It's been a minute since I wrote about a nice Ghanaian hit. Meanwhile, azonto is taking over, not just in Ghana, but all over the place. If azonto is a word you are still unable to identify, I recommend a quick search on YouTube. These days, the sure path to achieving mainstream success in Ghana is to come up with an azonto hit. Easier said than done: a quick look at new tunes on Ghanaian sites like BiGxGh reveals that most of the music coming out in Ghana, be it azonto or not, lacks substance and personality.
Or humor. But here we go: Guru’s "Lapaz Toyota." Toyota you all know, Lapaz, you may not. Lapaz is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Accra, it's a mostly residential, working class area. The main roads are filled with small shops and hawkers and it's a place most expats I know probably couldn't direct me to. To tell you the truth, "Lapaz Toyota" is an odd match, a paring that doesn't necessarily make sense to anyone at first, yet one that can make almost everybody smile. Since the song came out late last year, it has not only taken over the entire country, it has become a versatile expression. People in Accra now use it to comment on anything from a nice backyard to a car that is just, "too fine." Or a rickety old ride. Lapaz Toyota!
Let's rewind and see how this song came about. Guru is definitely not a newcomer in Ghana. He's been rapping for over a decade and has made a serious name for himself as an MC with vision, never afraid to speak out and share his opinions. His real breakthrough was "Kasiebo" (news bulletin) with Obrafour, one of the titans of hiplife. The song generated a lot of controversy, and since then Guru has been known as more of a conscious rapper, so jumping into mainstream dance music was not necessarily an obvious move for him. "When I started trying azonto, afrobeats, [in the studio] we started playing the beat, I came up with afferent ideas, and we kept changing the beat. Making the song took about one month," he says. One month is a lifetime compared to what it takes to make most azonto beats. Mosts artists tell me it takes them about 15 minutes.
Guru realized crossing into azonto was a big step, but he did it in a masterful way. I don't always understand what songs are about, so I ask people around me. When I ask about "Lapaz Toyota" I get a million different explanations, which in itself is a sign that the song does not leave people indifferent. Guru tells me, "'Lapaz Toyota' is a love song. It doesn't matter where you are, what you have or don't have, love is about what you believe in. If you love somebody, you don't need to have the world before you approach the person." Sounds serious. In the video, Guru can be seen back in the day, jheri curls and all, unveiling what turns out to be a pretty dumpy car to his girl, who is nevertheless stoked. The inspiration for the song actually came when Guru saw a couple dressed to the nines in an otherwise unremarkable car, in Lapaz. That's an unlikely sight here in Accra, and one sure to provoke laughter.
Between the beat for the song, made by up and coming producer Ball J, Guru's tight verses and the comedic effect, "Lapaz Toyota" has become a massive hit down here. Days after its video was released, it played in loops on TV, and four months later, it still plays in loops all over the country. Guru tells me what it's like to jump into the big league in Ghana. "If a small village has a radio station, they will ask me to come. And I have to come, it's not about the money, I have to go." And Ghana has many radio stations these days, which means Guru is constantly on the road, playing shows and doing interviews. Because he raps in twi, pidgin and English, he can be understood by people from all corners.
And now Guru also gets calls from outside Ghana. He was recently interviewed by DJ Edu on BBC 1Xtra, and from what I hear, "Lapaz Toyota" plays a lot in the UK already. So it's probably time for you to do yourself a favor and become your local azonto ambassador. The invasion continues.
Download: Guru, "Lapaz Toyota"