In Ghana, to make money, artists need to perform. To perform, artists need a hit. To make a hit, artists need... money, but not necessarily talent. Explaining this last sentence could turn into an essay, but today I prefer to focus on a talented artist who is not only making a name for herself, but also challenging this entire system.
Say hello to Efya. Singing since the tender age of six. We first met a little over a year ago, after I heard her perform at Bless The Mic at the Alliance Française in Accra. She played me some of her demos, still very much works in progress. A year later, I'm truly blown away by the maturity of her sound, and how confidently Efya is taking her career into her own hands.
Most artists in Ghana get their start by rushing to the studio and recording a song or two. To achieve this a simple hook is enough, especially if they can rack up enough to hire one of the top sound engineers, like Appietus, Killbeatz or Richie. Once the song is ready, the artist must pay copious amounts of payola to get it played on the radio and on TV. Then, if the artist is lucky, the song picks up and he/she starts to get booked for shows. Shows for which the artist has had no training whatsoever. I attend a lot of concerts here with a dozen or more artists, each performing one to three songs, mostly playback, rotating every ten minutes.
So imagine how refreshing it is to go see Efya perform at intimate venues, with her own band—the Gingams—and no sponsor logos anywhere. Since the beginning, she's focused on live performances, no matter how small the pay. This way she has gathered a lot of experience and established a direct connection with her audience. That relationship is huge in a place like Ghana, where radio and corporate sponsors dictate a lot of what happens musically. Typically, radio is necessary to spread music and corporate sponsors pay artists' bills. Efya's become a success on her own terms and proved that whole system wrong. In 2011 she won awards in Ghana and Nigeria and finished recording her debut album. Now she's preparing for an impressively busy 2012, planning five video shoots in Ghana and South Africa, her debut on Channel O and collaborations across the board. Watch a recent collaboration between Efya and top dog twi rapper Yaa Pono here.
"Cigarette," is a good example of Efya's polished, jazzy, neo-soul sound. It's produced by up and coming Nigerian beatmaker Ikon. Yes, a Nigerian: Efya's already connecting beyond Ghana. In the song, Efya talks about all these things in our lives which we know are bad for us, but that still give us some kind of addictive high. "Everybody has cigarettes in their lives," she says. Luckily, this cigarette of a song will not damage you or those around you. Light up.
Download: Efya, "Cigarette"