Friday, July 31, 2009

This time of the week

The most recent poem I wrote. It's titled 'This time of the week' but am not talking about this time of the week, am talking about THIS time of the week.
Enjoy :-)

(PS: I must be missing someone :-D)

This time of the week does not mourn Monday
This time of the week teases the use of Tuesday
This time of the week takes the words out of Wednesday
This time of the week forgets there’s a Thursday
This time of the week can fry the joy of Friday
This time of the week satisfies Saturday
This time of the week sunbaths Sunday
It is a moment etched in time that the days envy

This time of the week defaces the wall
This time of the week alarms the walls
This time of the week colors the calendar
This time of the week marks the calendars
This time of the week starts the arriving
This time of the week completes the waiting
This time of the week queries the questioning
This time of the week does the answering

This time of the week can sing the chorus
The chorus which refrained from singing the song
The chorus which accapellaed solo without the harmonies
The chorus which hooked and held up the melodies
The chorus which bridged the unspoken verses
The chorus which ad libbed its way through the week
The chorus which faded out with sounds which were weak
Till you showed up with the tune

This time of the week is why the sun shines
This time of the week is where the river flows
This time of the week is how the plant grows
This time of the week is how much the tree shades
This time of the week is which orange is picked
This time of the week is what the birds sing
This time of the week is who the birds sing for
This time of the week is when I am with you

Thursday, July 30, 2009

BarCamp Diaspora '09 interviews

BarCamp Diaspora '09 (Investing our talent where it counts) took place on July 25 at Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies. The event was a success and drew about 80 participants and had many more following proceedings through Twitter, Ustream and Facebook.

Shara Karasic, who was one of the attendees, interviewed Ashifi Gogo (the keynote speaker), Henry Barnor (one of the organizers) and Freda Obeng-Ampofo (one of the attendees).

Ashifi Gogo is CEO at Sproxil.com, PhD Innovation Fellow at Dartmouth College and Co-founder at mPedigree.org, and a 2009 World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer. Here he talks about BarCamp Diaspora, mPedigree, and the future of scientific research in Ghana.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtBdk_hvXaw


Henry Barnor sums up BarCamp Diaspora, a conference at Johns Hopkins SAIS in Washington, DC on July 25, 2009. BarCamp Diaspora's purpose was to gather together the African diaspora for conversation about how to apply their talent toward Africa.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4yLvnpIH6c


Frieda Obeng-Ampofo talks about her experience at BarCamp Diaspora '09, held at Johns Hopkins SAIS in Washington, DC on July 25, and how the African diaspora can use their talent for Africa.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4Yies6CTmc

Celebrating the emergence of Ghanaian movies and working towards more excellence

Last September, I wrote an article on the story of the Ghanaian movie industry which talked about its recent history as well. Since then, there have been many Ghanaian movies that have come out, some of which I've seen and the industry continues to grow. I've been in a number of good discussions about Ghanaian movies, the latest of which transpired at BarCamp Diaspora. The conversations haven't changed much but the ideas for improvements have been refined and I will be touching on a few in this entry.

Ghanaian movies are starting to gun for awards. Revele Productions' 'Run Baby Run' has been the most successful movie to date while Agony of the Christ picked up a bunch of nominations at the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAAs). The AMAA's is organized in Nollywood but judging from the recent nominees and winners, they are committed to awarding movies from all over Africa as Nollywood movies haven't been dominating. So aside Ghanaian movies enjoying massive popularity following the fame that carried Beyonce - The President's Daughter into many homes around the world, they are winning awards as well. Some people argue Sparrow Productions' Perfect Picture is the best Ghanaian movie ever (at least since this century), while others will claim Sparrow Productions' very first movie, Life N Living It is better than that. It's clear Ghanaian movies are improving in quality, visibility, and significance.

