Ghana, first post-independence black republic, has always had a special place in the heart of Africans and Africanists the world over. Despite this, it’s never been quite cool. It’s always been a popular destination for African-Americans, partly because of its historical associations with the upheavals of 17-19th century Africa more clearly marked in a place that has more reverence for history than some other countries, and partly because of its aforementioned vanguard position in the pan-Africanist movement. In fact, you could say Ghana was cool back then – when its president Nkrumah was calling for a United States of Africa. The leaders of other countries that shall remain nameless till later on were tepidly arguing for less. It’s the place Fela fled when he was escaping the Nigerian state. It’s where W.B DuBois, Maya Angelou, and a host of other African-American exiles went to rememorize Africa as the civil rights movement turned from its determined anger to the righteous rage of the black power movement. Yet, despite all that until recently, what can one say, there wasn’t that ineffable coolness that seems to rub off on the denizens of a country either through dint of history, achievement or sheer power. Now things seem to have changed.
There is a certain savoir-faire that Ghanaians themselves now seem to possess that wasn’t there before. A degree of economic prosperity and stability has something to do with it – but having discussed this some with Ghanaian friends we all agree the first football tournament on African Soil in 2010, when the Black Stars carried the hopes of many as African team after African team was knocked out before the ignominious finals – was the beginnings of a certain something. Admittedly, less to do with Ghanaians themselves, and more to do with the world switching on to Ghana’s cool. In music where the country has often seemed a poor cousin to the richer seam of music down in the Congo and up in Nigeria, Ghana has been making its mark in recent years.
The dance and music craze of Azonto, so influential it’s managed to shake the British establishment to its knees and produce paroxysms of movement from the Prime Minister and the heir to the throne, is the prime example. But even before Azonto made its impact, Ghanaian musicians had it going on, notably the hip-hop artists Mensa, and Wanlov Kubolor – the duo known as FOKN BOIS. Wanlov was brave and brazen enough to let it all hang out on national television – and the duo stepped up to the bigger, brasher, pretender to the giant of Africa throne on the song “Thank God We’re Not a Nigerians”, a song about all the things you want to tell Nigerians but were too shy to say. [I mean, I guess, it’s racist – but Nigerians should know they’ve arrived when their stereotype is so well drawn you can make a song out of it. Still, the Naija response was weak. Actually, can someone do a better Nigerian riposte?]
There are other musicians making their mark too, notably the singer, Efya, whose collaboration with the artist Oladipo is playful, sexy and elegant. [And she doesn’t seem to hold his Nigerianess against him].
And who switched us on to all these artists and musicians, some of the most interesting bloggers on the four ends of the continent; one of these bloggers, Kobina Graham, started and now edits Dust, probably one of Africa’s coolest magazines, chronicling Accra life and style, in a nattily creative and critical way.
The best of the blogs still has to be “Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women” started by Nana Darkoa – which reveals and explores the sex lives of African women [and men] in an open, honest, and funny fashion.
To top it all, the country seems to be on a steady upward economic trajectory that it’s larger cousin and rival can only envy – and take advantage of for holidays, and homes away from home. The place is home to a university that actually has the objective of creating people who can think critically, and don’t just ‘sabi book’ – you have to admire a place with universities that are not just aiming to create ‘leaders’ but know what kind of leader they want to create.
All in all, Ghanaian cool seems to be based on something slightly different from Nigerian cool – [which is the ultimate arbiter, isn’t it?] – which seems to emerge out of the manifestation of a thousand fragile egos puffing themselves against the wind; “Ghanaian cool” seems to have a certain louche reserve about it, less brazen more regal, as if all this orderliness is effortless. It’s very polite. The question is, my fellow West Africans, can you maintain it once you get oil money?