1. No Yellow, Red or Blue
Blitz landed in Accra about a week ago to promote this concert. Ms. Naa & DUST Magazine had been talking/blogging it up for months. It had no sponsorship from any big telecom company paying for loud radio adverts or TV spots splashed in bright primary colours. All it took was a little help from his friends, including Ms. Naa, Blitz’ younger brother, Mantse of Accra[Dot]Alt and a few more good people (including yours truly). Blitz worked hard to make actual appearances on a couple of key TV and radio shows (and an album signing at the Accra Mall) but beyond that, it was down to the buzz we generated on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. To see Alliance Francaise packed last night was a testament to something I find myself speaking about a lot lately: our ability to do things for ourselves (NB: This same spirit of youth activism is being harnessed to fuel revolutions, riots and occupations in other parts of the world…)
2. Alliance Francaise
Alliance turned out to be a nice location for this event. It is by no means a perfect venue (as the rain would later demonstrate) but they were well-equipped enough to show Blitz’ ‘Native Sun’ movie without any major hitches and there remains an appeal to its open-air amphitheater structure. Plus, Alliance always holds it down for arts and entertainment in Accra. They deserve applause for that. Minus points for upping the show fee from GHc8 to GHc10 though. It was funny when Blitz said something on stage about people playing GHc8 to get in and people in the audience started shouting, “Ten Cedis! Ten Cedis!”
3. The Crowd
Alliance was packed last night. It was a combination of Alliance regulars, young Ghanaians and artisans, Americans brought down by the Blitz-affiliated MoCaDa and people you might not expect at a Blitz concert (shoutouts to Mr. & Mrs. Patrick Awuah). The combination meant there was massive crowd response and people to connect with all the different parts of the performance, whether hiplife, highlife, hiphop or any of the other many genres touched upon.
4. Native Sun: the Movie
It was good to see the film Blitz shot right here in Ghana (with director Terrence Nance) being played in Ghana. In fact, I am loving the fact that Ghanaian directors based abroad are making more of a habit to get their films shown here. This was a better cut of the film (I think it was in the sound editing) than the one I saw on Youtube and it made it so much better. It’s a poetic, abstract kind of film in parts and with such things, there is always a worry that it won’t go down well. It got a very healthy crowd response though.
5. Armand Ntep
Ntep started the show off with his juju/neo-soul stylings. His voice was very clearly his instrument as he did vocal exercises on stage and at one point even used it as a trumpet. Unfortunately, there was a massive sound problem during his set which muted his performance somewhat. Nevertheless, he was quite the professional and never made his disappointment apparent. He tried other mics and – realizing no immediate salvation was at hand – he soldiered on. For which he earns my gratitude and respect.
6. Les Nubians
Les Nubians were the definition of beautiful and they warmed the crowd up very nicely. They started with familiar songs like ‘Demain‘, ‘Makeda‘ and their remake of Sade’s ’Sweetest Taboo‘, but it was when they went into unfamiliar territory with ‘Afro Dance‘ (during which they poked friendly fun at relaxed hair) and especially ‘New Soul Makossa‘ (a remake of the Manu Dibango classic that has been sampled by everyone from Michael Jackson (on ‘Wanna Be Starting Something‘)to Rihanna (‘Please Don’t Stop the Music’) and J-Lo) that they had a wave of people invade the bottom of the stage to dance. They even made jabs at France. From inside Alliance Francaise. And lived.
7. The Dancing
I’ve not seen that many people at the front dancing at Alliance since Wunmi. The entire part between the stage and the seats was one big dancefloor. It started during Les Nubians’ performance and became really animated during Blitz’. I was really surprised by how much there was to dance to. Blitz album – though brilliant – is not an album to dance to but rather one to bump to, soak up and absorb. But the way his band interpreted the songs, infusing them with afrobeat and old school hip-hop and hiplife? Man… no one could keep their feet still. Even those in the stands.
