee and music artist.

I listened to “Fanti Love Song” by M3nsa. I was shocked to hear the soft melody of piano accompanying a smooth, soulful voice that belonged to M3nsa. I was use to a conventional, rap style from  M3nsa, but was pleasantly surprised to hear a sort of sultry, talking singing that I absolutely love to hear from contemporary Hip Hop artists. M3nsa sings this love song in a native Ghanaian language. We learned in class about Hiplife, which is a popular music genre in Ghana, and most artists of this genre use Ghanaian pidgin language or speak in Ghanaian languages: Twi, Ga, or Ewe. I’m not sure what language is used in this song. The title of the song, “Fanti Love Story” possibly alludes to the language spoken in the song, because Fanti is both an Akan language and a group of people in Ghana. However, I believe the title is alluding to the message of the song which is a love song to a Fanti woman that M3nsa fell in love with, or he could be professing his love for the Fanti people as a whole and being reflectively amorous about his relationship with Fanti people. The style of this song was very neo-soul which is an indicator of M3nsa’s familiarity with America and its music. It put me in the mind of a Roots or Bilal or even Andre 3000 type of soulful, Hip Hop-y vibe.

M3nsa’s “Fanti Love Song” is definitely reminiscent of the type of music that I have downloaded on my phone right now. I fell in love with the visual, the sound, and the overall vibe. It expands the definition of what is normally considered Hip Hop. It is definitely a song to chill with a boyfriend or girlfriend or to put yourself in a relaxed and sensual mood.

The Link Was Never Broken: African Connections Prevail

Although I already covered music by Ghanaian-American hip hop artist, Blitz the Ambassador, I had to revisit his work—his solo work. From taking another look, I have come to see that Blitz is a visionary. The genius of his work can be attributed to his ability to develop well- thought out concepts that are both visually striking and intellectually stimulating. The video for his song, ‘Shine’, is a direct representation of the former. Rather than the music being the primary focus, Blitz allows it to amplify and complement the underlying message. Blitz clearly has a pull to convey the Diasporic experience in most of his works; it is evident in the stories he chooses to tell, the characters he chooses to highlight and the lyrics that never fail to mention Africa as a centerpiece. {I guess this makes him an Ambassador of hip hop, of sorts.) What’s most fascinating is his use of hip hop as platform to incorporate elements of history, visual art and the like.

In the video, ‘Shine’, the storyline is about a father seeking validated immigration statuses for him and his daughter. In order to complete the process, he is asked to hop in the vehicle with two men who appear to “make things happen.” In agreeing to go along for the ride, he must abandon his daughter who accompanied him to the  initial meeting place. The father instructs his child to go home, and on the bus, the magic appears. An African deity personified, emerges next to the young girl, acting as her spiritual guide and protector, as she navigates the streets of the unnamed urban city.  The deity dressed in traditional garb and the young girl dressed in all- white “church” dress dance in unison, perfectly mimicking traditional West African movement. The significance of this video is that the child who is obviously distanced from the Motherland, still receives love, protection and an unbroken connection to an ancestral presence.

Video “Shine” by Blitz the Ambassador

I believe Blitz sought to spread the implication by way of this video, that one is never too distanced from Africa, genealogically or spiritually. Navigating life, assimilating into a foreign land and desiring security and protection are expectations African people throughout the Diaspora experience on a daily basis, whether they are conscious of it or not. The message by Blitz the Ambassador is clear, for he even says it repeatedly, “You already know, they can never change you.” Remaining cognizant of the self that is inextricably linked to humanity’s birthplace is the only sure way to ensure survival. We should all take his advice and “shine our light[s]”, persevering in our walks, because ancestral guidance and protection are never too far off— the link was and never will be broken. Kudos, Mr. Blitz.

 

 

 

 

 

 

M.anifest

Rita Ray of the BBC has dubbed him “Ghana’s rapper supreme”; City Pages has described him as an artist with “an incredible gift” (the run off groove) who possesses “the kind of assured, joyful, ruminative voice that made Mos Def into Hollywood’s favorite conscious-rap star” (City Pages). He has also been described as “a rapper from Ghana who’s as smart as Talib Kweli and as funky as Kanye West”. M.anifest or “Manifest with a dot” as I call him was born Kwame Ametepee Tsikata and is an award winning Ghanaian rapper and songwriter. He spent ten years in Minnesota growing musically and now he spends his time in between Ghana and Minnesota. That has helped him to have a transnational experience, which is very prevalent in his music. His grandfather is Professor J.H Nketia, one of the leading ethnomusicologists (someone who studies music), and composers in Africa.  Out of all the rappers we have listened to in class he is my favorite thus far.

Continue reading “M.anifest”

E.L.- State of the Nation Address

Elorm Adablah, known by his stage name E.L., is a well known Ghanian rapper. His fame is not limited to his home country, but E.L. has made also made his name known in the United States by working with a variety of artists from Sarkodie (another Ghanian artist) to Fabulous and Rick Ross. E.L. began by working behind the scenes in the music industry and eventually made his way to the forefront of the industry using his rapping, producing, and singing skills.

In his song “State of the Nation Address,” E.L. discusses the political and economic state of his country, Ghana. He begins the song by stating that he’s not hating on anyone instead “just stating the fact” about what’s going on. He also let’s his audience know that he too is a citizen of the country and he is aware of its many problems. E.L.mentions the many corrupt political officials who claim that they want to help the people and instead worsen citizen’s lives. Those who have money are too caught up on material things to think about helping their community. Citizens have to resort to crime in order to survive in their communities. His solution to these problems is that the citizens need to unite and stand up against corruption, as they have previously done to resolve problems in their communities.