Making Sense of the Senseless: Obour’s MUSIGA, Wisa’s Indiscretion and Ephraim Amu’s Legacy

As a kid growing up in the eighties and nineties, I loved music and entertainment, especially gangster rap music that had all the noisy elements; bumpy beats, melodious chorus choir-like background follow-throughs and whatnot. The complementary music videos were the real deal then. When we vacate from schools, we couldn’t wait to exchange music tracks with all the bad boys from Motown, Augusco, Accra Aca or wherever they would come from. We met at the beaches, Christ the King, Orion Cinema or wherever the event managers would take the party to.

We defined our identities by associating with fashion brands that were promoted by international hip-hop groups such as Fu Schnikens, Lords of the Underground, Cypress Hill and all the joker rappers in between. We wore Nikes, Reeboks, Adidas or Air Jordans; they just had to be new and cool with popular appeal. We used swear words and cussed out each other on the Basketball ball courts, why? Because we saw our “role models” do same on MTV. We did everything (most of us, at least) that we saw on MTV or heard blasting through the speakers with beats to it.

It was cool to be a gangster child. No teenager, eager to discover themselves through other people’s validation, would stop to think about their thinking. Truth is, every child whose self-awareness and decision-making faculties are less developed is susceptible to powerful sensual influences such as music; especially genres that connect them to a world of colorful experiences that promise virtual escapes from their harsh, limiting but real cultural realities. This is the narrative that shaped our growth experience as young people growing up in the late eighties and early nineties.

Herein lies the complexity that flows out of the nexus between music, culture, economics and social cohesion. Today, thanks to Reggie Rockstone and the early pioneers of Hiplife, music consumption patterns have shifted towards a preference for local content, by and large. Tech evolution has overwhelmingly transformed conventional business models in the content market. Greater revenues for intellectual property content are accruing to the content producers now than it used to be. And finally, musicians and artistes have gained tremendous political and socio-economic influence within our emerging democratic polity. Those are few of the latter day changes in the Ghanaian music industry. It is for these exact reasons; burgeoning influence, contribution to GDP and capacity for youth employment, that I seek to examine the recent unfortunate happenings in show business, from a broader perspective.

A young artiste by the name Wisa Greid is performing on stage and as part of a stage act, he takes out his genital to press on the gyrating buttocks of someone’s daughter. Must a whole nation be concerned? That’s my first question. 2. Is this a random act of over-excitement or a symptom of a much deeper social decadence? Finally, what must we do as a people? Walk with me.

Where are the fathers?
First, it is important to admit, that none of this is new. And I don’t assert that as an excuse to justify indecent public exposure. It was wrong. But is it new? I doubt it. Somewhere down the timeline in 2015, Wanlov the Kubolor was reported to have exposed his private part on TV to Deloris Frimpong Manso, alias Delay, on the latter’s TV Show. For every one of such desperate attention-seeking stunts, there may be many more of such indiscretions that will not be captured and reported by the media. The night club “hotties”, the backstage quickies, the hotel room groupies, all escape the lens of the media, hence my view that none of this is new, or ought to be shocking. But you see, the first step to solving any problem is to clearly define the problem. Hopefully, the sheer frequency of occurrence would emphasize how deep the problem is. Then we can begin to address the problem from multiple perspectives.

So what is the problem? Let’s start with an opinion right from the heart of MUSIGA. An article on 5Five music group (sourced from musiga.org.gh) that appears to have been authored by A.B Crentsil, cites the music group as saying, “…the media seems to home in on artistes glorifying promiscuity and nonsense” . According to the author, “those are the words of a group determined to break every rule bending them over to a system that has held them back for too long.” The mere fact that this article appears on MUSIGA website, for me is instructive in understanding the dynamics of change in our social mores. It is not sufficient a cause in my view however, in fully understanding the situation. At best, the media’s role could be contributory. So what could be the root cause? What is really the problem? Let’s look at economics.

