The Magic of Mami Wata

Paybac‘s new single, Mami Wata is where the magic is at. Not only is it aptly named after an element common to sorcery and magic, but the juju in this song is one that will make Merlin do the shoki.

Paybac has evolved since “The Broken Speaker Symphony” in 2014 and “The Other Side Of The Radio” in 2015, and Mami Wata is an excellent display of his progress.

Producer Black Intelligence did a madness with the sample in this song and that’s where all the magic lies.

On first listen you hear distinctively Nigerian Juju music, fused with hip hop beats.Then Paybac starts telling the story of the mermaid he’s fallen in love with in trap melodies in a raw, coarse voice. That story telling characteristic is typical of someone who is influenced by Elton John. The raw voice and almost inaudible tone is evident from his Uzi Vert influence. Already this track is layered with fusion, but it goes deeper.

The magic of Mami Wata lies in its history.

The sample for this song is from legendary South African instrumentalist, Hugh Masekela. The sample, also named Mami Wata, was one of the songs off Masekela’s twentieth studio album You Told Your Mama Not To Worry. Now this song is very different from most of Masekela’s jazzy music, because it sounds very Nigerian.

However, You Told Your Mama Not To Worry was recorded in Kumasi, Ghana, at Ambassador Records, along with Stanley Todd Kwesi, a Ghanaian musician who had worked with other South African musicians like Miriam Makeba.

Juju Music in Ghana? Why yes… settle down for history class.

Emerging in the 1880’s, Highlife was a sound created from a fusion of rhythms from the West African coast and the legacy left by the regimental bands of 6,000 West Indian soldiers, who had been stationed at the Cape Coast and Elmina Castles, as well as the sounds of  black people from both South and North America. Highlife is the oldest popular dance-music styles of Africa.

Fanti Osibisaaba music, a form of Highlife music which emerged in the early 20th Century,  in which local percussion instruments were accompanied by the guitars and the accordions of sailors, particularly the Kru seamen of Liberia, pioneered Africanised cross-fingering guitar techniques. This technique became key not only to the development of Ghanaian highlife, but also to the Maringa of Sierra Leone, the Juju music of western Nigeria and “dry” guitar music of Central Africa.

During the Second World War, swing was introduced by British and American servicemen based in Ghana. As a result, the large dance orchestras gave way to the smaller highlife dance-bands. The most famous was the Tempos band, led by the Ga trumpeter ET Mensah, and which incorporated Afro-Cuban percussion played by the band’s drummer Guy Warren, now known as Kofi Ghanaba (Regarded as the inventor of afro jazz).

It was the Tempos’ brilliant fusion style that made such an impact on Nigeria in 1950 and encouraged the likes of Bobby Benson, Victor Olaiya and Rex Lawson to form their own Yoruba and Ibo highlife dance bands.

During the 1970s when Ghana’s economy declined, eastern Nigeria became an important and lucrative destination for highlife musicians. It was at this time that Masakela recorded Mami Wata for You Told Your Mother Not to Worry. The influence of Ghanaian music and Nigerian music was very evident in that project, and that’s what makes Paybac’s Mami Wata so beautiful. It’s the ultimate fusion song.

Paybac’s Mami Wata fuses Ghanaian highlife, with Nigerian Juju beats, South African vibes, hip hop drums, trap melodies and mumble rap flow. The best of all worlds really.


Benewaah is the lead curator and editor at Harmattan Rain. Her love for music is closely rivaled by her love for plantain.