Thursday, July 16, 2009

My interview with Jucy about Museke, Kasahorow, GhanaThink

Recently, my South African friend Keitumetse 'Tumi' Diseko approached me about interviewing me for a website called Jucy, a community blog started by one Nzinga Qunta, who works for Channel O as a presenter on their popular O Boma. I met Tumi through my work at Museke.com and she formerly worked for MTV Base Africa. According to Nzinga's interview with Rage, Jucy is an African celeb news and entertainment site, with a little bit of inspiration to go out there and be fabulous! In her words, "Imagine Afrika and get to know celebs from the African continent who are doing amazing things, and I just thought it would be cool to read about them and not just American or European people." They also take a keen interest in Africans on the continent and in the diaspora doing big things in their respective careers, etc. It's an honour to be interviewed in the 'People You Should Know' category.

Below is the story from the Jucy website
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If you’re a big fan of African music, you have probably come across or heard of museke.com, the impressive online database of lyrics, news, content, videos, translations and anything else to do with African artists. Ato Ulzen-Appiah is one of the people behind the website, as well as other forward thinking projects in his home country of Ghana. Although he is modest about his accomplishments and his plans for the future, we definitely think Ato is a continent-wide mover and shaker that you should definitely start getting familiar with!

Where do you go to school and what are you studying?
I am presently a graduate student at Stanford University (California) pursuing a Masters’ degree in Construction & Engineering Management.

How did museke.com come about?

Museke.com was born out of a GhanaThink Tsooboi project. GhanaThink is an NGO whose goal is to raise awareness about Ghanaian issues, provide platforms to discuss them and generate ideas for development. One idea that came up was starting and maintaining a database of Ghanaian music lyrics to encourage dialogue about the messages in Ghanaian music and encourage the use of Ghanaian languages on the web. After the lyrics project was incubated in GhanaThink for about two years, the project was graduated and the focus was expanding to cover all of African music. This gave birth to Museke.com. Since then, Museke has grown from a lyrics database to a full-fledged African music website with lyrics, audio, video, playlists, blogs, interviews, artiste info, forums, etc. It’s been great seeing it grow.

I know it hasn’t been easy building Museke.com but one can honestly say that it is becoming the African music bible. What have the obstacles been so far?

African music bible? That’s a major compliment. Thank you. The biggest obstacle so far has been making Museke a fully user-based site where many different people post content. We’ve been hoping people would log-in and post their favorite songs or even ask questions about African music. It’s been happening but not as much as we’d like. Getting content was a very tedious task before. Presently, we have a lot of support from African musicians so content generation is easier now. Some other obstacles in the beginning were having better user interfaces and structures to support the project. It’s also tough to get lyrics in different African languages, but we have been able to get these lyrics from various members and sources, something we’re proud of.

What are your long term aspirations for Museke?

We want Museke to become an African music hub, the home of all African music fans. A website with elements of youtube and myspace but African-music focused.

In addition to Museke, you have various online projects- another exciting one is the vernacular dictionary (kasahorow). Why did you and your associates feel you needed to have such a project?

Kasahorow.com is another project that came out of GhanaThink. It was born out of a conversation community members had about the use of Twi (a Ghanaian language) in modern Ghana and how it was disappearing and not being documented. The project set out to provide tools to type in Twi, Akan keyboards, spell checkers, etc. Some of these tools have proved useful for Museke.com (all our Ghanaian lyrics are written in their ‘right’ characters. Kasahorow also established various African language dictionaries to aid students and also help document the language for longevity. Another cool feature was the production of online greeting cards in different African languages. Kasahorow’s goal is to enable African languages on the web.
How has it worked? How far are you with the project? 
Kasahorow has worked well. It’s popular amongst language enthusiasts and it has collaborated with many organizations interested in localization and language issues. It has received funding through Suuch Solutions, a company one of my GhanaThink buddies started and Yale.

You are very passionate about everything African-music; film; food; I.T, do you plan on coming back to the continent after school?
The popular answer to this question is to say ‘eventually’. With the present recession, I probably should say am coming back right after school but I am still committed to the initial goal of working in the United States for a bit before I return home. I feel to get the full experience, I must work for some time. The work ethic and style in the US will be great for Africa’s development so I want to have felt and experienced that. 

I am passionate about Africa but I am mostly after celebrating African excellence. We complain about the press Africa receives worldwide. But what are we Africans doing about it? Most Africans in the Diaspora follow the same news sources who report what we complain about. It’s our duty to report the ‘good news’, the news that will make us feel good to be Africans and balance the negative publicity. I am all for broadcasting African excellence – in engineering, entertainment, entrepreneurship, etc. I don’t know about excellence in food, I just love to eat so anything goes, really.

What career would you like to pursue after school?

I know I want to be an entrepreneur, and in some cases, I am already that. I
will like to build different businesses and eventually build a business empire. I am studying civil engineering so will like to work in that industry but because of my varied interests, I will like to work in many industries as well, wherever I find opportunity and feel my skills and talents can be invested there appropriately.

When the odds aren’t in your favour, how do you keep going?

I continue with the can-do attitude. I keep on believing. I am pretty focused on finishing whatever I start, I don’t like to give up. I am not sure how to answer how I keep going, I just retool, revisit issues, return to the plan and keep it going. I believe Jozi has a song like that, I haven’t heard it, do they talk about this?

When/How did your love affair with music from outside of Ghana begin?

I won’t call it a love affair, I still love Ghanaian music. Anyway, it began when I went to college at MIT and made lots of African friends. The vibe was the same and my friends truly enjoyed the music. I wanted to be a part of that.

Your most memorable moment in the African urban scene in the last three years? Why?

This is a tough one but I’ll have to choose the emergence of 2face Idibia’s African Queen. The way the song became an African anthem has pushed for more African unity in showbiz and entertainment. I believe it’s allowed Nollywood to prosper as well as Nigerian artistes to do well internationally. Similarly, it has also encouraged Africans to appreciate content from other Africans more.

You are a HUGE soccer fan- will you be coming to S.A for the World Cup?

Mos def. I plan to. It will be awesome to experience such a grand tournament in Africa. I was at the African Cup of Nations in Ghana in 2008 and the atmosphere was super. Local is lekker so I expect the Mzansi Mundial to be fantastic. I must admit, I don’t follow African soccer as much as I should, I am a huge Manchester United fan and watch many EPL and UEFA Champions league games.

2010 will be…
…
The year I visit another African country other than Ghana. It is one of my biggest regrets so far.

Top 5 favourite current urban African tracks?

Babe (baby) by Sarkodie – Ghana

Presta atencao by Perola – Angola

Leo remix by A-Y & Avril – Kenya & Tanzania

Where my baby dey by Samini – Ghana

Swallow your pride by 2Face Idibia – Nigeria

Get familiar with African artists, music, lyrics and videos by registering and contributing to museke today!
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