The Vodafone African Legends Night has run successfully for the past five years in Accra, and has been headlined by world renowned acts like Hugh Masekela, Freddy Meiway and Femi Kuti. This year’s event, held on the 24th of September at the State House Banquet Hall, was bound to be extraordinary with the amazing Yvonne Chaka Chaka slated to headline the event. Yvonne Chaka Chaka was part of the elite group of female african pop stars including Angelique Kidjo and Brenda Fassie that electrified the continent throughout the nineties. These women burst onto the scene with iconic songs that translated the energy, soul and richness of african culture. Ms. Chaka Chaka released her groundbreaking album Thank you Mr. DJ in 1998 to critical and popular acclaim; including songs like I’m Burning Up and Thank you Mr. DJ. However, it was her hit song Umqombothi (African Beer) that really propelled her to fame. With this song, and its unforgettable music video, Yvonne Chaka Chaka captured the hearts and minds of millions as she invited everyone to drink her ‘African Beer’. At that time Ms. Chaka Chaka was young, talented and had incredibly strong voice that oozed confidence. Now, almost two decades later, she has superseded the boundaries of entertainment and has become a successful entrepreneur, teacher, humanitarian and philanthropist. Her outstanding career has seen her work with global stars including Bono, Anjelique Kidjo, Youssou N’dour and the Rock Band Queen whilst she has performed for global dignitaries including, Queen Elizabeth II, Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela (who was notably one of her biggest fans).
Guests were seated by eight o’clock on a brisk accra evening. There were no significant delays and everything proceeded according to plan to the delight of both the event organisers and guests.
First up was Wiyaala, who emphatically demonstrated why she is widely seen as the most outstanding ghanaian female artist performing today. Her beautiful, blue and yellow two-piece costume was perfect for the occasion as it allowed her to highlight the pure energy, physicality and flamboyance that make her performances special. She showed great stage presence and confidence as she constantly insisted on the participation of a distinguished audience that frankly needed a little warming up. It wasn’t all just hype, however, as Wiyaala showed that she was not only an exciting performer but a very very good singer as well. She worked perfectly with the supporting band and performed songs that suggested comfort with diverse genres ranging from afropop to traditional folk songs to neo-soul.
After Wiyaala’s performance, the M.C. of the event, Ghanaian Comedian DKB, graced the stage. DKB, the self proclaimed saviour of ghanaian comedy performed admirably throughout the evening. He was relaxed, showed good rapport with the audience and performed his routine (which included biting jokes about a recent controversial, presidential pardon) without pulling any punches.
Nana Akosua Agyapong’s performance was definitely one of the most colourful of the night. She performed on stage with a slew of dancers all dressed in mock military fatigues. Ms. Agyapong has had a successful career as an entertainer in Ghana with work spanning Gospel, Highlife and Hiplife. Affectionately labelled the ‘Ghanaian Janet Jackson’ the hallmark of her career has been her complex choreography and her exuberant charisma. On this night, in spite of the years, she didn’t miss a step.
Highlife Legends Nana Tufuor and Amanzeba also produced great performances on the night. Both musicians are giants of Ghana in every respect and the enthusiastic response they received from the audience was ample evidence of their stature. Amanzeba who has captivated Ghanaians with his unique allure got one of the best reactions of the night when he performed his hit song Wobejeke a song about ancient Ga pilgrimages. Nana Tufuor a maestro in many respects heightened the nostalgia of the night by performing a number of the many hit highlife ballads he has produced over the years including the crowd favourite Abeiku.
The entrance of the ‘Princess of Africa’ herself was as dramatic as expected: for a few minutes only her brilliant voice filled the darkened and otherwise still auditorium. When the lights came on and Yvonne Chaka Chaka stepped on stage, every single person in the audience rose to their feet in applause. She wore an elegant green dress that had red and yellow highlights, a beautiful acknowledgement of her fondness for her Ghanaian fans. Ms. Chaka Chaka wasted little time in performing hit song after hit song, including greats like: From Me to You, Natural Woman and Umqombothi. She also sang breathtaking traditional Shona and Zulu songs that underlined the strong Gospel influence in her music. During her performance Yvonne Chaka Chaka performed excellently with rising ghanaian female stars Wiyaala, Becca, Nana Yaa and eShun, underlying her role as both pioneer and a source of inspiration within african pop music. Ultimately, it was a special night, one that celebrated the rich diversity of african people and culture through music and dance. More importantly it was a night that reminded both young and old that the continent produced and continues to produce truly remarkable stars who can take the world by storm. Such nights remind us that African Legends like Yvonne Chaka Chaka were able to become global stars not in spite of their ‘africanness’ but because of it.
Written by Victor Kyerematen. Photos by Richard Quansah.