Ghanaian Rapper M.anifest Unpacks The Role Of Popular Music In Self-Actualization At The Ephraim Amu Memorial Lecture

Photo of M.anifest

Renowned Ghanaian rapper M.anifest recently delivered a comprehensive well-researched keynote speech filled with contextualised moments that drive the message home which he executed effortlessly with a sprinkle of humour at the Ephraim Amu Memorial Lecture themed;  'Re-imagining us: the role of popular music in actualization' - where he articulated a number of significant topics such as the importance of popular music for self-actualization, modern day popular music dominance, paying homage to his Ghanaian iconic predecessors, the evolution of popular music resonance and its potential for actualization among others.

M.anifest (also known as god MC,  M Dot, M Digidi), is a Ghanaian rapper, lyricist and a Bachelor of Arts in Economics graduate from Macalester College in the USA.

He is most known for his authentic substance-filled work and his Afrocentric style.

The critically acclaimed rapper who has been a practitioner in the popular music space for over a decade is also the youngest and non-academic person to deliver the Ephraim Amu Memorial Lecture.

According to the Ghana Academy of Arts & Sciences, the Ephraim Amu Memorial lecture is a commemoration of the achievements of a humble and dedicated man from Peki Avetile, Dr Ephraim Amu, who devoted his entire life to cultural nationalism. An educationist, reformist and creative musician, he left a mark on Ghana’s cultural memory perhaps more than any of his contemporaries.

Here are some excerpts from M.anifest's gem-loaded speech.

On how self-acceptance and authenticity are both important requirements for actualization

Popular music voices the stories of who we are and what we go through. Popular music validates us and allows us to be our authentic selves.

He pays homage to his Ghanaian iconic predecessors

I for one could never have found validation in being a rapper were it not for my iconic predecessors such as Reggie Rockstone, Obrafour and Okomfo Kwadee, who were able to make music with style and content centred on the Ghanaian experience. No amount of time I spent listening to Nas, Jay Z could have brought me that validation to be my authentic self because the stories they told no matter how relatable they were in a human sense, were not Ghanaian stories - I could not always easily see myself in them as opposed to yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the most classic hip hop album in Ghana called Pae Mu Ka and as opposed to when I first heard this (plays sound from Pae Mu Ka)... and when I heard something like this, there's something that felt Ghanaian and Obrafour rapping incredibly with proverbs etc and 20 years later I'm going to do my remix now, can I do that?
(M.anifest asks the audience. The audience claps and gestures in agreement, M.anifest starts rapping)

He touches on modern day popular music dominance

In the last few decades there has been a proliferation of popular music in Ghana and it's arguably having its most dominant cultural moment in the century- technology has become an equaliser, and significantly lowered the barriers of entry for creatives; with a laptop and an inexpensive microphone, in a tiny bedroom, a body of work can be created by any individual with internet data, a modicum of talents and a patience for YouTube tutorials.

Popular music is now used as a stimulant in consumer culture politics and religion - and therefore the remarkable power it wields is clear. Yes, it is true that historically our customs have had music as an intrinsic component - you have drummers at chieftaincy events and traditional festivals, songs for war time... today, however, we now have an increased use of music for commerce, adverts, movies, tv shows, for politics and for competitive "church industry". We all bear witness to the fact that in these times; not a single election nor product rollout or case without an appropriation or tailor-made use of trending popular music. Viral culture moments that dominate popular discourse are amplified by popular music.

On the evolution of popular music resonance

It can be argued that from the late 1950s through the 1970s, some popular musicians from Ghana left musical footprints in the world that are still unrivalled by modern day musicians of the Hip-Life Afrobeats and Hip Hop. Osibisa albums charted in many countries globally. This era of 24-hour news cycles and social media has arguably increased the resonance of popular music and the every-day lived experience of young people in Ghana.

He then delves into the rise of celebrity culture and how the relentless news stories about lives of musicians are consumed just as much as their music; eg a Shatta Wale and Stonebwoy dispute at an award show will trample issues of national importance and will be on a front page of news outlets.  The era of the artist existing in an aura of mystique is gone.  Every single day artists interact with fans online detailing their lives, giving opinions and directly reaching a staggering number of people individually and collectively. The influence is significant even when it is cosmetic. Sometimes the influence can also be culture shifting.

Potential for self-actualization

In order to self-actualise, one needs to be self aware and have a sense of self regard. Popular music has the ability to normalise, problematize and or amplify prevailing ideas by/of identity that are consequential to their formation. An example of this, in a society bared in with the vestiges of colonial requisitions on identity you will notice that  in Ghanaian music for many decades we've normalised a colourism troop , 'Mi broni' - an affectionate term for my darling that elevates a fairer or maybe a  foreign skin colour - even the 'Bibini broni' to address a dark-skinned lover contains the same colourism insinuation that arguably contributes to the skin bleaching economy. "If the music I sing to and love tells me it's okay, why would I think any different?

So progressive effects on self regard of our popular music is not always as a result of content but sometimes because of the form. By this I mean musical styles that centre African music idioms  in its creation have an undercurrent of validation for our style of expression.

Concluding Thoughts

What an impeccable speech?! M.anifest is one of the finest authentic artists on our continent and it gives me great joy listening to what he has to say on a platform of such magnitude; echoing the voices of young people.  I couldn't have thought of a better Ghanaian artist to do this. This is so M.anifest. So him.

A captivating speech from start to finish. One of the things that stood out for me is how an artist of M.anifest's stature mentioning those who came before him like Reggie Rockstone, Obrafour and Okomfo Kwadee. That is a perfect example of giving people their flowers while they can still smell them because real recognise real.  An important lesson on acknowledging those we revere when they're still alive. We need to make it a lifestyle.

Well done, godMC!

Photo Credit: M.anifest | Instagram | Image taken by BobPixel
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