8. The Rain
In the end, running from the rain and coming back only added to the experience. Just like it apparently did during last weekend’s Movado concert, the rain first threatened us with thick clouds. People started running for cover when droplets started falling during Les Nubians. It let up for a minute and people returned but everybody scattered for shelter when it started pouring down big time. Just before Blitz and the Embassy Ensemble were due on stage too. For a few minutes, it looked like the night was ruined. Some left. Most however stayed. After a few minutes, the rain subsided and BOY were we rewarded.
9. The Ensemble Band
Blitz’ band was RIDICULOUSLY tight. This was a lot more than being up there and knowing how to play to someone’s song. This wasn’t the band playing hits at your local three star hotel. With their black trousers, white shirts, black ties hanging loose and trainers, these guys were dressed the part. They followed Blitz every hand movement. There were even parts of the performance where the whole band would follow Blitz lead to march and salute, or follow him around the stage or crouch to the floor and suddenly play their instruments quietly while Blitz whispered into the mic before starting to shout at which point they would all jump up, beating drums more ferociously, blaring horns louder and picking strings harder. The way they blended tracks too. They played the intro to ‘Rapper’s Delight‘ as Blitz rhymed old school Rakim, then played James Brown horns while he recited the “engine, engine number nine” chorus of Black Sheep’s ‘The Choice Is Yours (This or That)‘… on and on, running through Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s ‘TROY‘, the bassline from Digable Planets ‘Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)‘, A Tribe Called Quest, and – triumphantly and to a roar from the crowd – Tupac & Dre’s, “California Love”.
I blogged the other day about the Geraldino Pino effect (please read the Guardian’s obituary of Pino to understand how he changed the face of music not just in Ghana or his native Sierra Leone, but in Africa as a whole). With Accra’s recent resurrection in live music, I believe Ghana is capable of creating a band like this. But if they already exist, I’m yet to see them.
10. The Politics
Les Nubians started it and Blitz finished it. “Look what they did to Nkrumah. Look what they did to Lumumba. Look what they did to Sankara…” Blitz album infused with politics and he did not shy away from it. He impersonated Nkrumah at one point and also played a sample of Osagyefo speaking of African unity. He spoke about what it was like to wake up to a coup. There was even a call & response involving the words, “Free your mind” and “colonial mentality”. You can be critical of the status quo without making it an NDC versus NPP thing. There are bigger issues and those were what Blitz spoke to. And he pulled this off without ever making the whole thing about politics or dampening the high everyone was feeling from the music.
11. Blitz the Ambassador
The performance obviously meant a lot to Blitz. This was his homecoming performance. Like Madison Square Garden to Mary J Blige or Jay Z. His first time bringing his band to Ghana. His first time performing in Ghana in ten years.
He was a man possessed. Energy be what?
He had enough charisma to fill the stage but it was interesting to hear all the Madina inflections in his voice as he rhymed as they weren’t on the album. There are several moments on Native Sun where he rhymes at speeds most rappers dare not touch. Trust me: those moments sound even better live. That aside, Blitz was a real showman. He would give hand signals to his band and they would follow. His anecdotes were on point. His call and response was on point. He rocked out. He mellowed everything down when he needed to before exploding back like a one man nation of millions incapable of being held back. Like Samini (another master of performance). He was up and down the stage. He paid his respects to Reggie Rockstone and Hammer. After the band left, Ms. Naa and I started screaming ‘Encore, encore…’. Host PY Addo (Bless the Mic, The One Show) picked up on it and asked if we wanted more. After the roar he received in response, Blitz knew he had to come back out. He performed his old hit with Deeba… or tried to. When he forgot the words, the crowd filled them in for him. Then he ended everything with the album’s title track, with its classic refrain, “Aye, aye / Aye, aye… Masan aba o” (I have returned).
This was not just a return. It was a scorching-hot masterclass in the art of performance.
I cannot tell you how much you slacked if you didn’t make it (or left halfway through).