“When we were asked to host the Donda release party, we only did it to be a part of history. We knew it will serve our stated goal. We want to be a globally recognized party venue. We did not expect it to be a big event here in Ghana. We had no idea how big Kanye is in Ghana”, Therese Jones said over the phone, in an American accent.
“Is this lady crazy?”, I said to myself and told her how big hip hop is in Ghana with an example.
On Friday, April 30, 2021, when Khaled put out his twelfth album, Khaled Khaled, I checked the Charts of the various countries available on my Apple Music to see how the songs are doing. I noticed that Sorry Not Sorry, which featured Jay-Z and Nas, had charted number 3 in Ghana. It was not in the Top 10 of any other country. When I checked the next day, the result was the same. I added that there is no point in the last 20 years when one of the biggest songs in Ghana is not a rap song.
“I dare say Ghanaians looove hip hop”, I said, in conclusion.
“Let me clarify. I know hip hop is a big part of the culture here, what I did not know was how much that love translates to Kanye, because of his style of hip hop”, Therese, who is the Communication Assistant for Bloom Bar, explained and we both agreed that Ghanaians love every subgenre of hip hop.
Bloom Bar hosted the Ghana listening event for Kanye West’s tenth album (if it ever gets released), Donda. Bloom Bar, an open-air club with sleek wooden furnishings, has built a reputation for its entrance, manned by legendarily beefy and harsh bouncers who enforce stringent and frankly arbitrary door policy, especially since the pandemic. It’s not unusual to see a drove of 20 and 30-year-olds, on a typical Friday night, standing around the entrance, complaining about the bouncers. Sometimes they console each other by saying, “Out here is even more fun than inside.”
The door policy has created an exclusivity culture around Bloom Bar, which is why it was the first venue to come to mind when audiovisual consultant, iamadinkra, was contracted to stream the Donda Listening Experience in Ghana. Kanye West’s team had contacted a Nigerian event company, Livefeed, that they wanted Ghana to be one of the 60 countries in the world to stream the Donda listening event at select venues. The Nigerian company contacted iamadinkra via Instagram. Iamadinkra declined to talk to me about the details of events leading to him landing the contract to provide audiovisual support for the Donda event. Their CEO said, “Kanye’s team in Los Angeles wants to have an ongoing relationship, and not speaking to the press about their business is a part of that relationship.”
I interpreted that to mean, “There is going to be more Donda listening events.” I tweeted my suspicion about a week ago.
Full disclosure. I am the biggest Kanye West stan in Africa. A close second is the Houston-based Nigerian-American who sat at the table next to me at the Donda Listening Party, at Bloom Bar on Thursday, August 5, 2021. Honestly, it was the dawn of Friday, August 6 (2:25am, 55 minutes after the advertised time), when the album started playing. Omo Naija (whose name I can not recall) said he canceled his flight because he did not want to be in the air when the album dropped. He wanted to have the experience of listening to the album in an environment like what we did on Friday. His Ghanaian friend did not seem like a huge Kanye fan. Omo Naija spent some time trying to get him to get what was happening. My date only knew Kanye is a musician who is/was married to Kim Kardashian. She left before the album started playing. That was a blessing because I got to share a table with a New York-based Ghanaian-American who canceled her Uber just when the album started playing. She had ordered the Uber because she got tired of waiting.
Omo Naija, New York Girl, and I played a game of guessing who the features are while the album played. Some were early to make out from their voice, like Jadakiss, The Weeknd, and Pusha T. For Others, the new voices Kanye was putting on, we had to both scratch our heads. We both yelled together, ‘THIS MIGHT BE THE RETURN OF THE THRONE’ in sync with Jay-Z dropping that line. He took the shisha he was sucking out of his mouth (pause) to pray when Kanye was floating. “God, please let him land safely”, he repeated for close to a minute.
The August 5 Donda Listening Party is the first Kanye-sanctioned event in Ghana in his 22-year career. As a fan, I have been praying for an opportunity to be part of a Kanye event for years. In 2011, my senior high schoolmate, Annor Mpere, posted on his Facebook, “Now I can die a happy man. I have seen Kanye perform live”. He lived in Morocco and had traveled to Europe for a Kanye concert. I remember my best friend, Frank, saying to me, “I know it breaks your heart someone you know has seen Kanye before you. He is a bigger fan than you.” Bro. That burn! It still hurts.
