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Kwesi Arthur. Photo: Amarachi Nwosu. Styled by Joey Lit.

Kwesi Arthur, Ghana's King of the Youth, Wants to Take African Hip-Hop Global

We talk to Kwesi Arthur about his story and taking Ghana to the world through music.

I'm with Kwesi Arthur headed to a local gas station in Accra before his set at Afrochella, one of Ghana's biggest music festivals. We link up with a gang of bikers doing wheelies with four wheelers and dirt bikes. All the attention is on Kwesi as he catches up with the bikers like old friends. This almost feels like North Philadelphia.

While most artists start a festival set by simply walking on stage, Kwesi is committed to giving his fans something special. He and the group of 10 bikers enter the event gates to head straight to the stage pit and into the festival. People greet him and immediately flock, from fans to friends, before he starts his set with his latest release, "African Girl."

The crowd screams in excitement and sings the lyrics word for word although the song was only released a few weeks prior, an illustration of Kwesi's immense impact on Ghanaian youth culture.


Kwesi Arthur. Photo: Amarachi Nwosu. Styled by Joey Lit.

While hip-hop has been long associated with its roots in America, there is a new class of African artists participating in the genre. Leading this new wave is 24-year-old musician Kwesi Arthur, a hip-hop and afrobeats recording artist from Tema, Ghana.

Kwesi is currently the youngest Ghanaian to have a BET nomination—in the viewer's choice category for Best New International Act in 2018. He exploded onto Ghana's rap scene in 2016 with the bass-heavy trap anthem "Grind Day" which, two years later, won Hip-Hop Song of the Year at the Ghana Music Awards for its remix with Sarkodie. He has since them released Afro-swing tracks like "Anthem" and records like "African Girl" that explore afro-fusion sounds. Kwesi raps in both Twi and English and, in many ways, uses his music as a vessel to tell the tales of what other young Ghanaians face.

Kwesi Arthur. Photo: Amarachi Nwosu. Styled by Joey Lit.

Kwesi was discovered through the Tema-based music platform Ground Up Chale, which harbors young talent across Ghana and gives people access to studio time and support. "Ground Up is my foundation," he says. "Ground Up helped develop my talent as an artist. Ground Up is about elevating. Most of the artists in Ghana are from Tema. In Tema you're given the freedom to express yourself in whatever way you find comfortable."

While hip-hop doesn't get the same level of support in Africa as afrobeats, Kwesi believes there's a space in which both can coexist and support each other. "I started off rapping more," he says. "At some point I realized I could sing, and express myself through melodies. So that's when I started doing more of the singing. I think it's just boils down to my story and how I want to tell it. So, if maybe a melody would best get my story out there, then I express myself in melodies. So it's just my talent, I can't let it go to waste. I have to make good use of it."


Kwesi Arthur. Photo: Amarachi Nwosu. Styled by Joey Lit.

Kwesi understands that his story and his approach to hip-hop are different from other rappers' but believes people should welcome diversity in the genre. When touching on the difference between hip-hop in Africa and America, he says "With hip-hop in Africa, it's deeper here because we talk about so many things. The hip-hop most people are used to talks about guns, about ice, but here in Africa, I don't know anyone who has those, you get me? So here we tend to talk about our story and express ourselves. Like what we're goin' through. That's what makes it unique, our story's different from the world."

In many ways, Kwesi sees how the internet has played a major role in exporting African music globally. "I know the internet has made everything close—it has made the world very small. So now anything we do someone out there can see. They see what we're doing so we really have to up our game. But I still keep it lighthearted, speak my truth, do what I love." When asked if it's rather 'Africa to the world' or 'the world to Africa,' Kwesi's response is "The world to Africa, like Africa has so much to offer. So I think the world should be ready for Africans. And we'll bring the world to Africa. That's one thing about Africa. We always keep creating new things. At one point there was Azonto and that came to shaku shaku. Africa keeps recreating stuff and that's not going to end. We'll always keep creating."

Kwesi Arthur. Photo: Amarachi Nwosu. Styled by Joey Lit.

