Saturday night at the Purple Pub in Ghana’s capital Accra, even the pandemic and the official closure of bars and clubs cannot stop the music.
In bustling Osu, early revelers lounge on plastic chairs emptying local beers as loud speakers drown out their voices.
After midnight, empty chairs, whether Sarkodie or Stonebwoy, the kings of Ghanaian Afrobeats soon make the whole street swing.
In a music scene long ruled by neighboring giant Nigeria, Ghana’s Afrobeats are now finding favor not only in clubs in Accra, but in a thriving international market beyond West Africa.
“Not only is Afrobeats hyper-popular here in Ghana, but he’s now gaining real recognition on the international stage,” says Stonebwoy in his recording studio in Accra, which is lined with international accolades.
“We are seeing Afrobeats festivals appear in Europe, I am happy to see West African music go so far. I even have hardened fans in India and Bangladesh, ”says the singer who has 3.6 million followers on Instagram.
Afrobeats takes its name from the 1970s Afrobeat musical genre popularized by music icon Fela Kuti and which exploded in Nigeria.
Western audiences were introduced to the Afrobeats scene in 2016 with the hit “One Dance”, featuring Canadian superstar Drake and Nigerian Wizkid.
The tune soared in popularity to become the most played song of all time on Spotify, surpassing one billion streams.
– The shadow of Nigeria –
Now, alongside Nigerian stars with millions of social media followers – Wizkid, Burna Boy, Davido – Ghanaian musicians are emerging in turn.
Gyakie and Joey B have hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers while KiDi has 1.6 million, Sarkodie 4.4 million and Shatta Wale 3.2 million.
Shatta Wale’s “Already” starring Beyonce and Major Lazer was one of the summer 2020 hits, securing Ghana a place among the countries that now rely on the African pop scene.
Jefferson Seneadza, co-founder of the Ghanaian music streaming platform Aftown, which aims to promote African music, noted “a massive interest in Ghanaian music”.
“Our music industry is finally being taken seriously,” he said, saying the country can now bring its talents to the international stage.
Stonebwoy’s latest album, for example, was listened to over a million times in a week on the platform.
“And a lot of that tapping was coming from overseas,” Seneadza said.
Young singer Gyakie signed a contract with US giant Sony Music earlier this year, shortly after a delegation from the label traveled to Ghana to explore the local market.
“In Afrobeats, Ghana is now in a position to compete with Nigeria,” said Jim Donnett, public relations director of Sony Music West Africa.
“But it’s healthy competition. ”
The musicians attribute this success to the mixture of genres.
“My music is Afro-dancehall influenced by Caribbean music,” says Stonebwoy, a bright red beanie resting on her braided hair.
“I borrow from Jamaican dancehall, reggae, and cook it all in the big pot of African music, adding rhythms and melodies unique to the continent.
– The high life –
The result: contagious rhythms which, served by a powerful voice, form irresistibly catchy pieces.
But the Ghanaian Afrobeats stand out from their Nigerian big sister in a special way: the legacy of “Highlife”.
The genre appeared in colonized Ghana, then called Gold Coast, at the beginning of the 19th century, by adapting the traditional rhythms of the Ashanti people to Western instruments brought by the settlers.
It was thanks to Highlife that Ghana had its first success on the international music scene.
“In the 1970s, big Highlife groups like Osibisa were already filling entire stadiums,” recalls Ghanaian-Romanian musician Wanlov the Kubolor, avant-garde cultural icon and author of an offbeat album called “Afrobeats LOL”.
“But the recent popularity of Afrobeats is of a different nature. “
Thanks to the Internet, young Ghanaian artists can achieve viral success very quickly, he said.
But the Ghanaian scene now faces another challenge: the Covid-19 pandemic and the strict health restrictions put in place by the government since March 2020 which have dealt a heavy blow to the music industry across the world.
The cancellations of festivals and concerts, which represent the bulk of income for African artists, have further weakened a sector where funding was already fragile.
“All eyes are on Africa right now, and we young Ghanaian designers feel that now is the right time to emerge,” talented young Sofie says on the sidelines of a shoot for a new video in a private villa in Accra.
“What we lack now is a real industry, structured and financed with state aid. “
© 2021 AFP