On Tuesday, May 17, Annie brings Ghana's Okyeame Kwame to The Penthouse for his first solo show. His nicknames Rap Doctor and Ghana's Best Rapper Alive (the latter of which he gave himself) should give you an idea of his larger than life personality. Formerly of the rap group Akyeame, he’s now pulling a Gwen Stefani and going solo, and The Standard is his first stop as he takes America by storm. Annie sat down with the Ghanaian wunderkind.
The Annie O Music Series Presents Okyeame Kwame
Tuesday, May 17th, 7-9pm
The Standard, East Village Penthouse
Free with an RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
ANNIE O: Can
you explain a little bit about the music culture in Ghana?
OKYEAME KWAME: The music industry in Ghana is a very interesting one. It started from our traditional music that used to be called osibi, which is characterized by the use of indigenous instruments like flutes or trumpets made from cattle horns. Immediately before independence, instruments like guitars and keyboards were introduced, and Ghanaians played indigenous rhythms with them and developed this new type of music called 'high life'. High life music was a fusion of Latin, pop, and the Ghanaian indigenous rhythms, and it was played to entertain the colonist masters, so it was music for the upper class. After independence, high life music became pop music in Ghana because everybody could afford it. Down the line, hip hop became the genre, and hip hop and high life combined to make hiplife. Hiplife is the most popular genre of music in Ghana for the young people.
What were the inspirations for your solo project and how did it come about?
In 2000, my group Akyeame became the biggest rap group in Ghana, and we were the first ones to win an award in Ghana. After that, my father died. I was so devastated and young, and I didn’t know where the next pay check was coming from, so I came to live in America, where I lived for 3 years. When I went back to Ghana, I had found myself. I had made a decision that I would be a musician until I died, and my partner in Akyeame did not feel the same, so we started fighting about direction, strategy, and moving forward. Because of that, I went solo. I wanted to be fully responsible for my actions and inactions. I released my first solo album and it was a major success. I’ve been solo ever since. The inspiration for going solo is to be myself and to be able to pursue my goals to their full potential.
Are there any artists or specific tracks that you’re currently listening to?
Currently I’m listening to Bruno Mars, Daranas and Damian Marley, Bob Marley, Usher, Wizkid from Nigeria, Sarkodie, and Stonebwoy. I’m trying to introduce my children to Michael Jackson, so I’m listening to him constantly. I’m listening to a lot of high life, because that's the thing that tickles my heart strings.
Not only are you a recording artist, but also you have a communications company, a record label, and a fashion company. How do you fit this all in, and is there something in particular that is taking priority now?
I’ve been a musician for 19 years, so I think diversification is a must now. I split my energies between my family, art, the communications company, and the record label. I also went to school to get a master’s degree in marketing strategy. I think my family’s first, because I do all these things for my two children and my wife. They are the motivation.