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6 Ghanaian Artist to Watch in 2019

Featuring Darkovibes, J.Derobie, Cina Soul, this is a list of some of our favourite Ghanaian artists this year.

Stopping just short of predicting the future, our list of Ghanaian acts to watch in 2019 is based on the promise these artists have shown and the work they've done in the past year, all chosen from a wider pool of talents eager to establish themselves in the public's consciousness.

Read ahead for our selection of the Ghanaian Artists to Watch in 2019.

Follow our new GHANA WAVE playlist on Spotify here and Apple Music here.


J.Derobie

With just one notable song release to his name, J.Derobie is very much an upstart. But he arrives with credible co-signs from Popcaan and Mr Eazi, whose emPawa initiative thrust him onto public consciousness. "Poverty," his self-penned first single, is receiving wide attention for its themes of triumph over trying times and the seeming authenticity of his dancehall credibility. Plans for future releases are yet to be announced. So far confirmed is a "Poverty Campus Tour" slated for this year—all of just one main single.

Cina Soul

The 22-year-old Cina Soul possesses a searching voice that soothes and uplifts, but more frequently invites introspection and melancholia. This is evidenced all throughout her 5-track EP, Ga Mashi, released last November as the follow-up to 2017's Metanoia. Ga Mashi is titled after her origin city in Accra. The six-minute video for its first single "Ojorley" (meaning "girlfriend" in her Ga), encapsulates her music project with its focus of meditation on self and place, although the song is in fact addressed to a man who is advised to leave his girlfriend now that his wife has arrived. She also draws from highlife on "Shi Mi" ("Leave Me"), "Olaka Mi" ("You're Lying to Me") and on "Tatale," for which she repurposes an old Ga rhyme about a kid who's on an errand to buy beans and plantain. Cina Soul's list of forthcoming releases include collaborations with King Promise, Mr Eazi and Kwesi Arthur in an exciting year for the singer who has also been appointed a UNICEF "influencer."

Darkovibes

One of six members of the trailblazing La Même Gang, Darkovibes' profile as a solo artist is set to go even higher this year with the release of an EP in March. Details about the project are kept under wraps but the artist will concede that the first single features KiDi, another emergent star in Ghanaian pop. Darkovibes will also join household names R2Bees on their recently announced US tour to promote their third studio album, Site 15. One special performance alongside King Promise is set for March 8 at the Ghana Independence Live Concert & Party in Washington DC.

LJ (Lyrical Joe)

The one word title for LJ's 2018 debut project, Kill, belies its voluminous size, when one considers that it stretches to 25 songs, but it explains his stamina, dexterity, chest-beating, and gift for word play. He's ferocious on the trap heavy "Pressure" and pugilistic on "Bomaye." "5th August" is wordplay wizardry, taking cues from Eminem's "Rap God" and Kendrick Lamar's "Damn." On "Ghana Boy" he's mischievous, "these bitches think I'm Ghanaian," he says in an American accent, knowing he's Ghanaian. Rumoured to have started out as a reggae artist, his convincing turn as ragga-rapper shouldn't be surprising, as heard on "Murder." For 2019, 'brevity' and 'collaboration' seem to be LJ's keywords. His next project is an 8-track EP, all of which will paired with a video. Each song is said to feature 2 differents artists. Planned for a separate release is the third instalment of his freestyle series titled, 5th August III, (also his birthdate) which will coincide with his concert in Accra.

Tulenkey

A show-stopping verse on "Bibii Ba," which featured an all-star lineup of Ghana's top rap talents, identified Tulenkey as one to watch. The 10 songs that make up his debut EP 1/1 go a long way to crystalise the 22-year-old's reputation. Stand out single "Fvck Boys" is runaway hit and is unusually frank in its depiction of male slacker culture. Its clever and humorous bars, over insistent electric guitar, make for a refreshing amalgam of rap and highlife. Tulenkey is reportedly working on the follow up to 1/1 which is simply titled 1/1, 2.

Freda Rhymz

As much a battle rapper as she is a studio artist, Freda Rhymz is a force to reckon with. She's a convincing drill sergeant on "Jammin," a playful beef-baiter on "Jux Playing (Dreams Freestyle), as well as an effective pop rapper on "I Dey Go". Her growing list of official releases will culminate in her first EP this April and will feature the likes of King Promise, Joey B and Eno. To support the release, the promising rapper will embark on a seven city "High School Tour" that will include Kumasi, Cape Coast and Accra.

Interview
Image: Courtesy TIFF

Jenna Cato Bass is Capturing the Horrors of an Unhealed Nation

The film marks the South African director's third debut and stride towards making a name for herself in the international film circuit.

Ever since premiering her debut film, Love the One You Love, which won the Best Feature Film at the Jozi Festival in 2015, Jenna Cato Bass has been a name to watch on the international film festival circuit. Her 2017 feature, High Fantasy, was the first of her films to land on the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) lineup, followed by Flatland in 2019. Her latest offering, Mlungu Wam (Good Madam), debuted at TIFF in September of 2021 — marking her third time at the esteemed Canadian film event.