Shirley Frimpong-Manso's Sparrow Productions is carrying the torch and setting the bar for quality production. You can see they obviously invest a lot of money into their productions and judging by viewer feedback and appreciation, they should be recouping on their investment. They premiered their movies at the National Theatre when their competitors (Nollywood inclusive) were sending their movies straight to VCD. If Ghanaians see quality, they will pay for it, it didn't matter if they had to pay $20 to see a Ghanaian movie once. Ghanaians don't like mediocrity like we sometimes believe, but we also tend to accept it. Other movie houses have latched onto the movie-theatre idea and we've seen AA Productions do the same for theirs. When Ghanaians go to the Silverbird theater to watch movies, they can choose to watch Ghanaian-made movies. That's a big plus! Ask the South Africans if it's any better there.

If you've been following ads on Ghanaian TV and music videos, it's no surprise we can do movies with quality sound and video. Sparrow's Scorned showed how Ghanaian music and movies could shine together, with Becca recording 'Daa ke daa' as the movie's soundtrack. 'Daa ke daa' has been a huge hit and Scorned has been a success as well. The Perfect Picture soundtrack featured more Ghanaian acts, making use of popular tracks like Asem's Pigaro and introducing us to newer songs/acts like Miss Jane and Souljas Inn. The Perfect Picture was so good I had to blog about it twice - review and soundtrack. The same way Kwaito became even more popular with the success of Tsotsi, Ghanaian music can become bigger if used well with our local movies.

I loved the fact that Jackie Appiah had a role in the Perfect Picture. I was used to seeing her in lower quality Ghanaian movies and it was tough judging her without bias. She stated herself that that production was the best she'd been part of. The next challenge for Sparrow Productions is to draft Agya Koo (Kofi Adu) into a role. They showed they are moving towards incorporating Ghanaian languages with the Amakye Dede soundtrack and a few lines here and there. I doubt Agya Koo would have a major role in a Sparrow movie, maybe he could play a gardener, taxi driver, etc? Maybe an Ashanti Burger who just returned from Germany and owns all the big hotels in town? Sparrow's movies have been criticized as elitist and they should find a way to make a movie which resonates more with Ghanaians.

What happened to Revele Productions? They've been quiet since 'Run Baby Run' though they have been continuing with their TV series like 'Home Sweet Home'. I hope they produce another movie soon, we need more of their stuff. There was also 'No Time to Die' which was good. 'Ananse must die' is the only animated Ghanaian movie I've seen and that was a great effort, and there's no reason we can't see more of those. Are you also wondering what happened to NAFTI? A lot of major Ghanaian actors who were on our screens in the early 2000's are nowhere to be found. These are trained actors, not the audition stars of today who make up the bulk of Ghanaian productions. We must encourage our arts people to be trained and encourage them to be better. Sparrow Productions introduced KSM in a Ghanaian movie and brought back 'Pusher' Adjetey Annan. Adjetey Annan is one of Ghana's best actors and he proved it in his roles.

A lot of top movies these days are based off true stories. This can happen in Ghana too. We ask again? Why hasn't anyone done a movie on the story of Yaa Asantewaa? I hope we are not waiting for international producers to make movies out of popular Ghanaian novels like 'Our Sister Killjoy', etc. We have great storytellers and writers in Ghana and they should partner with our film people to make movies. We need more depth in our scripts. Let's see that Ghanaian science fiction novel come through and its subsequent debut on the big screen. I also want to see movies with stories of strength and triumph and not the same old relationships, two girls fighting over one guy gibberish.

I am also a little concerned about how Ghanaian movie houses can make money. Though one may want to make quality, the product must be affordable. $20 is a little too much to pay to watch a Ghanaian movie. I think Ghanaian movie houses should focus on using the cinemas (revive Rex and Roxy) or use big spaces like the National Theatre, Tech's Great Hall, etc. Those who don't attend the premieres will buy the movie eventually. There is a huge market for Ghanaian movies amongst various communities abroad so we can organize premieres in places in like Maryland, Columbus (Ohio), Alexandria (Virginia), New York, Amsterdam, London, Hamburg, etc. It may cost a little to organize but think of the money they're losing from people watching these movies online for free with no money entering the pockets of the movie producers. The government must step and help fund quality and work to enforce copyright laws.

