FEATURE: Of the 2017 Ghana Music Awards
Medikal didn’t perform his hit single Too Risky in full. Towards the end of the song – the last in a quick playlist for his set, he pulled girlfriend Deborah Vanessa by the hand a bit too strongly, plucked his white face towel from a prop behind him, and vanished through the exit to the left. “Forget everybody!”, he yelled, finally. That gesture was a manifestation of his frustration at what a fiasco the night was turning out for him.
If the AMG Business rapper had lost out on any of the six other categories he had been nominated for at Saturday night’s VGMAs, surely, he was not going to lose out on Best New Act – but he did, to a relatively less popular Fancy Gadam –and that has made all the difference. Well, that, and a couple of other things.
It is in the nature of award schemes to render jaw-dropping moments, and the Ghana Music Awards is no exception. So, it is important for us all to calm down at some point. Still, some surprises are more surprising than others – like the curious case of Medikal etc.
Medikal was overly optimistic about a happy ending to his first ever VGMAs. It started several weeks earlier. In Still Pampee, a single he released immediately the nominees were announced, he bragged: “small boy wonder, seven nominations/sake of I be the best inna the nation”. Though his losing out on all 7 awards is both unfair and enough to significantly break his spirit, it is yet another sad tale of what an artist’s inability to manage his optimism with this scheme (which has failed many acts before him) can lead to.
Reggae singer Ras Kuuku also tasted this sour lesson when he lost both Reggae/Dancehall categories to Stonebwoy. Earlier on the red carpet, he had joked that his votes were the reason for perceived “over voting this year”, exuding wonderful fearlessness in spite of Stonebwoy et al, his competition. First of all, no Reggae/Dancehall category today, which has Stonebwoy in there as a nominee, is exactly a fair fight. Still, the Puom regent was shocked. Disgusted. He shot to his feet. His hype man too. And then he roared something at hostess Anita Erskine, who interpreted it as an answer to the question she had just asked: who picks up Artist of the Year? Fumed, both artist and hype man made for the exit to the back of the auditorium. They walked past many faces too frozen in bewilderment to say a word. At the exit, Ras Kuuku turned sharply, and yelled “akronfuo nkuaa” – “Thieves!”, presumably at organisers.
A similar incident from 2013 immediately replaced in my eyes, the episode they had just witnessed –incidentally, also dancehall-related. Shatta Wale had just lost Reggae/Dancehall Song of the Year to Kaakie, and it had proven too much to contain. Kicking angrily, he bawled in Pidgin, a similar sentiment – he was being cheated by the system. It appears that the incident served as springboard for his widespread stardom thereafter…starting with with diss songs at Kaakie and Charterhouse. Will we witness something similar with Kuuku in coming years? Does this mark a true entry to mainstream circles? Well…
Recurring technical glitches held up the main event till half -past 10, though a glamorous red carpet session earlier had passed off perfectly. It was hosted by Berla Mundi and Elikem Kumordzie, and as usual, witnessed elegance and strange fashion in equal measure. Unlike Berla, this was a new challenge for actor/ designer Elikem, who goes by the alias “The Tailor”. Many feared (seeing how he’s a respected name in contemporary Ghanaian style, but has not accrued as much experience as host of events thus) that he was a wild card, in the sense that he would bring onboard a ravenous desire to impose his fashion awareness on guests, or that he would be intimidated by the platform of the VGMA red carpet. But as it turned out, he was the perfect mélange of both worlds. He did dispatch his role remarkably, with charm and genuineness, eloquence and appeal.
Patrons grew impatient because the main event was dragging, significantly, and major embarrassment loomed. Organizers kept running around in frenzied efforts to rectify what looked like a power emergency –something many claim to be an attempt to sabotage the event. By whom? I don’t want any trouble.
“At exactly 8.40 pm, just at the strike of the drum for the amazing opening performance by the Accra Symphony Orchestra and Lumina, we suddenly lost all power losing some equipment in the process. The fluctuations that would follow are simply unprecedented and inexplicable. Regrettably the event started 2 hours later than scheduled; for which we are deeply sorry”, an official press statement from Charterhouse explained.
Eventually (and thankfully), the show was back up, and the Accra Symphony Orchestra returned to complete a compelling opening act which was truncated the first time due to the technical situation. A superb mix of spoken word, choral arrangements and indigenous rhythms, it proved to be a rich journey through the various stages in the development of music from these parts.
The whole country shuts down for this night when it come around. It is the one thing social media discusses, and there’s a massive yearn for television viewing. More than six television channels on Free-to-air (FTA) and Pay TV got rights to show the event this year, and Vodafone’s livestream of the event was widely patronised, especially internationally. Like it usually is with football, it is highly emotional business, and the debates can be very political.
The 18th edition, the Vodafone-sponsored Ghana Music Awards main event was compered by seasoned broadcaster Anita Erskine. She was aided on the turntables by Joy FM’s DJ Black in the shadows behind. With his familiar Big Brother-esque baritone and nimble music fingers, he provided expert support for Erskine, who ran the prestigious event with the facility of an experienced Waakye seller. A true master hostess, she serves as the only female superintendent of the ceremony since its institution nearly two decades ago, though the likes of Doreen Andoh, Eazzy, Dentaa, Naa Askorkor and Joselyn Dumas have all been engaged in supporting roles. Switching in and out of one brilliant costume or another, and with the venerable style which is an amalgamation of superior proficiency and inborn flair, she ensured a decent flow of performances and award presentations.
Three smiling women, clad in long cloth walked gracefully unto the stage to rousing cheers in the middle of the show. Audience members instantly recognized them from evergreen traditional band Wulomei. Equipped with an unmatched repertoire of folk classics and stage charm befitting only of legends, they affected a relatively young crowd even more efficiently than contemporary performers who took to the stage. All through their act, they kept the entire audience on their feet, with the pulse of their waist twirls, and the everlasting youth of their craft.
