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Updated: May 6, 2020

Why the Ghanaian producer's new single may be the Pan-African energy we need

A few days back I was sitting around going through my Spotify playlists, and I stumbled across Juls’ new release; ‘Mandela Riddim’. Now this struck me. Was this a house track I was hearing? From Juls no less?? Oh, now I was intrigued.

If you don’t know about Juls by now, my dear, where have you been? Julian Nicco Annan is a British born Ghanaian producer, responsible for some of the biggest hits in commercial Afrobeats today. His command of instrumentals creates an alchemy that moulds songs into beautifully executed works of art. Think I’m being dramatic? Just listen to this...

After a long period of rolling my eyes at the over the top commercialised Afropop that was dominating the scene, in 2015, Mr. Eazi caught my attention. With early singles like Skin Tight, Bankulize and Hollup, this sound was everything I’d been missing. Juls’ production brought back the nostalgia of classic highlife (enter memories of Supermalt and meat pie hall parties), interlaced with jazz, dancehall and hip-hop. His guitar riffs paired with that sultry slow tempo rolled off your skin like the most gentle touch. Juls created a level of intimacy in his music that injected soul back into the mainstream.

In the years that followed, Juls refined his sound and went on to collaborate with artists like Burna Boy, Eugy, Sarkodie, Mugeez, and Maleek Berry. His hit-making abilities cemented his position as the production powerhouse who was playing a key role in the international explosion of Afrobeats.

Listening to his music, you can probably understand why I was so shocked by this new track's 180. Like, I have so many questions?? I’m assuming he spent time in Johannesburg, because the song is definitely influenced by South African House. Cool. But somehow it feels like to interpret this sound, he felt that he needed to strip back the soulful essence of what makes him so beloved up West.

I mean, I understand the logic. They are completely different sounds. But if you truly Immerse yourself in SA house, and experience the way people dancing in Johannesburg, Durban or Cape Town conjure up an electric energy in a room. You’ll find that It is nothing short of poetic. I once watched as a man who had spent most of the night trying to impress a girl at his table, was slowly pulled away by the sound of the beginning of DJ Big Sky’s song, Fire. I’d never seen anything like it. Almost like the spirit of his ancestors were carrying him forward, finally placing him before that DJ booth. All remnants of stunt like behaviour slowly melted away as he approached the dancefloor. And in that moment, his body and the beat involuntarily become one single entity. This didn’t just feel like dancing, this felt like something entirely deeper. Something spiritual.

Despite the slight disconnect, I feel like Mandela Riddim has a much bigger purpose, and signals more of what’s to come. It’s a unifying statement in light of the xenophobia scandal that rocked the continent a few months ago. It highlights the fact that despite all our differences, we need to collaborate if we are to excel. Nothing highlights this more than my experience in Ghana this December. The 'Year of Return' transformed Accra into a stunning cultural melting pot, and made our hometown the diaspora’s gateway into Africa. Therefore this song says, whether your people traditionally dance with their waists or they get busy with footwork, we are all Africans first.

This audacious ode to South African music, is Ghana's biggest producer reminding us that the ‘s’ in Afrobeats is not silent. The genre’s umbrella spans further than Ghana, Nigeria or even Congo. This song is an acknowledgement that though our sound has taken the mainstream by storm, there is a huge scene further South that’s also making massive waves. There are multiple seats at the table. And we should be be inspired by each other while always keeping our essence. For me, it’s also a reminder of why it’s so important to travel within our own continent. There is so much to see and it’s truly a life changing experience.

Ultimately, Mandela Riddim is the perfect representation of cross-cultural inspiration. An act that ironically aligns so perfectly with Ghana’s celebration of 63 years of independence. How? Because if this isn’t a manifestation of Dr. Nkrumah’s vision for Pan-Africanism, then what is?

Updated: Mar 6, 2020

I just need to say that I’ve been waiting oh so patiently for this album. And when I tell you, it did not disappoint!

Little Simz is an artist who is so respected but for some reason has never blown commercially. Her latest album 'Grey Area' is an introvert’s self-confessional that was born after surviving war. (If you’ve ever been to Amsterdam, you may agree with my interpretation of the album title…I’ll just leave that there). Now you may ask, surviving war with whom? Well the rest of the album makes that quite clear. Simz is real in a way that makes you feel like she’s invited you into her living room. You’ve taken off your shoes, and you’re sat cross legged, intently listening to her spin her truths into effortless bars against the back drop of elite production.

‘Selfish’ talks about the self-love that you wrap yourself with, in the immediate aftermath of a break-up. You wear it like protective armour at first, but it soon settles and begins to fit like a second skin. At this point, you’ve finally realised that you deserve better than what you were been putting up with. So you tear away from the path of acceptance passed down by so many women before you, and engage in a single act of rebellion. Making the choice to just do you, despite what anybody else thinks. So yes, maybe you could be seen as selfish right?

Simz jumps on the beat with the ease only real talent allows, admitting to having a big ego embedded through her heritage, a nice little nod to her Nigerian roots. The song tells the tale of a woman who has been hurt, but still understands her own self –worth. She knows that it was him not her, that ‘he couldn’t hold a woman of (her) calibre’. But regardless, it’s alright because things are only meant to ‘be in the Divine’s time’. So for now she’s just going to put herself together and heal. Everything else will follow as it’s meant to.

