In 2015, a young rap musician who, as part of a re-branding, had changed his name from Quabena Shy to Akan, released an eponymous EP which, in its poetic levelheadedness, would signify and embody an epoch of maturity in his life and artistry.
Some two years and an organically cultivated following later, Akan, a.k.a. Kwabena Nkwantabisa, has put out his debut album, ONIPA AKOMA, after much anticipation.
Two things Akan has established about the album are, to paraphrase him, that:
-it is centered on morality and spirituality
-its ethos is borne out of the contentions between “what the heart seeks and what the mind wants.”
Morality and spirituality are subjective ideas; it is safe to say, though, after one puts two and two together, that Akan’s conceptions of morality and spirituality re noticably influenced by tenets of Christianity.
The first half of the album could be summed up as the cry of a young man yearning to achieve; to make inexhaustible money, to satisfy his romantic and sexual urges. the catch though, is that he is constantly poked by his conscience where lie accumulated edicts and notes of caution.
The tempo rises on track 4, Matu Meto, to symbolise Akan’s exuberance and his readiness to hit the ground running in pursuit of his wants and needs. And, as the skit at the end of this song hints, Akan is willing to defy his conscience in his efforts towards achievement. This part of the album then, is arguably dominated by the heart’s dictates.
Onipa Akoma gets much more soul-searching-ey towards the end; and, going by the heart-mind dialectic, that makes it the minddominated half of the album. Track 10, Akoma ne Adwen, is the theme song of ONIPA AKOMA. In it, Akan personifies and then speaks to those two components of his being, pointing out their merits to his life. A brilliant thing is done on this track: at its end, both the heart and the mind take turns speaking. Here, when the mind speaks, everything is clearly audible; and on the other hand, the mind’s speech fades out midway. Tis, according to Akan, is to signify how councels of the mind are normally overpowered by the heart’s desires.
Track 12, Ehuru a ɛbɛdwo – produced bu Kweku Ananse – is a standout track, not for anything but for the refreshing nostalgic vibe it brings in with its straight up palmwine highlife sound. The title – loosely translating as “when it boils, it’ll cool (down)” – is a saying which enjoins patience (in the face of adversity.) In the song, Akan sings a fable: of a farmer who loses a farmland rich with gold essentially because he wasn’t patient enough to keep weathering the storms of his life. (In these ‘time no dey’ days, one can’t help but wonder about the potency of such fables!)
The next track, Awufo Som, is a spoken word joint in which Akan narrates and officiates proceedings before and during a funeral, with the eloquence of a linguist.
Thematically, Awufo Som broaches one of the album’s overriding concerns: of legacies and leaving some behind when one’s day is done.
ONIPA AKOMA is a remarkable album for many reasons: it’s production – more than half of it done by the album’s executive producer Twisted Wavex – is masterly, and it’s gospel is preached without a preachy, condescending tone. Akan’s singing on it too, is laudable; and very much so.
Though he isn’t obliged to, Akan might want to do some explaining to some of us regarding his assertion on the opening track – Odaamanii Abisadeɛ – that black people’s skin and their heart’s have come to be one and the same and therefore…
Such things aren’t inconsequential as they may seem; especially in a society where anti-black sentiments – “black man, black sense” et cetera – are so pervasive. Assessed at face value, Akan’s remark seems to be in tow with that line of thought; and, should that actually be the case, it goes without saying that it’s a rather unsavoury sentiment.
Listening to ONIPA AKOMA, one hears a young man who is trying as best as he can – in spite of personal shortcomings and social inhibitions – to live a fulfilled life and leave behind a worthy legacy. And this central messaged is encapsulated in the album’s final track, Kae Kwabena – in which he implores listeners to remember him in their prayers; him, an imperfect being only striving to live his best life, and live it impactfully. And, ultimately, be worthy of paradise when the time comes.
Life is to be lived pleasantly; just as much as it is to be done responsibly. This seems to be the crux of the album’s gospel; and it is a lovely and humane one.