What do you know about Soulatidoe? Do you even remember them? Do you know how much they contributed to the hiplife movement? Do you know their story? And how they made one of the most important records during their active years?
One of the things I enjoy about documenting the music scene in Ghana is receiving links to some good stuff from friends and acquaintances Yesterday, I received one of those; a link to one old record that I have even forgotten existed. Thanks, Kofi Beatmenace Boachie- Ansah, a name you should know if you consider yourself part of the music and art scene.
If you were an ardent watcher of Ad- Cycle on Metro TV around 1997-1999, you’d perhaps have caught a glimpse of the music video for Soulatidoe’s hit single “Ka W’ano Tumu”. The hip hop tune came with a matching low budget video that borrowed from the visual concepts of Black Star, Gang Starr, Wu-Tang Clan or Mobb Deep. The visuals included sights and sounds of a parts of Los Angeles, probably the neighbourhood the duo resided.
The record, released under Boss Entertainment imprint, owned by their brother Seth Obeng, became a fixture on radio, helping to ignite an interest in rap or hiplife. A propelling factor for the success of the song was the emergence of private radio in Ghana following the liberalization of the media space in 1995. By 1997/8, most of the urban radio stations were promoting hiplife, thus the success of many hiplife records.
Soulatidoe is made up of two brothers – Emmanuel “Soul Nana” and Frederick “Latidoe” Obeng. They were born and raised in Koforidua before emigrating to the United States after their Senior Secondary education. With music in their blood – their dad, Samuel Mfojo Obeng popular known as Rim Obeng was a drummer for the UHURU Band and subsequently released the punk-funk record “Love Me For Real”- it didn’t take long for them to find inspiration to record and subsequently release a song, and later an album.
The production on “Ka W’ano Tumu” (Shut Up) was very boom-bap in tone, in line with most of the popular hip hop sounds of the 90s. The duo would step to the beat with enthusiasm, sharing couplets about their life experiences in the US across three verses. Soul Nana mostly rapped in Twi, while his brother Latidoe delivered his verse in English.
“Ka W’ano Tumu” was an expression of their experiences – one that resonated with most African immigrants who return home from abroad. The song was also a critique of the attitude of those back home who expected gifts from returnees. It also dismissed the erroneous impression about the ‘sweet life’ in the west (the pasture is more greener) and how Africans in America or Europe were expected to return home with something of value – establish businesses, build a house(s), live the good life. One’s inability to achieve any of these were considered a failure which is often mocked. Till date, Africans who sojourn to Europ or America are expected to own some properties in their countries of origin no matter their situation or circumstances.
For Soulatidoe, that false impression needed to be jettisoned since it did put pressure on that individual. Again, it is easy to make it out there is not wholly true. Life in a faraway land is tough. The song’s opening hook reinforced that stance. “Once we bring gifts from abroad, y’all beg us for a few/But when we are unsuccessful, you mock us/ The trials of life can be told by one who has experienced it/So, keep your mouth shut on it”.
Soul Nana would contrast the easy life he had in Ghana with the harsh realities of life in America: the hustle for money, the attitude of friends when the tide of life turns left. He’d interpolate the classic Lumba Brother’s “Ye ya aka ankwantuom” hit record to advance his narrative. Latidoe won’t depart from the theme, rapping: “expectations from my nation got me facing frustrations/Can’t return without anything”.
To avoid being ridiculed and considered hopeless, they have to put in extra hours of work just so they could return home with some level of pride and respect among family members. “All you know is give me/What you think? Money grows on trees like leaves for the picking?, Latidoe would take a jab at the excessive requests for favours from those back home.
In hindsight, Soulatidoe were, in addition to detailing the harsh realities of life in Europe or America, pointing out the effects the pressure from home- in the form of demands, a reminder to ‘do something back home”, meeting expectations- affected the mental and physical health of African immigrants.
On the third verse, Soulatidoe would trade verses, continuing with the harshness of life in the states- how a default on rent meant being homeless and never to associate that flashy lifestyle of returnees as a sign of success because it’s all a fugazi. I’m sure readers have heard many accounts by relatives and friends on how tough life is out there. That reality has inspired many records by the likes of Lumba Brothers, A.B. Crentsil and others. Soulatidoe added their voice to those ahead of them. The crux of their story- of immigrants hustling to survive in a strange land, however, has not changed, 23 years after the song was released.