Often provocative, always thought-provoking, Bass' films have come to establish her as a director who looks at South Africa's youth, the lives they're living and the future that awaits them, with a nuanced, open-minded lens. For the first time in her career, Bass uses the genre of horror to dig into an enduring mark of the country's past — that of the fraught, complex relationship between madam and domestic worker, in Mlungu Wam (Good Madam). Set in Cape Town, the film follows the unusual, disturbing things that start happening when a young woman moves back in with her estranged mother, who is the longtime caretaker for a rich, white household.

Bass also co-wrote the film Tug of War (Vuta N'Kuvute), which became Tanzania's first film to be selected for TIFF this year, and she co-wrote Rafiki, which was Kenya's first film at TIFF in 2018.

She spoke to OkayAfrica about playing in a new genre and her hopes for African cinema.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF


This story revolves around the relationship between a domestic worker and her 'madam.' What made you want to make a film about this subject?

When I make films, I like the concept to revolve around something that we all have in common - because, despite the many fractures in our society, these shared places exist. And in South Africa, we felt that everyone - in some way or another - has been deeply affected by domestic work and domestic workers, who are a keystone in our society's structure. Additionally, the 'maid' and 'madam' relationship is the ultimate symbol of race relations in South Africa - as well as how they haven't changed significantly, despite almost thirty years of democracy. So a domestic worker was the perfect character around which to centre a South African horror.

The genre of horror works really well to explore this subject and tell this story — when did you know it would be the genre you'd want to use?

The early stages of developing a film aren't always linear for me. I'll be thinking about a genre I'm interested in, and then parallel to that I'll have an idea for a story or a character, and later on, will realize that these pieces all fit together. In this case, I'd been wanting to make a horror film for ages, but hadn't found the right story… until I had the idea for Mlungu Wam, and I realized I was finally ready to try this genre.

What challenges did you face in making a horror?

It was my first time working in this genre, and it was intimidating because there's no saving you if you fail. We were also working on a very, very limited budget, so it wasn't possible to show as much as we'd like to - but then again, this story was all about the subjective and the unseen, so I did as much research and planning as we could, and just had to trust it would work.

Where did you film, and did that have any impact on the process at all?

We filmed in a house in Cape Town, in a gated community in the Southern Suburbs. The house and the environment had a major impact on the film - especially because we were also quarantining there for the full 7 weeks of rehearsal and shooting. The house was our set and our accommodation, so it was very intense, very claustrophobic, and very triggering for many of our team members.

How did you and co-writer Babalwa Baartman work on the story? You've included cast members in the writing process in your previous work — did you do that here too?

Mlungu Wam was made along similar lines to my first two films, Love The One You Love and High Fantasy, where we started with an outline, cast actors, then workshopped the characters collaboratively before completing the story breakdown and using improv for the dialogue. Babalwa and I had worked together using this method on a short film we made in 2019 called Sizohlala. She really understands the process, and it was a really rewarding experience exploring the story with her and our cast.

How did Kristina Ceyton, who produced the excellent acclaimed horrors The Babadook and The Nightingale, through Causeway Films, come to be involved in this film?

I had met Sam Jennings, who is also a producer with Causeway Films, several years ago at a festival. We really connected and kept in touch over the years, sharing our work, and hoping there'd be a chance to collaborate. So when we were developing Mlungu Wam, I pitched her and Kristina the concept and they were immediately supportive. It has been a massive pleasure working with them both.

Your films are known to venture into themes of identity and healing from the past — how does this film speak to that?

Mlungu Wam is definitely about this too - it's a story about three generations of women (actually four, if you include Tsidi's grandmother, who is an unseen character in the film), how they are haunted by the past and eventually refuse to remain chained any longer. Their healing is collective, linked to each other, and wouldn't be possible for them alone as individuals.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF


You've been at TIFF before - how has your experience of it been this year, with it being a hybrid of virtual and in-person?

Things have been quieter and a bit harder to navigate, but the TIFF staff have done incredible work getting the festival off the ground, despite endless challenges. It has felt very surreal to be here, and a privilege - and inspiring too, that we can still get together to celebrate films, even though our world is in such a mess. We had over 200 (socially distanced) people at our last screening, and that was an amazing feeling.

Yours is one of few African films on this year's line-up - is there anything you'd like to see happen to try improve that?

Regarding African cinema, TIFF has a real range of films this year, across several sections. Compared to many other festivals, they seem really invested in supporting cinema from the continent. Of course, this could be better, but it's also an example to other festivals who claim there aren't enough African films, that this is clearly not the case.

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Tanzanian Filmmaker Amil Shivji is Making History with a Story of Love and Resistance

As the first Tanzanian film to be chosen for TIFF, Shiviji's film is sure to get the African country a seat at the table.