Monday, January 16, 2017

Farewell ode to the "Dead Goat" aka the uber-cool, dabbing President

Former President Mahama at the official launch of his re-election campaign in seen on TV

On Saturday 7 January 2017 at exactly 12 midnight, the tenure of the 4th President of the 4th Republic of Ghana came to an end. Later on that day, the 5th President of the 4th Republic was sworn in but that's another story for another time.

The Dabbing Commander
Source: with the kind permission of @Kwakye_ade3f3 on Twitter
Former President Mahama will not only be remembered for being the only President of the 4th Republic to be voted out after one term in office but also for being relatively young, vibrant, tech-savvy and having a whole lot of swag

Another unforgettable trait of President Mahama is his skills in oration and communication. Who can forget the oratory gem he delivered to Ghanaians living in Botswana in March 2015? :

I have seen more demonstrations and strikes in my first two years. I don't think it can get worse. It is said that when you kill a goat and you frighten it with a knife, it doesn't fear the knife because it is dead already.......I have a dead goat syndrome

-President Mahama

March 2015

Goats may appear to be a strange animal for any analogy but in Ghana, we love our goats and what the former president was describing was how he was impervious to attack in what he termed having 'Dead Goat Syndrome'. Unfortunately for him, this statement seemed to shatter the thin line between being impervious and not caring. 

Over the past few years, I have struggled to find the right description for former President Mahama's public demeanour. Finally, in a scathing article in November 2016, the Economist provided the word that made the most sense to me: 'insouciance'. 

Sadly, I am sure the former President cared a great deal about governance and Ghana but his public persona over the length of his tenure did not always reflect this. State of the Nation addresses were mixed with laughter, jovial jibes and swipes at the opposition. These were very entertaining but showed a lack of some degree of gravitas. 

In the end it appeared that describing himself as having 'Dead Goat Syndrome may have played a part in sounding his own political death knell. He told the people that he did not care about being attacked and he got punished for not caring enough....among other things. Former President Mahama's legacy is indeed mixed; his tenure will be remembered for impressive infrastructural achievements blended in with a plethora of corruption scandals. Regardless of where one stands, on January 7th we bade farewell to a well-spoken, warm President with a great sense of wit, charm and perhaps a not-so-presidential demeanour. 
In retrospect, any current president adding their image to buses branded with images of former heads of state is probably not the best way to remain in power...especially if the costing of bus branding was a stand-alone political scandal

Monday, January 02, 2017

Change came to the B.A.D in the Annus Horribilis that was 2016

Queen Elizabeth II called 1992 an Annus horribilis which basically means disastrous or unfortunate year. 2016 was pretty much an Annus horribilis on a global scale; a year full of political shocks and celebrity deaths. 

2016 will be remembered by children of the 80s as the year that saw the passing of many adored icons. There was Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Gene Wilder, George Michael....just to name a few. There were other musical icons who passed on such as Glenn Frey of the Eagles, Leonard Cohen and of course the Kwaito legend Mandoza. The political surprises seen worldwide in 2016 were pretty spectacular. The conflict in Syria continued and became even more deadly as the year progressed. In early December, the Gambian strong man who has been in power since 1994 was beaten at the polls. Earlier in the year, the United Kingdom opted to leave the European Union which also coincided with the near-annihilation of the opposition Labour party through self-inflicted implosion. Later in the year, to the surprise of many, the US electoral college system voted to make Russia great again. 

Over in the Beacon of African Democracy (the B.A.D), something quite unexpected happened. The opposition managed to beat the incumbent government at the polls without the need for a run-off election.

Some may attribute this electoral feat to the eerie trend in which Ghana has followed the US electoral direction since 1992. The trend is simple; when Democrats win the US Presidential election, the National Democratic Congress wins in Ghana and when Republicans win, the New Patriotic Party wins. There are also supposedly ideological parallels to this. This would make sense if the winner of the 2016 US election was in fact an established Republican as opposed to a Democrat turned Independent turned Republican. However, I digress....

One of the best explanation for why (the soon to be erstwhile) Mahama administration lost the presidential election in 2016 came from a stinging article published in The Economist in November entitled Nkrumah's Heirs. The article coincidentally also refers to Ghana as the Beacon  of African Democracy and was pretty harsh on both political parties. What they had to say about the ruling party was severe but pretty informative:

Patronage, uncontrolled expenditure, burgeoning public debt, insouciance on the part of the President, squandering of oil money, pot-holed roads and incessant power cuts were just some of the factors at play that decided the fate of Ghana's National Democratic Congress. 

