Ghana’s influence on modern music may not be very apparent to the general public. The closest thing the West African nation has known to mainstream musical success was when Jai Paul sampled Lara Croft on the intro to “Track 15” off his unofficial album, as well as Meek Mill shouting out “west side, Africa” on his collaboration with Nigerian/American rapper Davido for “Fan Mi.” But Stonebwoy is looking to put Ghana on the map with his blend of dancehall and afrobeat music, using a delivery lifted from reggae and combining it with pop sensibilities to create a sound that’s unlike anything else. The 27-year-old has been making music since he was 15, and was recently acknowledged by the BET Awards as being the Best International Act of 2015. But now he’s looking to introduce himself to the Western world so that he can become a household name outside of his home town. “I’ve been doing it in my neighborhood,” says Stonebwoy. “Now these guys are recognizing what I’m doing so it’s actually completing the whole circle.”
Ghana’s music infrastructure might be better than what exists in America, with artists and producers being able to work with almost no obstacle. The are enough studios and producers for everyone, and with low barriers to entry almost everyone who is musically inclined takes a shot. “People are selling their CDs out of trucks to buy studio time to try and record a song or two,” explains Stonebwoy while he sits in front of me, blowing the dreads from his face to make eye contact. Concerts are typically performed at the Accra Sports Stadium, which is able to hold 50,000 and hosts local acts, as well as international stars like Chris Brown, who recently played a show there. But despite these big ticket events—which happen every two weeks—prices remain affordable with a single entry pass costing 100 Ghanaian Cedis, or $25 USD. And if you don’t want to leave your street, you can also hope to hear the music in your own backyard. “When you talk about people hustling music, you’ve got this thing called the truck. It’s a 4-wheeler and just like in Jamaica, they mount the speakers on there and you have somebody just driving the truck and having everyone they pass listen to the music.”
But despite all of the benefits of making music in Ghana, many of the artists there still look across the Atlantic Ocean for success—a tactic Stonebwoy says is outdated. “The majority of people in Ghana, even in Africa and West Africa, always feel like what they see on the TV or the internet is as flashy as it looks. I cannot lie to you, if you ask 10 people if they would want to travel instantly to the west, 7 will say yes without knowing what they’re going to do, without having any secure plans. It’s an illusion, it’s like the saying the grass is always greener on the other side. People think what they see on TV is reality so when you ask a young person, they’ll always say they want to go abroad. But then they go and it’s not what they think.”
Artists like Akon may be what people associate with African music, but it’s worth remembering that Akon was born in St. Louis. Stonebwoy wants to become a Ghana born-and-bred superstar with crossover appeal. So, during his first visit to Canada, Stonebwoy dropped by the Vice office to tell us how he plans to do that.
Noisey: What’s the music scene like in Ghana? What’s the dominant genre?
Stonebwoy: It’s broad, there are a lot of different genres of music. One that is big right now is dancehall music. Dancehall has always been big in its own way. It’s always changing between generations.
If I go out to the club on a Friday night, what am I going to hear?
You’re going to hear 70-80% dancehall music. The other 20-30% is rap.
Is it American rap? Like Drake?
Yeah. One of our big artists just did a collaboration with that type of rap. It’s like whatever is going on in America, the same thing is going on in Ghana.
Can a newer rapper make money out in Ghana?
Oh yeah, with the right connections they definitely can. Shows would be 90%. There are a lot of big venues. Big hip-hop acts will play stadiums. There are big domes that will take 5000 people, and artists will also play in university halls.
What was the big break that took you from nobody showing up to your shows to playing these big stadiums? Can you pinpoint it to one specific thing?
It was a song plus a co-sign from another artist who has been working for some time as well, his name is Samini. When “Hills and Valley” came out, we worked on the track together and people in Ghana were like ‘Whoa, this is a Jamaican song’ and when they realized it was from one of their people I got their attention and I kept slamming from one hit to another.
If you can pack a huge stadium like that, and be good, why do you need a BET award? Does that stuff matter to you?
Definitely you do it for the love, rewards are still going to come afterwards, which are going to be like the BETs, the recognition. I don’t think doing music for the accolades would take you anywhere.
Who are you working with while you’re out here?
The concentration was coming here for the African Music Week, but it can’t be done overnight. We were on the radio yesterday and there was a good response. Aside from that, I’ve been working with some Jamaican artists as well. JD Era and Rich Kidd are going to come meet with us today—they’re from Ghana. We have the African music compilation coming out, we’ve done a song with JD Era and Sarkodi, who is the Jay Z of Ghana. Hopefully in December we can bring JD Era home, he’s going to piggyback off of Rich Kidd so we can introduce our whole country to JD Era and say this is a guy who we’re messing with when we’re out here, and vice versa, so we can hopefully do that cross-marketing thing.
So where do you see yourself in like five years, because you seem to have achieved so much success in the first five years of your career, where do you see yourself in the next five?
We’re aiming now at working with other artists as well, we’re opening up opportunities for other people. They’re all people from the hood who are getting plays now because they come to my shows and I endorse them. I don’t have to wait for the next 5 years to want to start something because this is what we come from. You see that the culture is always involved.
What are the type of things that you think still need to happen for Ghana to become a destination that people feel they need to visit?
It needs more enlightenment. That’s what we’re trying to do. Trying the best we can to push it. So that one day all the big music companies will finally be satisfied enough to step in so you know Ghana will be a big hub to produce some of the best artists. We want it to be a joy for Chris Brown to visit Africa every month.
Slava P wishes Chris Brown would stay there - @SlavaP