So, the story went like this: Two young rappers keen on recording an album approached an established music producer to help them realize their dream. The first question the producer asked them was whether they had money to pay for his services, to which they responded in the negative. He therefore asked them to go and bring whatever money that had and come back to him. They obliged. The result was one of the classic hiplife songs and album EVER.
The producer in the above narrative was Zapp Mallet. The two young rappers were Akyeame (Okyeame Quophi and Okyeame Kwame). For Zapp, his decision to record and produce the duo stemmed from their sheer passion and talent. Zapp Mallet would go on to share production credits on their debut album, “Nkonso Konso” with Nana King, the label boss of the defunct Ashanti International.
The beautifully composed “Ma Sen Aba” (I’m Back) is a plea for forgiveness and request to be taken back by his lover. Relying on quintessential palmwine highlife rhythms which was masterfully weaved with hip-hop elements, Akyeame laid down two perfect rap verses that instantly became a classic. The song was the lead single off their 1998 album. (The duo had earlier released ”Nyansapo” (Witty Knots) a year prior. ”Brebre Obahema”,the lead single off their debut had offered them a degree of visibility. But, ”Ma San Aba” was what made them a household name.)
“Me San Aba” was the perfect definition of what a hiplife song must sound like. Zapp Mallet and Akyeame laid the sonic blueprint for other rappers and producers to follow- and they did it. (Of course, Reggie Rockstone had christened the genre “hiplife” but had not cemented what the hiplife sound was. Reggie was rapping over sampled hip-hop, afrobeat and funk beats as heard on his first album, “Maka Maka” produced by DJ Rab).
If hiplife was in need of a sound to drive the genre, Akyeame offered us one: Zapp Mallet fused traditional highlife sound, hip hop (rap), highlife (Nana Quame and Mary Agyapong) and the growing genre of dancehall (Yoggi Doggy) into an exquisite, irresistible sonic collage.
The decision to feature Yoggi Doggi and also incorporate dancehall music in this rap/highlife tune was, on hindsight, a visionary move- considering how dancehall music has become a music staple among Ghanaians. (It could be argued that two out of the three top Ghanaian artists in the last four years have been dancehall acts).
Zapp Mallet produced “Me San Aba” and co-produced Akyeame’s debut album
The song opened with a dashing, vintage 24 seconds Yaa Amponsah guitar riff that only jumped out of the guitars of legendary guitarists like Agya Koo Nimo and Aka Blay. Then came the kick and bass which altered the character and tone of the music. It was the perfect fusion of old vintage highlife and rattling sounds of modern hip hop.
Nana Quame’s mellifluous vocals appeared on the 28 seconds mark. His plea was simple: humans are fallible; he regrets his actions so his lover should take him back. Okyeame Quophi delivered a verse that saw him pleading for forgiveness for acting irresponsibly and taking a hasty decision on letting her go. Whereas Okyeame Quophi begged for forgiveness, Okyeame Kwame itemized how he was going to treat her should she take him back.
Yoggi Dogg, the hottest dancehall prospect of that era promised to be a supportive lover and that arguments, despite being inevitable in relationships must be handled with tact. The bassline that greeted your ears after the rendition of Yoggi’s verse and the vocal work by Mary Agyapong was the kind of tingling bliss you never knew you needed.
The”Nkonso Konso” album boasted other hit singles like”Bra Yen Tena” (with its Cool and The Gang’s”So Fresh” sample), ”Asa Aba So” (sampled Jimmy Cliff’s ‘Hot Shot’ ). 20 years after the release of “Me San Aba”, the gloss and radiance of the song has not faded or diminished despite the group parting ways.
“Me San Aba” is a classic by all standard. It’s an attestation to how much work- from production, lyrical delivery and scope of engineering went into its crafting. It’s therefore, not surprising that it still sounds fresh and unblemished twenty years after its release. Both song an album transcend eras.
”Ma San Aba” was the song that defined, not only the sonic of hiplife but also, merged different genres of music together into an excellent artwork.
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