Ghana Music Industry after The Year of Return: Fools Gold or Golden Opportunity

On the 28th of December 2018, Ghanaian-German actor Boris Kodjoe came on the Afrochella stage. To an entire audience, Kodjoe professed his love for Ghana and vowed to tell all his friends about his experiences in Ghana. At the time, it didn’t have any meaning on the lives of Ghanaians. Seeing the previous trend of international acts skipping the African Continent when a world tour comes on, we were forgiven for being sceptical. Then again, no one could see the future.

Less than a year later, a handful of celebrities came to Ghana at the tail end of the presidentially declared, Year of Return – celebrating 400 years since the last slave ship landed in America. They weren’t here for charity work. They were coming to put on a show for their Ghanaian fans and enjoy the best of what Ghana had to offer, with or without the kebabs. Cardi B and Rick Ross thrilled fans at shows in the capital city, and other celebrities partied with locals till dawn at popular clubs.

2020 shows even more promise with announcements from Stormzy and Drake making tour stops in Ghana. And with a 5-year contract, Afronation now has a home in Ghana. The rush of it all makes it intoxicating, but to Ghanaian based singer-songwriter Gyakie, the impact is bigger than the creative industry.

“It doesn’t only benefit the entertainment section, it boosts the economy as well,” she says. Gyakie goes on to explain the domino effect of Ghana’s newfound popularity.
“More people will come, and they will tell everyone about how they had a great time in Ghana, which in turn will convince more people to come,” she explains.
Economics aside, Gyakie sees this as a great way to play with new ideas.
“People are paying more attention to different sounds and emerging artists,” the singer-songwriter explains. “This is encouraging different genres and artists because people are growing to accept new ideas.”

Another person that can testify to the exchange of new ideas is Neo-Soul artist, Ria Boss, who alternates between Ghana and the United States. She recounts the Christmas season during the Year of Return from the musician’s perspective and it’s safe to say it didn’t disappoint.
“One thing the Year of Return afforded a lot of us artists on the ground was the ability to have certain access and proximity to international acts,” She says. “For example, at Afrochella you’re mingling and Jidenna walks past you. Streetwear brand, Daily Paper, held a week-long pop up, diversified with music showcases, fashion panels, even a football game.” Ria Boss excitedly adds, “There were so many cool things happening in Accra. We usually go on Instagram’s and see like this is happening in New York or Miami, but this time, it was all happening in our backyard!”

Moments like this meant that Ghanaian artists, especially those not in the mainstream, didn’t need to go to find people to connect with their music.
“This is the first time where I’ve seen such a large lens on the Accra entertainment scene, and with these festivals coming in that means more artists like myself get the opportunity to perform for a more international market,” she said.

In all of this, there isn’t just a party vibe, but also a sense of serendipity.
During the Year of return, there were ample opportunities to connect and share thoughts on the work that they were doing. Both Gyakie and Ria Boss didn’t feel intimidated by the extra eyes of the world upon them. To Gyakie, moments like this were legacy building moments that would allow her to learn from her peers.
“If it’s a seminar where Drake comes to Ghana and he wants to meet with young creatives, you don’t just take pictures with him, you actually pay attention because opportunities like that come once in a lifetime,” Gyakie expresses.

For all the excitement and opportunities around, not everyone will stand to benefit from the interactions, and someone will have to pay the price for the privilege. There is the possibility for people to exploit artists within the negotiations behind the scenes.
“In booking international acts, they don’t debate their rates or their riders. However, for local acts, you have organizers trying to get people to perform for exposure, or not paying them their desired rates,” Ria Boss explained, before informing me of a time when she had had to haggle down her performance rate, only to find out another act was getting paid more than her.
“Popularity does matter in negotiations for reimbursement,” She shrugs.

All things being considered, our first creative interactions with the rest of the world had its fair share of teething problems. With that, said both artists had thoughts on what can be done to prevent further growing pains and make a statement in the future. For Gyakie, it was imperative that fellow artists in Ghana expand their horizons in terms of studying music, to eventually make music that would appeal to different cultures outside of Ghana.

As for Ria Boss, her advice is simple; don’t forget us Ghanaian denizens. She took note of two major stumbling blocks for residents during the Christmas season, the traffic and the prices. “If we do not consider a way to organize, we won’t get in,” Ria Boss advised, “In order to not alienate locals, organisers need to avoid prioritizing foreigners over Ghanaians.”
She added the need to include alternative acts, on events and festivals so the various genres are represented.
We could say this would be a time for opportunity, but that would be stating the obvious. Adding to the sense of serendipity, there is the essence of correcting our bad habits that wouldn’t be noticed at home and learning from our peers abroad. Time will tell where this newfound relationship between the Ghanaian creative industry and its counterparts will go. For now, we can all take heart in the fact that the world sees us now.