Saturday, December 17th, 2011 was D-Day for IND!E FUSE and all about independent music – a DIY collage of creativity, inspiration and good people. I was ready for a great day, a fantastic show, and a memorable gathering of music lovers from all walks of life.
I was familiar with some acts and not so much with others, so for me the day started with a mini-concert, i.e. the soundcheck, where I got the chance to check out the sounds of some brilliant performers.
I was instantly impressed by the house band, A.R.T. (African Relaxation Techniques headed by Sewor Okudzeto). They played with every act in the line-up, and proved themselves a perfect match for the variety of genres in the show, from jazz to Afrobeat and spoken word to hip hop and electronic soul to pidgin rock. The transition between acts was seamless and by the end of soundcheck, I had become a fast fan of A.R.T. With a few of the artists’ tracks committed to memory, I was even more excited to witness the magic that was sure to happen on stage that evening.
Night fell quietly but the air was soon filled with a fresh mix from the Funky Professor, DJ Kobby Graham. Like the Pied Piper, his mixing and merging of different sounds called the concertgoers to the stage and before long, the stands were a wave of toes tapping, shoulders popping, and heads nodding. I was captivated by the palpable rhythms and couldn’t contain the groove from moving through my body.
The Funky Professor wrapped his first set with a tutorial collaboration with the eclectic nomad, Wanlov the Kubulor. The two teamed up to school us all in the emerging DJ skills of the celebrity artist.
With the audience now entranced by the deep grooves from the DJ booth, the live show began with budding talents, Steloo + Yaw P, who brought an upbeat track that had the crowd bouncing and chanting in Twi, “Fa mi sisa ma mi” (Give me my change). Well-loved poet, Mutumbo, performed as one half of The Sankwas Bois (with @Simpol-Tinz) and lent his comedic talents to pair with the charismatic PY Annan (The One Show, Bless the Mic) to host the show.
With the show off to a high-energy start, the ladies took control for a spell. Skillions Records’ leading lady, Sandra, brought IND!E FUSE to a mellow cool with her cozy jazz sound. With only her voice and an acoustic guitar, she pulled in the walls of the open-air venue at Alliance Française and made a sincere and intimate connection with the audience. She quietly commanded the eyes, ears, and hearts of more than 600 on-lookers.
The princess of Pidgen Music, Lady Jay, took over, ramping up the pulse of the show with a edgy set and a fierce look to match.
Azizaa brought her Afrobeat brew for us all to sip, flipping Ewe folk songs into reggae funk punk chants.
Wrapping up this femme fěte was the insatiable voice of Ms. Jojo Abot. She created a closed circuit of jazzy vocals, acoustic guitars, and awe, and her splendor rippled outward.
The men of IND!E FUSE brought raw energy to the stage. IAMBEATMENACE and the Smol Smol Distins Band blended beat machine with live drums, raspy rock and stone-cold hip hop vocals.
Bils Rayoe brought the audience to our feet with his hard-hitting swagger. Thumping bass, gritty lyrics, fire-eating acrobats and an amped audience had us all feeling like Bils was that which he claimed to be – “a mutherfuckin’ gansta”.
Memphis’ own Holla Blak came with a more mature hip hop sound. Holla Blak’s cool resonated with me because it was evident in their posture, their lyrics, and their aura. I was even more impressed with this band because of a little insider knowledge that I acquired: one member of Holla Blak was recovering from a major illness, even in the midst of the show. The audience was none-the-wiser because of the band’s inherent professionalism and natural swag.
The Skillions Records crew – Jayso, Lil Shaker and Rumor – also brought some dope lyricism to the show. With minimalistic staging, these boys were all about the craft. They showcased the brilliance of true lyricism and invited the audience to immerse themselves in the stories of the life and times of Accra boys.
The show-stopper was Yaa Pono. This artist is the epitome of dope. With striking lyrics, edgy delivery, out-of-the-box creativity, tactile connectivity, and a swagger that others can only mimic, Yaa Pono was the perfect closer for IND!E FUSE. From hip hop to rock (with Kyekyeku + SynPop of FaintMedal), his sounds appealed to the audience at large, young and old, locals and expats, loyal fans and those new to the bandwagon. Yaa Pono’s suprise guest appearance with Efya, for 2011’s Bonnie + Clyde collabo, “Good Morning” had folks on their feet. Perfectly apropos as an artist at Pidgen Records, Yaa Pono employs both English and Pidgen in his lyrics chronicling his personal history and current plights. With perceptible inventiveness, Yaa Pono is an artist destined for greatness.
IND!E FUSE is a movement, a statement to the world, about independent music in Africa and Ghana and Accra. This celebration of indie music puts upcoming artists on a world stage, and forecasts for its audience, in the flesh, in print, and online, the direction of world music. And what’s a great statement without punctuation? Leave it to Wanlov the Kubulor to finalize the evening with a provocative piece, true to his word and the occasion. As Wanlov “unwrapped his Christmas present” for all to see, jaws hit the floor and kept people talking about this unexpected surprise at IND!E FUSE (the prelude to his unveiling on TV3’s “Delay” with Delores Frimpong Manso).
Stay tuned for more information on great live music you can hear first at this year’s IND!E FUSE – Saturday, 15th December 2012 at Alliance Française.
-Kai Kennedy, Richmond, VA (USA)