During my recent banter with some fans of Sarkodie on social media following his Nigerian interview gaffe, I came across a question that tickled my fancy.
One of the apostles of the Sark Nation asked why Ghanaian highlife artiste Daddy Lumba, in his prime, did not become as big as Nigerian Afrobeat star Fela Kuti.
It must be established that the two artistes did not emerge at the same time. The comparison stems from how people revere Daddy Lumba’s achievements as an artiste, having produced countless hits.
While Fela started music in the 1960s, Daddy Lumba emerged in the 1980s. He has over thirty (30) albums to his credit with smash-hit songs that fit every occasion and season.
To seek people’s opinions on the matter, I shared the question on my Facebook page and I had interesting and insightful comments.
Akyem Krakye: We never seem to value our legends that much. There’s no concerted effort to give them their dues in full. That’s why today’s generation cannot visit any museum or library in Ghana and get to learn about Nat Brew, Ephraim Amu, Azumah Nelson, and co. No books, no documentaries or whatsoever on them. We just sit and wait for you to fade into thin air.
King Billy Yasin: They were in different political and economic periods, similar to the current Ghana state. Fela was calling them out. Fela became popular because he was the only loud voice in a culture of silence. During Lumba’s time, it was full of enjoyment. Aben woha. A case in point is Afia Odo. She became relevant even though she has a poor public image. Lumba is sensational. Fela was critical. Fela is a creator of a genre whereas Lumba is a player of a genre, although Fela was inspired by highlife.
TheSammy Darko: Fela sang revolutionary songs. His medium too was English. He fought against the establishment. Lumba sings about sex and love. And recently a political campaign song.
Donald Sarpong: Same issues with our current artistes. The target market was mostly the local Ghanaian audience. In that generation, they were not as privileged and didn’t have access to the internet as it is now in terms of promotion.
Nana Ama Agyemang Asante: Perhaps, the person should consider the kinds of songs Fela wrote and performed. He should also consider the context within which he worked and then ask if Lumba faced some of the same challenges which made Fela famous. Fela was not just a musician. He was an activist harassed by the state. He was surely going to be recognized. This does not mean Lumba isn’t a legend; he is, but context matters.
Peter Aklamanu Williams: Fela added serious politics to the game. Aside from the love and sex they both promoted, Fela went the extra mile to sing on Politically sensitive issues and formed a political party which was in itself a movement.
Nana Yaw Somoah II: Live band was his [Lumba’s] problem. He was only a studio recording artiste. His target was only Ghanaians here n abroad
Victor Tieku: Fela strategically sat down, thought about what style of music will be unique enough to separate him from the same old same old. While keeping his African heritage and marrying it with his musical forte.
He was primarily a trumpeter who could play the piano but also a good songwriter and arranger.
He lost a tooth and later switched to the saxophone.
He studied in Europe at a time when racism was on its highest Crap pole!!
And he is from the most populated country in Africa, Nigeria, with a vibrant music market. A people whose music means everything to them. The Yuroba.
There was a time Fela was only playing copyright. He followed everyone. He played with Victor Olaiya and formed his Koola Lobitos band. They played highlife until he traveled to America, California met Sandra during the black panther days.
He got a rude awakening of the plight of the African American, and a wake-up catapulted his music.
The wisdom of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and all the great
Civil rights leaders were a contributing factor for a good choice of direction in lyrical content.
The result was marrying African music of the generations together.
The soul music of James Brown and the rest, with the Juju Akpala, Highlife, big band jazz, honky-tonk, traditional African music, Pentatonic scaling plus extended chromatism, form Afrobeat.
He experimented in the beginning, he told me.
If you listen to the different songs, and you know enough music, you will realize the direction where he pulls the different musical styles and other elements together.
Some accidents also catapulted Fela to the height of his current fame posthumously. Being accused of raping young girls and consequently marrying them all, created talking points that helped his aura.
Being accused of armed robbery and being vindicated also brought him more fame.
It created invincibility and a mystique about him.
His content struggles with the various Nigerian governments. Issues with hemp and women and his constant attack on the status quo.
The biggest part was his lyrical content. He sang for the oppressed and the poor while calling out the corrupt politicians and the dysfunction, and that of African hypocrisy In most walks of life. From Shakara through Zombie, ITT to Army arrangement.
People weren’t brave enough to tackle that subject matter.
And he sang in an acceptable, wide-reaching language.
He sang about black people and got the whole world audience listening.
That’s what Lumba didn’t do.
Lumba’s lyrical comment is understood and appeals to a very small population.
The subject matter was not latched on and shared by many.
You have to create a Niche that transcends many markets.
The local market is never enough. Very important but not enough. Definitely not for global fame.
There is more I can say. Let me pause here. ”
Major highlights from the comments
(1). Daddy Lumba could have broken boundaries with his music if he did more of them in English. I always say that even though music is a universal language, sometimes, the language used must also be universal so as to appeal to an alien audience.
(2). Daddy Lumba deliberately did not set out to ‘conquer’ the world with his music. The current generation of musicians including Sarkodie, Stonebwoy, Wiyaala, Shatta Wale, D-Black, Ayisoba, Atongo Zimba, and others are working so hard to move beyond their comfort zone. Perhaps Lumba would have been bigger on the African continent if he pushed harder.
From the comments, it is obvious that the two musicians are different in many ways. However, it is not strange for anybody to wonder why after gaining so much prominence in Ghana with his great craft and numerous hit songs, Lumba remained a local champion.
Lumba may have had a different focus but I’m not sure he would not have been happy if he was visible on the African continent.
Well, in showbiz, talent is not enough. You must move!
By: Kwame Dadzie | Ghana Weekend