James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

An Accra Soundtrack

Journey through Ghana’s historical eras without losing the city’s contemporary pulse.

Music in Ghana is a spring of creativity that feeds the steady stream of life. From highlife in the early 20th century, which influenced pop music throughout the continent, to hiplife, a hip-hop inspired genre that includes rapping in Fanti, it’s hard for me to decide which is more inspiring or ingenious when I think of Ghanaian music.

These songs are a soundtrack to bring you into Accra’s groove and help you appreciate the city’s flow. I hope it will connect you with Ghanaians, who are always up for a good laugh and music that makes your feet move.

1

Love and Death by Ebo Taylor, 1980

This highlife song will sound familiar to anyone familiar with Fela Kuti’s afrobeat tunes. Taylor and Kuti were frequent collaborators, so the afrobeat-highlife overlap isn’t just in your head. But the sorrow and exuberance of “Love and Death” is uniquely Ghanaian.

“Love and death walk hand in hand. The way to the grave is just the same,” Taylor sings. But just when you think it’s getting too sad, the horns kick in to pull you back into the movement that makes Accra so infectious.

1

Day by Day by E.T Mensah, 1987

Ghana turns 60 next year and this song, which is a celebration of Ghana’s independence, gives you a feeling of stepping back in time. Its relatively simple composition stand in sharp relief to Accra’s pulsing modernity, but there’s something valuable about being reminded how young the nation is.

Walk through Accra with this song in your ears, and it will sink in just how much has been accomplished in the relatively few years since the nation’s independence. The horns will make you do a two-step while you look for your next meal of waakye.

1

Obaa Sima by Ata Kak, 1984

Get your 80s dance groove on with this 1994 genre-bending song. It’s trippy dance-electronic-rap, and you won’t be able to get it out of your head. And the song’s history is just as strange as the groove.

Ata Kak, the singer/rapper who created it, disappeared for 25 years after he recorded the LP.  A music blogger named Brian Shimkowitz bought it on the street in Cape Coast in 2002 and went searching for the song’s creator. He finally found Yaw Atta-Owusu, aka Ata Kak, more than a decade later. When Shimkowitz started his own label in 2015, he re-issued “Obaa Sima,” bringing it to a larger audience. Put this song on your playlist to remind yourself that in Ghana, anything can happen.

1

Wogde Wodee Anaa by Master Bob Akwaboah, 1970s

This song is a great accompaniment to a long road trip. As a matter of fact, when your trotro driver isn’t playing gospel, this song could easily be playing through the speakers, causing a calm to fall over all the people on board. It’s the perfect background music to play quietly as you take in all the life along the streets.

1

We No Dey Fear by Sarkodi, 2017

You can’t talk about hip hop in Ghana without talking about Sarkodi. If you need a dose of invincibility as you hit the streets of Accra, his hit from this year, “We No Dey Fear,” will do the trick.

Sarkodi’s flow plus tight production by Jayso will make you feel like you were made for the Accra grind. The refrain, “Lions and tigers and bears we no dey fear. Pythons and vipers in here we no dey fear,” will definitely get stuck in your head.

1

Saucing by Okyeame Kwame, 2017

This song features legit rapping and singing by Okyeame’s young children, so it scores high on cuteness. Be prepared to learn the dance that goes with it when you listen to this song. It’s called saucing and don’t worry, it’s very basic.

This song will likely play at an event where there’s dancing or at a club, so if you already have it on your playlist, you’ll be a few steps ahead of the game.  

1

Sing My Name by MzVee, 2017

Hiplife is a genre that combines hip hop and aspects of Ghanaian culture like rapping in Fante and Ghanaian dance music. This tune from MzVee captures the fun of the genre and is easy to dance and sing along to. Her strong vocals will pull you in and put a smile on your face. It’s also a chance to get a taste of Ghanaian hiplife beyond the male artists who dominate the genre.    

1

Wer Am Phrom by Reggie Rockstone feat. Sena, 2010

Speaking of which, you can’t really talk about hiplife without talking about Reggie Rockstone, who’s considered the godfather of hiplife. I love this song because the motown sample of “Tracks From My Tears (Take a Good Look At My Face)” by Smokey Robinson immediately makes me nostalgic.

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Last Show by Kofi Kinaata, 2017

This is one of those songs that you can hear every day without even noticing. It could be on any playlist because it embodies that easy-going Ghanaian mood that is tied to music, dance, and food. This is also a good one for a road trip. It’s a crowd pleaser that will have everyone dancing in their seats.

1

My Name by Stonebywoy, 2017

Nothing captures the mood of Accra to me like Stonebywoy. His music combines dancehall, reggae, and Ghanaian afropop. This song gets you amped for a hectic day in Accra, but keeps you chill enough to enjoy the city’s flow. Anything by Stonebywoy is good for a trip to Accra, but this song, released this year, is one you will hear playing in the streets.

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