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Culture, Music

Pidgen Riddims

by Ts’eliso Monaheng / 02.11.2011

In “Number three”, off of their third album Pick a Dream, The Volume’s front-man Tumi Molekane states, rather matter-of-factly, that: “When I say it’s a small world, it’s not expression boy, I mean it / the airport’s like my second home, believe it / I take off like you take a walk, frequent /”. This lyric is tailor-made to suit the subject of this interview perfectly, a man who through various incarnations, is the self-declared bottos-watcher/foknboi/kubolor. A human being.

Since I first spoke to him about two years back, Ghanaian-Romanian artist Wanlov the Kubolor has accomplished just about everything he had set out to achieve, and more. And in the past year, he has amassed so many stamps on his passport that it must be due for replacement. One day he might be in Ghana for a movie shoot, then Europe for a six-week residency courtesy of the French Institute; and in the interim, he might head over to the UK in support of a mate’s album launch.

While his debut album Green Card, was more concerned with issues of humanity, people, and finding one’s identity, he said this of his sophomore production, Brown Card – African Gypsy: “I [had] started becoming more pro-African than pro-human being. Just a few years ago, I made a conscious decision to embrace myself as a whole – Romanian national, Ghanaian national, but a human being in totality.”

In the three years which have elapsed since his first outing, Wanlov has amassed a vast array of guest appearances on other artists’ songs (Ade Bantu, DJ Ritchy Pitch, Reggie Rockstone), released a mixtape (Yellow Card – Stomach Direction), and perhaps more poignantly, starred alongside his partner and fellow Fokn Bois member, Ghanaian-born, UK-based M3nsa in Coz ovMoni, a thirty-minute biopic which has been labelled “the world’s first Pidgin musical”. Definitely no easy feat for someone who decided to, in his own words: “deport myself out of the US”.

What follows here is an abridged version of an hour-long chat about the politics of water, how he got involved with Google in his country, and why he turned down an offer from the IMF.

Mahala: Chale, how be?

Wanlov: I dey cool man.

Where are you right now?

I’m in Budapest right now with a crew called IrieMaffia. We had four/five guest appearances with them, and we had our own shows as well.

The last time we spoke, you were still trying to find your feet in music. What is the status quo?

Yeah, right now it’s even worse because I can’t find my shoes. [But seriously] I see what you mean; I was at that transitional point from Green Card to Brown Card.

You have managed to accomplish everything you’d set out to do since then…more even. To what can you attribute that?

It’s a combination, you know?! It takes focus to realise that ‘luck’ is taking place. If you’re not focused, you can even waste the luck. But we can’t under-estimate the power of vision and the mind.So, when we spoke of those things, they were just in the air. Now they are in our hands. You can have certain plans, but if you don’t put them out, nothing develops. It was just…I mean, I had all these ideas in my mind and took the next step that made sense to me. So I just pursued them.

What can you say has changed from when you started rapping in the early 2000s till now? How have you grown as an artist?

What has changed now is, in those times, I was representing my thoughts in my rhyme as a different person; I was writing these rhymes – and these were really my thoughts and feelings – but I changed into a different character [in order] to rap them. I’d say that especially because I wasn’t rapping the way I talk; I was changing something about me. So now, it’s the same person; it’s me rapping my own stuff. As soon as I stopped catering to the Americans/what the world thought was hip-hop I just said ‘oh, I just have to do me’, and I just switched.

The issue of American-influenced accents is also big in South African hip-hop circles; the industry is caught up in the same identity crisis as other places elsewhere in the world. What is your take on that?

It’s either one of three things: to blend in with what is being looked at as the Superpower – which is changing now because a lot of people are trying to go back to their roots; or it’s an inferiority complex which we all have to shed off at some point in time; or [it could be] a genius thing where [since everything on the television is American], to the youth in about five to ten years, sonically, that sound will make more sense than what I am currently doing.

Could it be that what you are doing now then…

…is useless?

Yes. Because to me, I am always looking out for any source which may teach me a phrase in an Afrikan language I may have not known of before.

There are few of us like that, who want to learn. The rest just want to receive. So many will not question; a few will; and very few will create. So erm, it all boils down to who is pressing the red button at the end of the day. So as long as America is still pressing that button, and we’re still watching American sitcoms, the American accent will still be more relevant.

So what could be the solution?

As soon as we start branding our stuff…

…and packaging it in a desirable way?

No, the word is not ‘desirable’; it’s not about making it look glossy or something. It’s really exposing people to things that…just exposing people to us enjoying ourselves in our environment. If you can be sitting down pounding fufu and laughing, cracking jokes and somebody watches that, then they’ll be interested in sitting down and pounding fufu.

You and M3nsa have known each other since the mid-nineties. Apart from him doing some production on your first album and you being in a group with him, you guys have embarked on what has been labelled ‘the world’s first Pidgin musical’ in the form of Coz OvMoni. How did that come about?

