ini seeks perfect Jamaican sound

Published: Sunday | January 25, 2009

Samini (right) chats with On Stage presenter, Winford Williams, at the recently held Rebel Salute.

Leighton Levy, Sunday Gleaner Writer

Having conquered Ghana and much of Africa with his music, African dancehall artiste, Samini, is aiming to conquer the rest of the world, but not before he arms himself with the essential musical knowledge he intends to find in the homeland of reggae.

This African dancehall or rag-life (as it is sometimes called) sound is a fusion of reggae music and hip-life, a relatively new genre that began in the mid-1990s by an artiste known as Reggie Rockstone. Rockstone experimented with the fusion of the indigenous Ghanaian hi-life with hip hop, hence hip-life.

For the last few years the 27-year-old Samini, born Emmanuel Andrew Samini in Accra, has been experimenting with this fusion that has brought him success through three albums, which have earned him several African music awards, and growing recognition in the motherland and the United Kingdom.

First album

Samini's first album, Dankwasere, released in 2004, earned him two Ghana Music Awards; and his second, the self-titled, Samini, released in 2007 won him three more. His third album, Dagaati, was released late last year and has been doing well in Ghana.

In 2006, Samini won the Music of Black Origin (MOBO) Award for Best African Artiste, a title that means a lot to him. "The MOBO award was my first-ever international award," he said.

"When I was sitting there waiting for my category I was looking around me and I realised that I was sitting with the people I was watching on MTV and BET. I was sitting in their midst all of a sudden. I had sat down two or three years before and meditated and wished for it and lo and behold I was called up and I had won.

"That was a moment when I felt that if the people have noticed what you're doing then the next thing is to show them the rest of what you are about and maintain and if possible keep on winning best African act every time."

Still, the man believed to be the biggest musical star in Ghana has his eyes on a bigger prize, a much bigger prize.

"I am an artiste who is eyeing the Grammy from that little corner in Ghana. I look at it as a huge possibility. Until I get the Grammy I will keep going, and if it's mine Jah will reveal it to me," Samini told The Sunday Gleaner.

Which is what brings him to Jamaica.

Samini has always been influenced by reggae music. Bob Marley's music was the first music he ever heard. Songs like Stir it Up and Waiting in Vain were among those that stayed with him as did Steel Pulse's Chant a Psalm a Day.

"So that is what I knew music to be and I also heard some of the old indigenous hi-life music on the only radio station we had at that time," he said. "The first song I ever tried to write was in the tone of dancehall while using the lyrics of the Lord's Prayer (while a student at a Catholic prep school). We were supposed to do a gospel rock show where it was demanded that we do something more youthful. I came up with something interesting."

Positive messages

His music has evolved as he has matured and has mainly delivered positive messages. One example is that in a time when much of the music about women tends to cast them only as sexual objects and in other demeaning ways, Samini's songs about women are about celebrating womanhood.

"For the women I think it is a task that I speak for them," he said. "I have studied the things that make them cry and the things they do not like about us and I realise that there is a lot that can be said for women that is not being said yet. So, when I am writing I like to be more on the women's side about what men should do to make things cool for us."

But for all the critical acclaim and commercial success his songs and albums have enjoyed, there were criticisms that he has had to endure.

"Every time an album comes out most of the criticisms you get is with the sound quality. Even with the quality you hear on the album (Daagati) I am still not satisfied ... because the sound quality is the most important thing in these times. When you have good drive, good rhythm, good melody and it's sounding right you are doing the eardrums of the listener good."

Jamaica, he said, has a great reputation when it comes to sound. That reputation has been demonstrated time and time again by a horde of Jamaican acts that Ghanaians hear every day including Sizzla, Capleton, Anthony B, Jah Cure, Etana, Bob Marley and Morgan Heritage, among others. "I had to come to the workshop," he said describing the island's renown for producing great-sounding music. "I came to get a few ideas of what goes on here and if possible get some collaboration with some of the artistes here and get my music going here."

Already he has been in discussions with regard to collaborations with some local artistes whom he declined to name, but is optimistic that the discussions will bear fruit.

Process of learning

He flew into the island last week Friday, the day before Rebel Salute, which he attended and fully enjoyed. The process of learning began almost immediately. "Jamaican shows last long and the crowds stay just as long. I watched every single act. It was a power packed and fire-filled show," he said.

In addition to being eager to learn how to improve his sound, Samini wants to take some of the energy he witnessed and felt at Rebel Salute back to Africa by inviting the Jamaican acts he collaborates with to perform in Ghana and in so doing expose Africa to the world.

"I come from Africa and I do a lot of African beats and I do some reggae. So when you listen to my music you see the experiment of blending the two. And you see the power behind it, and the next is going to be how I bring all the acts I collaborate with back to Africa and we go into community-related programmes to get them into the African vibes and to get the rest of the world to see that we don't live in trees out there. I am a true example of one that was born and grown and still lives in Africa."

He said we should all see Africa as home. "Come home, lets make home a better place," he said. "Let's turn back the hands of time."