The Fokn Boisby Ts'eliso Monaheng / 13.03.2012
Wanlov the Kubolor and M3nsa, the Ghanaian duo known collectively as the Fokn Bois, have released an album worthy of inspection and admiration. Entitled Fokin wit Ewe, it serves as yet another testament to their graceful approach to art, and their tongue-in-cheek, afro-revivalist yet forward-thinking music-making wizardry.
The Fokn Bois decide to let rip on issues as far-reaching and varied as xenophobia, black identity and, well, laughing at cripples. Yet somehow, the motif of sex, or any variation thereof, ties the entire album together into a neat bundle of musical bliss. Sexual innuendoes abound, but tastefully so – edging into the subliminal at times. Had they lacked skill, this overt sexuality would be their best strong suit. But alas, skill abounds over the album’s eighteen songs, an excellent feat by anyone’s standards. M3nsa and Wanlov trade bars, ramble, and go off on jaunts of back-and-forth verbal sparring unseen nor heard of since the days of the Pure Monate Show.
From the on-set, one is seduced by the album artwork (done in collaboration with Hanson Akatti). The sleepy-eyed duo is depicted embracing a fluffy, visibly terrified lamb, the details of what is happening beneath the sheets are hardly left to the imagination. The lower bits are covered by the Ghanaian flag, with its inimitable black star obscured by their signature pose: a circular formation of M3nsa’s fingers, with Wanlov’s index finger stuck in. The latter is shown with shoes on, an irony of sorts since he is rarely ever seen sporting a pair.
HIM Haile Selassie I’s image is used on a poster that advertises Imperial Afro Combs, while directly opposite is Bruce Lee’s iconic pose from the movie Enter The Dragon. Beneath the bed lies the Koran and the Bible, while a re-imagined version of Obama’s poster is spread on the right – “No u can’t” as the pay-off line. These small details (Brite Is Rite cream on M3nsa’s side of the bed; Azonto dancer’s front-page newspaper spread on the floor), are carried discreetly into an album that will either confuse and disgust you, or move you to proclaim the resourcefulness of the Fokn Bois. What they have achieved is what most digital releases fail to do: captivate one’s imagination from the on-set.
The listener is greeted by a re-enactment of a Roman Catholic mass in album opener, ‘SINtro’. In between words to the hymn ‘Jesus Lamb Of God’ (normally sung during the Catholic holy communion), M3nsa and Wanlov are heard gawking at girls and making ‘inappropriate comments’ about the one in the red dress; “she guh blow me like fountain”, comments Wanlov. Henceforth, one has an inkling of what to expect. The listener almost feels like a voyeur eavesdropping on friendly banter between the two rhyme accomplices. The results may vary, with factors such as language (some songs are rapped in their native Twi) and nationalism (the line “thank God we’re not a Nigerians” may not sit well with citizens of their neighbouring country) playing a critical role.
‘Strong Homosexual Guys’ is about how the Fokn Bois possess fear of neither guns nor knives, but only for the breed to which the song title refers. It is a metaphor for our homophobic tendencies as human beings. They interchange nuggets, in Pidgin English, of their day as they prepare to go to a club. The song structure is reminiscent of what they have employed on ‘Coz Ov Moni’ (a snippet of the title track can be heard during the intermission), and works to great effect. ‘Jesus Is Coming’ is riddled with sexual parallels. It is an excellent diatribe, an accidentally politically correct and accurate narrative on an
album that implicitly aims to disregard any form of political correctness or politeness.
Brite Is Rite, the skin-lightening cream captured on the album cover, is afforded a life of its own in the song ‘We Want To Be White’. While it is easy to dismiss it as puerile bile from semi-detached pranksters, the duo skillfully tackle pertinent issues regarding black skin, black identity, and how blackness has always taken a backseat when it comes to global definitions of “beauty”. It is a nuanced and very political subject matter, yet equally easy to dismiss in the same vein.
Wanlov’s verse on ‘Gimme Pinch’ stylishly references Biggie’s opening verse on ‘Juicy’, while M3nsa’s opening lines also pay homage to ATCQ’s ‘Scenario’. This is a no frills hip hop track where the two gentlemen’s knack for flow and lyrics collide to birth a hybrid of rap that is refreshing to interact with. ‘Famous In China’ is armed with an artillery of cross-continental cultural references; the impact of those kung-fu flicks (clearly an Africa-wide phenomenon) finally reveals itself. The song begins with a skit where two masters are preparing for a duel that then descends into a barrage of culture-clash references (tofu meets chopsticks and rice, while Twi makes passionate love to Mandarin). Expect to hear mentions of Chong Li (the random guy who always shows up in martial arts flicks, otherwise known as Bolo Yeung), Bruce Lee, and Jackie Chan. Expect a re-visit of the infamous debates about who could beat who in an imaginary battle (this time, Lucy Liu is paired with Bruce Lee). This is new-age appropriation of the most African kind, a rebellion against the colonizing effects of China’s contemporary forage into Africa, as told through the medium of kung-fu flicks.
‘Help America’ lays out a futuristic universe where ‘developing world’ countries are finally in a position to make donations in order to bail out the superpower’s struggling economy. ‘Rasta Fried Rice’ is a twisted, dark homage to reggae. It utilizes sound-system culture-style toasting and roots reggae inflections to poke fun at some of the issues that Rastas hold close to heart. ‘Jah bless’ becomes ‘jobless’, while ‘nyabhinghi’ finds a new home as ‘nya-piggy’. It is interesting to see that, once again, the duo has not just stolen aspects of the music, but utilized elements that they have either grown up with, or made a concerted effort to research upon and understand. The influences of I-Roy and Dennis Brown are eerily audible, and fantastic to the ear. Even Musical Youth’s refrain in their song ‘Pass The Dutchie’ is used to incredible effect.
The song could go either way; people may interpret it as an honest look at the appropriation of Jamaican patois by members of the Rastafari movement who’ve never been to Jamaica (and despite the fact that Rastafarism looks to Ethiopia as its true motherland, and Ethiopians speak Amharic), or a blatant disregard towards the symbolism and religious significance Rastas attach to figureheads such as HIM Selassie I.
The Fokn Bois masterfully tackle pertinent societal issues, and do it in such a way as not to sound preachy. How this will be understood by listeners is a topic open for debate. They have been accused of being overly crass, and outright sexist by some. And this begs the question of where the line is drawn between light-hearted bickering and outright offensiveness (see these Youtube comments). According to Wanlov, “we don’t draw lines… architects do. We wonder pages of the Bible or Koran she has glued shut or ripped out”.
I shall round up my review with this quote from the Afropop blog: “Fokn Bois specialize in trying to push their listeners beyond their comfort zones in hopes of bringing to light what is, in their opinion, the problems and inanities of major social issues, particularly in Africa and African identity”.
How to kickstart a Jihad with The Fokn Bois.