When Terry Abban (@TerryAbban) tweeted me the link to his newly made Kojo Antwi playlist on iTunes, I hit him right back, asking him to include some omitted songs by the Ghanaian music maestro.
Later, scrolling through the playlist, something else caught my attention. It was not the carefully put together classics from the over 15 albums (it could be more) of Kojo Antwi till date. As someone interested and particular about album covers, I was struck by the artwork which had adorned the fronts of his albums sleeves over the years.
This is not surprising since Kojo Antwi has always proven to be ahead of the curve; ahead of his compatriots, musically and artistically. Judging by his relevance and influence on contemporary Ghanaian highlife music and performances viz-a-viz his other compatriots, only a few can stand shoulders with him. Mr. Music Man (as he is often called) is one artiste who is not afraid to experiment with sounds-and the experimentation is heard throughout his compositions- dovetailing into his overall re-inventive process.
Listening to Kojo Antwi’s music, one clearly identifies musical influences as afrobeats, highlife, soul, jazz, hip hop, R&B, Soka and reggae and of course highlife influences in them Asked how he continuously stayed relevant musically, the KORA Award winner in 2000 and 2010 BET nominee (first Ghanaian artiste to be nominated) said, in part, that he kept abreast with the times both in sounds and slangs used by the youth and incorporated them in his music to appeal to both the old and younger fans.
On performances and stagecraft, well, let your uncles, aunties and parents who have ever attended any of his 24th December shows tell you about it. He has emerged from rooftops, walls, from beneath the ground (stage). The success of his 24th December concerts has inspired other artistes like Daddy Lumba and Sarkodie to stage their concerts around the same period. For over a decade and half, Kojo Antwi, literally owned 24th December evenings.
The creativity of Kojo Antwi transmitted into his videos. With Felix Deecat and Ibrahim Sinare as his ‘go to’ video directors, Kojo Antwi brought his vivid imaginations and creativity to bear in his videos. Videos such as the marvelously choreographed Bra, the colourful Me Do Fo Pa, comedic Odo Ano W’appi, the puppet inspired Tom & Jerry as well as the lovely Kaakie are testament to his creativity.
Back to the album covers, the covers I received span the periods 1995 to 2009 (for those unfamiliar with the albums, I’d include a list of hit songs off each album). From the covers, it is evident that Kojo Antwi does not follow the norm like his compatriots. Most of his fellow musicians adorn their album covers with still photos of themselves in various poses. Kojo Antwi rarely does that.
He goes for paintings of Ghanaian symbols or artifacts, graffiti works or water colour doddle like paintings. Except on two albums (Mister Music Man where he sat clutched to his guitar and To Mother Afrika which captured his broader part of his face) where he used still photos, the rest are mostly paintings. I’m tempted to believe that, the use of these paintings, artifacts and symbols was/is to portray his origins-Ghanaian, African –and identity to whoever is buying the album.
Below are the artworks of his albums and a little note on each of them.
GROOVY (1994): A graffiti picture of Kojo Antwi with feathers in his dreadlocks –similar to that of native Indians warriors of North America-staring strongly at something. At the background are the pyramids of Egypt and a blazing gold sun. Songs on album include Me Ni Woara, Adinkra
MISTER MUSIC MAN (1995: The album boasted songs like Dadie Anoma, Mr. Music Man (I Wanna Reggae), Asabone, Rocklyn, Atentreho. The album artwork, shot in black and white depicted a Kojo Antwi in a sitting posture clutched to his guitar.
TO MOTHER AFRIKA 1995 broad face of Kojo Antwi captured. Songs on album included Me Nya Antaban, Akonoba, Tear Down The Walls In Afrika, Brebre Anowa, Me To Nkom.
SUPERMAN (1998) had songs like Sikadem, Afafranto, Superman, I Love Your Style on it. Kojo Antwi is shown staring at someone with his neck turned.
AKUABA (2000) – The album cover showed a colourful puzzle like Kojo Antwi portraits in 9 columns with a letter of his name inscribed on each puzzle. The album name is written upside down (as reflected by a mirror). Top songs off the album were Wo Do Yi Y3 Nsa, Me Do Nsroma, Tom & Jerry, Akuaba, Bra, Me Dofo Pa.
DENSU (2002) – A turban wearing Kojo Antwi with dreadlocks covering half of his face and his hands covering the other side of the face with an eye exposed. Songs found on album include Amirika, Densu, Nfa Me Nko Ho, Me Dee Ne Wo, Odo Ano W’api, Kakai.
AFRARA: Afrafra (mix) is a compilation album of some of his classic hits. The album sleeve is adorned with wooden face carvings of various shapes, colours and sizes, capturing the essence of the album title. Hit songs off the album are Pour Some Sugar, Dadie Anoma, odo y3 d3 sen Sika, Abofra Bo Nwa, Bome Nkomo D3.
TATTOO (2006): Tattoo, despite being one of his most excellently produced and diversely styled albums failed to make an impression on radio and on people as most of his previous works. Artwork is a simple red and brown backdrop with his first name written and album title just beneath the name. Tracks were Odo A Me Do Wo Yi, Ehe Na Mete, Nhyira Ba, Maintenance Man, Do Me Wu, Me Dware.
MWAH (2009) – Mwaah, obviously could be described as the ‘last’ album by Kojo Antwi. He has not released any material since 2009. The artwork shows a Kojo Antwi with dreadlocks covering his face and a rainbow-like stripes behind him (sky). There’s a lips imprint on the right side of the album cover. The album had songs as Sho’Naa, Adiepena, Mesan Aba, Asansewaa.
It has been Seven (7) years since ‘The Maestro’ released any music, be it single or an album. If one is to judge his previous works in terms of year difference-two years apart- Kojo Antwi should have released about three albums by now. And the fact that for over three years or more, he hasn’t performed his regular 24th December Concerts is something un-Kojo Antwi. However, there’s more music by Kojo Antwi to last us till he comes out with a new album.