It's about time we had a movie standards board in Ghana or a way to rate and review movies. If we are able to separate the 5-star movies from the average ones, we'll force our movie producers to do better. It works in Hollywood. Even if some fantastic movies don't score big at the box office for one reason or the other, they manage to get into film festivals and receive other forms of commendation. Ghanaians can sieve through the chaff. When I realised Ghanaian movies were not improving and were feeding me the same stuff, I stopped purchasing them. These days, I only watch movies that are recommended to me. I own all of Sparrow's movies, and will buy quality Ghanaian productions any day.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I'm on TV! MIghTy African Music Video Program - Featuring VIP's 'Manenko'

I have always imagined myself being on some television show talking about Africa, or African music, African development, engineering, etc. After the recent interview with Tracy Pell about BarCamp Diaspora, it seemed I was making headway. On Monday night, KMTP TV (a non-profit public TV station in Palo Alto) aired the first feature of the MIghTy African Music Video Program (MAMVP) thanks to Melanie Reynard, a producer there. The MAMVP will feature me talking about various African music videos, the artistes behind them, discussing the song and music, etc. All these videos are by Phamous People. The first video in the series is Manenko by VIP. You can see the video below

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eS8jWZdbtI4


The opening music was by Jonathan Ford and the video was edited by Melanie Reynard. I love this video so much that I have been watching it over and over again. I like how she combined the conversation we had with the video. I loved this interview, it took a while to shoot it, and I had to figure out the intricacies involved with being on camera. Melanie was concerned about the background we used for the video and hopefully we can get better backgrounds next time. I made sure to wear this particular shirt which has the "Mate, masie" (What I hear I keep) adinkra symbol. This symbol is part of the Museke.com logo. We shot it once with me doing all the talking but obviously, the interview style worked much better. I spoke a little slowly but still couldn't get by without using 'like like' and 'yea yea'. At least, I didn't gbaa. I felt like I was talking like Obama :-) Next time, I'll do it better. Compared to that BarCamp Diaspora video, this one is much clearer and it has that same 'fantastic' voice lol.

We needed high quality videos for this music video series and I own a number of music videos sent to me by Phamous People themselves. The videos are a little old, they were done in 2007 and so are not current. In this Manenko segment, I talked a little bit about VIP (Vision in Progress), the message in the song, the history of hip-life, the use of Twi and English, and the music video itself. All the music videos slotted for use were directed by Phamous People; and mostly from Ghana. If I get in touch with some other African music video producers, we'll have more videos from outside Ghana featured.

I'll be doing more episodes of the MIghTy African Music Video program on KMTP TV and segments will be accessible on YouTube as well. After working on Museke, this is a next step and we don't really know what is next. It's a little interesting seeing my face on television/youtube, since I like the anonymity of pseudonyms, etc. The last time I was on TV, I was on Ghana's NET2 news segment for 30 seconds talking the Ghana election. Before that, I was on GTV losing on National TV in the Kiddie Quiz. Sad. So let me enjoy this positive experience of the MAMVP and best believe, there's more to come.

Top 10 African female singers & vocalists

This blog entry is upon request to list the Top 10 African female vocalists. I am going to consider those who've been singing in the last 2 to 3 years, thus eliminating legends like Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Nayanka Bell, Miriam Makeba, etc. In determining this order, I took into consideration, pure singing, artiste popularity, song popularity, demand for shows/concerts, award recognition, amongst others. It's very subjective. I also took out the groups with more than one member. This is not scientific and this list is adjudged by a committee of one. Let's get into the countdown.

