Cultural chauvinists descend on lyrical geniuses Sarkodie and M.anifest (Part 1)

Blob Beef Francis Kwarteng, left, Dr. Molefi Kete Asante, right



“I think M.anifest is a great guy, I listen to some of his lyrics and truly it goes deep. It’s very deep…but maybe he has not made that big name yet, but I think he is a great guy…I am not in to measure the two of them, but M.anifest is a great guy. I won’t say that he is greater than Sarkodie or Sarkodie is greater than him, but I think that he is deep.”


“I think a lot about excellence and originality. I also focus on honesty, integrity and fearlessness in music. That is the only way…We have to be excellent and original in all that we do. I don’t believe in any excuses be it monetary or the lack of infrastructure; you have to make your music and your art form the very best it can be. My focus will always be based on excellence and originality.”


A lot has already gone on on social media over the much-talked-about diss tracks released by rappers M.amifest (“godMC”) and Sarkodie (“Kanta”), two of Ghana’s foremost lyricists. Fans of both musical rhapsodes have taken to social media to debate which of their favorite artiste is dope.

But while dissing and beefing are common practices in popular music such as rap, American rap we mean, we cannot say with any degree of mathematical certitude that they always project an element of positive connotation insofar as public decency and diplomacy, and artistic creativity.

Sometimes, we may also have to add that the deafening cacophony attendant upon these forms of popular deception tend to belie or bury the true genius of artistic creativity, something we are already seeing with the lyrical battles currently being waged between Sarkodie and M.anifest.

Rap battles during the Kasahari Level days gave birth to the likes of Sarkodie, arguably one of Ghana’s and Africa’s best rhapsodes!

On the other hand, though they may give a confused impression or perception of acrimony between and among artistes of whatever music genre, dissing and beefing and battling in the public domain can also help these artistes gain on publicity, on mass patronage of themselves and their products, and on commercial success, though many erroneously think commercial success always connotes artistic talent. They are an attention-seeking device in many an instance.

In other words beefing, battling and dissing can be, and in fact have been, used as another form of strategic marketing by artistes themselves and more particularly, by their management teams and publicists to develop their clients’ brands. This fact underlines one positive aspect of the public feuds artistes and their managements and publicists orchestrate to bring the public along!

This way, they somehow manage or succeed in keeping their clients and their clients’ artistic products relevant in the sphere of public imagination, perhaps also a publicity stunt in the game.

Yet their relative much-touted commercial successes do not even match those of dead celebrities, such as those of Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, Prince, Elvis Presley, John Lenon, Jimi Hendrix…

We may however have to stop right here because we seem to be comparing apples and oranges!

On the other hand what is interesting in this public dramaturgy of lyrical dissing exchanges between the two artistes, which should rather have been a fruitful exercise in music criticism, is the way in which some misguided commentators and observers have reduced this captivating drama to cultural chauvinism and ethnocentrism.

However, we shall not speak to music criticism because it is not a well-developed aesthetic philosophy or academic discipline in Ghana, and more so because many if not most of the country’s music genres now have not kept pace with the development of music criticism.

Neither are we going to speak to music aesthetics and historical musicology, both of which are not of interest to the public, if we may add. We may however take up these subjects some other time.

We do quite recall an American friend of ours, a well-informed aficionado of American rap and hip-hop, telling us after listening to a few notable tracks by some of Ghana’s foremost hip-life rappers including Sarkodie and M.anifest:

“They are trying…They will get there!”

“They are not there yet,” is another way to put it mildly in behalf of our friend.

That remark, incidentally, was a pointed sarcastic rejoinder to our earlier position that, rap, as an art form, was gaining a foothold in the country’s cultural landscape and would before long join the reputable and admirable ranks of other popular music genres, such as American rap and hip-hop.

Yet our friend’s sarcastic retort also sounded somewhat asymptotic to a devastating comment Culture’s Joseph Hill, late, made about dancehall, a sub-genre of reggae, in an interview in Ghana. He said simply though sarcastically:

“Dancehall is the waste product of reggae.”

By “reggae,” he perhaps meant “roots reggae” which the likes of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear, and others represented.

Or the late Prince, a musical genius and multi-instrumentalist, saying “I make music” in response to Joy Behar, of “The View,” who asked him (2012) about how he felt about the music of Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga.

