In 2011, legendary music producer Hammer (Last 2), produced a song that became a treasured record among a crop of music lovers. Unlike most of his renowned works, this particular single did not become a national hit. However, the song has become an almost cult classic among some fans. As Hammer would admit, he did not ‘put resources” behind the song to aid its growth as he did for other works he produced. What accounted for Hammer’s decision to not market the song as expected?
“He had disrespected some people in the industry so I wanted to punish him”. Hammer would admit on his Instagram page when he took his turn on the now popular #BehindDaHitz session on IG Live. The “he” Hammer was referencing was Agyekum, a singer who appeared on the scene nine years ago with “Hohuo Asem” (A Traveller’s Tale).
During the conversation, Hammer would shock the audience with the news of the passing of Agyekum, a week after helping him shoot the video for his single in December, 2019. The outpouring of disbelief and shock, coupled with messages of condolences followed the disclosure. For an onlooker, the expression of sadness by a section of the 6,000 online fans who watched Hammer on #BehindDaHitz would be curious considering Agyekum was just an underground artist. What made “Hohuo Asem” and Agyekum beloved?
The answer laid in the music he made. Hammer is known to be a hip hop oriented producer, meaning most of the people he worked with were rappers. Though he had some singers – Kwabena Kwabena and Ruth- in the camp of the Last 2, all the artists whose career he guided were MCs and lyricists.
Agyekum’s musical style was different. He was a singer whose style did not fit the generic contemporary highlife template. He typified a palm wine highlife artist as reflected on “Hohuo Asem”. Agyekum spoke his words rather than deliver them in melodic sonnets. His style of singing has more in comparison with Osei Kwame Korankye, the famed Ghanaian seprewa player and artist.
There have been a couple of accounts on the making of ‘Hohuo Asem’. According to one version, Agyekum walked into Hammer’s studio, narrated his life story – a traveler who has come to Accra in search of the proverbial greener pasture. However, the harsh reality of living in Accra had hit him. Touched by his story, Hammer gave him to the opportunity to record a song based on his story. Inspired by the sad tale of Agyekum, Sarkodie decided to add a verse to the song for free, as he indicated on his verse.
”Hohuo Asem” began with a drum kick and snare followed by a triumphant horn section. The hard hitting drums and snares that has become a default signature tag for Hammer across his two decade stint in the game were present. The beat was very mid-tempo and soulful. The glorious horns and drums, however, sat in contrast with Agyekum’s missive.
Agyekum marked his entrance after 27 seconds; his frail voice held about of sorrow. Hearing his voice gave the listener this sombre feeling. The missive he shared centred on the ebb and flow of life; its challenges and the drudgeries a sojourner endures in his quest to making it in a faraway land. This was epitomized in the song’s opening line: “Support is given to the one who climbs a good tree (a venture with good prospects)/I climbed a wobbly one/ I’m struggling to keep my balance”. The hook summarized his plight: The story of a sojourner or stranger is full sufferings. (Note: translation is from Twi to English).
Aside the catchy beat and the sobering tale, Agyekum’s command over the Twi language was highly impressive. The language was so rich that some speakers of the Twi language would struggle to find the meanings behind certain phrases. His command of the Twi language compared with that of the late highlife veterans Daasebre Dwamena and Kofi. If Agyekum rendered his story from a first-person perspective, Sarkodie laid a verse from the perspective of an observer. Sarkodie painted a picture of a man in dire straits: taking up odd jobs to make ends meet, neglect by family and how family members embrace the rich and reject the poor and vulnerable.
In one of his bars, Sarkodie intimated how Agyekum’s “star would shine one day”. Unfortunately, that day never came, musically speaking. A man who loved the music and wanted to pursue it to whatever heights he dreamt of passed on when he was almost there. The video which was shot in December 2019 could have re-introduced him to a wider audience considering “Hohuo Asem” never felt dated. Just like Hammer admitted, Sarkodie’s voice still sounds the same after 11 years. The horn-filled record sounds fresh. And, Agyekum’s story about struggle would have so resonated with many.
He never lived to see how bright his star could have shined. Like they say, nobody knows what the future holds. Everybody is bound to die someday. What we are not sure about is when. If Hammer knew Agyekum’s life was going to be this short, he would have forgiven him for the ”disrespect he exhibited towards some important people”. He would have spent his resources on helping him taste the fruits of stardom. He would have mentored and guided him more as he did for the others.
Watching Hammer admit to failing to act right with Agyekum was a hard watch. It reminded us of the need to not hold grudges, support people especially those closest to us and forgive those who wrong us. The saying that time heals all is not entirely true. Regrets are wounds that never heal. Hammer’s decision to release the video rather than hold on to it and lead a “1Million Views” campaign where proceeds would go to Agyekum’s spouse and kids is definitely a gesture worth supporting. It’s never too late to right ones wrongs.
Words by Swaye Kidd