Monday, March 05, 2007

Happy 50th Birthday, Ghana: Obrafour's classic song "Kwame Nkrumah"

On March 6, 1957, the Gold Coast gained independence from Britain. In 1960, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah became independent Ghana's first president.

One of my alltimme favorite Ghanaian rappers—Obrafour—pays tribute to Nkrumah and his legacy in the Song "Kwame Nkrumah". Despite his eventual downward sprial into controversial policies and behavior, Nkrumah remains a huge figure in African poilitcal history.

The song is off Obrafour's first album. It's not the first song with conscious lyrics to become a hit, but it is one of the most memorable.

In honor of Ghana's 50 years of independence I thought I'd show you all this classic hiplife clip, "Kwame Nkrumah" by Obrafour:

Check out Obrafour's myspace page.

Friday, March 02, 2007

CDs for Cedis: Making Money Doing Hiplife

"So why did you get into hiplife?"

"Well, I had been watching these music video clips from abroad and I thought it just looked so cool. Tupac, Biggie, Ja Rule...Now we have our own style."

"Of course. But why else did you start doing hiplife?"

"Because I wanted to make some money, be a big guy like Obour, Tic Tac, Tinny..."

Some people get into hiplife for the (perceived) opportunity of making money. One of the most common things I heard from people involved with hiplife was that the music industry (hiplife in particular) is providing the youth with all kinds of employment. Ghana is about to celebrate 50 years of independence (on March 6), but most of the older folks I know in Ghana have told me that the standard of living is worse now than it was in the mid-to-late 1960s. So it comes as no surprise that so many student-age young people see hiplife as a viable employment option.

The music industry in Ghana is really it's own thing altogether. Pretty much everything is curiously different from what goes on in not only N. America and Europe but neighboring places like Nigeria, Cote d'Ivoire, and Mali. Think about where you're from and how the music scene is there and consider this:

What many people the world over know as the "executive producer," i.e. the guy with the money, is known in Ghana as simply the "producer." A small difference, but this was confusing to me at first. I thought producer refers to someone involved with actual music making, the creative end of things. Not the case in Ghana, where the producer is the guy who puts up the money for an artist to record his album.

These guys have written their own rules to the music business, Ghana-style. Considering the fact that most hiplife producers lack a background in music or entertainment, it's not that surprising. One cool thing about hiplife is that it provides a platform for amateur performers to grow into professionals with a bit of energy and money. It also provides the opportunity for aspiring moguls to get their feet wet in entertainment, on the cheap. The mountains of "underground" hiplife tapes (or small-time limited distribution, usually casette-only, releases) from all over the country are made for far less than $2000 in most cases. If a song becomes a hit and the group gets lots of high-paying gigs, the producer makes some money on his investment. That's not to say making a profit is easy in the hiplife game (see below).

These producers get things done, multitasking is the name of their game. From manager to booking agent to publicist to accountant, most producers cover all the bases at once. I was told this is because of a shortage in finances, which makes it difficult to pay a different person to do each of the many jobs. And, since so many of the tasks involve greasing palms with thick wads of cash, it makes financial sense to have one person fulfill most roles at once. Payola can tap a producer's resources quickly. But it also possibly focuses all trust and money-making potential in one place. Although I don't think I have much evidence of that notion. Just a hunch...

These hiplife recordings sell 100,000 units tops, usually FAR fewer. In rare cases, hiplife cassettes have sold upwards of 400,000. If the street price of a cassette is 10,000 cedis, roughly $1.15, and there is usually a distributor or depot that's getting a cut somewhere along the way, you're not talking about enormous sales profits. CDs sell for around 75,000 cedis, or around $8.65, so there's a bit more of a profit there. But most major hiplife CDs are manufactured in England or Europe so there are extra costs involved as well.

You want your new single on the radio in one of the big cities? 1 or 2 million cedis (around $115 or $225) is often all it takes to get a B-status DJ to makes sure your shit gets spun regularly. Of course, with more than 14 radio stations in the Accra area alone, it won't be easy getting your music played by every DJ on every station, unless of course you have a truckload of Ghana's often soiled and stanky bank notes. Rumour has it that some of the big name guys and gals in urban radio are taking up to 5 million cedis to put a song in heavy rotation. Good luck with that, youngsters...

... And that's where the producer comes in. There's the all-too-common story I would hear: young person discovers his talent in the schoolyard/church/street corner, elder relative/neighbor/businessperson catches wind and a lightbulb goes on in their head and/or the young person approaches them for advice/money/support/all the above and they decide to help/invest in them. Artist and "producer" live happily/unhappily ever after (with the occasional drama and/or divorce, of course). The artist is at the complete will of the producer, who nrmally buys the rights to the album outright, thereby collecting the CD/cassette sales profits for himself.

There's a post about tv advertising and hiplife. These days, the biggest names in hiplife are making more money from product endorsement deals than record sales.

More to come.

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