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Album Review: “Red Card: Minstrel Cycle” By Wanlov

If there is one thing Wanlov has been consistently great at, it is his continuous mission to steer our minds – and our eyes- towards the shenanigans of our political leaders, often carried out unapologetically and in broad daylight since the 1950s. Wanlov has a knack at presenting various instances involving our politicians who obfuscate our national progress. He does not hold his tongue on the docility of the Ghanaian at tolerating – and most often forgiven of those in power either. Wanlov is the proverbial blacksmith who continues to hammer the same spot on a metal, not to destroy it but straighten it into a desired shape.

From his debut “Green Card” album to his last body of work “Orange Card”- plus his work under the umbrella of the FOKN Bois with M3NSA, politics, social, religious and economic issues have been prominent themes on his albums. Through brow raising, chilling lyrics and pockets of humor, Wanlov is able to dissect the problems of the Ghanaian society, examine our behavioural nuances and speak truth to power in an uncompromising manner. He does not only employ the medium of music to air out his frustrations on national issues. His social media pages are an extension of his propagation.

Red Card: Minstrel Cycle” is the latest offer from Wanlov. The album is 19 track long and examines the country’s developmental progress, political chicanery, support for feminism and a critique of the growing religious exploitation. The album is not filled with ‘feel good’ music even though some songs offer you that, the general output is a nail biting commentary aimed at reshaping your thinking. The couplets are revolutionary informed by aching frustrations.

The album’s cover is a harbinger of what is to be heard on the album. Designed by the award winning artist Bright Ackwerh – he also designed the cover for “Orange Card”- the album cover for ‘’Red Card’’ shows a distraught Wanlov at the back of bicycle ridden by actress and activist, Lydia Forson. Lydia Forson wears a smirk of satisfaction on her face; a sharp contrast to Wanlov’s blank face. Behind them is the Flagstaff House engulfed in flame. On the frontal of the building lies the guillotine heads of our political leaders since 1992. Beside the heads is a dead elephant (the emblem of the current government). A macabre outlook for an album. But, the message is clear: No more bullshit. Citizen activism against political power is of the essence.

Kicking off the album is “Minstrel Cycle”. Ushered by saccharine guitar licks, Wanlov, in a stream of consciousness style delivers epistles that attacks patriarchy; derides the back hand approach to issues of violence against women (”If she claim assault we for investigate/use all our resources”). In essence, Wanlov is showing “red card to you all fuckers”. “Dis Be Ghana” takes a swipe at the prevailing “copy and paste” culture. For Wanlov, the call by a section of Ghanaians to do a cover of Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” and later coopted by Nigeria’s Falz goes against his creativity. After all, he has been speaking on these same issues covered by Gambino and Falz for over a decade. Haven’t you been listening?

“Could U” borrows its guitar groove from Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” and its rhythm from Ghanaian highlife. Wanlov, Sena Dagadu and M3NSA take turns to preach about the power of love for all humanity from different perspectives. The record sounds like it was cut during the ‘’Afrobeats LOL’’ sessions. ‘’PPP” is a hell-raising anthem directed at three of the most corrupt individuals in the country – politicians, the police and charismatic preachers. The song feels like one of the records cut during the recording of ‘FOKN Ode to Ghana’.

‘’Red Card’’ takes a somber, minimal feel thanks to the acoustic-driven songs like ‘’Child Care’’, a song that describes in vivid terms actions that overlooks the wellbeing of the future generation especially the girl child. ‘’Fokn Country’’ explores the dynamics of Ghana- the good and the bad, ‘’Lies’’, with its rock vibe lives up to its title while ‘’Never Change, released in 2015 rages against the fleecing schemes of politicians.

Corruption within the clergy receives Wanlov’s attention on “Red Card”. On “Julor Kwakwe”, “Still Kwakwe” and “Very Soon”, he takes aim at pastor Mensa Otabil under whose chairmanship Capital bank collapsed, calls out some prominent Ghanaians who have been cited for one corruption claim or allegation. Released in 2015, “Very Soon” is an expression of his chagrin at the non-altruistic nature of the Christian religion.

The opening bars on the song is chilling: ‘’I wish I could kill every single Christian cos I love them/and send them right on up to heaven for enjoyment/ cos when I look at this planet earth in fact, Christians are suffering/ working hard every day, slaving away for their pay for their pastor in offering’’.

“Sole Rebel” offers a glimpse into the life and actions of Wanlov whiles the hip hop wrapped ‘’The Once’’ featuring the very impressionable Sena Dagadu is a tickler for a collective action towards changing our destinies and that of the country. ‘’We are the ones we’ve been waiting for/ so what are we waiting for?’ the chorus of the song echoes.

“Red Card: The Minstrel Cycle” is the most comprehensive body of work in the ever growing catalog of Wanlov – theme wise. The lyrics are sharp and straight forward. Wanlov, unlike on previous albums where humor was used as an embellishing potion, “Red Card” eschews this format. Wanlov keeps his eyes on the ultimate goal like a sprint runner aiming for the finish line.

The lyrics are delivered censorship like on “Neva Change”, “Julor Kwakwe”, “Still Kwake” and “Fokn Country” where the pent-up frustrations, disappointments and the lack of action on the part of citizens stir the irreverent tone of Wanlov on “Red Card”. Although, Wanlov’s advocacy for a radical overthrow of the socio-political and religious systems might come from an informed place, it is a strategy some won’t subscribe to. Collective citizen advocacy could achieve a lot more in this respect.  Revolutionary; that is the befitting adjective for “Red Card: The Minstrel Cycle.

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