Afrobeats may be the dominant sound in Ghana, as in many other African countries, but Jamaican sounds can be heard blaring daily through the speakers of Ghana’s roadside and beach bars. Thursday is reggae night at two of the biggest clubs in the capital Accra – turning up the heat in the already hot weather.
Jamaican musicians the late Bob Marley and Peter Tosh and Group Culture are credited with planting the seeds of reggae music on African soil 50 years ago – and Ghana shows that roots have grown deep and gone on to produce homegrown talent. .
This love of reggae has had a cultural impact on language: these days it’s not hard to hear Ghanaians speaking a little Jamaican patois, which differs from the pidgin English spoken by about a fifth of Ghana’s population.
Take Livingston Satekla, the biggest reggae-dancehall artist to come out of Africa, also known as Stonebwoy. The spelling of his stage name is a nod to Jamaican patois.
“Who is that boy singing?” In Ghanaian pidgin: “Who dat boy sing for deh?” In Jamaican patois it’s: “Ah who dat baoy weh im ah sing fi deh?”
In a recent interview Stonebwoy and I discussed the increasing use of Patois in Ghana, which has angered some Ghanaians.
“What’s wrong with learning to communicate in patois, which comes as part of reggae-dancehall and as an important means of communication? If you love reggae-dancehall you should learn patois,” the 34-year-old musician told me.
Born in the ghettos of Ashaiman outside Accra, Stoneboy regularly listened to Jamaican dancehall dons Capelton, Anthony-B and Beenie Man as a teenager – wanting to sound like their patois-speaking heroes.
He later went on to host the same crowd at his annual BHIM concert, one of Africa’s most successful dancehall shows.
It takes place in December as part of Ghana’s Beyond the Return campaign – a project designed to encourage people from the diaspora to visit the country.
It draws huge crowds – myself included – and last year featured Jamaica’s Busy Signal, with many of his fellow countrymen and women singing along to their hits.
Some in the audience can be seen with dreadlocks – worn by Rastafarians.
Reggie has been instrumental in spreading the Rasta message. It is a cheerleader for Africa – singing about the beauty of the continent, boasting about its natural resources, calling on people in the diaspora to return to the motherland.
This has gone a long way to solidify the bond between reggae and Africa, especially during and after colonial rule.
As one of the first African countries to gain independence (from the UK in 1957), it makes sense that Ghana would be drawn to the sounds of struggle and strife associated with reggae. It has had a lot of fighting and strife, experiencing six military coups between the 1960s and 1980s.
One of Ghana’s first big reggae artists was Kojo Antwi, also known as Mr. Music Man.
Antwi began his career in the 1970s working with reggae band Classic Handles, which later changed its name to Classic Vibes. Their debut 1979 album Higher: Suffer Hell on Earth chronicled the economic struggles of the ghetto and how the lack of job opportunities could lead to starvation.
In the mid-1980s Antwi became known for his love songs with lyrics in his native language Twi – sung in the rock reggae voice of a less political lover, which inspired other big Ghanaian artists.
While Mr. Music Man was serenading his homeland, a young Northern Ghanaian of royal heritage, Rocky Dawuni, began making waves on the global reggae scene with the 1998 hit In Ghana. His growing popularity saw some of his songs featured in several US TV dramas and three Grammy nominations to his name.
If reggae is the parent, dancehall is definitely its mischievous child – with deft lyrics and clear tones of patois.
One of its first successful descendants in Ghana was Samini, known for his energetic live performances, singing in Pidgin, Patois and Twi.
Often referred to as Africa’s King of Dancehall Music, he has received accolades from foreign and domestic organizations, including the Mobo for Best African Act in 2006 and the MTV Africa Music Award for Best Live Performer in 2009.
Not content with his solo achievements, Samini helped launch the career of top Ghanaian artiste Mugeez and played a big role in kick-starting the career of Stonebwoy.
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