Getting lit in Ghana
Newly minted Grammy-award recipient Fuse ODG would like to get something off his chest: No, he does not hate Nigerians.
The comment is introduced with a whimsical snicker, as this is hardly the first time the rapper’s words have been contorted and wrung of their original context. Just this past week alone, the 31-year-old has been pedastalled as a leading supporter of the movement to legalise sex work within Ghana, in addition to being blungeoned with the claim that he wants all Nigerian music to cease airtime on the radio.
"That one was a big shocker," Fuse – real name Nana Abiona – recalls about the recent controversy. "It was just a Tweet of someone saying Ghana needs to limit Nigerian content on the radio so they can play more underground music from local artists, and I retweeted that, and then all of a sudden it was like I said to stop playing Nigerian music, you know? But it was definitely nothing like that…I would never say that."
It was sometime around 2014 – a year that saw the London-based artist’s music catapulted from the depths of Africa to around the world with synth-earworm "Azonto" – when he realised he harbored some misunderstandings, too, about Africa. Having grown up in the UK, Fuse was exposed to adverts for charities and images in newspapers that posited his homeland as a poor, unfortunate nation, urging him to dissociate from his roots. But, during a performance one afternoon in his native Ghana, he realised he had it all wrong. That the world did.
And that Africa was … actually cool.
Now, a few years post the culmination of his T.I.N.A campaign – the movement urging for a healthier connotation of the continent, the acronym standing for This Is New Africa – and turning down a legendary invitation to be apart of the celebrity-fuelled Band-Aid 30 group, Abiona is getting the world to gyrate and grin to tunes about the real Africa – the place you’ll really want to flock to this winter. And surely, there’s no better time to visit, especially as his discography has just surpassed over one billion streams this past November.
But how does one celebrate a billion, anyway? With a party? Or a plaque?
If you’re like O-D-G, how about b-o-t-h? And then, you know, maybe install several billboards around the general London area afterward projecting the achievement, as the emcee did earlier this month.
Thank you, thank you. There was a surprise party! [laughs].
Nah, I don’t like surprises. I felt really tricked by my friends and family ‘cause obviously nobody told me nothing. But it was good seeing everybody together, because I get so busy and I never get to see my friends and family much.
Yeah, I know. That’s crazy. That one is so surreal, ‘cause it’s just a reminder my music is getting listened to from all over the world, different territories. So it’s crazy.
It was great seeing the billboards around London, and the music has come a long way. I’m just really grateful.
Come on. Yeah, so Road to Ghana EP is a project that’s very close to my heart because it’s very much inspired by my home country, Ghana. It’s the Year of Return for Ghana, and the President claimed the whole year as the return for anyone who's black or anyone who can or just wants to find themselves. And it’s pretty much inspired by that you know, people coming home and me just showcasing Ghana talent through this six-track EP, Road to Ghana.
"Lazy Day", on the other hand, is just supposed to be an international single that I worked on with an artist called Danny Ocean, who’s from Venezuela. He’s a Latin artist. And it was quite nice mixing the afrobeats with the Latin vibes on that song, and you know, obviously vocals by Ed Sheeran on the chorus. We wrote that song together in Ghana actually. So yeah, it’s something I’m excited about – and of course, it’s gonna turn that one billion into two billion (laughs).
You know, the day before we made "Lazy Day", we were up the whole night drinking, dancing, drinking, eating, drinking, eating. And we went to sleep very late, and we all woke up late, tired, with headaches. And it pretty much was a lazy day, that’s how the idea actually came about. It was just a day of not doing anything and just feeling like, “Aw, shoot. What time is it? Aw, too late to do that now. Too late to do this. Let’s just chill, man.”
Mhm, mhm. Real lazy day.
It’s something that exists in Ghana and other parts of the world, but especially in Osu. You know, me going back home and getting to know all the cities and places in Ghana again, Osu is somewhere where I know I’m there when I start seeing certain workers – sex workers in the street. And this is something people don’t really talk about. So me as an artist, I like to do things that are different and talk about things that people don’t really speak about, and it just happened to be when I heard that beat it took me back to that space where I see these women and I sometimes wonder why. Why do we even take up this kind of profession? And then yeah, the lyrics just started coming to me like, ‘She’s buying taking care of somebody’s son in the streets of Osu.’
And then after that song I started Googling and doing more research to find out the human beings behind this - because the way it is in Ghana and Africa, these sex workers don’t tend to be humanised and then when something happens to them, it’s like, “Oh yeah, that’s a prostitute.” You know? So that’s really what made me want to push to start conversations for these sex workers in Osu, because it takes more than one person for this job to work. It’s a man and a woman, you know?
But it seems like the women tend to get the negative stigma and they tend to suffer, and then when something happens to them and they go to the police station they get arrested, because it’s obviously illegal doing what they do. And one of the things I wanted the song to do was start conversations on how we can protect these women, because no matter what we do it’s still gonna happen. These sex workers are still gonna be out there in the streets. But at the end of the day, they weren’t born sex workers; they were born human beings. They’re women, they need protecting regardless of what platform they’re working. And that’s one of the conversations I wanted this song to start, and it has started this kind of conversation.
