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How Sisimbo by Red Red touches on love, water and identity

One of the beauties of music is that, it helps you construct a comprehensive narrative about an artiste through the scrutinization of their catalogs. One could deduce their life stories, fears, socio-political views and lifestyle through their lyrics. Genius, the lyrics annotation site has on occasions written, from the volumes of lyrics available, the biographies of some hip-hop artistes.

The music duo Red Red, has on their latest single provided some dots which could be connected to establish a thread between water, love and identity. The group is  made up of Mensa Ansah (M3NSA); one-half of the FOKN Bois and Hangarian DJ Elo, with the musical collective Irie Mafia. The song, “Sisimbo” has, as its theme, the subject of love (relationship) and the importance of finding a common ground despite the turbulence associated with it.

M3nsa’s musical history sparkles like golden crusts. In 1999, at 18 years old, he was producing songs for Reggie Rockstone (he produced and featured on ‘Mapouka’, off Reggie’s Me Ka album). Prior to that, he was a member of the rap group LifeLine Family. The group disbanded after enjoying massive success following the release of their debut album. Their single ‘Wo Sisi Y3 Wo Ya’ became not only a chart-topping tune but remains as one of the best songs of all time.

M3nsa didn’t drift into musical oblivion after his stint with LifeLine Family like some of its members. He released the certified classic ‘If You Don’t Know’, in 2003. He took a role as a producer for some years before forming the irreverent group FOKN Bois with Wanlov. Holding his place as a member of FOKN Bois, he joined forces with DJ Elo to form the group RedRed. DJ Elo is also the husband of Sena Dagadu, one of the most versatile and eclectic singers/rapper you’d ever encounter.

The group’s name, “Red Red” takes its source from a popular Ghanaian dish of fried plantain and cooked beans. Most of the songs they have released take inspiration from Ghana; either in theme or influence- Gidigidi and Ghetto are examples. The music Red Red makes lean towards pop/EDM (Electronic Dance Music). They, however, infuse influences from other genres including hip hop, afrobeats, afro house, calypso.

Their latest, “Sisimbo” has M3nsa crooning about a difficult relationship and the need to find a common ground towards fixing whatever is deemed broken. He sings: ‘I’ll ride the waves even though the sea is rough; one drop of faith for you and me is enough’ over a sparse, mid-tempo and minimal EDM/pop beat that breaks into a calypso rhythm on the hook and reverts back to its original sound of pop. M3nsa exhibits a spotless cadence in his delivery. In the words of DJ Elo, their initial intention wasn’t to create this EDM-pop-Calypso beat with variants of Afropop sound. 

We were trying to make something like afro house, South African house or Angola house type of music. But, in the process, it came out like… I don’t even know what it is. It’s nothing to do like all those things. Basically, it’s a fishermen song’ – DJ ELO

What Sisimbo reveals about M3nsa is his origins: a Ghanaian; a Fante. The song title is taken from an olf folk song popular among the fisherfolks or fishing communities in the coastal regions of Central and Western Regions of Ghana. As DJ Elo hintermd in the quote above, Sisimbo is a fisherman​ song.

Music is a very important part in the lives of fishermen in carrying out their trade. It serves as an inspiration. It serves as a rallying point of their collective efforts. It fosters a sense of community amongst the fishermen. In essence, music is the force power behind their performance. Aside the relaxation music provides.

Sisimbo is a Fante folk song that the fishermen sing… It’s just about moving in synchrony and it applies to all relationships if you’re on the same boat; in one accord… It’s​ about difficult relationships, not romantic relationships – M3NSA

M3nsa hails from Senya Breku, a fishing community near Winneba in the Central Region. He, however lived (and does have a home) in Dansoman, a town in Accra found along the coast (he most often lives in London and Budapest). The communities surrounding Dansoman have fishing as their main trade. This put him in a stead to know about fishing, the sea and the music of the trade.

Sisimbo is sung to point out the importance of rowing in unison in other to propel faster the canoe over the rough waves to the calmer part of the sea. M3nsa employs the rowing of oars and the sea as metaphors to highlight two crucial situations about relationships. First, the sometimes turbulent nature of love affairs and second, the show of strength to strive over the rough seas (relationship) towards a point of calmness (peace). This is illustrated aptly by lyrics as ‘waves of emotions. maybe the ocean’s turning me upside down but all I need right now is to be coasting’.

Red Red isn’t the first to reference Sisimbo in a song. Legendary highlife artiste, C.K. Mann on his evergreen tune Asafo Beson, referenced it on the song.  Working towards perfection​ isn’t as easy as the blinking​ of an eye. It takes blood, sweat, and toil. 

Red Red have released a very catchy, inviting and danceable song; a perfect crowd puller. M3nsa’s ability to borrow from his Fante roots and in the process showcase his identity (perhaps unknowingly) as well as remimding us of the fluidity of love adds to the appeal of “Sisimbo”. And as the poet Nayyirah Waheed wrote, ‘we return to each other in waves. This is how water loves’

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