His rise in the Ghanaian music industry has not been a surprise to keen observers, Okyeame Kwame showed signs of his creativity in the early days as a member of the duo Akyeame.
In one of his songs, he rapped about being the favourite rapper’s favourite rapper. Few can begrudge Kwame Nsiah-Apau for making that statement because over the years his music has fueled the emotions on many.
His lyrics have spoken volumes to the masses and the rhythms he churns out has kept Ghana and the world dancing.
Born on 17th April 1976, the rapper has had an exceptional career and personal life, making him a role model for many.
An exceptional musician, Kwame has gradually cemented his position as one of the finest music moguls in Ghana. His philanthropy has transformed lives and the mention of his name lights up dull souls.
He has so far released 7 albums (4 while with the group Akyeame and 3 solo) and is currently working on his next album. As Akyeame, Nyansapo in 1997, Nkonsonkonson in 1998, Ntoaso in 2000 and Apam Foforo in 2002.
His solo albums include Bohyeba in 2005, M’anwensem (My Poetry) in 2008 and The Clinic in 2011. His records were also featured on the Sony Africa Music Compilation in 2010.
Okyeame Kwame comes from a family of eight, with a father who was an accountant and a mother who was a teacher. His junior brothers make up the award winning hiplife group Bradez.
According to Okyeame Kwame, his musical journey began when he was five years old.
“I remember that my mum taught me a poem when I was in class one. I went from house to house and I recited the poem so well that everybody in the neighborhood wanted to hear this five year old tell this poem that he did not understand. So they picked me from one house to the other and I developed an affinity to poetry. That type of satisfaction that the poem gave people made me want to understand poetry more so as early as five I learned so many indigenous poems. As I grew, I was only interested in poetry, nothing but poetry so I would take my Twi and English classes seriously because I had the opportunity to read literature and understand poetry more.”
Even though Kwame became a ‘neighborhood champion’ early, he had some disappointments ahead of him later in life.
“When I finished form five, I broke my father’s heart because I failed most of my papers. From 1991, hiphop had became the gem and everybody had caught the fever…I was small and they used to call me whizz kid. It was almost impossible for anyone to beat me in a rapping competition. It was around that time that I realized that the elements that make up RAP (Rhythmic African Poetry) was the same elements in the poems I loved.”
According to Okyeame Kwame, he “used to ran from school to go and rap and my dad would beat me.” Along the line a radio presenter, Lovin Cee, managed to convince his father to watch him perform. After that, his father accepted the fact that he was good at what he did and decided to help him develop his talent.
“I was introduced to a young man called Lord Marcus who taught me this rap thing properly. Whenever I go to him, I would ask him the various literary terms like alliterations, metaphors etc. Before I went to the sixth form I had read so many story books and I could even speak English. Based on that type of education and interactions I had with Lord Marcus, I decided to write the exams I failed again and that made my father so proud.”
And there was Akyeame
They came to prominence in the early days of hiplife as one of the forces in the Ghanaian Music Industry. Akyeame was made up of Okyeame Kofi and Okyeame Kwame. They enjoyed six years of success releasing 4 albums until in 2003, Kwame and his partner in rhyme/close friend, Kofi, decided to try their hands at solo careers.
According to Okyeame Kwame, Okyeame Kofi was one of the most intelligent guys on the scene when they met.
“His dad was buying cocoa so he travelled to Swedru, Tamale, everywhere. He was a few month older than me but he was exposed. He understood Ghana, he could speak languages, he spoke pidgin, he spoke Hausa, he spoke this, he spoke that. When I met him he was sixteen years old and had written a book called Rings Don’t Marry. He was an intelligent guy, he would write the rap and I would go and sing it. It went on for two year.”
After sixth form Okyeame Kwame failed to secure admission into any of the universities so he decided to take music seriously. The industry had been buoyed by Reggie Rockstone’s revolutionary hiplife.
“When Reggie opened the way we saw we could do it. But Reggie made a mistake somewhere. He took hiphop beats and added tight twi raps on it. We were the second group to come out after Reggie did in 1996 so we were looking for the differentiators. How were we going to stand out? We decided that Reggie’s thing was Americanized so let us localize our own so we did a little research into Dansuomu, Nnwomkro, Highlife music and we took the type of music Reggie was making, found the exact producer he was using and got him to fuse it with indigenous elements.”
That was the genesis of Akyeame which means linguists and that marked the birth of their first album. They release hiphop music that had true Ghanaian roots.