Just like saying “traditional” highlife is not “original” or native to Ghana because instruments…like the guitar…is not native to the Gold Coast or Ghana…or that the roots of classical music lies very deep in the heart of North Africa…

Or that Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges, the so-called Black Mozart, was a virtuoso violinist, composer and conductor who carried the innate genius of African musicality to Europe without the artistic genes of Mozart…

Or that the Negro Spirituals of enslaved Africans in what is today the United States is subsumed into what we call “gospel”…

And here, let us be clear: We are not, by inference, saying the music Sarkodie and M.anifest make is “not make music” in the sense that Prince, the man who wrote Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” and The Bangles’ “Manic Monday,” meant it.

Like Shatta Wale and Guru and Ofori Amponsah…, both make “good” music no doubt!

Both are “gifted”:…M.anifest is more like Bob Marley…perhaps lyrically poetic; perhaps subtle and nuanced in his lyrical projections and fluid…Sarkodie is more like Peter Tosh…perhaps lyrically plain and direct and refined; perhaps brash and militant and aggressive and raw and clumsy...Sarkodie and Malcolm X; M.anifest and Martin Luther King…That is Obidipong Sarkoholics for you!

Yet rawness did not deny the rich repertoire of Peter Tosh philosophical depth, exceptionally high aesthetic quality and lyrical sophistication, timeless and priceless entertainment value, and the ability to tease and calm the strained auditory nerves of its listeners…This goes for Sarkodie too.

Sarkodie and Asiedu Nketia and Kennedy Agyapong and Chairman Wontomi and Nana Obiri Boahen and Afia Schwarzenegger…Sarkodie, a BET winner in the African category of Best International Act. In 2015, the Guardian named him “as one of its top hip hop acts on the African continent.”

M.anifest and Kwame Nkrumah and Kofi Awoonor and Ayi Kwei Armah and Ama Ata Aidoo and Charlotte Osei…M.anifest’s song “Someway bi” gets a third-place honor in the International Songwriters Competition (ISC). In 2015, the Guardian cited him as “the foremost rapper on the continent.”

Here is what Tsatsu Tsikata said about his son:

“I’m very proud of him…I don’t have a fraction of the talent he has. I enjoy his music and his lyrics and I think he is making waves.”

According to Pharuk Jbreal, Sarkodie’s mother on the other hand disapproved of his music career (our emphasis):

“I can understand his [Sarkodie’s] mother’s concerns at that time, there are quite some disturbing stories about musicians out there and as a mother you can only be vigilant and look out for your child. I’m sure Sarkodie will one day get a degree or even go beyond that, education is not race.”

Sarkodie’s mother allegedly warned Nana Fynn not to allow her son in his studio.

Notwithstanding the above, we continue from our fleeting detour:

Sarkodie’s obibipondidi-track “Bossy” is Ayi Kwei Armah’s chichidodo…Ask “the Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born”…

Sarkodie and American rapper Ace Hood…M.anifest and American neo-soul rhapsodist Eryka Badu…

Sarkodie’s trademark goatee and ogle eyeglasses…M.anifest’s trademark goatee and ogle eyeglasses…

On the one hand, M.anifest’s cosmopolitanism cut…his internationalist outlook…and education are unambiguously reflected in his soft lyricism of outstanding poetic musicality…M.anifest is a lyrical genius!

On the other hand, Sarkodie’s glamorous style is characterized by a complicated trademark of hardcore lyricism reflective of the priceless wisdom of street-mentality and autodidactic localism…Sarkodie is a lyrical genius!

Certainly, Sarkodie’s anti-Afrocentric lyricism betrays his lack of intellectual sophistication, a big minus sign on his musical legacy…To sort of “denigrate” locally produced African fabric and its human face obviously points to an inferior mind…corrupt to the bone. Wunlov da Kubolor, perhaps one of Ghana’s sophisticated rhapsodes, wears a wrapper without underwear.

Then again Mutabaruka, one of Jamaica’s successful dub poets and roots reggae artistes, has been walking about barefoot almost all his life! It simply boils down to personal choices and beliefs of artistes and how they want to shape and define their public images even if this means going via appropriations of peculiar sartorial adornments antithetical to public taste and expectations.

Sarkodie’s attack on M.anifest’s sartorial choices and fashion sense, although the attack left out portions of what one writer (Blankson) aptly described as his “bold and enormous signature beads laying over a stylish colorful or hoody designed in African print,” therefore forces his “godMC nemesis” into a box, a lyrical transvestite or cross-dresser if we may call it so, of his own making!