10. Amani (Kenya) - Amani is one of the biggest female stars in Africa and was nominated for a few Channel O awards. She's a little bit more pop than rhythm and blues but I love her work on 'Tonight' and 'Missing my baby'. You can see her singing prowess when she collaborates with others, on songs like Ninanoki, Usiwe mbali, etc

9. Siphokazi (South Africa) - Siphokazi is not the most popular Mzansi singer but it may argued that she's the best. She shined on Black Coffee's Lo mhlaba and her own Amacala.

8. Suzanna Lubrano (Cape Verde) - This is one musician Zouk and Cabo-love lovers would know. Tudo pa bo is fantastic and she showed she could do R&B well on her Saida album.

7. Ary (Angola) - This is one of my favorite African singers now. Teu grande amor is one of the best songs I've heard in a while and it's amongst the top played on my iPod. Everytime, I hear it, it makes me want to dance. Songs like this and voices like that of Ary's make up the number two reason I want to go to Angola :-).

6. Zamajobe (South Africa) - This soulful jazzy singer made a name for herself singing into the hearts of Southern Africans. Ndawo yami is great, but have you heard Magic? The song speaks for itself - magic. Her newest album (with Nokuthula) hasn't gotten the same popularity of her debut but it's still great.

5. Wahu (Kenya) - Of all the ladies in this list, Wahu was the one who I heard sing first. She's come a long way since her pop days to her present reign as MTV Africa's best female musician. You've heard Sweet love but Running low shows her singing ability to the fullest.

4. Lira (South Africa) - Lira is having an awesome 2009 as she picked up 4 South African Music Awards. She's been nominated for a bunch of Channel O awards too. Her 'Feel Good' track won her fans all over the world and she's done even better with her most recent album, with 'Wa Mpaleha' leading the way. Her brithday song sang for Nelson Mandela is probably the best I've heard, it's lekker!

3. Becca (Ghana) - I've heard Becca sing in person offstage and I was blown away. To think, I knew her before she became famous also blows my mind :-) She started out in a singing competition like many of these singers but she didn't need it. When 'U lied to me' came out, Ghanaians knew R&B had arrived on their music scene. You should also hear 'I love you', and Daa ke daa

2. Asa (Nigeria) - You were wondering where the Nigerians wear? Here is Naija's finest - Asha. I can listen to this lady all day, she's definitely my favorite African singer. She can make sad songs sound joyful. I saw her perform live and if you think her mellow, soulful style drove us to bed, think again, and it had us singing along and clapping. Check out The Place to be, Bi'banke, Jailer and Eiye Adaba.

1. Juliana (Uganda) - Who could upstage Asa here? It's Africa's Whitney Houston. I am not even a big fan of Juliana Kanyomozi (like some of these other singers) but I think she's Africa's best singer today. We know South Africans can sing, but Uganda's singers are doing it big too and they match the Mzansis boot for boot. Just listen to Kanyimbe, Usiende mbali and Nabikoowa.

Before y'all jump out to get me, I tried my best and I am no singing teacher, neither have been the main soloist in any choir. Just send your reactions through comments below or do your own post.

Here are some of the musicians who just missed the cut are Perola (Angola) (who sang my current favorite Presta Atencao), Lizha James (Mozambique), Cindy (Uganda), Ray C (Tanzania), Lady Jaydee (Tanzania), Yola Araujo, Mampi (Zambia) , Mayra Andrade (Cape Verde), Jane (Ghana), Irene (Ghana), Nikki (Kenya), Teeyah (Cote d'ivoire) and Barbara Kanam.

My favorite 10 African gospel songs

Aside the praise and worship that comes from gospel music, this genre uplifts spirits and encourages people to do better. I have not been a regular to church and having music like this keeps me renewed and thoughtful of what is expected of me as a Christian. It helps make sure I don't do the religious thing on Sunday only. When I say I am too blessed to be stressed, these are the kind of songs that provide the soundtrack. Which other genre should come first as I switch from regions to genres in my ongoing lists of African music? In this African gospel song list, I will leave out Ghanaian songs, will list my favorite gospel songs from Ghana later.

