I did my very first Lungu Lungu piece, my occasional column on emerging African artists, upon moving to Accra in the spring of 2011. The name of the column was inspired by a song from the Ghanaian rap duo FOKN Bois, off their album, The FOKN Dunaquest in Budapest. Lungu lungu literally means "corner corner," as in taking the back roads from one corner to the next, with all of the implications that back roads might suggest.
It's fitting to have meandered through dozens of equally fascinating artists and genres to land back close to where I started. The Dunaquest in Budapest album was a collaboration between Wanlov and M3NSA from the FOKN Bois, paired with Hungarian producer ELO from the multifaceted Hungarian reggae collective Irie Maffia, and now ELO and M3NSA are busy brewing a new project. RedRed was conceived and recorded in Hungary but is rooted in and geared towards Ghana, where I expect it to be quite disruptive: while the FOKN Bois have been known for their irreverence and humor, RedRed, with its more straight-forward dance aesthetics and less controversial lyrics, is sure to make a mark on dancefloors too, i.e. virtually any inch of public space in Ghana.
ELO and M3NSA shared rough mixes of their album with me earlier this year during their visit to my studio in Accra, and at last the first video and single are ready. "Ghetto" features Ghanaian hip-hop heavyweight Sarkodie, and fantastic shots by rising Ghanaian director Bubi Cooke.
What is RedRed? M3NSA: First of all it just sounded cool and colorlessly bizarre for a band name. It was either that or Post No Bill, and I think we made the right choice. Red red is a very popular dish in Ghana we both love: fried ripe plantains with a spicy black eye beans sauce made with red palm oil. Very easy to make, though I think ELO would probably love it more if it was seasoned with kebab pepper, seeing as that's his real addiction.
How did the project come about? M3NSA: After a few years of working with ELO and his band Irie Maffia in Budapest, we [FOKN Bois] and ELO eventually released an EP together called The FOKN Dunaquest in Budapest released on Akwaaba Music. Then after we worked on Sena Dagadu's album which he produced, we just stayed in touch sharing ideas. I would send him a track I was working on for him to listen to or suggest some ideas and he would email me back a version that would really complement what I had started. I eventually flew from London to Budapest a couple of times to record some more music and we just knew we were on to something. And that's how RedRed was born.
ELO: We met in 2010 at Rockstone's Office, a popular club in Accra. I already knew Wanlov and Rockstone via my wife Sena Dagadu. We invited M3NSA later that year for a Budapest show with my band Irie Maffia. A few months later we recorded the Dunaquest album with FOKN Bois. That was a brilliant experience—we recorded eight songs in four days. Since we always kept the link we recorded more stuff with FOKN and started to work on stuff just with M3NSA as Wanlov was not around Europe that much last year. We decided to create a new brand for our collaboration.
How did you piece the project together? ELO: M3NSA came to Budapest last year several times so we had like 2-3 week of studio sessions. We've recorded nine songs so far and mixed most of them. M3NSA: First we re-did a version of "My Time," then we totally dismantled "Ghetto" featuring Sarkodie which I'd started working on initially with a Ghanaian producer called MA, and built it back up again with this nasty bass house-y beat which totally took the song in a new direction. Then ELO started sharing beats with me which he'd made in that same vein and I just couldn't resist. We begun reworking some ideas we both had lying about and creating new music as well, all with this "African Electronic Dance Music" genre we'd conjured up in mind.
How do a London-based MC and a Budapest-based producer take over in Ghana? M3NSA: By sneaking up on them and turning up the music real loud! Ghanaians love every excuse to dance, and we're here to supply the music for it. Only this time it's slightly different and we're talking about something different for a change. ELO: Good question. M3NSA is Budapest based now too :) We have a few connections to push our stuff in the field and we try to concentrate on the online buzz there with such things as fake beef with Wanlov. Also we will go back hopefully twice this year so we can push things ourselves.
What's the first single about? ELO: We chose as the first single the song we did with Sarkodie, as his name is a great support for an unknown project. Also this is the most danceable, most Ghanaian-like song from the album. M3NSA: "Ghetto" was actually a song that was probably meant to be on Sarkodie's last album, but due to some issues it never made it on there. ELO took it and brought a whole different sound to it. We felt like it would be a good song to start with also as Sarkodie is the biggest thing happening right now, he's a brilliant MC and we have such huge respect for his artistry and his entire hustle. He's been really gracious throughout this whole process actually. RedRed and Sarkodie talk about moving out of the ghetto one day, if that's what the woman wants. The video cleverly portrays the joys of living in these communities where there's a common struggle and music being everyone's release. Makes you wonder if it gets any better outside the physical ghetto.
How do you feel about the current musical output in Ghana? ELO: As a big Ghana music fan I always find new interesting music in Ghana. Guru's "Alkayida" movement is great—I both love the dance and the rhythm. Also I kinda enjoy Shatta Wale's dancehall vibe. But I would love to see more progress in live music and more buzz in the less poppy scenes, that's still missing a bit. M3NSA: In certain aspects it's very exciting creatively and healthily competitive. We have a new breed of very clever musicians like Joey B, Pappy Kojo, EL, and even FOKN BOIS amongst others who are making some cool shit, chale—in spite of the same lack of infrastructure that ELO talks about and little support from the "ogas at the top." It's really come a long way from talented musicians being called "band boys" to what it is now. And I'm really excited about the future.
What kind of impact do you think RedRed could have on this output in general? M3NSA: As artists we're both very interested in trying out different things musically, some very radical and others just to have a bit of fun. But hopefully this inspires more African artistes to step out of whatever box they're used to every now and then. I think this project sets a fine example. ELO: Hopefully we can create a sound that is unique in Ghana and maybe some people will be more interested in modern sounds. The mixing techniques of electronic music went crazy lately in America and Europe. Those things are still quite unknown in Ghana. Maybe we can bring a bit of that into the game.
If you could work with anybody in Ghana or elsewhere, who'd be on the next RedRed release? ELO: We already recorded volume 2 with Sena :) I was thinking about Ambolley after I saw him live at the Republic. He was amazing. M3NSA: For me everyone I currently want to work with is already on the project: we've got Sarkodie, Wanlov and Sena Dagadu already on there. I think the sound lends itself to the features.
What's next? ELO: We're gonna shoot a few more videos—we already did one in northern Ghana. And put a live show together and conquer the world! M3NSA: I'm really curious as to what our live sets are going be like. We plan on introducing instruments we both play along with drum machines and synthesizers. That's really something I feel is going to be special about RedRed. So much cool shit waiting to come out the bags, chale.
Photo credit: Sena Dagadu