Ghanaians Like American Music Baby
This is of course a bit of a companion piece to the previous post as it also pertains to music. Incidentally my wife is totally cranking “Cruel Summer” by Bananarama in the other room, I actually think the Ghanaians would like that song. Good beat.
I digress. While I was in Ghana I had plenty of opportunities to expose my wonderful hosts to my “American” music. Note that for the remainder of this post, “American” really will serve as a proxy for any music I listened to or knew about in America. It didn’t have to technically be from the USA of course. So some of the music I played for the Ghanaians they liked, some of it they knew even, and some they didn’t care for. For their part the Ghanaians liked to show off to me the American music that they owned as well.
We will present this in a sliding scale from least appreciated to most appreciated, so we will start with the artist Ghana just didn’t like:
That’s right, David Bowie. The anti-Ghanaian. I had a cassette tape with “ChangesOneBowie” on it, his greatest hits collection. First of all, Ghanaians like party music. One could argue that some of Bowie’s later works were more danceable, but Changes was more of a rockers collection. Fair enough. And he sang funny, and sang about strange things. And wore makeup and dressed like a girl. Although I didn’t have any pictures of Bowie, just the music. They could tell though, Bowie’s music just sounds cross-dressy. But I loved Bowie, I thought he was cool, and creative, and fun to listen to. The Ghanaians, not so much. Not at all, really. I mean, what should the average Ghanaian make of Bowie? His whole persona just makes no sense to them.
We’re going to give Bowie 0 out of 3 Star Beers on the Ghana appreciation scale.
I felt a little subversive every time I played The Specials for my Ghanaian friends. Like I was pulling one over on them. The Specials played English ska, which the Ghanaians recognized for its roots in Jamaican ska. They would always smile and give The Specials their approval. I remember specifically one time I was riding shotgun with the school lorry driver, playing the Specials for him. Our school had a nice truck that was donated by Japan I think, and it actually had a kick-butt car stereo, so I really enjoyed going on field trips with the school. Anyway here we were, driving along, and the driver kept saying "I know this one, this is a good one". I thought, "no way, it just sounds like something you like", which was nice thing to say anyway because at least he was enjoying the music. I thought I was fooling them because The Specials were a white band playing black music. Well mostly white, at any rate. But of course my cassette didn’t come with pictures, so you could project whatever skin color you like upon those English lads. But ultimately the joke was on me, because what I didn’t know was that most of their songs were merely covers of classic ska songs from Jamaica, songs my Ghanaian friends likely knew from way back in the day. So the school lorry driver probably did know all of those songs, just the original versions of them! Oh to be young and know everything. Yes I’m a jack-ass. Just wait, it gets worse…
The Specials: 1 out of 3 star lagers. Though I don't know how the boys from the Specials are going to share only one beer.
It was obvious in retrospect, but I was actually a little surprised at how well known Bob Marley was in Ghana. I had a copy of “Legend: The Best of Bob Marley” and it got played on heavy rotation in Ghana. They loved that tape. They knew a lot of his songs, too. The irony was that on the other side of my Marley tape was my Bowie tape. So as “Jamming” was fading out, and the good vibes were flowing all around, the cassette would flip over and the atonal orchestral strains of “Space Oddity” would drain all the joy out of the room like the plug being pulled from the bottom of a beer cooler with no star beers left in it. Marley was a hero to all the poor people of the world, a musical superstar who had more in common with Ghanaians than any before or since. Ghanaians identified with Marley and had a genuine affection and love for him, even 10 or so years after his death when I arrived there. Somehow when Marley is telling a Ghanaian "don't worry about a thing, because every little thing is going to be all right", it really strikes home. I like hearing those lyrics too, believe me, but they seem more like the words of a prophet when viewed from the perspective of a Ghanaian. I wouldn't consider Ghana obsessed with reggae, they have their own style of music called "hi-life" (we'll get to that bit of awesome), but I think they feel like Marley is one of their own for certain. It is not lost on the Ghanaians that a lot of Jamaicans are descended from Ghanaian slaves. I wouldn't consider Marley to have a distinctive Ghanaian look to him, but the spiritual connection is in place as well.
Marley gets 2 star beers. Not 3 though! The 3 beer accolade is reserved for two very special American entertainers:
And the winner...
Yes this is absolutely correct. Ghanaians love Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. Love them like Germans love Hasselhoff. Like Joni loves Chachi. You may think I'm making this up; I can assure you that I am not. Every time the subject of music came up with Ghanaians, and they wanted to play for me their favorite American Music, it was out with the Gambler! I don’t get it. Did Kenny and Dolly tour Ghana at some point? Did Ghanaian TV play the “Dolly!” series on syndication over and over? Yes, Dolly Parton had her own TV variety show in 1976. Just sit back and bask in the awesomeness of that fact for a minute. Dolly Parton + 1976 + TV Variety Show = Crazy Delicious.
Now I like country music as much as the next guy. I’m not ashamed to admit that I currently have Lady Antebellum on very (my wife added that) heavy rotation on my car stereo. Although I’m beginning to suspect that Lady Antebellum has a lot more in common with Bryan Adams than with Hank Williams. Regardless, a little Dolly and Kenny goes a long long way. And it was always the same three or four songs: The Gambler, Lucille, Coat of Many Colors and Jolene. And of course, Islands in the Stream. “Islands in the Stream” is a duet between Kenny and Dolly. I’m not even sure why people kept making music after Kenny and Dolly graced us with that single in 1983. Written by THE BEE GEES nonetheless ( you can hear the brothers Gibb in the backing vocals, too!)
And I know this might ruffle some feathers, but I can’t help but notice a little similarity between Kenny Rogers' flowing silver hair and manly beard, and a certain picture of a long-haired Savior I saw in the home of every Christian family in Ghana. I’m not saying the Ghanaians thought Kenny Rogers was the second coming of our Lord per se, but I’m sure the look didn’t hurt his popularity in the Christian southern part of Ghana. I always meant to ask if Kenny Rogers was just as popular up North in the Muslim part of the country as well.
Kenny and Dolly: 3 star beers, baby. Now that I’m assuredly going to hell I may as well give them a 6-pack.