When Kanye signed Nigerian superstar D’Banj in 2011, I knew it was only a matter of time. In 2013, he rapped, “That D’banj causing hysteria. Soon as we hop off the plane in Nigeria” on D’banj’s Scapegoat (The Fix). I started saving up. To others, it was just bars. Not to me! It was proof that Kanye is coming to Nigeria. I needed to get ready if I wanted to see him in person.
Weeks after the song with D’Banj came out, Kanye’s face was plastered on building in 66 locations across the globe. All locations are in North America, Europe, and Australia. Not a single location in Africa.
I put out the fire that he will be ever coming home to the motherland.
In 2016, there were two globally streamed release events for Kanye’s The Life of Pablo album. One for the Madison Square Garden listening event for the album and another for the Famous video premiere The Forum, Los Angeles. None of the global locations were in Africa.
“WHY DOES KANYE HATE AFRICA SO MUCH?!”
While I would have liked to attend a performance concert, I would have gladly attended a global stream of a Kanye music event, even a fashion show, because I understand how important visuals are to Kanye’s artistic delivery. Visuals have always been an important component of Kanye West’s music. For most musicians, videos are a promotional tool used to gain attention for the song, for the 22-Grammy winner, the music videos have been used as props to elevate the narrative of whichever music he’s serving the listeners at the time.
In 2007, Kanye was feeling on top of the world. He had gone from a producer who was struggling to be taken seriously as a rapper to a rapper whose first two albums are Grammy-winning classics. He was known beyond just the music space after he made the news for saying the then US president, George Bush, doesn’t care about black people. (Bush will later say in his memoir that being called out by Kanye was the lowest point of his presidency.)
Everything visual of Kanye from 2007 reflected the sentiments of the moment. The album he put out that year, Graduation, had songs like Can’t Tell Me Nothing, Stronger, Champion, Drunk and Hot Girls (I know what I’m doing, 😊), and Homecoming. Every song felt like a celebration. The visuals matched the tone of the music. When you Google Kanye 2007, the first images to appear are pictures of him wearing bright-colored clothes and shutter shades. In September that year, he told Wendy Williams, “I am the biggest musician in the world right now”.
Two months later, on November 10, 2007, the flamboyantly dressed, braggadocios rapper lost his mother. That changed everything.
He became a deflated man. The cover for his next album, 808s, and Heartbreak, had an image of a deflated heart-shaped balloon, designed by American artist, KAWS. Pictures of Kanye looking defeated, wearing a grey suit with a badly cut heart on his left breast dominated that era.
“Hip-hop is over for me now. From now on, I want to be seen alongside only the musicians you see in the old black-and-white photographs—Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles”, Kanye said in a press conference in New Zealand, while on his album premiere.
From when he lost his mother till now, Kanye’s music has gotten darker and darker and so has the visuals. The music has always felt like he is on a permanent search for the next high. Any new sound feels like an attempt at catching a wave. The release plans for the albums reflected the unrest. The Donda album sounds like the album where he let go and let God. It is the album on which he accepts the void the loss of his mother has created and receives the filling of that void with Jesus Christ. As a fan, who has been on this journey with him, attending the Donda listening party is my way of acknowledging that acceptance.
Just like the guerrilla marketing style of New Slaves and the wearing of the confederate flag said, “I am anti-establishment, fuck the system”, the communal nature of the Donda listening party seemed to say, “we are family and we are in this together.”
While I sat at Bloom Bar, a world-class Ghanaian club owned by two Ghanaians Kofi Adjei-Maafo and Keith Edem Aweke, I remembered Raising Kanye, a book by Kanye West’s late mother, Dr. Donda West. In the book, Dr. West said her biggest regret is not bringing Kanye with her when she visited Ghana. She described her trip to Ghana as one of the most life-changing experiences of her life. She wrote that she shared her experience in Ghana with Kanye when she went back. I will like to believe Kanye remembered Mama West’s love for Ghana hence his decision to include Ghana in his global release plan. My belief is rooted in the fact Ghana and Poland were the only countries who had some sound in the 24-hour stream that preceded the album. I pray he is inspired by the same love to eventually visit Ghana when he decided to tour the world to promote Donda.
Written By Tony Nenebi