Streets of Accra
Presented by Jerome Blues
|Monday||11:45 pm||11:55 pm|
|Tuesday||7:00 pm||11:45 pm|
|Wednesday||3:45 pm||6:00 pm|
|Friday||12:00 am||3:00 am|
|Sunday||11:58 pm||12:00 am|
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“Accra is booming right now, there are a lot of things happening,” says Alex Wondergem, a beatmaker and visual artist based in Ghana’s capital city. “Now more than ever, there is new energy—this belief that it’s time to express yourself, to live by your art. Everyone is owning up to their craft and pushing for it and finding their voice, and for a place for art in society.”
Wondergem is one of many young artists based in the dynamic West African metropolis of Accra, a city where Ghana’s staggering diversity—it’s a country of 28 million people (as of 2016), with over 70 ethnic groups, each with its own language, religious beliefs, traditions, and musical identity—come together in all of its cosmopolitan glory.
With its busy clubs and bars, a lively Arts Centre (Centre for National Culture), colorful markets, and the graffiti that decorates the peeling walls in its oldest neighborhood, Accra feels like a city bursting with creative potential.
And, of course, Ghana’s rich musical legacy permeates every street corner, whether at local joints, where punters sit drinking cold palm wine out of calabash bowls and listening to old-school highlife, or at rowdy outdoor clubs, where powerful sound systems blast the latest Ghanaian Afrobeats, dancehall, and hiplife onto the street.
“These styles of music get the majority of airplay on radio,” says Accra-based producer Gafacci, “because most of these songs have highlife influences, which is a popular genre amongst every age group.” It’s also safe to say that these sounds are receiving significant attention across the pond, too, especially in the U.K., where West African beats are set to be this summer’s dancefloor fillers.
But despite the growing dominance of Nigerian and Ghanaian sounds on European charts, only very few of the biggest artists from the continent receive global attention. And in Ghana itself, you’re likely to hear the same genres and artists on the radio and in the nightclubs over and over again.
“The [mainstream] scene is inundated with the same kind of sound; the only way you can stand out is with some kind of gimmick, scandal, or pay-for-play,” explains Wanlov The Kubolor, a Romanian-Ghanaian rapper who is known for being anything but conventional. “And that doesn’t sit well with me,” he says speaking from his home in Accra.
The “gatekeeping” around what gets played on radio and TV stations, coupled with economic barriers and the lack of an established creative infrastructure, means that it is virtually impossible for alternative, non-mainstream artists to get their music to Ghanaian audiences. But despite the obstacles, Accra is fast becoming a hub for creative, experimental musicians who are making waves behind the scenes. Characterized by their DIY attitude and the kind of determined hustle that comes from having to find success with limited resources, a crop of independent, ambitious artists have been quietly working in the background, pushing new sounds and expanding the boundaries of the city’s music scene.
“I like the Accra creative scene because everyone is using little to make dope stuff,” says Gafacci, who as well as working on his solo project is also one-half of electronic duo Jowaa. “The majority of creatives are independent and it gives me hope that there are people who will give everything they have to make [it].”
Although the indie and alternative music scene—anything that falls outside the mainstream Azonto, Afrobeats, and hiplife—is still small, people are coming together and pooling their resources, putting on club nights, gigs, and festivals. ACCRA [dot] ALT, for example, is a project which began as a “response to state neglect and lack of cultural production infrastructure,” and aims to “contribute to the cultural renaissance of Ghana” by promoting the work of Ghanaian alternative artists and emerging creatives. Every year, its Chale Wote Street Art Festival attracts thousands of people to Jamestown, a buzzing fishing settlement within Accra, where life is mostly lived outdoors, along the narrow cobbled streets and in the shade of crumbling colonial buildings.
It was playing Chale Wote in 2016 that convinced Rvdical The Kid, a producer and DJ who was then living in Benin, that he should move to Ghana: “I was amazed by what I saw, so I knew I had to move to Accra.”
Two years on, Rvdical continues to be inspired by Accra’s energy: “What I really like about the Ghanaian creative scene is [that it’s] trying to do something. People are creating on their own terms and trying to not fit the mold. That’s very inspirational, and it motivates me to create without any boundaries.”
Meet some of the artists at the center of Accra’s renaissance.