Like many a Ghanaian in the diaspora, DUST Editor-at-Large – Eli Tetteh – made the annual pilgrimage home for Christmas, a time when Accra is known to be buzzing with activity, especially of the musical kind. Moved by m.anifest’s concert, he whipped out his pad and his pen…
Allow me the say right off the bat: if you missed the M.anifest concert held 16th December, you missed a special moment in the timeline of Ghanaian music. The shamefully revered Ebo Taylor, the sultry Efya and headliner M.anifest, as well as a host of surprise guests, conspired to rock Alliance Francaise and its rather conservative crowd something serious… and trust me: they did that and more.
Uncle Ebo was the night’s opener. Ironic, since of the three, he is unquestionably the biggest star, yet strangely apt since he paved the path for all the aspiring akolaas that performed that evening. It was my first time seeing Taylor in concert and as I sat in the sticky Accra night air, I was floored. On stage, the man was equal parts comfort and poise, sashaying to and fro with the confidence which comes from plucking melodies out across a multitude of international stages. It was poetically appropriate for Taylor, a trailblazer himself, to lead with an ode to the prolific (albeit polarizing) Nkrumah. “Agya Kwame,” he exhorted, “you will always be remembered and your enemies forgotten.” I’m pretty sure one could say the same for Uncle Ebo.
As enthused as the crowd was for the tranquil Sir Taylor, Efya’s appearance in a pair of 6 inch heels and a miniskirt showed me just how high the decibels could go. Rabid men barked at her swaying, on-stage form; infatuated fans clutched themselves and sang along to every lyric; complete chaos had officially gripped Alliance. For all of her sexpot coquettishness, Efya was still, somehow, the picture of relatability. Her lyrics were sprinkled with snippets of pidgin and she crooned hustler’s odes, evoking the daily hustle which both men and women could relate to. Whilst anyone up on their rhythm and blues can tell that Ms. Awindor’s DNA borrows generous helpings of Whitney or Aretha – the songstress was far more interested in delivering sacrilegious Frank Ocean mash-ups than presenting warmed over vintage. God bless the child that can hold her own, indeed.
Of course, the man the capacity crowd really came to see was the fabled M-Dot-ti-Dot. Based on first appearances alone, I must admit: the man was thoroughly deserving of his headliner status, exploding onto the stage in a fireball of giddy energy, his megawatt smile never once leaving his face. Watching M.anifest fly about the stage was honestly like watching a kid in a candy store – if the kid was a bearded Ghanaian griot in smock and the candy store was various flavours of eager African music appreciators. Like said kid, M.anifest sported the wide eyed enthusiasm of a man too new at this to take any of it for granted: the fans… the fame… or the female attention.
Trust that by the time Fest hit his stride with his Fela remake, “Gentleman”, the crowd was feeling very African and very appreciative. Wanlov the Kubolor ascended the stage to a riotous welcome, replete with pink wrap skirt, exposed torso and a fistful of rapid-fire diatribes on the oppressive influence of Western traditions and thought, and all the way through, the crystal baritone from M-Dot’s Immigrant Chronicles studio sessions is the exact delivery he blessed us with. That clarity married to the raw dynamism of his band had most in the building not only nodding, but spitting Fest’s lyrics right back at him, much to his delight.
Admittedly, I had doubts about how much a Ghanaian audience would “get” M-Dot. His sound, whilst honed in the dusty enclaves of Madina, has a maturity to it which wide swaths of our music scene have been lacking. Part of that maturity indubitably comes from the company M.anifest keeps. Effusive in his praise of Ebo Taylor, he also paused mid-show to pay dues to his grandfather, the legendary Professor Nketia. Even doper, and far less expected, was the musical grandpapa Reggie Rockstone’s drive-by stop to rip a few verses from his “Maka Maka” album.
In a show with so many special moments, it’s hard to pick a favourite. But to highlight one apex in the evening’s festivities, I must revisit that whole “female attention” thing. Early this year, Fest and Nigeria’s eLDee the Don set the interwebs ablaze with their club banger, “One Night Only” and, to the crowd’s unexpected delight, the band whipped the song out in the middle of the set. As young men and women thronged the dance floor, breaking into various strains of Azonto, one enthused crowd member hopped on stage and served Fest a generous helping of’ bump & grind. The young emcee barely broke stride, crooning into the mic, thoroughly on-beat, yet still swivelling his hips to meet the… *ahem*… challenge…
… and that’s Fest for you: frequently entertaining, sometimes scandalous, but always on top of his game. Ghana: I’m pretty sure we just stumbled upon our next hometown hero.