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With music, you can blow away all boxes

Musical skills are the best answer to the ethnic profiling aimed against Ghanaians of mixed heritage in Ghana, says the young artiste LEVII

To the average Ghanaian it might sound strange to say that ethnic profiling and discrimination exist in Ghana. It might even seem untrue. There may be good reasons why anyone might think so: Ghana is considered one of the most hospitable countries in West Africa.

And yet, although they are right to some extent, the actions of some Ghanaians call this notion into question.

When I was an undergrad, I had a classmate called Kofi Kelechi. Kofi was born in Accra to a Nigerian father and Ghanaian mother. But nothing about Kofi pointed to his Nigerian roots, other than his surname and maybe his fair complexion. He spoke local languages fluently but understood little to nothing of his father’s Igbo tongue.

“Any time I mention my surname people want to address me as Nigerian, but I’ve been there only once in my life,” he once told me. “Not that I have a problem with that, but it is the condescending manner in which they go about it.”

Subtle bigots

“Sometimes I get stopped by the police and they ask me where I’m from and I say I’m Ghanaian and they tell me: ‘You don’t look like a Ghanaian,’ ” says the rising 25-year-old singer and producer LEVII.

Born to a Ghanaian mother and an Ivorian father, LEVII and his family had to flee Côte d’Ivoire in 2002, amid a civil war in which thousands were killed and many were displaced. Having a Ghanaian mother automatically qualified LEVII and his siblings to be citizens of Ghana, as provided by the country’s constitution. But do “Ghanaians” see it that way?

“I don’t think so. Although a saving grace, relocating to Ghana overnight was a trying experience. Not being fluent in the local dialects made it difficult to interact with street vendors, or even go to the markets to buy foodstuffs. People would automatically alienate me and treat me like a stranger, simply because I wasn’t raised here and did not speak the dialect,” he said, reminiscing about his early days in Ghana.

One thing is certain: a subtle bigotry exists here, especially in Accra. It is evident in innocent comments such as “You don’t look Ghanaian” or “You’re so fair. Are you an Ewe?” or more overt statements such as, “Foreigners fuor, ɔmo ha adwen,” meaning: “These foreigners are a nuisance.”

“When I tell people that I’m Ghanaian they don’t want to see me as such. They choose rather to see me as Ivorian. It shouldn’t be so: you shouldn’t get to decide how you want to address me. That is like determining what identity I should carry.”

Beyond language

Although people continue to create these ethnic divisions, whether knowingly or unknowingly, LEVII strongly believes in music’s power to build bridges between people that transcend language, or regional and territorial barriers.

“Music, for me, appeals to everyone regardless of where they are or what language they speak. And … I am thankful for the experiences I have been through, because they have moulded me into the person I am today.

“I want to share my story and my experiences and the only way I can express those is through music.”

But what is the future of music and musicians in Ghana, for that matter? Although from the 1950s through to the early 1970s Ghana carried West African music on its shoulders, with its popular highlife and celebrated Afro-rock and the then booming national recording and production industry, the country’s music profile has been on the decline since then. The shrinking of Ghana’s musical exports is attributed to a broad range of factors, including artists not producing material that travels well, and them not receiving the support they need.

“Schooling in France, I had the opportunity to learn music production, which gives me an edge as a growing musician,” says LEVII. “It means I don’t just sing, but I can also produce my own songs.

“But I also want to create an opportunity for young musicians like me to spread their wings and fly, so in the coming months I will be launching my own music studio that will be accessible to other musicians to produce their songs.”

The narrative appears to be changing nevertheless. Ghanaian artistes are resurfacing in charts and on stages across the globe. Gyakie Acheampong recently took the world by surprise with her hit song “Forever”, a feat that led to her becoming the first African singer to join Spotify’s global EQUAL Music Program. Other young musicians such as Thorsten Owusu Gyimah (popularly known as Yaw Tog) are adapting imports such as drill for a local audience and growing their own genre, known as Asakaa. These artists have started to gain recognition on platforms such as BET.

“For me, I believe that Ghana has what it takes to become the home of music in Africa. If we stop looking at ethnic differences and start celebrating people for who they are and what they bring to the table, I believe we will go far,” says LEVII, who is now working to build a strong network with other young creatives.

“I’m working on creating music that is special, drawing from my experiences in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and France. Through my music, I want to send a message to Ghanaians to stop seeing people through ethnic lenses and to start seeing each other as one, regardless of what language we speak or our accent.”

Solomon Ter

* Asaase Radio 99.5 – tune in or log on to broadcasts online
Follow us on Twitter: @asaaseradio995

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