Backed not only by a well-proven Patch Bay Band (which had produced the Instrumentalist of the Year earlier in the night) but also by an exquisite status as national symbols, these three queens curated easily and without doubt, one of the most pronounced highlights at the event in terms of performance. The perfectly reenacted konga patterns and string arrangements invoked fervent nostalgia in the marrows of a hypnotised crowd as they chanted along to timeless choruses from the immortal “KK Mingbo” medley.
This performance by Wulomei, together with an energetic rendering by another veteran act Charles Amoah (groove and ponytail intact even after this many decades), demonstrated to all – audience and young performers alike, the permanence of true class. You could be told, or even read about it, but there’s always something significant about witnessing it for yourself –for what better exhibition of a stage craftsmanship demonstrative of authentic Ghanaian music than these two, to Kofi Kinaata for instance, who frequently gasped for breathe during his two-song set, and who also won big in the highlife categories –a genre which is founded on top-notch live performances? What better examples than Wulomei and Charles Amoah?
It is also admirable how gospel act Nacee was able to line up esteemed colleagues including SP Kofi Sarpong, Gifty Osei, Celestine Donkor, Ernest Opoku, and a host of others for his set. Their rendition of W’aseda Nie, the notable 2001 worship tune by mentors Stela Seal, Dorcas Appiah, Rev. Kusi Berko, Yaw Agyeman Benjamin, Nana Yaw Asare, and Amy Newman (collectively called the Gospel All Stars), was both a refreshing and worthy tribute in a year specifically set aside for reflection and remembering heroes.
Without debate, this year was one for Gospel. Nacee snatched Album of the Year from favourite M.anifest, who had a great night by the way –walking home with laurels for Hip-hop Song of the Year, and Best Rapper of the Year, and making bold artistic impressions with the help of broadcaster/ choral singer Kokui, Worlasi, and monster deck handler DJ Keyzuz. Joe Mettle won for Best Male Vocal Performance (usually won by secular acts), and Artist of the Year – the first Gospel act to achieve it since that award was named as the most coveted.
Controversial or not, Joe Mettle winning Artist of the Year is an important statement for the gospel fraternity, who had embarked on a massive campaign weeks before, arguing that he was not merely good enough to be nominated for the ultimate prize, but was good enough to win it too, despite EL, and Stonebwoy, and MzVee, and Medikal, and Sarkodie. People wondered what “true hit song” he had released in the year under review, or whether his visibility all through the year surpassed his competitors, but the masterminds behind the campaign of “Gospel Artist can be Artist of the Year too” would not be distracted. Articles flooded the internet and print media, pointing out his numerous achievements in 2016. UK-based Sonnie Badu, Jeshrun Okyere, and Nacee, and a host of other gospel acts all publicly backed their comrade. It worked. He won it. Nacee, when he was on the red carpet, or when he went up to pick his own awards, was steadfast in his solidarity with Joe Mettle for Artist of the Year. When Mettle was announced, it was as though it was he (Nacee) who had won. Together with Jesrun Okyere and other fraternity colleagues also overcome with the joy of this victory, Nacee joined Mettle onstage, screaming and patting him on his back and shoulder.
But this is what is sobering, like it or not: the ambience in the auditorium was bereft of the pandemonium usually accompanying that ultimate announcement. A similar air hovered when Nacee beat M.anifest to win Album of the Year, or when former Dobble member Paa Kwei went up to accept the prize for Most Popular Song of the Year. Dobble’s Christy was popular, but it won the award ahead of such songs as Joey B’s You x Me, Sarkodie’s RNS, Article Wan’s Solo, FlowKing Stone’s Go Low, Stonebwoy’s People Dey etc. On all three occasions, there was a near-tactile mood of “did they really deserve it?”. That question always rises the morning after the night before, so we shall leave it at that.
It appears that because Joe is a Gospel singer, and Ghanaians a very religious people, one can’t contest what credentials got him to beat EL, Stonebwoy, MzVee, Medikal, Sarkodie without being perceived as “touching God’s anointed and doing His prophet harm”. Joe may have deserved the award on merit, but eventually, the entire nation must be sufficiently convinced of that, else in the future, there’ll be a similar agenda by the jazz community, or the Traditional Music community, or the accapella community once they chalk slight mainstream recognition, all to solicit a kind of affirmative action at the detriment of those truly deserving…as versus putting in the work and actually earning it, and that will not necessarily be a good look for a scheme already considered suspect by many.
“As children of God, sometimes we get things we don’t deserve”, is simply Joe’s response to skeptics of his mettle as far as the Artist of the Year was concerned. A profound statement, it also somewhat fuels the debate concerning whether was his mettle soley that got him the award.
Joe Mettle dedicated the award to music maestro, the late Minister Danny Nettey, who has been a major influence in his current success. To fellow gospel acts, Joe pointed to a silver lining: “As you all know, this is for gospel, this is for Christianity. And for every gospel musician in this house, the door is open.”
The 2017 Ghana Music Awards is a Charterhouse Ghana production. It is sponsored by telecoms giant Vodafone. Previous winners of the topmost prize include Akyeame (1999), Daddy Lumba (2000), Kojo Antwi (2001), Lord Kenya (2002), Kontihene (2003), V.I.P (2004, 2011), Obour (2005), Ofori Amponsah (2006), Samini (2007), Kwaw Kese (2008), Okyeame Kwame (2009), Sarkodie (2010, 2012), R2Bees (2013), Shatta Wale (2014), Stonebwoy (2015), and E.L (2016).