Before that, you have to check out my 10 favorite songs from Kenya, 10 favorite songs from South Africa, my 10 favorite Nigerian songs and 10 African songs I think you should know about. Hope you discover your next favorite morning song or find a new jam for your church's next "Kofi and Ama" collection. Click the songs to find the lyrics, video, audio, etc.

Life & Death - Lulu Dikana
Lulu's sister Zonke is a more popular South African singer but Lulu may out-do her this year with this beautiful song. The song has a contemporary feel and you may not even realise it has a gospel message. It's been doing well in various charts in South Africa too. "Oh what kind of love is this; It's so unusual to me; That a friend can give his own life; For another...and another...and another...; It is by far the greatest sacrifice known to man". It's one of the most played songs on my iPod.

Igwe - Midnight Crew
You've seen how people get down on Sunday at church? This is a perfect song to aid those dances. This is by far the best African gospel party song I've heard in awhile. I've been caught singing it aloud while listening to my iPod countless times. The song is in Igbo and English and with the proliferation of Igbo words into the Ghanaian scene through Nollywood, it's easy to grasp and sing along. "Kosobabire;
Kosi Baba bire; Ko ma s'olorun bire; (Igwe)"

Nishikilie - Kambua
This is another song I have to play two/three times before I move on to another. My Kiswahili is okay but it's not enough to understand the whole song. Kambua is a student of music, studying at Berklee, amongst others.

Never felt this way before - Nikki Laoye
When I first heard this song, it sounded like gospel from the US. Nikki is a great singer and she was nominated for a Kora award. In fact, she may be the best Nigerian female vocalist I've heard recently. This is the only single I've heard from her and I can't wait to hear something new. Loved the video too. "Playing like my favorite song; I wanna hear you all day long; My number one; You are second to none".

Ezali mawa - Makoma
I used to see Makoma come up in Google searches when I was searching for m'akoma (my heart n Twi). A lot of related searches led to Museke.com too. Makoma is probably the best African gospel group ever. They are versatile and entertaining. They are based in Holland and have been able to promote themselves all over Africa and Europe. Their ring-leader, Nathalie, participated in Dutch Idol and did really well. This Ezali mawa song is my favorite. Who knew Congolese people excelled at gospel music too? I don't understand jack in Lingala so it's helpful when one of the Makomas sings "I’m gonna sing about life; Life is so beautiful; To live and to believe".

Je lève les yeux - Constance Aman
I only heard about this Ivorien singer this year and I must say, I'd been missing out. Listening to this song, I have to sum it up in two words - belle chanson! How I wish I had paid more attention in French class! Well, I did and I topped my French class, it's just that it was 11 years ago. At least I understand this part - "Il est mon Dieu" (He is my God)

Only praise - Infinity
Olori oko impressed when it came out but my favorite song from this Nigerian male gospel group is Only praise. Love the lyrics, especially that 'Jabulani Africa' part. "This music is more than the melody; It's more than the rhymes; It's an expression of a sound from heaven; Did I hear you say, a sound from heaven". When non-Christian are appreciating this song, you know that you've scored. You should check out more stuff from this group, they are awesome. "Only praise can take you higher". Praise can lift you out of times when you are down even if it sounds contradictory.

God dey - Ebenezer
Singing in Pidgin English is one of the major reasons Nigerian music is where it is today. Ebenezer is making use of the language to make a name for himself on the gospel scene. Love this song to bits. "Tell them say God dey; Tell them say Baba dey; Tell them say God dey; And He no dey sleep o". God is not sleeping ampa and He shall hear your prayers.

