“I want to make people laugh, cry and have fun with my music. I just want to reintroduce the human factor”
Travel blues have begun to set in deep in this phase of lockdown. I think of my homeland Ghana and scroll through music videos on YouTube to familiarize myself with the land that I love. In the last five years, the Afrobeat scene has been one to watch, influencing genres and culture in many ways. Described by many as ‘pure vibes’, we have seen many artists rise up from the underground, to dominate the popular music scene and captivate the masses with authentic sounds. Kwesi Arthur’s ‘Baajo’ bursts on to my screen. The memorable scenes of youths playing football around the compound, outdoor parties by the palm trees and traders dancing in the market illustrates the value of his culture and talent for infusing it into his music. If you are yet to be acquainted with the Tema phenomenon regarded as the ‘King of the Youth’, allow me to make the introduction. I caught up with him to discuss his sources of inspiration, musical legacy and his upcoming project ‘Son of Jacob’.
Kwesi Arthur has placed Ghana on the map in recent years following the successful release of EP’s Live From Nkrumah Krom Vol I & II and collaborations with Afrobeat heavyweights such as Sarkodie, R2Bees and Shatta Wale. Born and raised in Community 9, a neighbourhood in Tema, Ghana; the self-taught rapper/producer stumbled upon his craft and perfected his style for five years after shortly pursuing football and odd jobs in the area. “I joined a football club actually thinking it would be my thing, but then it wasn’t for me. After I left school because of the fees, I just kind of found music and focused on it because it was an escape. I got a job at a local studio and learnt on the job! Music has been a part of me since.”
The 26 year-old artist was inspired by many different genres to venture into music as it was all around him growing up, booming from the neighbour’s stereos. From Amakye Dede to 2Pac and Biggie, the stimulation was everywhere for the makings of a rap phenomenon. “Everyone inspires me in some way, I love music. One day it could be Lana Del Rey, the next Fela Kuti, Jay-Z or Kanye. But I would say definitely Drake for his style and flows, he has always made rap seem so easy. Another one is Dasebre Gyamerah for his melodies and lyrics, they were my favourite growing up. Kojo Antwi, he is another legend who has paved the way in Ghana and done great things.”
With the support of the powerhouse platform for emerging talent, Ground Up Chale; Kwesi Arthur released breakthrough debut track ‘Grind Day’, regarded as a motivational anthem by the youth as it describes the daily trials and tribulations that youths face in Ghana. His swift lyrics paired with the constant bassline and crescendo of drums marks it as a clear fan favourite. “I had no idea it was going to take off the way it did, the song was originally meant to be about the football legend Abedi Pele, but when I heard that strong beat from K.Soul I had a different idea for it. But it’s just amazing when people can listen to something I created and identify with it.”
The motivational anthem went on to win Hip Hop Song of the Year at the 2018 Ghana Music Awards and established him as the ‘King of the Youth’; and was acknowledged for speaking out on the political situation in Ghana. He illustrates such versatility in the content of his tracks such as ‘Turn on The Lights’, ‘Revolution Sound’ and ‘Kill My Spirit’. His sound varies from hardcore rap to catchy afropop melodies – one quality that is consistent throughout his discography is the infusion of his personal experience – inviting listeners to relate to his story across a pulsating beats. “Certain things aren’t right in Africa at the moment, I don’t want my children to go through what I did growing up which is why I speak out. My people deserve better and there’s progress to be made. I’m just grateful to know my music touches people. That people see my story and it pushes them. Everything I go through I put into a song, so music is like a journal to me. I’m human, and go through different emotions at different times. When I get a flashy car, the song may be about that too *laughs* so I don’t want to be put in a box it’s just whatever is my mindset at the time.”
“I’m a homebug so being in the studio, gives me that time to come out of my comfort zone”
I wanted to discuss his motivations behind latest track ‘Baajo’, a feel-good record with a bouncy chorus titled after the Ga translation of ‘come, let’s dance’ “Spending time in my mother’s kiosk with the radio blasting on Christmas Day was a memory of fun, sun and being surrounded by family. I wanted to capture that puppy love feeling of crushing on my neighbour’s cousin who only came to visit during the Christmas holidays. JoeBoy was the only person I could hear on this track when I recorded it, and we shot the video at my Grandma’s house. The whole hood came out for it, it was amazing.” Kwesi hits the nail on the head in generating the nostalgia of classic instruments and hiplife tracks that I listened to growing up in my family home.
The end of the video features a tribute to his beloved grandmother who passed this year, he goes on to describe her positive influence and motivations to keep striving beyond the ebbs and flows in his career. “She taught me so much and wanted a better life for our family, relocating so the family could continue in Tema so it’s been a big loss. Growing up there wasn’t many positive role models in the area, I have a big, big family and we are quite close so I definitely do what I do for them. I want to reassure people that regardless of circumstances if you have a dream you can make something happen for yourself.” It’s clear that Kwesi has tremendous goals in terms of his craft and the best is yet to come.
In a short time, Kwesi Arthur has been able to solidify his position as a premiere rap talent. He received a nomination for Best International Act at the 2018 BET Awards and a spot as the second ever Ghanaian rapper invited to feature on the BET Hip Hop Awards Cypher, following the release of his two part EP, Live From Nkrumah Krom Vol. I & II. “That was just amazing, like I’m coming from Tema, Ghana! And all these people that I used to watch on TV are just walking by me. I was just happy to be able to learn from them and get all these new opportunities. I definitely took inspiration from new opportunities I have been blessed with and placed them in my music. Vol. I ends with the devil knocking on the last track where I talk about like being in the midst of temptation, and I didn’t know what to do. Then ‘Pray for Me’ starts Vol. I and II talk about needing prayers so I just need all the prayers on these new ventures you know.”
As we wrap up the interview, Kwesi expresses his excitement to drop more tracks than last year and his EP, Son of Jacob to be released this summer; inspired from the story of Joseph in the bible which he personally relates to. I wanted to know his parting words of advice for upcoming artists who aspire to follow in his footsteps as a motivational figure for the new generation. “Just do your thing and it will work out. My story has shown me that everyone has their time. Don’t ever feel like you are behind in life, it’s a process. Standards have been created for people to live up to which aren’t real. Social media and things make it all look easy but it’s a marathon you know. Hard work pays off.”