The youth in Ghana are mostly pushed to the periphery of national politics. To engage in social, economic, and political discourses, the marginalized youth express their thoughts through music. Recently, a wave of marginalized energetic youth from suburbs in Kumasi are reinventing themselves through their music and akata lifestyle. They came into the spotlight through their sensational song akatafour. The song was dominated by hi-hats, characteristic of drill music that have been making waves elsewhere around the world. It featured Kawabanga, O’kenneth, Jay Bahd and Reggie, but there are more than a score of artistes making similar songs, which they have termed Asakaa.
Through the ingenuity of the young individuals, Asakaa has been concretized into a sub-culture, encapsulating their specific way of living. Asakaa has its own dialect, saka. The conspicuous feature of saka is the pronunciation of words in reverse. For instance, saka is the reverse of kasa, Twi word for ‘language’. This dialect has been burgeoning among the marginalized young people in Kumasi for close to two decades now, so it’s not surprising to be a common feature of Asakaa. More important, saka becomes a given, an a priori feature that blocks outsiders from getting in.
This occlusion of outsiders by the new crop of akata (or hip-lifers) may be a lesson from the fate of their predecessors. In 1997, Reggie Rockstone, and others began hip-life, a fusion of African American hip-pop, and traditional Ghanaian high-life. Hip-life gradually morphed into a sub-culture in the years that followed. As Jesse Weaver Shipley stated in the most authoritative book yet on hiplife, Living the Hiplife: Celebrity and Entrepreneurship in Ghanaian Popular Music, “Hiplife is a symbolic realm through which youths on the margins reimagine themselves as socially authoritative, free-thinking public speakers.” Indeed, the hiplife that Reggie and others formulated created a platform for the youth to impart their knowledge on social issues. Hiplife rappers such as Obrafour infused rich Akan proverbs, metaphors and other rhetorics that had been previously reserved for the elderly and/or the affluent into their songs. This made hiplife cool and appealing to majority of the youth (and the some of the marginalized old alike) who regarded hiplife as a way to exude the oratory bravado they have been denied by society.
The attractiveness of hiplife to the sundry inevitably led to the inflow of capital. In no time, hiplife was molded into a commodity. Throughout the country, talents were hunted through competitions such as those sponsored by Nescafe in the early 2000s. Winners of these competitions were provided with funds to create their brands and make music for popular consumption. For example, in 2004, Praye, a hiplife group from Kumasi was controversially crowned winners of one of those competitions, ahead of The Mobile Boyz, a group that most people expected to win. Praye went on to make songs that appealed to the public, while The Mobile Boyz disintegrated. This focus on consumerism soon perforated the essence of hiplife. To be heard, hip-lifers now had to make music that were sellable to the public, such as party or wedding songs (such as Praye’s Shody). The essence of hiplife died.
But not for long. Around 2007-2008, another wave of hip-lifers was flourishing in some communities in Tema, one of the cosmopolitan cities of Ghana. This wave featured the likes of Sarkodie, R2bees, D-Cryme, Yaa Pono, and several others. Like the previous wave, this wave celebrated individual genius, and promoted community. Their music reflected their collective struggle. In one song for instance, Sarkodie narrated how he used to trek from Tema to studios in Accra with his peers. In another, in direct reference to the hipsters in Accra who were still stuck with making songs for popular consumption (the artiste, Asem, in particular) “Mo na mo feeli party songs, that be the easy way” (Translated as: you are the ones who like to make party songs because that is the easy way). Ironically, Sarkodie will go on to make many party songs, because, obviously that is the easier way to capital accumulation. The Tema Boyz, as they were collectively called, could not shield themselves from capital infiltration. They bowed to capital and made trendy music, such as Azonto, Kupe, Zanku. [See for example Sarkodie’s Hasta La Vista]. Since these trendy songs rely more on rhythm and not the lyrical content, the oratory bravado that originally characterized hiplife was lost. Hiplife died another death.
The consciousness of the Asakaa artistes aren’t dissimilar to that of these previous waves of hip-lifers. It would be preposterous to claim that the new wave of akata will not be infiltrated by capital. Still, it’s reasonable to assume that Asakaa will be shielded from intrusions for a longer period. As described before, the apriorism of saka could be a major protective shield of Asakaa. Additionally, Asakaa’s localization in Kumasi could prove to be beneficial to its longevity. Historically, Kumasi, as a capital of the Asante nation has been a bedrock of political and cultural resistance. Just as the Manhyia palace resisted cultural infiltration throughout Asante history, the source of the Subin river was the birthplace of the National Liberation Movement (NLM), a nationalist coalition that resisted Nkrumah’s pan-Africanism in the peri-independence era. The thoughts of the new crop of akata are shaped by these histories, not any less than the contemporary social forces that fashioned them. That this is the case can be observed from their portrayal of these past events in their art forms. For instance, the setting of the music video of y3 y3 dom (meaning, we’re a crowd), a song by some of the Asakaa artiste was an ancient Asante village readying for war. Meanwhile, the lyrics described the communal lifestyle they live at trap-house. The beat of this song was full of the hi-hats.
This amalgamation of Asante history, the alienating effects of modernism, and black internationalism (through the co-adaptation of hip-pop) into Asakaa could provide a medium that can be modeled to resist the global threat of excess capitalism. From Marx to the Frankfurt School and post-modern theorists, intellectuals have proposed various models to reimagine the individual. By celebrating individual genius while promoting communal values, Akata provides a new window to reimagine the individual. Perhaps, it is not the individual which is universal, rather the celebration of individual genius is. As such Asakaa and the previous waves of hip-lifers have shown us that we should celebrate individual genius for the common good of the community.
The author, Alexander Kwakye, tweets @alexrepgh