I was asked recently to identify artists with a strong social or political message, in about a dozen specific African countries, Ghana excluded. I found it very difficult, and eventually wished I had to find such artists in Ghana, where I am much more familiar with the music scene. As I struggled to find artists, I kept coming back to Ghana, only to realize: I don't know of any artists in Ghana who are known mainly for their message.
Well, I would have to set apart the FOKN Bois, who's permanent satire challenges a lot of the absurdities of contemporary Ghanaian society. But even though I consider them to be a force of cultural and social change in Ghana (some of Wanlov's Facebook updates alone probably cause more discussions than most politicians or clergymen), that is not what most people would relate them to.
That is until just a few days ago, when I learned a friend of mine has been building an artist alter ego she was apparently too shy to tell me about. Meet Alewa, who is passionate about environmental issues in a much bigger way than I had ever imagined.
During the day, Alewa works for the Environmental Protection Agency, where she handles environmental permits and complaints, which can range from noisy churches (crash at my house and you're in for a cacophonous Sunday morning) to dirty businesses, as well as environmental education.
"I think people are bored with presentations, serious education and advocacy on environmental issues. I feel that when I use music, it can have a very positive impact," she says. No doubt: choosing between a leaflet, snoozer speech or Alewa's new song and video is a no brainer. The images in the clip are incredibly vibrant, the melody is simple and beautiful, reminding me of the tunes I fell in love with on my first trips to Ghana, except this one also makes Ghana's nature look real good.
I don't leave Accra often enough, and I forget how incredible Ghana's natural areas are, and how neglected. I know that's how most people feel in Accra. Depending on your standards, the city remains relatively nasty. Its beaches are covered with plastic bags, the harsh sun hitting the open air sewers makes for a palatable scent, and cluttered gutters allow for mosquitos to prosper year round.
Alewa's stepping in to say something about it, and she makes sure everything looks great in the process. Rocking natural hair and African print clothing with lush forests and plenty of clear water in the background, the first message that comes across is that Ghana and its people are beautiful.
If this sound obvious, maybe even corny, check out recent Ghanaian videos on YouTube, and realize that kids here predominantly see dudes with sunglasses and expensive looking bottles of booze. I'm no puritan, though. As the last installment of this column shows, I can certainly enjoy people looking good enjoying the high life.
My issue rather is that in Ghana there is not much of an alternative to those images. Hardly anybody is trying to make Ghana look good, which seems like a smart first step to convince people to not take their country for granted, and take better care of it. I'm proud of Alewa for throwing herself out there for the sake of education. Sure, she is loving the process, and she even has other songs which are simply about having fun ("I like mapouka!"). But Ghana's rivers and nature are the reason she put her savings into this great song and video.
While the New York Times rates Accra as the #4 destination worldwide for 2013, the city and the country need to think about how to maintain its allure. Spreading this song is an easy step anybody can take part in. Tweet dis tin chale!