Kwesi is set for a big 2019 with his EP releasing in the first half of the year and performances in the U.S, U.K and across Africa. He's been in the studio with Wizkid and just dropped a song alongside Mr Eazi. While Kwesi always knew his vision was bigger than where he was in Tema four years ago, his advice to young artists coming out of Africa is to stay true to themselves and put that in their art. He said "The artist has to decide what they want to talk about. And if you speak your truth, people will definitely know that's your truth, and they're gonna feel it. People feel truth. But more artists are trying' to follow what others are doing thinking that if they speak their truth people won't relate to it as they do other stuff. But I think, just go with your instincts. Go with how you feel. They may not understand it now but one day they are gonna get it."

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The 12 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Sarkodie, Cassper Nyovest, Elaine, Darkovibes, Stogie T, Phyno, C Natty, and more.

Every week, we highlight the cream of the crop in music through our best music of the week column.

Here's our round up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks, which you can also check out in our Songs You Need to Hear This Week playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

Follow our SONGS YOU NEED TO HEAR THIS WEEK playlist on Spotify here and Apple Music here.

Check out all of OkayAfrica's playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Photo courtesy of CNOA

These Colombian Civil Rights Activists Are Fighting to Make Sure Afro-Colombians are Counted in the Census

When 30 percent of Colombia's Black citizens disappeared from the data overnight, a group of Afro-Colombian activists demanded an explanation.

It was the end of 2019 when various Black organizations protested in front of the census bureau—The National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (DANE)—in Bogotá, Colombia to show their dissatisfaction about what they called a "statistical genocide" of the black population. The census data, published that year, showed 2.9 million people, only 6 percent of the total population of the country, was counted as "Afro-Colombian," "Raizal," and "Palenquero"—the various terms identifying black Colombians.

For many years, Afro-Colombians have been considered the second largest ethno-racial group in the country. Regionally, Colombia has long been considered the country with the second highest number of Afro-descendants after Brazil, according to a civil society report.

Why did the population of Afro-Colombians drop so drastically?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists protesting erasure of Afro-descendants in front of the census bureau.

Last year, a crowd of activists gathered in Bogota to protest what they saw as erasure of Black communities in the Colombian census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

In the latest national census report from 2018/2019, there appeared to be a 30.8 percent reduction of the overall group of people that identified as Black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal, and Palenquero, as compared to the 2005. After this controversial report, an Afro-Colombian civil rights organization known as the National Conference of Afro Colombian Organizations (CNOA), officially urged DANE to explain the big undercounting of the black population.

This wasn't a small fight. Representatives who hold the special seats of Afro-Colombians in Colombia's congress asked the census bureau to attend a political control debate at the House of Representatives in November 2019 to deliver an accountability report. "The main goal of doing a political debate was to demand DANE to give us a strong reason about the mistaken data in the last census in regard to the Afro population," said Ariel Palacios, an activist and a member of CNOA.

At the debate, the state released an updated census data report saying that, almost 10 percent of the Colombian population—4.6 million people out of 50.3 million—considers themselves Afro-Colombians or other ethnicities (like Raizal, and Palenquero). But despite DANE trying to confirm the accuracy and reliability on the latest census report it was clear that, for a variety of reasons, Black people were missed by the census. The state argued that their main obstacles with data collection were related to the difficulties of the self-recognition question, as well as security reasons that didn't allow them to access certain regions. They also admitted to a lack of training, logistics and an overall lack of success in the way the data collectors conducted the census.

How could they have counted Black populations better?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists playing drums in front of the census bureau.

Drummers performing during a protest against the Colombian census bureau's erasure of Afro-Colombians from the 2018 census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

These arguments were not reasonable for the civil rights activists, partially because the state failed to properly partner with Afro-organizations like CNOA to conduct or facilitate extensive informational campaigns about the self-identification questions.

"CNOA has worked on self-recognition and visibility campaigns among the Afro community and this census ignored our work," says priest Emigdio Cuesta-Pino, the executive secretary of CNOA. Palacios also thinks that the majority of Afro-Colombians are aware of their identity "we self-identify because we know there is a public political debate and we know that there is a lack of investment on public policies."

That's why it is not enough to leave the statistical data to the official census bureau to ensure that Afro-Colombian communities are fully counted in the country. And the civil rights activists knows that. They made a big splash in the national media and achieved visibility in the international community.

Thanks to The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a human rights organization, Palacios traveled to D.C to meet with Race and Equality institution and a Democratic Congressman. "We called for a meeting with representative Hank Johnson to talk about the implementation of Colombia's peace accords from an Afro-Colombian perspective but also to address the gross undercounts of its black population," says Palacios.

