Throughout the late 90’s and early 2000’s dancehall hits by Jamaican artists like Bennie Man, Elephant Man and Sean Paul enjoyed considerable popularity in Ghana. However, Dancehall was by no means an established genre and at that time, you were more likely to hear Hip-Life or Highlife on the airwaves or in the clubs. Fast forward 10 years and Ghanaian superstars like Jupitar, Samini, Stonebwoy and the mighty Shatta Wale have led a blazing dancehall revolution that has captivated the hearts and minds of Ghana’s youth, especially in the capital city Accra. Dancehall rules in Ghana, and it is here to stay.
MTN’s decision to hold the inaugural MTN Pulse concert on the 4th of March at the Accra Sports Stadium was significant. This MTN Pulse concert was billed as the most exciting dancehall event Ghanaians had seen yet. The featured artists included all the biggest stars in the Ghanaian Dancehall scene as well as one of the most electrifying and controversial Jamaican artists right now, Alkaline. Official promotion for the event was limited but word spread fast among diehard dancehall fans in every corner of the capital.
Alkaline, the self-styled dancehall rebel, and the rumours of Elephant man performing were major talking points among fans on Facebook and Twitter; but what really got people buzzing was something else. Arguably the biggest draw for this massive concert was the fact that two Ghanaian Icons and Dancehall arch-rivals Shatta Wale and Samini, would be sharing the same major stage for the first time.
A few hours before the start of the concert, the atmosphere around the stadium was simmering with anticipation. Nobody knew exactly what was in store but everybody expected something special. Boyz Boyz and Girlz Girlz – slang for male and female hustlers, friends and everything in between- were out in full force to see their heroes throw down. Fans dressed for the occasion, with styles ranging from ‘Sakawa’ (an unofficial title for the fashion styles of young Ghanaian hustlers and gangsters) to afro-punk to Rasta.
Unsurprisingly, there were significant problems with event management and organization throughout the night. There was a shortage of tickets at the box office and unending lines of people coiled around the stadium parking lots. Gates opened two hours late at around 9:30pm (the concert was supposed to start at 7:00pm). The considerable military presence also added to pre-concert problems. They were heavily armed and barked orders around to stamp their authority. It was as if the potential of the night made them nervous.
Fans trickled into the stadium as soon as the gates were open, and people grabbed their last minute drinks and snacks, relieved by the fact that they had finally made it into the Promised Land. Seating was divided into three main sections: standard seating (on raised Stadium platforms), VIP (a couple meters from the main stage) and VVIP (raised platforms near the main stage with bottle service). There were some empty seats during the early hours of the show, but by the time the real stars showed up, all the sections were packed with dancehall devotees… about 30, 000 fans in all.
The show began with a couple of openers- Ghanaian Dancehall artists who were grateful for the opportunity to share a stage with the best. They may not have driven the crowd wild with their relatively unknown songs, but their performances were filled with the same passion and hunger that got mainstays like Stonebwoy and Shatta where they are today.
The real show started when the underground general Ras “Puom” Kuuku came on stage. Ras Kuuku who reps Dome, Accra donned a long black leather jacket with shades as he performed dark bass heavy tunes.
Rudebwoy Ranking, a tall energetic dancehall star from Nima performed next. The crowd fed off his endless energy as he laid down heavy bars with swagger. Ranking is talented and is definitely the next dancehall artist to watch out for.
Next up was Episode another rising star who killed his set with great stage presence and killer freestyles.
The Selasi-Ayyye man Iwan was next, dressed in all white. His hit track ‘Thanks and Praise’ was a fan favourite and the whole crowd sang along to every word.
Jupitar, who produced one of the biggest dancehall tracks in the past two years Enemies, came on and thrilled fans with his powerful vocals.
Perhaps there is only room for one Dancehall Queen, but both MzVee and Kaakie gave 110% during their back to back performances as they battled to claim the crown. Both artists have enjoyed sustained success in Ghana’s Dancehall industry for the past three years and the sky is the limit for them.
After the Queens it was time for the Prince of Ghanaian Dancehall himself: leader of ‘BhimNation’, Stonebwoy Burnington. Along with BISA KDEI and Shatta Wale, Stonebwoy ruled 2015 with massive hits like Mightylele and Go Higher. He performed in a formal white jacket and was definitely the freshest performer of the night.
Next up was Kranium, a Jamaican dancehall artist who has been around for a while, performing his latest hit 'Nobody Has To Know'. He riled up the crowd by bringing a couple ladies up on stage to dance with him.
Samini (formerly known as Batman) performed next. Samini found major success in the early 2000’s as a Hip-life artist. He has an older fan base, has maintained strong ties in corporate side of the music industry and produces dancehall music that is grounded in Ghanaian Hip-life and High-life traditions. He has previously not seen eye to eye with Shatta Wale and managed to add some controversy to the night by singing over his rival's hit song, 'KaKai'.
Finally it was time for the performance everybody had been waiting for; Shatta “Dancehall King”Wale. Shatta Wale burst onto the mainstream scene again in 2013 after switching from Hip-Life; since then, controversy and widely publicized beefs with other Ghanaian celebrities have always been part of his brand. His fan base, led by the notorious Shatta Movement Family, is made up of the urban youth and his style reflects the aggressive Rudeboy style that originated from and still dominates Jamaican Dancehall today (See Alkaline, Vybz Kartel, Movado).
After Shatta’s outstanding performance, the crowd couldn’t hold off their excitement when the lyrical assassin Alkaline stepped out. Alkaline was covered in tattoos and had performed with the same bad-boy attitude that only the best Jamaican Dancehall stars have. He capped off his powerful performance by bringing out Shatta Wale on stage. Their freestyle collabo sent the crowd wild and it was definitely one of the best moments of the night.
It was only around 5:30 in the morning that the concert ended. Exhausted fans walked out of the stadium satisfied, knowing that they had just been part of Ghanaian dancehall history.
Written by Victor Kyerematen, Photos by Selasi Kumahia