‘Wounds’ then eases in with a guitar, and Simz goes on to pen an open love letter to the youth of London. Her words come from a place of understanding, rather than the judgement that comes with privilege. She focuses on UK street culture, and the fact that these kids idolise artists who rap about a lifestyle they’ve never lived. She lets them know that in the end, they’re only leading themselves to an inevitable fate… just becoming another headline. So she asks them, “Is your life really worth that risk?” Chronixx’s comforting serenade rings true of an older brother figure who assures them that there’s more to this life, that ultimately ‘love is (their) destiny’.

Honestly the whole song gives me chills, but Chronixx’s question at the end leaves food for thought, “Gunman, tell me where you get your gun from?”

It’s a question that says so much with so little. Think about it. Yes all rap is art, but why is it that only particular types of rap are pushed into the mainstream? Who ultimately profits from us doing this to each other…?

The rest of the album is equally as emotive and thought provoking, I felt every lyric like I bore witness to the scenarios that inspired them. And if you know me, a deep dive into each song one by one would not be out of the question! But alas, I’ll save you guys from having to read an entire novel. In '101 FM' you can picture a young Simz circa 2008, dreaming of 'getting out of the flats', rocking her 'Air Forces and New Era hat'. She makes it easy to share in her pride at how far she’s come. 'Therapy' and 'Sherbet Sunset' give a bit more context to Selfish, and ultimately some of the inspiration behind the whole album. She shows us that clearly music is her self-medication, telling us that she is ‘really a sensitive soul, so what happens when someone takes advantage of that?’

Well, a lyrical masterpiece is what.

To end the album, Little Simz lets us know that yes, she is well aware that she is overlooked in the industry, despite her surpassing most in terms of talent. In 'Flowers', she alludes to the idea that we don’t give people their flowers when they are alive to receive them, using the infamous 27 club to illustrate her point. Members of which include Amy Winehouse, Curt Cobain, Basquiat and Jimi Hendrixx to name a few, artists who all died at 27 years old.

In 'Grey Area' Little Simz is not begging you to recognise her, nor is she raging against the machine. She is simply saying that whether you realise now or later, she’s already won.

Updated: Mar 27, 2019

Paying tribute to Ghana's rising star who passed way to soon...

February 9th marks the first anniversary of the passing of Ebony Reigns, the tragic result of a road accident between Kumasi and Accra. The 20 year old Ghanaian artist completely changed the music industry back home!  She radiated an unapologetic confidence that made many elder people clutch their pearls like, ‘We don’t do things like that here’. (First of all, umm who’s telling...)

But seriously, regardless of whether you agreed with her methods, Ebony exuded an innate drive to use the tools she was handed to dig herself out of her circumstances and shatter ceilings -by any means necessary. And for life changing moments, like her hit ‘Poison’ going number one, she gives up thanks to God. If you don’t understand the lyrics don’t worry, I don’t either with some of it!

The anniversary of her death reminded me of a trip to Cape Coast I took back in November with my cousin. (I’m so annoyed I missed out on the Christmas link up last year, but December 2019 soon come!) Her track ‘Date ur Fada’ was playing in the car on our way to the castles, and we joked about the raw hyperbole of the song. It’s a warning that takes the notion of ‘I’ll love you, but try me if you want to’ to new levels!  

Her music showed us that young women are multi-faceted beings with songs like Hustle and ‘Maame Hw3’, where when leaving a toxic relationship she remembers the lessons her mother taught her, finally understanding. Or even with ‘Sponsor’, which could basically provide the musical soundtrack to one of Oloni’s twitter threads. Ebony did all this with a flair that meant she outshone most of the feature artists on her tracks (no offence intended, but let’s be honest here…). And her music put a spotlight on the side of Ghanaian society that is intent on breaking all the rules!

Though she sings in a language you might not understand, or you have reservations because of your opinions on her perceived lifestyle, the fact is, she made bangers. It’s just that simple.

So to mark her first anniversary I’ve put together some of my favourite Ebony songs. Some make you want to go to a hall party and dance with your mum and others are strictly for you and your girls!

Ebony adopted a dancehall sound which instead of feeling forced; she wore comfortably like a tailored coat, while still staying true to her Ashanti roots. Her seamless duality showed we’re all influenced by each other in some way or another. It also shines a light on the presence of the Jamaican community in Accra, I recently even found out that Rita Marley lives out there! In some ways it’s a cultural melting pot, which has produced home-grown artists like Stonebwoy and Shatta Wale.

Now, I know a few people out here probably don’t like African musicians taking on the Caribbean sound, which is fair enough. We are all entitled to our opinions (unless you voted for Brexit, then in that case you clearly can’t be trusted…) But when it comes to these Ghanaian artists, I feel like it’s more of a cultural appreciation. I know I’m obviously biased here, but it shows an understanding of a people that we actually have a lot deep rooted similarities with, but they’ve just manifested in different ways because of geographical separation.  Besides, they say imitation is the highest form of flattery right?

It really would have been amazing to see what Ebony might have grown and evolved into. Where would her perspective be if her music had longer to mature? What stories would she have to tell? Either way, she made an impact in the little time she was here.  And I hope young people and aunties alike continue turning up to her music, making sure her legacy lives on.

Listen to our short Spotify Playlist here!

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