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When I meet Stonebwoy in a boardroom at Universal Music Africa’s offices in Johannesburg, he squints then grins, as if he’s chuffed with himself for decoding a riddle. “I remember you from somewhere,” he tells me, smiling. “I don’t forget faces. You didn’t have [a] beard, no?” I didn’t, I say. “Ah, you see,” he says.
Stonebwoy is in town for ‘Road to Afrochella’ (a one-day event at Altitude Beach on 30 October), which was held at Altitude Beach. It was a show he says he thoroughly enjoyed. “Oh mad, it was a vibe,” he says, excitedly. “It was an opportunity to have people come out, connect, just chill and enjoy the music.”
With that performance out of the way, he’s now using his stay here as an opportunity to work with some local artists and shoot a few music videos. He recently posted a video on his Instagram story that showed him inside a studio with local Amapiano stars Costa Titch and Phantom Steeze.
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He isn’t here to play.
It’s been two days since Stonebwoy released the powerful video, or rather movie, as he calls it, for his new single ‘Gidigba (Firm & Strong)’. Gidigba’s video follows a young man’s fateful evening after witnessing a cold-blooded murder.
The story plays out as the 34-year-old performs the lyrics seated in front of an orange backdrop and a number of other settings. “I was really looking for a short film or a movie that can captivate and hold you,” he says.
“There are a million things hidden in a movie, you know, more than a picture because a movie shows you action and speaks louder than words. The lyrics are speaking one thing, reiterating how there are some realities that we have to always observe, and through that keep our minds firm and strong because there’s a lot of things that we need to unlearn.”
To highlight his point, Stonebwoy references the first line of the song, which bemoans how people say “one love”, but they don’t really mean it or live by it. “It cuts deep so much […] that I’m even thinking about the African political ecosystem where they talk about something and they don’t do [anything].
“Every day we hear of crises, hunger, and inflation, and these leaders come out and tell us what they have to tell us, right? But they’re just talking. They’re not real like that. There was nothing else that could describe what I’m feeling than a short movie for the music that can also give you more meaning into how you have to stand firm and strong in the end.”
Born Livingstone Etse Satekla, Stonebwoy was 15 years old when he started making waves as a battle rapper in the coastal city of Tema. After gaining traction – locally and in the neighbouring areas – through his brilliant showing on the popular radio rap show Kasahare Level, Stonebwoy was mentored by Ghanaian star Samini.
He evolved his sound over time and found his lane in reggae and dancehall. Growing up, he listened to a lot of conscious music that he found empowering and liberating, so it was only natural that he was drawn by the message of reggae, he says.
As he explains his early roots, Stonebwoy emphasises that he views music as a powerful tool to convey important political messages and speak on the political atmosphere of the day. He lauds artists like Lucky Dube, the late South African reggae star, who often used his music to push a message of unity and call out the local government for corruption and ineffective policies.
He says: “Music and entertainment are embedded with everything that we do. The more we understand that we have to use music to actually educate and reach larger audiences in all things, the better for us. I definitely see musicians as chosen people who are supposed to communicate.
“So it’s really important that we put the content in our music that actually addresses the systems and speaks to it and empowers the people and spreads awareness. If you read a book today, you can probably remember a song you heard and be singing it every time more than remembering what the book told you, but if we put that message in a song you can never forget that.”
Despite his consciousness, Stonebwoy says he isn’t trying to present himself as some sort of revolutionary. Apart from the more conscious cuts in his discography, he’s also quite adept at creating rich party music. After our interview, Stonebwoy is planning on collaborating with Amapiano pioneer DJ Maphorisa for a studio session.
I ask him if we can expect some Amapiano bangers from him. His response is coy and non-committal. “I’ve always stayed true to my sound and expanded from there,” he says. “I’m always proud to represent Afrobeats, reggae and dancehall music. I’m undeniably one of the heavyweights when it comes to reggae and dancehall today in the new school… so I’ll always make sure that I show that style in every collaboration.”
He’s a lot more clear and emphatic when I ask him about his thoughts on Amapiano as a whole: “I love Amapiano. I’m f****** with it, for lack of a better word, until thy kingdom come. That’s because I definitely love African music.”
Hotbed for talent
With the likes of Gyakie and Kuami Eugene coming up, Ghana is becoming a hotbed of some of the top talents on the continent. As Stonebwoy shifts into the role of OG, he’s relishing watching them grow into themselves.
“There must be growth and when there’s growth there are new entries. It’s amazing; these are people who are coming off our influences basically… The new school is crazy. Kwesi Arthur is one of my favourites. Larusso is doing well as well. In the typical dancehall and reggae style, you have men like Sunshine Soldier, you have tons and tons of talented artists right now, trust me.”
He adds that he’s also loving how African music is breaking boundaries. “It’s a beautiful time right now to be alive. We are realising the connectivity of what we all are as a people, especially as black people. We have to understand beyond borders that we are people with enormous talent and diverse creativity. […] The beautiful thing about it is it’s all stemming from one root, different branches.”
It’s been two years since Stonebwoy released his latest album, Angola Junction. When I ask him if he plans on releasing a new album anytime soon, he uses the untimely death of Takeoff from hip hop trio Migos, the day before our interview, to suggest that plans are feeble and we should live in the moment.
He says: “God knows maybe [Takeoff] must’ve answered a week ago in an interview what he’d be doing in five years. It’s great to have plans, but it’s only God that can make them happen. […] When anybody asks me this I really wanna be very honest and say that I have a lot of plans for myself, but let the will of God be done because my wish is to dominate the globe and […] spread the message of Africa, the message of good vibes.”
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