OUT of three Accra-Ghanabased artists, at last month’s Sauti za Busara (SzB) international music festival, two presented the Highlife musical style. The first of these two acts to actually address the audience was Eugene Oppong Ampadu, or simply called Kyekyeku.
This composer, singer and guitarist’s distinctive sound, which derives from traditional Ghanaian palm wine music, with Highlife and Afrobeat influences, certainly kept the audience excited, while he occupied the stage. Now, although Kyekyeku has been in music for 15 years, it’s only the last six that he has been working “extra hard” on his own compositions.
Currently he has teamed-up with four other young like-minded Ghanaian musicians, to carry this music wherever requested. Well, from the response of the audience in the Mambo Club of the Old Fort in Stone Town, Zanzibar last month, they certainly scored top marks.
Watching him perform his sound boggled the mind as to how it is that this young man, who comes from a cosmopolitan background in Ghana’s capital city, Accra, wasn’t pulled into doing some popular or rap music instead. The answer was given later that night, after his performance, during an exchange with journalists.
Popular Ghana music or rap just wasn’t to be for Kyekyeku. He told the ‘Daily News’ he is fortunate to be working for just over three years, with his current line-up of “young and talented” Ghanaian musicians.
Music for him is his chosen way of saying to the world what he feels. This is bearing in mind that he recognises music as being a “very powerful tool”, which he says can be “dangerous” in the wrong hands. “In the hands of the right people, music can be very effective.
For me it’s a tool that I attempt to effect positive social change, first and foremost. And on a personal level, it’s a tool that gives me satisfaction. The time that I feel the happiest in my life, the best equilibrium, is when I’m performing or making music,” he said.
“Music is a gift some people are lucky to have and the ones that are not lucky to have are lucky to be in the audience,” he immediately added. He further said that sometimes the music is so powerful that the vibrations alone gets to a person, through their stomach, skin and even if they don’t hear, they feel the music.
He also admitted talking a lot about social issues, in his music deliberately to sensitise people on the need to have a better experience of life. This aspect of sensitising people is very important for Kyekyeku, together with the part that there has to be fun, which he maintains always has to be in his music.
The simply reasoning behind this that he gave is “no matter how serious the music is, it has to be fun” as well. Just like he played in the sun when he was a child growing up, the element of fun has to be in his music, he maintains.
A glimpse of how he could have been when a child was seen when he responded to the question as to whether or not this was his first time in the country. It turned-out it was his first time in East Africa and to see the Indian Ocean, which filled him with excitement, which he did not hide.
Then he moved onto commenting on the festival that brought him to the country. “Man, SzB, a beautiful stage and amazing energy from the people, which when it happens you just like float and perform. When we went into our second song, I saw that this was going to be a nice ride.
I’m supper proud that Africa has been able to stage something like this. It should serve as an inspiration for other countries to pick from,” he said and suggested.
The fact that all of the great Highlife musicians were in their 20’s and 30’s, he says makes his age quite suitable for the music, which he claims is “very energetic” and demands a lot of spontaneity, therefore, suitable for his age.
However, he also understands having been in existence for a long time, it has become a kind of classic form of music from a different era, which is not where he exists. All said and done, he maintains it is the music that really defines Ghana.
As a concept, it also is his way of trying to pick influences from everywhere in the world and add to their traditional life and then project into the future. That’s why it’s called “the high life” because you’re attempting to live a life that is higher than normal, which is what you’re used to, because the ecstasy that comes with it is nice.
“For me it’s important that coming from my era I’m able to put myself and take influences around me and supper-impose that on Highlife that has been and come out with something new, yet respecting and keeping the roots. For me it’s very important to tell the world that hey, this is Ghana and this is a bit of our identity, this is what I want you to recognise us with as well, and so that’s why Highlife,” he explained. Kyekyeku has no qualms with any performer copying or getting on a particular bandwagon specifically for economic reasons either
. However, he thinks it’s a bad thing when at the end of the day a performer has not added anything to what they came and meet. Then, he suggested, it becomes a waste of time to that individual and everyone else.
When he first started there wasn’t many places to play his music because the music was usually heard at places like funerals, which young people don’t usually go to. A lot has changed now and music has become much commercialised.
Ironically, this puts a lot of pressure on what musicians want to perform and create, which is not right in his opinion. However, on the good side, he said, it’s injecting a lot of money into the sector. Unfortunately, this has the negative effect of stimulating a kind of mafia system, whereby money has to be given to certain people for a music to be played.
This he obviously does not approve. What is needed, according to Kyekyeku is a balance and the establishment of a middle ground, from which all will benefit. Now, concerning the veteran Highlife vocalist and songwriter Pat Thomas.
He had arrived into Zanzibar from Ghana, with the Kwashibu Area Band the same day they performed, then flew away again. More on his experiences, while on the Isle will have to wait for another day.
The same applies to the other Ghana-based artist, Rocky Dawuni. It was Dawuni, who actually closed this year’s SzB episode with his Reggae, Roots, Afrobeat sound. More will be said another time as to why he has three bands, one based in Accra-Ghana, another Miami- USA and the third in Nairobi- Kenya, which is the one that accompanied him to the festival.