So there it is. Ghana will have Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo as President for the next 4 years. The effect of change has been interesting to witness. Many people appear delighted and some traders dropped prices in the market over Christmas. Cynics may view the latter move as a tad disingenuous...but that is just cynics. Throughout the land, there is an undeniable air of optimism, hope and NO space for complacency from Ghana's new leaders. The Ghanaian electorate has proven once again that it is powerful, discerning and unforgiving. 

New billboard up in Accra of the President-elect of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo

Saturday, November 05, 2016

REPOST: Remembering an African Icon: Brenda Fassie (MaBrr) 3 Nov 1964 - 9 May 2004

Thursday 3 November 2016 was the late great South African musical icon Brenda Fassie's birthday. She would have been 52 years old had she not passed on in 2004. In honour of this birthday, the website OkayAfrica  had a great piece on the 10 best Brenda Fassie songs. Many of my favourites were on the list while others did not make the cut. The wonderful thing about Brenda Fassie was that her large musical repertoire spanned two decades and several genres. Although fans of her music have divided opinions about which song was her best, there was something in there for everyone in her large body of work. For example, like the author of the OkayAfrica article, my brother insists Weekend Special was her best song. I  wholeheartedly disagree. Reflecting on her legacy, here's my piece from 2012 on the icon that was Brenda Fassie.  
The Late Brenda Fassie
Source: Lastfm
The late great South African musical icon Brenda Fassie may be remembered by some only for her infectious hit Vulindlela that took the African continent by storm in the late 90s and early '00s. However, for many of us growing up in Southern Africa in the 80s and 90s, Brenda Fassie's music was the soundtrack of our lives. Her early pop hits were the songs we used to sing along to in the playground in primary school while in high school, her kwaito tracks were the stuff of intricately choreographed dance routines. 
In fact from the late 1980s through the 90s there was a transition in  Brenda Fassie's music from pop songs mainly in English to the dance rhythms of kwaito almost exclusively in local South African languages. As Brenda Fassie reached the height of her career during this period, not only was she known for the music but also for the offstage drama that managed to fill newspapers and tabloids.

Despite all the drama, it came as a complete shock to me when Brenda Fassie tragically passed away at the age of 39 years in 2004 just months after I saw her perform live at the Ghana Music Awards.

So I was just thinking to myself. Today marks 8 years since the passing of one of my favorite musical icon and out of the plethora of her songs, which would be my ultimate favorite? This is actually a very hard question. 

Would it be Zola Budd the hit that celebrated the Johannesburg mini-van taxis nicknamed Zola Budd after the South African long distance runner of the time Zola Budd

Would it be Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu. The song that encapsulated the Zulu proverb "umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu" (a person is a person because of people) and described Brenda Fassie's gratitude to others? This song had a really glitzy video involving a plane and runway. I am sure we still have it on VHS somewhere.

Would my favorite be No No No Senor? A song with an amusing video that replicated an American Western (or more like a Spaghetti western) with Brenda as a heroine saved by a cowboy on horseback complete with a stetson. I kid you not.

There are just too many songs to choose from. There's Brenda's ode to Mr. Nelson Mandela in Black President which was years before he actually became the first black president of South Africa.  There is also Boipatong  featuring the powerful vocals of Tsepho Tshola of the band Sankomota dedicated to those killed in the tragic Boipatong Massacre of 1992. 

Who could also forget Too Late for Mama that tells the story of a mother struck by lightning on the way to fetch water. I am really confused why google keeps linking this track with Alicia Keys. Or did I miss Alicia Keys re-doing a Brenda song completely?

Still among the Brenda anthology there is the ultimate early dance  track Istraight Lendaba which along with Higher and Higher were hits around the time that kwaito music was just emerging as a genre. 

There are the later kwaito classics like QulaNgeke Umconfirm, Nomakanjani, Amagents (an angry response to another South African musician), the very dark Memeza and of course Vulindlela

So I thought about it long and hard. My ultimate favorite Brenda Fassie song would have to be the very first one I ever heard when I was still a child. The video featured a young 19 year old Brenda Fassie belting her heart out in It's nice to be with people when she was still billed as 'Brenda Fassie and The Big Dudes'. This was before the fame, before the drama and before the tragedy.

Sadly, I can't find the original video on the internet:

When Time Magazine described Brenda Fassie as the Madonna of the Townships in a 2001 article, I for one thought they got it completely wrong. Brenda Fassie was not the Madonna of the Townships, Madonna was the Brenda Fassie of America. 

Brenda Fassie aka MaBrr; fondly remembered and forever cherished.