Kuna dawa - Esther Wahome
This is another tune that will get you off your feet. Church jam all the way from Kenya. I forget how and when I heard this song for the first time but I do remember using it as a song when we staged (Uncle) Wole Soyinka Jero's Metamorphosis at MIT (African Students' Association). The song talks about 'there is medicine' (yay for my Swahili), as in there is a cure or medicine for whatever your problem or sickness is. "Kuna dawaaaaaa"

Hlohonolofatsa - Soweto Gospel Choir
It's no secret South African singers are the best in Africa, when you take numbers into consideration. You shuld expect their choirs to reign too. SGC doesn't sing a whole lot of lines in this 'Hlohonolofatsa' song from their African Spirit album but it's more than enough. Seeing them do the song in person was fantastic.

These are the first 10 songs that came to mind. If I remember one injustice that I missed, I will comment about it. Just like last time, I want to list a few honorable mentions. My favorite African gospel song presently is Rooftop MC's For my life. Nigeria's Toyin Bello is famous for her Green land track but my favorite is this Kora-nominated song called Freedom.
Jeremiah Gyang's Sweet love and It won't end (Nigeria). Rebecca Malope is probably Africa's biggest gospel superstar and I love her track Uyingcwele track (South Africa).

I am a fan of Jonathan Butler's stuff (South Africa) and how could I forget the famous Pastor Benjamin Dube with songs like I feel like going on and Bless the Lord. Noelie from Togo is another great musician, love Be my Lord. Also check out Jahdiel's Eloheeka, and Heritage from Nigeria. There's also Resonance with songs like Chinwe Ike and then Umeniweza by Eunice Njeri. And there are the countless songs I love from South Africa's Joyous Celebration and then Soweto Gospel Choir. I also love Astar (Kenya) for his gospel rap music as well as Rose Muhando from Tanzania.

If you have some African gospel songs I should know and check out, let me know too.
We are to praise and worship God in many tongues and languages, hope this gets you going.

Long live African gospel music.
Long live African music.
Long live Africa.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

BarCamp Diaspora '09 - More work to follow, it's time to move



After the success of BarCamp Ghana '08, I dreamt of a similar event in the US. It took a while to bring the planning and organization together and last weekend, the dream came true in the form of BarCamp Diaspora '09. The event, themed 'Investing our talent where it counts', took place at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins' University in Washington, DC on July 25. BarCamp Diaspora was a free event that brought together people interested in using their skills, talent, and resources to benefit Africa. The event went on smoothly and judging from the feedback of the attendees, I can call it a success as well.

BarCamp Diaspora was a free event which had about 100 registered attendees and about 70 people showed up to the event. It was 'tweeted' through Twitter, you can search #bcdiaspora for related tweets. The event was also streamed live online through ustream which had viewers in Ghana, Burkina Faso, the UK and the US, amongst others. These were put in place to allow people outside the venue to participate in the event which worked. Questions and comments were submitted through these media which were communicated to the BarCampers present. One attendee volunteered to record video for the whole event and many attendees took digital photos. Since, we couldn't get the funds to support a longer event, BarCamp Diaspora took place between 12 and 6pm (as advertised) with a short snack break (plantain chips, donuts - bofrot, atsomo, water and soft drinks).

The keynote speaker for the BarCamp was Ashifi Gogo, CEO of Sproxil.com and co-founder of MPedigree.org and a 2009 World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer. He spoke about various ventures he had been a part of (including Odadee.org) and his present project which is fighting counterfeit drugs. Ashifi is a PhD Innovation Fellow at Dartmouth College and the service is taking off in Nigeria and Ghana. He also talked about the challenges and intricacies involved with doing business in Africa and mentioned mobile communication, microfinance and big agriculture as what's hot in Africa at the moment. Ashifi mentioned that there were many opportunities back home and advised those who wanted to return to Africa to pursue enterprises or businesses ('do something') to have 5 year work plans and save before returning. He also talked about having friends there and keeping in touch in classmates. He stated how his colleague from his alma mater Presec had now become the deputy minister of information. I loved Ashifi's presentation, it was educational, funny, and told his story really well.

