Accolades, when showered on a young talented artist could either inspire them or weigh them down. The toll becomes even daunting when the praise comes from a revered voice in the same trade as the one you are pursuing. There is more pressure when that accolade comes from someone who also hails from the same region as the one they are validating.
The late highlife great, Paapa Yankson was once asked in an interview who he thought was next in line to hold aloft the eternally flaming torch of Western Region music. His response was unequivocal: Martin King Arthur. Or Kofi Kinaata, as he is known.
Kofi Kinaata has within a five year period established himself as one of the most incredible artists of our time. The musical journey of the Effiekuma born and raised artist has been a steady ride. His growth and development have been underpinned by his patience to learn the ropes of the music business. Unlike some young talents who skip the artist development stage for the limelight, Kofi Kinaata was patient enough to develop his skills and master his craft; things that have contributed to his current status as an artist.
The name, Kofi Kinaata gained traction beyond the borders of the Western Region, specifically Sekondi-Takoradi in 2012 when his freestyle rap single “Onnyi Chorus” became a sensation. Filled with witty lyrics, excellent punchlines, and his trademark Taadi jargons, “Onnyi Chorus” would open the door of success for the rapper. Before the crossover effect of the song, Kinaata had made a name for himself around the Sekondi- Takoradi metropolis by participating in freestyle battles on Melody FM.
In a Citi FM interview, Kofi Kinaata would acknowledge his deficiency when it came to making a song. He was aware of his skills at rapping but did not know how to structure his raps into songs. His idea of a song was rapping over an instru as evidenced on “Onnyi Chorus”. “I didn’t know how to structure my verses; how to even write a hook”, he would reveal in the interview. High-Grade Family was where he learnt the process of songwriting.
Headed by dancehall ace Samini, Kofi Kinaata’s musical fortunes earned further boost after signing to High-Grade Family in 2013. Under the tutelage of Samini and manager Tony Pun, he would learn the processes involved in making music. His sound would also change. Kofi Kinaata would lean more towards the highlife sound than the hip hop sounds that were in vogue.
If “Onnyi Chorus” brought him respectable visibility, it was on “Odo Pa” by Castro that established him as the next big thing. Like many young artists from the Western Region, Kofi Kinaata had been an admirer of Castro, who also hailed from the region. His feature on the classic highlife song “Odo Pa” was, on hindsight, a torch-passing ceremony.
Even though the song changed his fortune, Kofi Kinaata was initially not impressed by his performance. In an interview with Geroge Quaye on Joy FM, the singer/rapper would reveal his initial disappointment during the recording process. “I actually went in well prepared; I went with a script with details of whatever I wanted in the song”, he indicated. But, the verse was rejected by Castro who thought it too dense for a song like “Odo Pa”.
According to him, “Castro was worried so he told me to put what I brought aside and do the first four bars for the intro and next eight bars for my verse. He made sure to edit it and when it was too hardcore or typical Takoradi style, he dissolved it”. Like a student whose ‘best’ work gets shredded by his teacher, Kofi Kinaata travelled back to Takoradi with a lump of disappointment in his throat.
“After the song, I wasn’t happy because as an underground artiste, I needed to prove myself. But here’s the case he’s telling me this is too hardcore. I wasn’t impressed, so, I went to Takoradi very sad, I did not like what I did”. But, the success of the song taught the Takoradi rapper a lesson: the importance of making relatable songs- connection through lyrics and exhibiting a softer side in his music.
Those two elements – relatable lyrics and projecting a softer side, coupled with finding a sound that endears to Ghanaians of all ages and statuses – have been a treasure find for Kinaata. From 2014 to present, most of his songs have imbibed these qualities. The highlife thread runs through hits like Sweetie Pie, Susuka, Confession, Last Show, Play, Things Fall Apart, Single and Free, Adam and Eve, This is Taadi, Malafaka including his recently released single “Behind The Scenes”.
