One of the cardinal sins of the music industry and its issue of over saturation of music is that, many good songs by young, unpopular artists get lost in the maze. If you are lucky or belong to the group of music diggers who don’t consume most of what mainstream radio serves, you are bound to find some of these gems. It was through such means- and good friends- that I heard ‘’ChoCho Mucho’’ by Bless before it took a life of its own.
Yesterday, a colleague played me a song from an artist whose name I was hearing for the first time. Kyei Nwom is his name. His song is titled ‘’Damebi’’. A quick google check indicated the song was released in May, 2018. Kyei was once a contestant on MTN Hitz Maker Season 5. The YouTube views of ‘’Damebi’’ is a around 5K considering the video was uploaded in June of 2018.
All these are unsurprising considering who he is – a young musician who has not gotten the needed finances to promote his song; the bane of many young acts despite their talents. Inadequate finances – or lack of it in most situations mean artists like Kyei Nwom put out songs hoping it would blow up. Or use friends as vessels to spread their works across various social media platforms.
I’ve been thinking about how artists could help offer highlife a new feel by fusing it with some of today’s emerging sub-genres. The recent popularity of afrobeats has seen artists incorporating elements of highlife into their compositions, usually through the use of interpolations, vocal or beat sampling. The effect is a hotchpotch of sounds. While some are able to craft interesting songs around these old samples to great effect, others just throw in these nostalgic and vintage tunes just to sell records.
The employment of nostalgia has become the currency with which some artists are selling their product, even when their creations make you cringe.
The afrobeats renaissance coupled with the emergence of afro-dancehall genres has, for lack of a better word, revived a ‘dying’ genre called highlife. (One reason identified as contributing to the ‘death’ of highlife was its poor economic returns that accrue to the artists, a reason why young acts ventured into hip hop or dancehall and not nightlife).
What other sub- genre could induce artists to experiment with the highlife sound? That was the question I occasionally asked myself. I was hoping someone would be brave enough to do a trap-highlife song similar to what Bryson Tiller did with soul on his commercially successful debut ‘’Trapsoul’’.
Highlife is one of the rare yet versatile music genres that could be co-opted into any other genre without much difficulty. It has a lot of areas one could plug into: the rhythms are evergreen and riveting; the lyrics are compelling and the fluidity of the music offers adequate room for building any new sound around it.
My desire for this kind of experimentation came via ‘’Opus To Ebo Taylor Pt. 1&2’’ and ‘’Felabration’’ a series of remixes by the amazing producer, Yung Fly a couple of years ago. On these EPs, Yung Fly created a fusion between vintage afrobeat tunes and modern trap beat to perfection.
’Damebi’’ by Kyei Nwom strikes with elegance in terms of his voice, delivery, the production and of course, the interpolation of the classic Amakye Dede song ‘’Odo Da Bebi’’. If you should hear the song without watching the video, you would assume Kyei as an old soul. The timbre in his voice belongs to a veteran rather than a young faced artist.
“Damebi’ is a love song. Kyei Nwom weaves a story about longing for his lover. Produced by Two Bars, this song begins with Kyei laying out the issues that would become the fulcrum of his tale, describing his state of loneliness, apologising for his wrongdoings (if any) and confessing his undying affection to her.
On the second verse of the song he wonders about her situation: whether she’s married or found a better life. These issues doesn’t portend well for Kyei’s emotional and physical well-being.
His singing is intense. He delivers his words with striking conviction. The trap drums over which he sings carry a sugary bounce. With the familiar theme of the turmoil associated with losing love being re-echoed, Kyei plays smart by brilliantly sprinkling the song with a bit of nostalgia courtesy the Amakye Dede interpolation as heard on the hook.
The singing and overall composition aside, Kyei’s songwriting quality is evident. His lyrics are well structured, non- excessive and fits the story being told as demonstrated by a line like:”If you’ve found someone, let me know/ Even if I cry/ I’d blow my nose at a point’.
One of the key criticism of afrobeats has been the ludicrous lyrics bawled out by some artists. Clearly, one notices how hollow their writing skills are. Most artists choose melody over lyricism. That is, the catchy melodies and hooks compensate for the deficiency in lyrics.
Kyei Nwom might not be a known voice or face as of now. However, “Demabi” has the potential of becoming his breakthrough song if effort is placed behind the record. Like one industry friend said, your story is a bit sad when you do not have great support – financial and social. It’s worse in the music industry.
Kyei Nwom has a bop to his name. Now, the onus lies on him to put the right energy behind it. There is this much those who might have heard the record can do to support. The real work is his to execute.