But then again, what if consumers of Obidipong Sarkodie’s brand and music finally decide not to patronize him because he raps in Asante-Twi any longer? Still whether Sarkodie raps (and speaks) in Twiglish is irrelevant.

And whether M.anifest raps in the so-called “locally acquired foreign accent” is also immaterial.

What is rather important is that both have successfully managed to reach an international audience via communication mediums critics assign them. In other words, both have chalked some covetous cross-over successes beyond the seeming insurmountable barrier of language.

Undoubtedly, a song’s “lyrical” language is important to the philosophical and spiritual identity of that piece of song and its music sheet.

These facts speak to music’s cosmological and philosophical designation as a “universal language,” with music being transnational and international. Fela Kuti called music “weapon” for a good reason. Music does in fact break formidable barriers. A good example was Ray Charles’ and James Browns’ apprehension and suspicion of white folks, yet their music was not. When a French audience, for instance, booed and threw racial slurs at a concert featuring Miles Davis, he merely turned around gleefully and had his derriere face the crowd while the appealing “moral” superiority of his beautiful music and jazz trumpet spoke to the conscience of his audience.

Also Bob Marley’s roots reggae constantly flagellated racism, white supremacy, imperialism and the West, yet the West and white folks loved and still love him enormously. Lucky Dube’s Peter-Tosh-influenced roots reggae spoke truth to power that brought white and blacks together in a hostile environment.

Finally, like Bob Marley’s, M.anifest’s conscious spoken-word conscious repertoire speaks truth to power.

But music is neither blind nor timid. Of course, sometimes it is rhythm than matters. Of course, other times it is lyrics. Furthermore, good music knows no culture, religion, race, ethnicity…

An optimized combination of the two produces an effective artifact pleasant to the human soul and its spiritual auditory system. On a rather larger scale, though, classical music and jazz are non-lyrical and non-vocal, yet they are timeless and penetratingly vocal to a sophisticated and trained ear. Understandably, a large swath of Ghanaians is mostly enthused about vocal music.

And yet again, the subtle Afrocentric themes and concepts in his, Sarkodie’s, music and videos are also all too clear, even for the uninitiated in the game who is unfamiliar with his kind of music sheet to take notice of…!

Yes, socio-economic class does play an important role in the public definition of these two hip-life rappers…How? Sarkodie’s uninformed Eurocentrism…M.anifest informed Afrocentricity…

Lyrical versatility is their greatest strength. Perhaps M.anifest is a version of the musical reincarnation of Joseph Hanson Kwabena Nketia and of his father’s, Tsatsu Tsikata’s legal prowess…Sarkodie, a reflection of his powerful and hardworking mother…Maame Aggrey…It really does not matter…

What matters is that their musical gifts are a true reflection of what Ghana has to offer the world in terms of artistic quality and ability.

This is what we have to celebrate and not their ethnicities per se, for both have Ewe and Akan ancestries. This is what those cultural chauvinists who pass off as music critics and showbiz pundits get it all wrong. Indeed, ethnic diversity is a true gift of the quantum genius of nature! Sarkodie’s grandmother Mary Lokko, after whom he named his Mary album, was both Ewe and Fante.

Given this information, we should not allow cultural chauvinists to seize this golden opportunity to learn more about the music industry and to turn the creative assets and artistic contributions of these two lyrical geniuses into another divisive game of political ethnocentrism, typical of our nasty politics and of our politicians. It just does not make practical scientific sense to look at creativity and artistic productions exclusively through the cultural and the ethnocentric lenses.

In the end it does not also really matter if the music genre which these two lyrical geniuses represent is “world music.” What really matters for us is that they make great music that is catching up fast with the world’s attention. Let us all therefore enjoy their beef in good faith!

We shall return with a concluding installment, Part 2!


Ghanaweb. “M.anifest Is Deep…Kofi Adams.” July 6, 2016. Ghanaweb. “I’m Proud Of M.anifest…Tsatsu Tsikata Lauds Son.” September 11, 2015. Lilian N. Blankson. “An In-depth Conversation With Award-Winning Rapper, M.ANIFEST.” www.Design233.com. April 28, 2014. Ghanaweb. “Don’t Allow My Son Into Your Studio…Sarkodie’s Mom Before The Fame.” February 13, 2015. The Guardian.com. “The Sound of Africa in 2015.” The Guardian.com. “The Playlist African Hip Hop.”

Columnist: Francis Kwarteng, Dr. Molefi Kete Asante,