The year was 2003. The National Theatre was the venue. The suspense was hitting a crescendo after the audience had danced,clapped and laughed to side splitting jokes from the MC of the night, the indefatigable Kwame Sefa-Kayi. Many inside the National Theatre auditorium had seen their favourite artists pick up awards.
The clock was ticking towards the biggest award of the night, and in the books of many, it was a straight fight between Kojo Antwi, whose ‘’Densu’’ album had been a massive hit, and hiplife duo, Buk Bak, who had racked up three awards that night, courtesy their album ‘’Sika Korkor’’. Despite the wins by Buk Bak, Kojo Antwi was in pole position to win the Artiste of the Year Award.
However, the night did not end as many had envisaged. The ultimate and coveted award of the night did not go to any of the two fan favourites. A new faced, young rapper who had broken through the music scene with two major hit singles was voted the Artiste of The Year. A section of the audience who were displeased by the choice walked out of the auditorium in angst. That walkout was harbinger to the many controversies that still confront the ceremony till date.
The artiste who took home the black Ghana map shaped, gold G-Clef sign encrusted wooden plaque was Emmanuel Nana Appiah Boateng, known as Kontihene. Kontihene had released his debut album, “Nyankoton” in 2002. The album boasted several good tracks, with Aketesia and Aseesa- the two lead singles being outstanding. The native of Patase in Kumasi instantly became a star. It was therefore, not surprising for some when he emerged winner on the night.
What possibly accounted for the success of the album was the era Kontihene emerged from The turn of the century was a period when rappers saw lyricism and staying unique (style) as the most important elements required to be successful and respected by your peers. So, each artiste went the extra mile to be relevant. Rappers such as Obrafour, Lord Kenya, Akyeame,Buk Bak, VIP, Nkasei and Nananom were pushing the music towards a new direction
Talent, passion and money could only get you that access. And, as was the case with many of these young, Senior Secondary School graduate-turned rappers, talent and passion were their only security to realizing their dreams.
Kontihene was young, raw and passionate. You could virtually feel his hunger and passion on the beats he rapped on. His timbre voice and his ad-libs -screams and wails -were gripping and haunting. The messages in his songs were relatable and deep considering his age. Take for instance the two leading singles of the album- ‘’Aketesia’’ and ‘’Aseesa’’ which were not only rhythmically hip and modern, the messages were educative and touched on real life subjects. Consider the opening line of the first single “Akatesia”: ‘suban 3tse s3 nyisan’ (character is like pregnancy, no matter what happens, it would protrude) -a line from a proverb- is enough to get your attention.
‘’Akatasia’’’s high tempo, chopped hip-hop and highlife beats and its very popular re-worked hook endeared to many people. ‘’Aseesa’’ on the other hand touched on the themes of family, struggles and conflicting thoughts: whether to sacrifice his manhood for riches; often a dilemma confronting some young people taking a beating from life. Kontihene’s ‘’Madafo Pa’’, featuring Nanaba T was a reworked version of an old Ghanaian classic highlife song by Kofi Ani Johnson.
Morris Babyface finding Kontihene (or Kontihene finding Morris) and taking a gamble by introducing him to Hi-Digital Studios; financing half of the production cost as well as serving as his engineer and producer helped make ‘’Nyankonton’’ a great piece of work. While Kontihene became an instant star, Morris’ profile as an excellent sound engineer, producer and songwriter became easily noticeable.
Morris, conscious of his target audience- the youth and elderly – crafted beats that were very familiar and hip. Knowing how huge hip hop music appealed to the youths, he picked some of the best hip hop hits in the country at that time and ‘localized’ it. On both ‘’Akatesia’’ and ‘’Aseesa’’, Morris sampled from two global smash hits: Lauryn Hills’ ‘Lost One’ and ‘Keepin’ It Real’ by Shaggy respectively.
The beautiful sampling and lush production works by Morris and the raw and passionate delivery of Nana Kontihene culminated in the making of ‘’Nyankonton’’ the classic album it is today. After 16 years after its release, one can listen to the songs and appreciate everything about the album. The success of the album led to Nana Kontihene getting featured by highlife maestro, Kojo Antwi on ‘’Me De3 Ne Wo A’’ (You Are Mine), off Densu. By this, Kontihene became the first hiplife artiste to feature on a Kojo Antwi song. Kojo Antwi would be involved in the production of Kontihene’s sophomore album, ‘’Nsroma’’ (Star).
It must be added that, Kontihene has not been able to top the success of ‘’Nyankonton’’ with any of his subsequent albums.. I doubt he could put out an album which would be a shade away from his first, anytime soon. But, if there is anything that Kontihene still possesses, it is his passion, rawness, great music writing skills and matured lyrics. In my estimation, the only one who can inspire Kontihene to greater heights as a musician is no one but himself. His talent is too huge to be held back. His has to unleash it on the world once again.