Ghanaian artist, Wanlov The Kubolor, has managed to maintain an unrivaled level of interest in his musical career, through creativity, skill, controversy and just being himself such that, it is impossible to think about groundbreaking contemporary african music without including his work. The rapper, songwriter, filmmaker chooses music as his primary means of expression haven put out some albums as a solo artist and a critically acclaimed pidgen musical film, Coz Ov Moni, with FOKN Bois. Orange Card – Fruitopian Raps, is his 4th solo studio album and feels like an extension of his 10 year-old debut project Green Card.
The album, released via Pidgen Music with no official promotion is a 21-track tape with dozens of features from artists across genres and nationalities. This “it takes a village” vibe is made clear by the striking orange collage cover art, designed by Bright Ackwerh. It is a nod to the expansive, vivid, yet compact cartoonish vinyl covers from artist like Guy Hayford Agameti and Lemi Ghariokwu. On the album, Wanlov an avid social commentator, flexes his mastery of satire like never before, as he characterises the social condition of Ghana and Africa as a whole. Through catchy hooks, playful yet rousing skits and acrobatic wordplay, he slowly provokes critical thought in the minds of his listeners as he teases out societal issues close to his heart from Chinese neocolonialism to a non GMO fruit-fueled utopia.
However, Wanlov does not present himself as a crusader of any sort, rather programs the deep-seated issues he is addressing through satire so they appear comedic and enjoyable on the surface. The album also has a gritty consistent texture, similar to Green Card, despite the genre-bending sounds used. Songs like Adowa Tywant and Osiris Rising sample traditional drum patterns (“Adowa” on Adowa Tywant), to produce straight up rap songs. Other songs also like Make We Rap and We Didn’t , featuring Open Mike Eagle, lean towards a more grimy hip hop sound with snappy boom bap drums and skeletal chords. Regardless, there is a healthy variety of sounds on this tape, none of which break the breezy yet alert mood.
This vivid imagery is a constant feature throughout the album as Wanlov brings to life the realities of his time. Songs like Osiris Rising which features a witty refrain made out of the titles of Ayi Kwei Armah’s books to No Boarders with the emerging South African rap dynamo, Sho Madjozi, build up picturesque scenes that exist yet are rarely addressed in contemporary african music. The visual narrative is a sufficient mental prompt to anyone listening, spotlighting the conditions that birth the themes in his music. This is perfectly experienced on Colonial Cleanse, which sounds like a GBC public service announcement from the 1960s with the imperial sounding horns and childish jingling chords.
Another interesting point on this album are the features. Only five of the 21 songs do not have featured verses. A majority of them strictly conform to the narrative and contribute alternate dimensions to the same issues he talks about on the songs. He employs the featured artists like a classical composer, only bringing what he needs out of the artist, ensuring they don’t overshadow his imposing presence. However, Orange Card still feels lengthy and makes it a bit problematic to digest at a single sitting. A compact track list would have guaranteed a more precise delivery of the message. Some of the features, especially towards the end of the tape, feel more like bonus material and hardly compliment the main themes.
On Orange Card, Wanlov The Kubolor has put out his strongest body of work. He has moved beyond merely demonstrating his dexterity as a rapper or musician to crafting cinematic narratives that entertain you as they disturb you. On the album, you travel along the heart of a socially charged artist, on a loosely woven carpet that allows you to glimpse different dimensions of his journey, relishing the trip, yet questioning the signposts along the road.
Written by : Hakeem Adam
Image credit: Album Artwork/Bandcamp, KobeBigs, Kwabena Akuamoah-Boateng