(Originally published in The Fader)
Holiday season in Accra means lots of entertainment. Many Ghanaians come home from abroad to celebrate with their families, and after family obligations are sorted, clubs and music venues fill up for the year’s busiest party season. One of the best shows I had the pleasure of attending was the Indie Fuse concert, organized by Accra [dot] Alt at the Alliance Française. Many of Ghana’s more forward thinking artists teamed up on one stage, showing locals and visitors alike how lively and diverse Ghana’s sound is.
Among a slew of fantastic artists at Indie Fuse—Wanlov, Lil Shaker, Yaa Pono, E.L. (not a Google-friendly moniker, by the way), Efya, Jayso, Jojo Abot and countless others—Mutombo the Poet had his time to shine. More than his towering presence (the nickname Mutombo says it all), it was his meticulous delivery that kept the crowd in check. And seeing a spoken word performance with a live band, in Accra, was a rare pleasure for me, and one that justifies a little back story.
When we first sit down to chat, Mutombo tells me his first encounter with poetry was in high school, studying literature, Shakespeare and the like. “But that was kind of boring.” Yet after getting a bit more comfortable, he tells me, “poetry has been a part of our [Ghanaian] culture from time [immemorial].” It seems that when Ghanaians think of poetry, they think of Western, classic poetry, which tends to be presented in a disconnected, often inaccessible way, making it, in the end, pretty boring. However, poetry is as much a part of Ghanaian culture, but it is taken for granted and even ignored.
“Ghanaians’ perception is that poetry is SO BORING,” Mutombo says. “But they talk based on Shakespeare, etc. We have modernized this thing to fit their everyday life.” It is an art perceived as boring, but also an art that is hardly acknowledged, let alone known. Lots to work with! But rather than accept the fact that poetry is boring, Mutombo is taking matters into his own hands, creating his own kind of poetry that is rooted in every day life in Ghana, and adapting it onto music. That’s a cocktail I dare any Ghanaian to resist.
And as a matter of fact, I hardly saw anyone resist when Mutombo performed on stage. “I’ve gone through hundreds of shows, and I’ve never had a boo,” he says. It certainly helps that he’s got quite a few shows under his belt, having performed relentlessly since his first open mic sessions, around 2006. He admits, “things were shaky at first.” He was the only spoken word artist performing among hordes of hip hop MCs. But show after show, people kept coming up to him, encouraging him to continue, helping him realize that, “I should take this seriously.”
Kweku AnanseCoz Ov Moni pidgen musical, encouraged Mutombo from the get-go. Kweku introduced Mutombo to the epicenter of the Ghanaian music scene, Pidgen Music founder and inescapable producer, Panji Anoff. Anyone reading this who has been to Ghana for music has probably met Panji (if you haven’t, you are due for another trip to Accra). With Kweku Ananse and Panji behind him, lots of talent and loads of shows to develop his stage presence, Mutombo’s future is looking very bright. He is already getting performance requests Nigeria, South Africa and the UK, but he chooses to keep a low profile until his album drops next month.
“Sweet Memories” exemplifies Mutombo’s approach. On the track, he talks about simple memories many Ghanaians can relate to. He favors English over pidgen, but he keeps his choice of words simple enough so the ordinary Ghanaian can understand his poetry. The song features another incredibly talented newcomer, Lady Jay, also hailing from the Pidgen Music camp. There’s not much info on Lady online yet, but I assure you that a year from now, she’ll be unavoidable.
Mutombo and Lady Jay, like Efya and FOKN Bois, are members of a new generation of artists in Ghana. “It’s a family, we are all young and coming up with something,” Mutombo tells me. With this creative family spirit very much alive, there is no saying how far Mutombo and Ghana music will reach in 2012.