They became very popular and rich. They traveled the world and took their music to a global audience. Unfortunately, they learned so much of the foreign culture and incorporated it into their music so much that their third album flopped.
VIDEO: Akyeame – Masan aba
Kwame goes solo
In 2004, he began his solo career and became an instant success. In 2009, Okyeame Kwame snatched the much-coveted “Artiste of the Year” in the GMAs.
According to him, the hardships he went through for three years in the United States made him think about what he wanted to do and how he would achieve success.
“When we made money as Akyeame, we didn’t save and we didn’t plan. As young as we were, failure was difficult so we moved to America. I washed dishes, I worked in restaurants, I worked at wholefoods markets and I was going crazy.”
One day there was an issue and he had to walk through thick snow to work and it dawned on him that he had to come back home.
“It had snowed eleven inches. I was walking, I was cold and I couldn’t feel my ears, my nose, nothing. So I stopped at under a bridge and I cried. I prayed and I asked God why he was treating me that way. And God spoke to me and said ‘you are a fool, I have given you the opportunities, you were nominated fourteen times. Why are you doing this to yourself in America?”
When Okyeame Kwame decided to return to Ghana, he was advised to stay and marry in America to get his green card but he was bent on moving back to Ghana.
“When I came to Ghana, I had one one thousand dollars and a plan…My plan was to go solo and start afresh with a new image. My second plan was to align with all the people who had held the fort when we were away like Tic Tac, Obrafour, Lord Kenya, Reggie Rockstone etc. My plan was to put my act on the works of other acts so that people would notice me so I ended up doing over 270 features with Amakye Dede, Daddy Lumba, everybody. I also realized that most of the artistes were young and looking hip and I knew for sure that people didn’t really like those look so I positioned myself as the gentleman, the aberantie, of the industry with very refined looks.”
Kwame also realized that a good musician could only get better with proper education.
“An aberantie wasn’t complete without education so in 2006 I enrolled into the university to learn more about the poety. I did Akan and I learned more about the poetry. I studied classical music, I studied applied music and people kept asking how I was going sustain school and my career. But strangely, the year I became the overall artiste of the year was in 2009, in my final year when I was still in school and working on my thesis.”
The rest of the story is a series of hits, endorsement deals and a general brand appeal that has consolidated his position as a force in the Ghanaian music industry.
Family and philanthropy
He is currently married to Annica Nsiah-Apau proud father of 2 children whom he does his best to educate and instill with the same values he places in his music. Kwame says his wife has been the biggest influence on him since they met about a decade ago.
“I met her about ten years ago when I returned from the US. She was so intelligent and so strong that she pushed me. She urged me to go to school, to be humble, to be cool and to be a real man. The present Okyeame Kwame you see is a combination of what I learned from my parents and what my wife wants me to turn into.”
He founded the Okyeame Kwame Foundation, a non-governmental organization to administer free Hepatitis B screening, educate, counsel and create awareness about the disease via entertainment. He hopes to go beyond just free screening of Hepatitis but also help to administer free treatment as well.
Okyeame Kwame is the CEO of One Mic Entertainment, which recently signed an agreement with Empire Entertainment, a move that will see Okyeame Kwame grow his global appeal.
International stages have carried his weight. Global audiences have been electrified by his craft and he hopes to make more inroads into the African market with his upcoming African Connection album. He has so far released a song with Nigerian J. Martins titled Try Another Time.
His self-produced The Versatile Show was cited by many industry player as Ghana’s finest concert of the decade. However, he was unable to stage another one citing financial difficulties. He has since revealed that the show will bounce back in 2014.
He is presently the PRO for the Musicians Union of Ghana. He’s also featured in several big screen films. His catalogue includes Ties that bind, The comforter and Amsterdam diary.
Kwame says the most important thing one can do in his life is to touch somebody.
“We only have one sense which is touch. You can’t hear anything unless sound waves hit your ear drums. You can’t taste anything unless it touches your tongue. You can’t see anything unless light from it touches your eyes. The most important thing way to live your live is to touch somebody, to be a part of something that is beyond your ego and who you are. So after school I realized that I was going to be a musician, one whose life touches people. So if you ask me who I am, I will say I’m a musician and my plan is to touch the world.”
VIDEO: Okyeame Kwame Ft. J. Martins – Try Another Time
By: Kojo Akoto Boateng/citifmonline.com/Ghana