“Shatta Wale is down to earth. Shatta Wale inspires the people on the streets. Shatta Wale is not the so ‘I’m self-made’ type and all that, and he speaks his mind. He’s not afraid of anything; he is very confident.” –Mzbel, Ghanaian musician.
The Afro locks, rugged looks, trademark shades, sneer at the corner of the lips, audacious bling, the provocative lyrics – it is classic Shatta, Africa’s dancehall King!
Since the dawn of my Shatta awareness a few months ago, I have simply lost track of the number of people I have encountered wearing Shatta Wale branded t-shirts; good people minding their daily business by the roadside, shoppers at the Accra Mall, masons at work etc. Something definitely is going on and the Shatta Movement is no fluke! Shatta Wale, Africa’s dancehall king is without doubt, man of the moment. He is also king of the streets. In Shatta’s own words, “Everybody likes my tin!”
Some claim that the person who can be identified by the “waakye” seller from the back of the queue has arrived. I say that the person that is a name in the mouths of babies has truly arrived. In due course, Shatta confirmed what I had only suspected when I overheard two children in conversation. Seven year old sang and screamed “Shatta” which attracted an immediate response from four year old, “My teacher says no one should say Shatta Wale. It is not good!” Talk of fear of the unconventional! What some dread, others take inspiration from. Such is the way of life!
What is it about the dancehall commando, the Korle Gonno Godfather and multiple award winner that is working so well? In my line of work, we say that we have a responsibility to learn the details of what is working. Once known, the next challenge becomes one of spreading best practices to achieve impact at scale. Are Shatta Wale’s lyrics and musicianship simultaneously so meaningful yet beautifully simple and so easy to connect with that he is virtually achieving viral spread? Even so, Shatta has not always been the most visible on the national reggae dance hall scene. That he is its centre piece in Ghana today bears ample testimony to his creativity and persistence and perhaps personal conviction in his flair for his music. And he has achieved this not bothering too much about the pretentious judgments of officious by standers. And the multiple awards do bear testimony of his acceptance by the people who truly matter – the masses!
Most recently at this year’s 9th edition of the Nigeria Entertainment Awards in New York, Shatta wasadjudged African Artiste of the Year, beating off competition from Ghanaian musicians, Sarkodie, and R2Bees; South Africans, Uhuru, Mafikizolo, and Mi Casa; and Congolese singer Fally Ipupa. This was in addition to the Artiste of the Year, best collaboration, and reggae/dancehall song of the year awards at this year’s Ghana Music Awards. Additionally in 2014, he has won three similar awards with the African Muzik Magazine Awards.
Enroute to achieving these laurels, Shatta Wale has hardly been your typical role model. He refused to show up for the Ghana Music Awards ‘because of a rift over his performance fee for the awards night.” As he later explained, he was not going cheap, asking to be treated with financial respect like foreign artistes! A year earlier, he had had a full blown bust up with award organizers, accusing them of daylight robbery of awards for which he thought he was deserving. He also recently deployed a choice selection of invectives the way of a journalist that reported on his alleged arrest which his managers claimed to be wholly inaccurate. The learning perhaps is that there is something to be said for staying honest and true to one’s convictions if even judged imperfect by those of us human beings that are perfect. And while at it, it pays to apply oneself if even your undisguised talent is initially acknowledged by only a few. Clearly, the light will eventually shine forth, undisputed, as in the case of Shatta. What remains for me is to observe just how committed to music Shatta will prove to be, just how much staying power he will turn out to have and the direction in which his music will eventually evolve.
To his adoring fans like Mzbel however, this honest expression of true views, shorn of buttered up public relations gimmicks is what makes Shatta Wale an original product that is truly connected with the masses, starting from his humble roots in Korle Gonno. This may ultimately be the only reason why everyone likes Shatta’s tin. As it turns out, Shatta Wale does have a cogent musical explanation delivered in a rich baritone:
Me fight like Mike Tyson
Me dance like Michael Jackson
Me kill a lion like Samson
Speed dem up like Ben Johnson
Me rule them like Jerry John Rawlings
Me cannot take no nonsense
Me love pretty girls like Yvonne Nelson
Drop hits like Sammy Forson
Like Azumah Nelson, yeah me like boxing
That’s why everbody like my tin 3x
See say everybody like my tin, 3x
Big up to man- like Shatta in the upcoming 2014 International Reggae and World Music Awards for which he has been nominated!
4th September, 2014