Despite the infectious sonic of his songs, Kofi Kinaata’s real gift lies in his ability to craft songs with lyrics that reflect the realities of life and the deeds of mankind, revealing both the positive and negative, in a manner reserved for gifted writers with keen sense of observation. His writing is sharp, humour laced, temperate with a wisp of critical undertones. Just like the eye-opening advice Castro offered him, he always keeps his lyrics very simple with a few Tadi jargon for trademark purposes (he has to keep his Taadi fans happy). Like he revealed in his interview on Citi FM last December, he doesn’t want to confound the listeners with too many jargons.
The potency of Kofi Kinaata’s pen is also seen in his 2017 magnum opus, “Confession”. Built around a simple message of “don’t drink and drive”, he crafted a song with a very relatable storyline: asking God to take the wheel of his car after a night of heavy drinking or chilling. On ‘’Susuka’’, released in 2014, he would weave a tale about finding joy in one’s imperfect circumstances. His mega 2019 hit “Things Fall Apart” would address the hypocrisy of self-proclaimed religious people. On his most recent release “Behind The Scenes”, Kofi Kinaata speaks on the hardships people face in their quest to finding success as against the perception of family members who often think it is rosy out there for the ‘hustler’.
As if his songwriting skills are not impressive enough, the “Sweetie Pie” hitmaker has found a way of blending gospel-style anecdotes into his songs, a very calculated move that appeals to the religiosity of Ghanaians. That is, Ghana being a predominantly Christian country means anything that has a semblance of gospel anecdote instantly takes a life of its own. We first saw that on the successful single “The Crusade”, where Donzy and Kinaata verbally re-enacted a hilarious sketch between a pastor and his translator. Realizing this about Ghanaians, Kofi Kinaata’s approach cannot be faulted.
Another set of gifts that is aiding the success of Kofi Kinaata is his ear for melody and the knack to craft unforgettable hooks. At a time when the African continent is swarmed by songs underpinned by afropop sonic, Kinaata has chosen the familiar yet under-exploited highlife sound. With its infectious groove and riveting rhythms, he has found a home. His collaboration with producer Two Bars is proven to be special, as the two songs Two Bars produced – Things Fall Apart and Behind The Scenes- are definitely among the best in his career. It seems Two Bars has unlocked that sound that appeals to Kinaata. The hooks heard on his songs are melodic and simply delivered. These qualities offer the songs the “stuck in my head” allure. It’s no wonder that people of all ages are able to sing along to most of his songs.
In a recent tweet, rapper Ko-Jo Cue asked if other creatives struggle in choosing titles for their projects. The replies were myriad. But what stood out was the fact that choosing the right title for a piece of creative work – song, album is no mean chore. For Kofi Kinaata, this seems not to be the case. Most of his song titles are borrowed from common words or phrases that are easy to remember- Confession, Sweetie Pie, Oh Azaay, The Whole Show, Things Fall Apart, Made In Tadi and more. According to him, he does not write a song without settling on a title. Judging by how short a time he has to spend on a beat when making a song- usually less than 4 minutes, he spends a lot of time on finding the right words to express his thoughts in a concise manner.
Kofi Kinaata continues to enchant people with his brand of music. The appeal of his compositions are not only found in his highlife sound. It is also seen in how selective and calculative he is with his releases. Considering how talented he is, one would have thought Kinaata would be out there releasing a lot of singles and doing a lot of features. Despite his five year sting in the game, Kinaata has no album to his name, compared to some of his compatriots.
The influence of the Western Region on Ghanaian music cannot be denied. The region birthed some highlife greats whose influence continues to live through the current crop of artists. The likes of C.K. Mann, Gyedu-Blay Ambolley and Western Diamonds Band cannot be overlooked. At every phase of popular Ghanaian music, the Western region had always made its presence felt. At the height of hiplife, the Western region gave us Sass Squad and TH4Kwagees. The exploits of these rap groups would influence Castro, who would, in turn, impact the musical exploits of Kofi Kinaata, Pappy Kojo, Nero X, Ayeesem and more.
Considering the qualities he embodies as a songwriter and performer, Kofi Kinaata shall be a fixture on our music scene. His musical style would never go out of fashion; the quality of his writing shall continue to improve. The rapper/singer is doing nothing different from what his predecessors did and in the process adding meaning to the old age saying that, ‘the best comes from the west’.