In order to foster the BarCamp spirit, we had zero panels; only breakout sessions. A lot of sessions were suggested and we ended up with 9 sessions over 3 time-slots, hence 3 ongoing sessions at each time. They were Microfinance & Mobile technology (Derek Koranteng & Benjamin Lyon), Healthcare in Ghana (Maame Sampah), Innovative technologies for rural communities & Mobile apps (Molly Mattessich & Jackie Adhiambo), Creativity & the Arts (Seyram Avle), NGO's (Aida Manu), Gender, education and technology (Henry Barnor), Scientific research in Africa (Akua Akyaa Nkrumah), Using technology to connect communities (Raquel Wilson), & Blogging & Social media (Jemila Abdulai). Most of the sessions were round-table style and ensured participation from as many as attendees as possible. These sessions were tweeted as well and notes were taken, which will be provided for the public soon. The brainstorming and discussions in these sessions were great and gave birth to many ideas and promoted projects/businesses that were working on those ideas. Attendees learnt about blogging, and many organizations and projects which are fostering African development.

The organizing team took care of the opening and closing remarks, as well as the agenda building session which helped decide the breakout sessions. The opening session talked about the idea behind BarCamp Diaspora - bringing together intellectual and enterprising minds to dialogue and discuss African development in whatever sector or discipline they were interested in. The agenda building session allowed attendees to share what issues were most important to them and which discussions would dominate the business of the day. The closing remarks summed up the day's agenda, the ideas generated and the need to consolidate the thoughts, ideas and solutions for future use. The plan is to draft some policy papers around some of the discussions to be presented to various organizations who can push for their implementation. One attendee, Kofi Ntim, had a lot of helpful information about receiving funding for start-ups and enterprises and he gave a short presentation at the end of the BarCamp.

Most of the attendees were Ghanaians, especially those who lived in the DC, Maryland, Virginia area. This was a result of the network that the organizing team had available. Unlike BarCamp Ghana, the ratio of women to men was much better and ladies represented in full force. There was a good mix of students (both in undergrad and grad programs) and professionals. It obviously showcased a youth movement, since more than 75% of the attendees were under 30. Barack Obama called on young Africans to take charge and some of them were at BarCamp Diaspora. I don't remember anyone mentioning Barack Obama at the event even though we were right in his backyard (DC) and he had just been to Ghana. Like one attendee said, the attendees were busy talking about what they could do for Ghana/Africa and not thinking of what Obama or the West needed to do.

Many thanks to the organizing team for the putting this together. The GhanaThink Foundation was the main sponsor and provided funds for event material and food and drinks. This allowed us to make the event free. JHU-SAIS' African Studies program sponsored by enabling us to use the Kenney Auditorium, four classrooms and other spaces for free. Judging by the amounts we were quoted while looking for a venue at the start of planning the BarCamp, JHU-SAIS did us a huge favour. In the future, we'll like to enlist more forward-thinking organizations like GhanaThink as organizers & sponsors so as to keep the BarCamp event free, increase the network from which the attendees come and provide more for the attendees. There is still a lot of room for improvement, with note-taking, better live-streaming, documenting and promoting ideas, etc.

When you are having trouble getting people into different sessions to stay with the schedule, it may not a bad thing. It may be because attendees are busy networking and discussing future plans, which takes a little longer than short breaks. We hope to see many ventures and initiatives started out of this event. One lady who needed help with a business plan sat Kofi Ntim down to get as much information as she could, that makes for fulfilling and valuable time spent. If your attendees are fulfilled, then your work is fulfilling. Thanks to all our organizers, sponsors, our volunteers, our attendees and our broadcasters. Tell a friend to tell a friend to tell a friend. It's time to move. Less talk, more action. Let's begin to invest our talents where they count.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ashifi Gogo - investing his talent where it counts through technology

I've known Ashifi Gogo for a long time. He was two years my senior in middle school (KNUST JSS) and was one of the top students. I followed him to Presec and there too, he was making a name for himself. Every junior student needed a guide for academics or school father to protect from bullies, Gogo was one of those to me. (not the bully, silly!) After Presec, he went to Whitman where he balanced an excellent academic record with working on the online home for Odadees (old Presecans) - odadee.org. His work on this site ignited my passion to help my old school and reverse the pronouncement I made at the end of my three years there 'never to help Presec in any way'. Recently, Gogo has been busier with his start-up Sproxil (& Mpedigree), which is a service that fights counterfeit drugs. For his work, he is winning awards and going into high places. This weekend, he'll be a featured speaker at BarCamp Diaspora. I am truly honoured to present Ashifi Gogo as one of the young African movers and shakers.