Me personally, I wouldn’t encourage people to watch porn, because I feel like you don’t know the energy of the person that you’re watching. I’d definitely encourage you to watch someone if it’s like your partner or your girlfriend or your boyfriend or whatever. If you know their energy then it’s different. But if you don’t know their energy, to watch porn you really have to kind of imagine yourself in the same room with that person. It takes a lot of effort to really be in the same position and to feel like you’re actually really intimate with that person, and it takes a lot of mental energy. And I wouldn’t really recommend that.
At the same time, I wouldn’t really recommend people going physically to see sex workers either, but it happens. And the only reason I touched on it is because there’s women dying over this work. It’s always gonna exist. And it’s not “prostitutes” doing these jobs, you know. These are students, these are future leaders that are doing this job because it’s a stepping stone for them. But of course, watching porn is harmless (laughs). Though to me, there are spiritual implications that I kind of think about and so I would never recommend, but it happens. And I wouldn’t judge anybody who does it or whatever, you know.
Yeah, I think definitely as time goes on more people are kind of understanding what the movement is about. This Is New Africa was more of a platform for people outside of Africa for us to change their mental image of how they see it, that was our first audience. And then from there, it was more about coming home and making Africans love themselves as well.
What we’ve done is we’ve been changing the narrative and making Africa to be a place you can enjoy just like how you’d enjoy Miami, or just like how you’d enjoy Vegas or Ibiza. People who’ve never been to Africa before are now coming because they know it’s gonna be lit. They’re coming to enjoy themselves and when they’re there they get to experience the culture, and then they’ll get to see the real truth of what the real Africa is, so it’ll be there truth over what the media’s been showing them – and I know that their truth will outweigh the perception of the media.
That’s crazy. Yeah, the perception of Africa is still outdated and I guess it’s just based on what people are seeing on TV. Again, the mainstream media aren’t really gonna make the extra effort to update people that Africa isn’t full of people living in trees and living in the jungle. It’s actually a place of beauty where we actually live in buildings. Like, I feel like in the UK we live in huts and in Africa we live in actual houses (laughs). When you come to the UK, the houses are so small and they’re right next to each other, like you don’t even get enough space to play music or whatever.
So to me, people are so far behind as to their perception of Africa and it’s our responsibility and our job as Africans to close the gap, and how we do that is through our platforms and the kinds of music videos and movies that people see. For someone to watch a music video and for them to see the beauty and the amazing mansions in Africa, it would make them question and be like, “Wait, is that Africa? Where is that, what country is that?” We need to become our own media in every single sector from the kinds of videos people see, in terms of music videos and movies. Any form of media that really showcases Africa, we need to showcase that gap, because you’re right, people are still behind on how they see Africa.
Yes, so we built a primary school and we’re now doing a secondary school, and it actually started as an orphanage in Akosombo, in Ghana. And it pretty much just started because we wanted to use our resources in London to raise money for underprivileged young people in Ghana.
The idea was to make young people [in London] realise the opportunities and resources they have here, and the fact that they need to appreciate it. Because a lot of kids we’ve been helping, especially within the school, they’re so happy, but they haven’t got much. And it’s not like they’re out there being miserable. And we’ve always felt like every child deserves an education, because every child could be a potential leader, or a potential life-changer, you know? So it’s always been at the center of what we do, injecting seeds into communities with underprivileged young people.
We actually started this a long time ago in 2007, way before the music even blew up. And then eventually when the music blew up, we started injecting more funds into it and managed to do the primary school, even with some of my music friends… But yeah, it’s something we’re very passionate about, and it’s pretty much the same ethos to use our resources and help people, but I’m using the music, my friends, and the platforms we have to spread awareness about what we’re doing.
And I do believe that – especially for me as an artist – how we were taught in schools growing up wasn’t really from a self-love perspective, because they were kind of teaching us our history from a slavery perspective. But at this school, we’re letting these kids know that your history doesn’t start from slavery. Like no, they didn’t come and kidnap slaves. They came and kidnapped doctors, they came and kidnapped creatives, came and enslaved entrepreneurs, talented musicians, kings and queens. And that’s an angle that we’re conscious about, that kids know they come from a royalty background. But of course we have to maintain and take the usual curriculum (laughs), and obviously there’s extra curriculum to be taught. But it’s just something close to our hearts.
Yeah, if you feel like your history and your blackground is just slaves and slave trade, you would easily disocciate yourself from it because it’s nothing to be proud about. But if you know that your history is royalty and kings and queens and leaders – something that you always wanna scream about – then it wouldn’t be the same thing.
Yeah, I mean I go and I do workshops every now and then. There’s a story book I’ve written called Nana Yaa and the Golden Stool, and it’s based on the dolls we have, we have a story for each doll. One of the books that I wrote, I went to the school and I actually read the book to the kids, asked them a bunch of questions. Just interacting with them about their own history and seeing how they were reacting to it, and just seeing the little girls just feeling proud about, you know, being an African woman. It was a beautiful moment.