What Ghana’s Alternative Music Shrine Felt Like at the 9th Sabolai Radio Music Festival

Accra’s musical heartbeat received a much welcome rhythmic stimulus last week at the Sabolai Radio Music Festival. Producers of the CHALE WOTE Street Art Festival, ACCRA [dot] ALT magnetized dream architects, wave makers and mystical sonic engineers to fellowship at the Accra alternative music shrine and re-energize the music scene in Ghana through panel discussions, screenings, mixers, graffiti art and live alternative  music.

The crowd at the Sabolai Radio Music Festival 2019. Image Credit: Hakeem Adam

The 4-day festival hosted at Freedom Park, Kwame Nkrumah Circle (Dubai), Accra, opened with the exposition of a mural wall created by the Afuabe Collective (an indefinite set of artist repurposing public spaces in the city) who alloyed their imagination with various elements of African Masquerading cultures and Ga Samai symbology in constructing elaborate and vivid dreamscapes of color. The collective comprising Moh Awudu, Tetebotan Kali, Nico Wayo, Hamza Giwa Muhasim, Hamid Nortey, Kwesi Botchway and Kamaal Larry each mirrored a unique facet of indigenous African knowledge systems, presenting that as unnerving and ghostly characters to haunting our dreaded reality.

Mural by Hamza Giwa Muhasim. Image credit: Ngminvielu Kuuire

The Sabolai Radio LABs also sparked conversation which provided much needed context and divergent insights into the system of alternative creation in Ghana. Screenings of Good Copy Bad Copy by Andreas Johnsen, Ralf Christensen, and Henrik Moltke as well as a conversation with Hakeem Adam of DANDANO and Siddick Abdullai Abu of Boom Play reminded artists present and the audience of the legal framework of copyright law and how it is fashioned to curtail and exploit the creativity of historical disadvantaged creators who pioneer new sounds from existing rhythms mostly without any malicious intent. Rebecca Corey and Amil Shivji’s Wahenga also brought the Zilipendwa sounds of Tanzania’s independence movement to one of the ancestral homes of Pan-Africanism as the melodies of freedom echoed in the shade of Kwame Nkrumah’s towering statue.

The Sabolai Radio LABs. Image Credit: Ngminvielu Kuuire

There was also a presentation of 24-hour film project by Culture Trip and Togbe Gavua, along with some more films by Alex Wondergem and Adu Lalouschek .The most significant panel however was on the politics of street artists and filmmakers co-creating with Tetebotan Kali, Gyo Gyimah and Alex Wondergem, moderated by Dr. Kajsa Hallberg-Adu. Indeed, the explosion of public art on the walls of Accra over the past few years has led to some music video directors and advertisers appropriating these works without properly crediting the artists. It was especially refreshing to have this conversation in a growing arts scene as it reminded all involved of the need for respect in collaborative projects.

Panel discussion with Tetebotan Kali, Gyo Gyimah and Alex Wondergem, moderated by Dr. Kajsa Hallberg-Adu at the Sabolai Radio LABs. Image Credit: Ngminvielu Kuuire

Sabolai Radio 2019 peaked on Saturday December 15 with the main concert featuring over 20 artists from Ghana and beyond. The stage which sat at the feet of Kwame Nkrumah’s statue, overlooking the hypnotic chaos of human and vehicular traffic navigating one of Accra’s epicenters was lit with a medley of rhythms that reverberated the vast spectrum of creative energy active in the Ghanaian music scene. Local talents like Big Boss, a tro tro driver by day and rapper by night, as well as the movement specialist, Blessed Boy, in particular, benefitted greatly from an audience willing to take a chance on them, in a world of payola on radio and echo chambers disguised as curated playlists on line.

Blessed Boy on stage at Sabolai Radio 2018. Image credit: Ngminvielu Kuuire

Ozzie and The Others also delivered an electrifying dose of Ga punk rock, heavy with soul yet alarming and alive, mirroring the sonic pulse of the city. The raw unfiltered energy trapped the audience in a trance. Azonto music architect, Nshonna Muzik also transported us to his deeply melody work with his brand new seaside Nintendo sound, where 8-bit audio engineering meets traditional Ga percussive grooves.


Ozzie from Ozzie and The Others shredding it on stage at Sabolai Radio 2019. Image credit: Abdul Arafat.

Kay Ara, Temple, Alex Wondergem, Kojo Spiri and AJ Nelson all delivered solid sets that painted a vivid vista of the expansive rap landscape in Ghana where Twi, Ga, Pidgin and Hausa swirl into street poetry. Ohemaa Dadao is also one to watch out for in 2019 with her hard hitting rhymes and petrifying stage presence. Mensahhighlife also brought a much needed contrast with his soulful meditations over temperate electro funk rhythms.

Rap fiend Ohemaa Dadao moving the crowd at Sabolai Radio 2018. Image credit: Ngminvielu Kuuire

The show ultimately belonged to Guilty Beats and Gasmilla. “The Akwaaba Guy”, Guilty Beats, who has had a brilliant year with multiple global hits had the most engaging set of the night featuring dance battles that evolved into a dance class, a surprise appearance from Bryte, (another Ghanaian artist making massive waves in the global electro/house scene) and a debuting his new song to close his set.

Guilty Beats, The Akwaaba Guy giving a tutorial of his iconic dance on stage. Image credit: Ngminvielu Kuuire

Gasmilla also completely owned the crowd, dropping hit after hit from a strong catalogue that is loved by the street. The Azonto special literally energized the night with a massive explosion of bliss.

Headliner Gasmilla on stage at Sabolai Radio 2018. Image credit: Ngminvielu Kuuire

Overall Sabolai Radio 2019 was a much need gust of fresh air in the scene that latches onto sameness in sound. With a diverse and engaging set of artist, ACCRA [dot] ALT was able to remind us of the psychedelic spectrum of sonic energy that float through this country.

Ghanaian hiplife star, EL interacting with the crowd at Sabolai Radio 2019. Image credit: Abdul Arafat


Check out Sabolai Radio on Instagram for more highlights!

Written by Hakeem Adam

Image credit: Ngminvielu Kuuire and Abdul Arafat.


Twitter | Facebook | Instagram |Soundcloud 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s