Musicians today, Hip-Life artistes especially, have a far more sophisticated business model than antecedent High-Life counterparts. Their revenue models now include events/concerts, merchandize sales and brand endorsements, with the latter commanding a greater part of their annual takings. There is greater intellectual property right awareness, and so artistes are beginning to take on corporates, legally, for unauthorized use of their works. Market demand has been boosted by multiplicity of channels (e-portals) that make certain functional activities such as marketing and sales, easier. Information on MUSIGA’s website suggest the creation of digital portal service in the offing. This is as it should be; building competitive systems to streamline the supply chain and to properly remunerate artistic expressions of indigenous entrepreneurs. All these together have changed the economic fundamentals of the music industry today. One word; power.

Today, compared to 20 years ago, it may be easier to find a successful young artiste who is the bread winner of the family. He doesn’t just win the bread. He brings home the bacon. Plenty of it. In a sense, it’s reasonable to suggest, as a result, that traditional models of social accountability have been challenged by these kinds of development. Institutions such as the home, professional associations (MUSIGA for instance), the church and the schools are losing grip of their role in terms of moral and character development, because their sons and daughters, their students and their congregants, have tuned out of the program and tuned in to a new frequency; a frequency of hard-earned monetary currency that sustains a lifestyle without the foundation of sound values. This is part of the problem. Our institutions of moral instruction have not evolved fast enough (or not all at) to catch up with the imperatives of a new world. Wisa Greid’s indiscretion, Kwaw Kese’s substance abuse and Tiwa Savage’s bizzare fashion statements, among others, are but symptomatic of institutional anachronism. The home, the school and the church, they have all failed woefully and continue to fail many young persons who take up wrong role models to satisfy their need for validation. The media is only a magnifying glass.

The Pleasant Outliers
It is gratifying to note that many artistes in the Hiplife space have demonstrated commitment to artistic excellence. Good lyrical content, socially conscious themes and widely appealing varieties are few of the attributes that characterize some of these artists. A few require special mention; Sarkodie, Obrafour and Manifest are my favorite three. I find it also pleasant that there is a gradual Sankofa movement rising to a crescendo that finds expression in the likes of artists such as Bisa Kdei, Kwabena Kwabena and Becca. The tunes of good old HighLife reverberates through their work. Dr. Ephraim Amu, arguably Ghana’s most influential musical composer, believed in strong African values balanced with sound moral rectitude. His work as a composer and vocation as a Presbyterian preacher laid a foundation for creative and conscious Ghanaian musical content. Dr. Amu, a teacher by profession and music composer by passion, is responsible for masterpieces such as “Yaanom Abibirimma, “Yen Ara Asase Ni” and “Alegbegbe”. Between Dr. Ephraim Amu and the legendary E.T. Mensah, Ghana made good music. Between E.T. Mensah and Koo Nimo is good music. George Darko’s “Akoo Te Brofo” – that is good music. The evolution of Ghanaian music from Osibisaba to HighLife and all its variants (palmwine and burger highlife) has provided historical foundation for a genre (Hiplife) we still struggle to understand today. The legacy of Ephraim Amu, of Osibisa and all the historical greats, is indeed threatened by the open decadence and flamboyant excesses of over-enthusiastic young artistes, who pursue vain fame and infamy at the expense of developing their craft. In the words of an old rap group, Goodie Mobb, “…people don’t dance no more…”

So What Do We Do?
1. We demand accountability from MUSIGA. The national executive of MUSIGA must delegate fully, matters of unethical and improper behavior of its members to a standing committee, with appropriate sanctions and commercial pressures to compel reforms.

2. We must also demand personal responsibility from the artistes. Event managers who bill these artistes must be called out.

3. The media must not just expose such despicable behaviors for news purposes but also for purposes of naming and shaming. Social media backlash appear to influence those whose commercial success depends on popular validation. It works. This is public leverage.

4. The police must continue its effort in making examples of unworthy “celebrities” through the law court.

In dealing with issues of moral turpitude and social decay, separating symptom from cause situates response within proper context. Wisa is a symptom of a problem, not the cause.


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