“Each song sort of breathed itself into being,” says Jahwi, the Accra musician whose debut full-length album, Ancient Soul Cries, gives as clear a picture as any of the kind of inventive underground music currently coming out of the city. Its blend of laid-back beats, Ghanaian patois, firebrand subject matter and layered instrumentation draws on a mix of different genres – from rock and reggae to afrobeat and hip-hop – and touches on everything from war to sex.
Jahwi himself, also a photographer, poet and painter, has been a well known name on the local cultural scene for years. Tellingly, he draws his song-writing influences from a whole host of sources. “My first encounters with music were hundreds of vinyl records that my father had collected over his travels. I began DJing his parties from the age of six – it was a disco and funk era, but some of the most influential forces in my music are people like Fela Kuti, Nina Simone, Sizzla Kalonji and Bob Marley. I could sing ‘Redemption Song’ before I could speak English.”
Jahwi’s paintings have been exhibited everywhere from South Africa to Australia, and given the right exposure his album has the potential to reach a similarly wide international audience. At a time when so much street-level music seems throwaway, Ancient Soul Cries has a more mature sound than most. “It sounds dark sometimes,” he says, “but its main objective is healing.”
Ancient Soul Cries is out on Maddrenegade Music
...and the London boys inspired by Ghana’s beat
At time of writing, the video for Friday Night – a high-tempo tune by London producers The Busy Twist – has clocked up close to 40,000 views on YouTube. It’s not hard to see why it’s popular. The music merges Ghana’s tropical hustle with flavours of the UK bass scene, while the video itself, shot in Accra, captures the shuffling, goodtime vibe of the capital in the sun.
The two 22-year olds behind the project, Gabriel Benn (aka Tuesday Born) and Ollie Smith (aka Ollie Twist), have so far released two EPs under The Busy Twist name, with an album set to emerge soon. They’ve collaborated with various Ghanaian musicians. So how did two young Brits, childhood friends in London from the age of 10, come to be working with the locals in West Africa?
“I had a placement teaching English in Ghana a few years ago and met so many talented musicians,” explains Gabriel. “When I got back home, I persuaded Ollie we should go out to record them. We formed such a tight unit with the musicians out there that we realised there was really something in it. The Busy Twist was born from there. We’ve been going back and forth from Ghana for the last three years.”
And what is it about the sound of Ghana that inspires them? “It’s the energy, the vibrancy, the way that the music is just so ingrained in people’s blood, in their everyday lives. Ghana is somewhere we love.”
Friday Night EP is out on Soundway Records
Five more to know about
The duo won the main prizes at the 2013 Vodafone Ghana Music Awards
A British hip-hop artist of Ghanaian descent who has collaborated with Wyclef Jean
A rapper of real pedigree with a CV that includes work with Damon Albarn and Erykah Badu
A female dancehall-reggae singer from Accra, named Ghana’s best new artiste in 2013
A rapper hailing from the coastal town of Tema, nominated for a MOBO award in 2012.
Where to see great live music in Accra
Formerly Bassline Jazz Club, +233 (named after the Ghanaian dialling code) is an intelligently designed club that has live bands six days a week. Inside, there are two floors. The band play on a small stage downstairs, but can also be seen from the U-shaped upstairs. There’s ample seating outside too, which looks onto a glass wall behind which the band play. And external speakers mean its almost as loud outside as in. Each section has its own bar with attentive servers. The food – burgers, hotdogs, chicken, chips, kebabs and pork chops – is mostly off the grill. The music varies between highlife, blues, jazz (although rarely hip hop) and anything else good. There’s only an entrance charge (usually GH¢10) when the band merits it. It’s a hugely popular venue, and rightly so. Probably the best place in Accra to see live music at the moment.
We’ll still keep recommending this bar as it remains one of the most happening bars in Accra right now, thanks to its relaxed, music-forward approach to the good things in life: alcohol, fried food and really great music. It’s a tiny space that tumbles out onto the street when things really kick off late on a Friday or Saturday. Album covers and black-and-white photos of music stars adorn the walls as Ghana’s best music blasts out (often jaw-dropping highlife music acts live on the terrace; check out the Facebook page and Twitter account for details – highlife legend Ebo Taylor has even played here). Even the cocktails use great ingredients not found anywhere else: the Republica is a caipirihna made from traditional palm wine. On a sunny day (and yes, it’s always sunny), try one of their ‘Wild Beers’: the Beer Sap has bissap concentrate added to it. Fittingly, the food is good beer fodder too – the cassava chips are a fabulous drinking accompaniment, while the Fire Go Burn You pepper soup and Ye Ye Goat curry are superb value for something this tasty.
The Accra-based arm of the French cultural centre offers a large range of artistic activities every week. It particularly excels in live music events, but there are also regular art displays and talks from international artists. The obvious focus is on French and Ghanaian artists (often working together), which forms an artistic bridge between the two cultures in terms of language, education and artistic programming. There’s always something interesting on; be sure to look at the website before arriving in town.
The tapas revolution has finally hit Accra, and with customary Latin style. This is a lovely if unsubtle space (it’s all red and black with pictures of bulls on the wall) that lends itself to a jovial atmosphere. There’s a wide range of small dishes, plus larger raciones around GH¢20 for Iberian pork. Pile them up and away you go. The menu is classic tapas: croquetas, meatballs, chorizo in red wine, patatas bravas, octopus salad, calamares, prawns in chili and garlic. There’s also paella, including an authentic version (with chicken). It also hosts occasional live performances of flamenco and Spanish music. There’s a lunch special between noon and 4pm.
This popular restaurant often has live bands, including highlife musicians. The food’s good, but the music’s better. Many sets start off with a mixture of reggae, and other (random) hits before returning with a highlife set that gets everyone up and dancing. The musicianship is usually excellent.