Shatta Wale revels in being the King of African Dancehall
The jury is still out on whether dancehall ought to crown a king on every continent. Nonetheless, Ghana-born reggae-dancehall musician and producer Charles Nii Armah Mensah Jr has boldly laid claim to the title King of African Dancehall. And as if to secure the crown firmly on his head, Shatta Wale, as he is popularly known, released a song titled Dancehall King, which, reportedly, led to him winning the Artiste of the Year at the Ghana Music Awards in 2014. Not surprisingly, having achieved street creds in Ghana from as far back as 2004, the leader of the Shatta Movement, who is now ranked among the most successful artistes in his country, has constantly looked forward.
For Shatta Wale, dancehall is a lifestyle that he is so comfortable with that he is often mistaken for being Jamaican. “Lot of times when I am going thorough airports people ask me if I am Jamaican, and I tell them no, I’m Nigerian,” the artiste with a big personality and lots of jokes told The Sunday Gleaner in an interview from his home last Thursday. The artiste, who rebranded himself when he ditched the moniker Bandana, has had an affair with Jamaican culture from he was a child. His father would play reggae in the house and also took him to the United Kingdom to meet his relatives, who were half-Jamaican. That partially explains his authentic-sounding Jamaican accent and his ability to infuse the Jamaican patois in just about all his songs.
“When I was in school, my inspirations were King Shango, Sizzla, Culture, and CJ Lewis (British reggae singer),” Shatta shared. But then he started listening to Buju Banton and Vybz Kartel and somehow dancehall took hold.
“Some persons in Africa think dancehall is full of badness and is violent, but I am here to show that it is just lyrical,” the artiste who has created history by becoming the first African act to headline a reggae-dancehall project stated. Produced by a collective that includes Contractor Music Group, Golden Child Records, Beatbopper Records, and Kohanim Records, the project is titled Tropical House Cruises to Jamaica: The Reggae Collector’s Edition. It showcases Capleton, Sizzla, Beenie Man, Elephant Man, Don Yute, and Mojo Morgan and also features Wayne Wonder, Singing Melody, Peetah Morgan, Tommy Lee Sparta, SkilliBeng, and Royce Da59.
“It’s a great opportunity and honour for me. Being the headliner on the reggae collectors’ edition of Tropical House Cruises to Jamaica is no simple thing. But over the years, my work has spoken for itself. When I saw King Shango give me a shout-out the other day, I felt great. Caribbean people embrace their African roots, and we are brothers. I’m looking forward to make history with everyone on the bill for this,” he stated.
But the King of African Dancehall is no stranger to setting musical records, one of which was cast in stone last year when he landed a collaboration with Queen Bey on her The Lion King: the Gift album. In an interview with NBC, Beyoncé said she viewed the album as a letter to Africa, and to give it that authentic feel, she chose the best artistes from the continent. Shatta Wale grabbed quite a few headlines for his Beyoncé collab, titled Already, and which featured Jamaican-American electronic dance music trio Major Lazer.
“One great miracle that really happened to my career was getting that collaboration with Beyoncé. When my management team told me about it, I had to ask if it was the real Beyoncé,” he told The Sunday Gleaner. While he agrees with the theory that says that American acts are reaching out to African artistes for collaborations to boost their own ratings on the continent, Shatta pointed out that Jay-Z and Beyoncé are already hugely popular in Africa. He posited another theory. “I believe that whole album was just about connecting with her roots. And I also think it’s because I’m cute,” he added cheekily.
A four-time visitor to Jamaica, where he soaked up the genre, and everything useful that came his way, Shatta Wale has secured collabs with a number of dancehall artistes, among them Shawn Storm, Jah Vinci, Shenseea, and his daddy, Addi. Of Kartel, he stated, “Oh, I am his firstborn. I follow him only on IG.” Shatta Wale has 2.4 million followers on Instagram, and he is really following only one person. His IG blurb states, ‘Son of Gaza King”, along with a crown emoji. It was his collab four years ago with Shawn Storm, Party Fi Life, that led to the link with the incarcerated Gaza leader. They now have a song together, Mansa Musa Money, which is being touted as the biggest collaboration in the history of African dancehall music. Shatta Wale had planned to shoot the video in Dubai and South Africa, but COVID-19 has put that on pause.
“The virus has affected us badly. We can’t move about freely, and here we have a curfew, which must be respected. I hope this thing passes soon,” he said. But in the meantime, he is busy in his home studio and even organised an online event, Faith Concert, which aimed to bring hope to Ghanaians and his fans around the world. Shatta Wale was also selected by the Ministry of Communications, Ghana, as one of two headline artistes for the COVID-19 app virtual launch concert held in April.
Among his big hits are Hol’It, which topped BBC Radio 1Xtra’s Afroboss Top 5 songs chart; Kakai, which made waves within the African community in the United States and beyond and topped several dancehall charts globally; Wine Ya Waist, featuring Davido; and songs released from his After the Storm album, for which he did a promo US tour in 2017. His third album, Reign (2018), achieved a record for a Ghanaian act by appearing on the Billboard Top World Albums Chart, securing sixth place.
The King of African Dancehall, who has a truckload of trophies which are testament to his dominance in the field, is now working on his 2020 album. It is titled Gift of God.