Tuesday, October 18, 2005
The Hiplife Complex...A Beginning of Sorts
Hiplife is visible because it is everywhere (in Ghana): radios blasting at all hours of the day and night in virtually every neighborhood, household, and market in the country; TV stations incorporating it into their programming at every level, from game shows to political talk shows to commercial advertisements; cassettes, CD's, VCD's, DVD's and internet cafes act as the third most common set of go-betweens by which hiplife travels from the often makeshift studios of Ghana's sweaty capital Accra to the ears and bodies of millions of Ghanaians, young and old.
Hiplife is vital because it has not only reached critical importance nowadays (for reasons to be covered later), but because it is in flux, constantly. This dynamism is not limited to what we normally think of in terms of music or art evolving organically. No--depending on who, where, and how you ask the question, "What is hiplife?", you'll get as many different nuanced and loaded responses. And that, madamfo, is part of the reason why I chose to spend the last three years of my young life researching the topic.
Finally, hiplife is controversial because, despite its utter ubiquity, not everyone in Ghana appreciates what it says or what it stands for. "Hiplife, shitlife" I've been told by a man who used to make a pretty impressive living producing and promoting the A-list of Ghanaian highlife musicians for more than three decades. "Do you really see the music as having any redeeming value?" I've been asked by several younger traditional musicians, who wish they could gain more local recognition for the absolutely brilliant work they do that goes almost completely unnoticed in their homeland while being adored by high-paying audiences abroad. One of the fascinating things about the hiplife complex is the concept of profanity in Ghana. This is something I go deeper into in the weeks ahead, but suffice to say a song about tadpoles can cause an unprecedented national stir and then go on to sweep the Ghana Music Awards. This is not before the artist had to present his case to a panel of award show judges, explaining why his song should not be considered profane and should be allowed to compete in the awards program.
Above, I submit that hiplife is the MOST visible, the MOST vital, and the MOST controversial musical movement Ghana has seen. This is not to say that highlife did not embody any and all of those characteristics. Instead, these discussions will hopefully get across just how big of a role technology, mass media, and globalization have played in making hiplife what it is today.
Damn, there's way to too much to cover! Please bear with me as I attempt to piece together the seemingly endless adventures, thoughts, and theories that make up The Hiplife Complex.
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