M3nsa and I first met in high school in ’97, and as soon as we met, we just hit it off; we just started rapping together, freestyling and so on. And then after school, we took different directions geographically, he moved to London and I was in America. In 2005, M3nsa sent me the beat to (what was to become Wanlov’s most recognisable song off of his Green Card album) ‘Kokonsa’. In 2006, we did a gig together in New York for the Ghanaian Independence. Some months later, we met in LA and said ‘look, let’s do an album together, but let’s not do what everybody’s doing’. The concept is [that of] two guys in Accra; from morning til’ night, they go through a strange day. As we started creating the story, we started seeing everything so vivid like, ‘oh chale, this could very easily be a musical, and we could shoot it in Ghana’. So we finished up ‘Coz OvMoni’ with the idea that this was going to be a musical; not an audio album a musical would be based upon, but to be a musical with a soundtrack.

So how did everything progress from then on?

Once we finished the recordings, we went to Ghana. King Luu of Luu Visiondirected it under some guidance from us; PanjiAnoff produced it;and we got help from other artists – Samini, Macho Rapper, Mutombo, ReggieRockstone. Then we got choreography help from Wunmi(the New York-based Nigerian afro-beat star). I mean everything just…chale, what we visualised came to be.

You had LemiGhariokwu designing your ‘Green Card’ album cover. This time around, you have got Bruno Blum to work with you. How did that relationship work out?

Yeah, Bruno Blum aka Doc Reggae. He’s like a living legend; he’s written sixteen books on music, mainly the punk rock and the reggae scenes. He was um, I mean he was there with The Wailers, Bob Marley and stuff…he used to hang out with them. Also, he was on the scene in London when punk rock started blowing up. And he’s a known cartoonist. We met him through a friend called Daniel Brown, at a place we performed called Le TroisBaudetsin Paris. As soon as we met him, he started singing some Ghanaian highlife songs and I was like okay, this guy knows wassup. When the album was getting ready, I had this concept of me being in the middle, and the picture showing both sides of my background. Later on I facebooked him, and there was just like a ten percent chance in my mind that he would say yes. And he was just like ‘why not, I’ll do it’. And we met somewhere in a rush, sat down, and [he started] sketching me. And then in some weeks he e-mailed the artwork to me in Accra.

Tell us a bit about your involvement with Google in Ghana.

Erm, well, Google, are launching G-Centres around; they launched G-Ghana, G-Nigeria, and so on. And for the G-Ghana, I was invited to speak at the launch as a user of the Internet. At the same time, Google was courting the Fokn Bois (Wanlov and M3nsa’s crew) as their first premium artists signed…basically, they have upgraded our youtube account to a premium account where we can upload unlimited lengths of footage.

Besides this partnership with Google, you have also been involved with the World Bank…

…they don’t, they don’t have money. The money that they want to give me is the money that they took from us a while ago. Basically, they wanted me to be an ambassador for them. They were like ‘we’re gonna send in a camera crew in the next few hours to film your endorsement of the World Bank’ and so on. I said ‘how much are you going to put in my account’? And they said ‘oh no, you know, it’s just the association, the perks, we give you some…’,I was like chale, chale. I know people personally that work for the World Bank; what they do is put money in a project and give you a chance to succeed at it. But most of the time – whether it’s to their knowledge or not – they’ll put their money in the wrong hands. I’m not one of those people who go around chanting down people, you know?! I was just asking them ‘you want me to sit down and say I endorse you, fine. What are you giving me for that’? That’s a simple business question. And they were just like ‘uh, okay, we’ll get back to you’. I don’t understand it; I’m doing you a service, and you don’t want to pay for it.

We saw your video and thought ‘okay, from Kubolor to environmentally-conscious hippy’. Are we seeing a transition, what’s the deal?

When we were growing up, we were swimming in the rivers;we were eating fruits from the trees;we were catching fish in the rivers. There were streams, rivers, and lakes that we could swim in, drink from…everything. So those things, they’d call me a Kubolor because I would run away from the house and go swim in a river. But now, I can’t do that because there are no rivers anymore; I can’t even be a full Kubolor anymore. Me addressing this problem [of river pollution] is just something that has always been in mind; in the bushes, there are always plastic bags, whereas we used to run around and that nastiness of trash being in the bush wasn’t there. There’s [also] a lot of desertification because all these plastic bags are covering the ground, and nothing grows under them anymore. Me singing about pollution is just part of the whole Kubolor thing; that pollution is trodding on my stomping ground.

What theme(s) run through the ‘Brown Card’ album?

Chale, I just have eight words: Efff-Ooo-Kay-Ehn Bee-Ooo-Eye-Ehss. I hope you can spell them. That’s the future!

And the future’s bright right about now, right?

Hm, I’m wearing three shades.

YoKubolor, thank you for this chat with us.

More vim to you chale.

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