One of the most popular musicians in Ghana is drawing inspiration from the chief inhabitant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington.
“Obama is like our president, too,” said Kwaw Kese, a hip-life star in Ghana who is known for his style of rapping and colorful antics that earned him the nicknames “Madman” and “King of the Streets.”
When President Obama visited Accra, Ghana, in July, Kese was invited by Ghanaian officials to be one of the headliners at an official entertainment venue for the visit. Obama’s motorcade did not pass by as planned, but Kese still calls the gig in front of 5,000 people “something spiritual.”
“It was great getting a show and performing for a large crowd like that on the day of Obama’s visit,” Kese said in an interview with America.gov. He had already met then President George W. Bush in 2008, when Bush visited Ghana. But he said the Obama visit, during which the president delivered a major address on democratic governance and finding solutions to corruption, was a source of pride for Africans, given Obama’s family ties to Kenya.
“That’s our part. We are all of us with Obama, not only the Americans but everybody, wherever they are,” he said. Now Kese has linked up with one of the more respected hip-hop artists in the United States, the recording star Wyclef Jean. The duo met in Ghana when Jean was touring Africa and Kese quickly charmed the American artist with his wit, style and music. The next day, they recorded a track together, “War,” which is featured on Kese’s latest album.
The opening lyric of “War” declares, “I check the news/the pirates snatched the ship/politics is pile of tricks/but no more tricky tricky trick to fool Africa/that’s why my president is Obama.” Kwaw Kese, Ghanian hip-life star, advocates youth involvement in building a better society.
“Every song that I’ve written, every song that I had done, it’s about experiences in life,” Kese said. “Every song that I’ve done has a story to it. I’m a street type. … I was at one time a street guy and I came out of it, so everything I do is a message for the street to motivate them to do something good for themselves. I don’t just want to do pop songs. Every song I do has a message.”
Part of that message was inspired by his own government, led by the previous opposition party, which took power after defeating the ruling party in peaceful elections that were hailed as a democratic achievement for Africa. The new government, led by President John Atta Mills, pledged to clean up Ghana within its first 100 days in office.
Kese took note of the idea, and wrote the song “Obul.” In the resulting video, he wears a sanitation worker’s outfit, stands near a particularly nasty pile of garbage strewn on an Accra street and raps, “Let’s help build a clean Ghana/my brothers and my sisters/and make it free from disease.”
“That was my contribution to the president’s 100 days for Ghana,” Kese said. He described the reactions once people saw the video and heard the song: “They think, ‘Hey, this guy, he’s a madman, and the madman has taken it upon himself to clean up Accra.’ … My song motivated people to come together to do that.”
His message is also contained in the title of his latest album, “Give Way,” which he said is aimed at the older generation that still rules much of Africa. Kese quoted from Obama’s speech in Accra, where the president spoke of Africa’s “moment of great promise.” Obama continued:
“Only this time, we’ve learned that it will not be giants like Nkrumah and Kenyatta who will determine Africa’s future. Instead it will be you — the men and women in Ghana’s parliament, the people you represent. It will be the young people brimming with talent and energy and hope who can claim the future that so many in previous generations never realized.”
Thus, Kese said, his album title is “an advocacy tool I’m using for youth to move forward.” “In Africa,” he said, “everything is about the ‘Old Fellows,'” those who are in power but who, in his opinion, do not pay attention to the youth. “They should ‘give way’ to more innovation for the youth,” he said.
Kese said he is trying to challenge himself to be part of the solution to problems too. He is organizing a group he plans to call Music for Help Foundation to work with orphans needing help with school fees or other issues. He has worked with a main orphanage in Accra previously, and says the children there dubbed him “King of the Streets,” the nickname he proudly repeats in his music.
“That’s a dream of mine, to use my music as a tool to eradicate poverty on the street,” Kese said.