For the activists at CNOA, the statistical visibility of the Black population is one of their battles. They have fought for Afro population recognition for almost two decades. "Since the very beginning CNOA has worked on the census issue as one of our main commitments within the statistical visibility of the Afro-Colombian people," says priest Cuesta-Pina. Behind this civil organization are 270 local associations, who work for their rights and collective interests.

The activists want to raise awareness on identity. Because according to Palacios, "In Colombia, there is missing an identity debate—we don't know what we are. They [the census bureau] ask if we are black, or if we are Afro-Colombians. But what are the others being asked? If they are white, mestizo or indigenous?" Palacios believes that for "CNOA this debate is pending, and also it is relevant to know which is the character of this nation."

Afro-Colombian Populations and the Coronavirus

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists use mock coffins and statistics to protest erasure of Afro-descendants

Colombian civil-rights activist insist that undercounting Afro-descendants can have a real impact on the health of Afro-Colombian communities, especially during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

Even though the state recently "agreed with to give us a detailed census report" and make a different projection with the micro data, says Palacios, now with the Covid-19 emergency, CNOA and the government has suspended all meetings with them, including cancelling a second congressional debate and the expert round table meeting to analyze the data.

Unfortunately, it is exactly in situations like the Covid-19 emergency where data analysis and an accurate census report would have been useful. According to the professor and PhD in Sociology Edgar Benítez from Center for Afro Diasporic Studies—CEAF, "Now it is required to provide a reliable and timely information on how the contagion pattern will spread in those predominantly Afro regions in the country and what is the institutional capacity in those places to face it," says Benítez.

He adds that this information is "critical at the moment because the institutional capacity is not up to provide it at the current situation". That's why the Center for Afro Diasporic Studies plans to work with DANE information from the last census. According to Benítez, "We are thinking of making comparisons at the municipal level with the information reported in the 2018 Quality of Life Survey, in order to have a robust and extensive database as possible on the demographic, economic and social conditions of the black, afro, Raizal and Palenquera population in Colombia."









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Nigerian Officials Drop Charges Against Naira Marley for Violating Coronavirus Lockdown Order

The Nigerian star was arraigned on Wednesday for attending a party at the home of Nollywood actress Funke Akindele.

Naira Marley has been pardoned by Lagos authorities, after being arraigned in Lagos for attending a party at the home of Nollywood actress Funke Akindele last weekend, which violated the city-wide lockdown.

According to a report from Pulse Nigeria, the "Soapy" singer and two other defendants—politician Babatunde Gbadamosi and his wife—were ordered to write formal apologies to the Government of Lagos, give written assurance that he will follow the ordinance going forward, and go into self-isolation for 14 days.

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Photo by Bird Lambro

In Conversation With Cameroonian Drag Artist Bebe Zahara Benet: 'You Don't Stop Doing Your Work'

The U.S.-based Cameroonian artist speaks to us about her upcoming EP, Broken English, and how she's navigating the world of music amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Bebe Zahara Benet is three things: fierce. fabulous, and a force. For avid followers and fans of the reality show RuPaul's Drag Race, you may remember Bebe Zahara Benet as the winner of the inaugural season of the program back in 2009. Since then, she's gone on to star in TLC's Dragnificent and more recently, has been back in the recording studio working on her upcoming EP, Broken English.

Last week, she dropped "Banjo," the first single o the EP. It's a fun, energetic and uninhibited number that likens romantic pursuits to the sweet harmonies of the stringed instrument. Naturally, the accompanying music video is just as vibrant and light-hearted.

The Cameroonian drag artist moved to the United States when she was 19-years-old and has grown to see herself as belonging to two homes. She's put out a ton of music including including the EPs Face and Kisses & Feathers, as well as a number of singles including "Fun Tonite", "Get Fierce (Lose Yourself)" and "Starting a Fire." Currently based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, she says that it's been two years since she's put out original music and it's time to give her fans what they've been asking for.

We spoke with Bebe Zahara Benet on lockdown from her home in Minneapolis, and got to hear more of what went into creating her upcoming project, the challenges of being an alternative artist from a conservative African country and how she's navigating the world of music during the coronavirus outbreak.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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