With 28 million people speaking 11 different languages, Ghana is a country that has long been familiar with the concept of diversity. Musically fluid and constantly evolving the scene in Ghana has been infused with the kinds of electro beats and drum patterns that have been trending in the West since the late 1980’s. A new age of club minded, dance floor led music marked a new identity for the country that had already birthed Highlife decades before – as well as the highbrow African Jazz offerings of Kofi Ghanaba.
Some thirty years on, Ghana remains a source of inspiration drawing in musicians from around the globe, up turning the expectations of those who feel they know what to expect, “I was thinking rah, like, they would never show this Africa. The innovative side of Africa, the Africa that has talent, people, good food, happiness – the energy there is exceptional like, you couldn’t compare it.”
It was back in 2011 that Fuse ODG returned to Ghana, in search of a connection. Born in Tooting, “my parents took me to Ghana, I did Primary school there, came back for Secondary school around 11. When I got back I had an African accent, and it felt like I was trying to fit in. As I was losing my African accent and becoming more British, I was losing myself. I realised, you know, I was trying not to be African because it wasn’t ‘cool’ – everything associated with Africa is so negative. So I was doing things to fit in – messing about in class or whatever, so that’s why I say as I was losing my African accent I was losing myself.”
Produced by KillBeats, ‘Azonto’ took off after it’s release, an instant viral hit. When we sit down in Fuse’s home studio in South London, we talk first about the disconnect he felt in London and what that meant for the music he aspired to making. “I went back to Ghana because I wanted to reconnect with my culture – reconnect with myself,” he recalls. “So I connected with KillBeats – one of the biggest. I went back and stayed with him for a couple of weeks – and when I went back I felt deceived because there’s so much talent there, so much beauty, the technology is on point. I was like nah, I need to move here. I dunno what it is, they just make me smile, and I was like, nah, I wanna make music to move these people. Like, these people. Why am I over in London, doing these little shows and – I felt a sense of happiness, and a responsibility to want to share this with the world.”
So much of the allure of Afrobeats sound is tied to the culture as a whole – music, fashion, dance all combine into a lifestyle and an aesthetic that is worlds away from the tireless talk of ‘taking back control’ in the West. “I’m not really a dancer but I really wanted to learn this dance because it looked like a lot of fun. It just felt so right because we were just showcasing what we’d experienced in Ghana. We did a standardised video and it just went crazy from there. It started a whole new dance craze for Afrobeats worldwide.”
Everything I do is Afrobeats because it’s coming from an African artist. People can call it Afro this or Afro that but it’s all Afrobeats.
Since the meteoric success of ‘Azonto’ Fuse has gone on to collaborate with Krept & Konan, Wyclef, Major Lazer, Ed Sheeran and Sean Paul cementing his name among the leading lights in modern Afrobeats. “I did the song with Major Lazer – ‘Light It Up’ – and it’s like it was top 10 everywhere. So as an artist I don’t feel restricted. Everything I do is Afrobeats because it’s coming from an African artist. People can call it Afro this or Afro that but it’s all Afrobeats.”
For Fuse, the music serves as the base level in a world of potential opportunities, “going back to Ghana just let me know like, I have to be me. Africa is my roots – Marcus Garvey said that the people without knowledge of their past history is like a tree without roots, So I had to recognise the African in me and I had to just embrace my culture. Now, I have my own studio – it’s open to Ghanaian artists, they can go there and record. Whatever I can do to help the artists I’m just there for them. Ghana has done so much for me.”
This Is New Africa the title of his debut album (T.I.N.A) is also the vehicle through which Fuse aims to elevate. An enterprise that is focused on bridging the talent gaps between the continent and the diaspora, “The idea of the festival is to connect our people. I feel as black people we’re scattered across the world and the connection is not strong right now. You have Jamaicans in Jamaica, Bajans, Suriname – a lot of people haven’t even heard of Suriname but the people are all there. The African Americans, then Africans and black people in the UK, there’s a disconnect. TINA festival is supposed to be that platform to bring all of us together.”
I feel we need to connect and unite as black people and we need to learn to love ourselves, to love our culture.
Last year, Fuse launched a line of ‘Nana’ dolls, designed to represent power, bravery and confidence – the idea is to inspire a young generation, reminding them they are the next leaders of this new Africa. “I feel we need to connect and unite as black people and we need to learn to love ourselves, to love our culture.”
Akosumbo, in Ghana has been a site of development in recent years, since 2014 Fuse has been working to build educational facilities, now, with a primary school completed for 250 children; attention has turned to their secondary education. “It’s basically our way of connecting them. Showcasing to the world how we can better the continent.”
Funds raised from TINA festival will go towards the creation of the secondary school, where alongside traditional academics, children will be offered the chance to learn vocational skills – hairdressing, textiles, and creative pursuits. TINA festival is simply the springboard for more, “to me it was inevitable because we started telling people about the new Africa, the Africa that we know, you know? And changing perceptions – we want people to actually come and touch this movement. People go to Ibiza for Dance music, people go to America for Hip-Hop. We want people to come to Ghana for Afrobeats to experience it in it’s purest form.”
Fuse’s forthcoming new album ‘New Africa Nation (NANA)’, aims to build upon the successes of his music career so far, elevating audiences with sound and inspiring youth through action.