When Ashifi told me he was going to Ghana to start his own business, I was impressed. He was still in school, and had gained admission to a PhD program at Dartmouth. He was going where most of us could only talk about - make some things happen. Before I knew it, Gogo was spending more time in Ghana and then Nigeria, and I had no idea when I could reach him on his US phone. When I attended the Presec 70th anniversary launch in Ghana, Gogo was there. Ebe some Odadee move? Gogo go go. He had been in Ghana working on MPedigree (together with another Odadee Bright Simmons), and had been preparing a documentary to present to ministries and other stake holders in the industry in which he was targeting. Effective busyness making serious business.

When he was asked by the Clinton Global Initiative "why fake drugs", he said, "I commit to craft technologies specifically for the developing world. My current realization of this lifelong goal is to provide an easy service for any developing world consumer to check their medication against counterfeits using any cell phone. Just like a lottery ticket, consumers scratch off a label on their medication, revealing a number that they could then text and receive instant verification of their drugs at the pharmacy or open air market. This will help prevent disasters such as the death of 84 infants in Nigeria last year due to teething syrup laced with antifreeze." Ashifi is socially conscious first and has found a niche where he can make an impact. He's naturally began pushing the service in West Africa but he's thinking bigger and soon enough, the Ghanaian-made service would use global technology to solve problems that are localized in many places around the world.

Working with him on Odadee.org, we faced various challenges, which is surely nothing compared to what he's faced working on Sproxil and MPedigree. "It’s been tough trying to raise funds for a long term venture based in West Africa, especially in these economic times. The appetite for risk seems long gone. Fortunately, leading foundations and business plan competitions are still supporting great ideas. By participating in a number of national and global business plan competitions, I’ve been able to raise funds for a proof of concept and I’ve seen great interest from reputable Angel investors. While planning for a large scale technology trial later this year, I realized I would need a decent amount of computing power. The
logistics of maintaining a server farm in West Africa, with challenging electrical power supply, was a bit daunting. I solved this problem by switching to cloud computing, only paying for the amount of computational power I need, while benefiting from network security and uptime only large firms could afford back in the day.
" We all realise the infrastructural and financial challenges we face building enterprises in Ghana, or Africa in general. Ashifi Gogo gives us hope that even today, while we wait for significant improvements, we can succeed. That's how all the entrepreneurs did it, challenges shall always exist, no matter how small. He navigated the challenges he faced and used available technology and information to solve them. Sounds like engineering but anyone can do this with by doing some homework, together with dedication and hard work.

Ashifi has been shuffling between the US and West Africa as he builds this project. Last December, he found the time to help make BarCamp Ghana a success, latching onto the team late in its planning and taking ownership of enusring that everything run smoothly. He coordinated the photo and video documentation and helped get internet connection at KACE-AITI for the BarCamp. He must have a ton of experience on how things work in Ghana and he firmly has a foot there. On the Diaspora/path to return to Africa, he stated, "As an undergraduate, I majored in mathematics and physics, and co-authored a paper in quantum optics that was subsequently published in a reputable journal. I quickly realized that while my work was intellectually stimulating, it would have been challenging to make a substantial impact on pressing needs in my home country, Ghana. I subsequently switched to engineering in graduate school. Now, as a PhD Innovation Fellow at Dartmouth College, I’ve got exactly what I was after – practical skills in science and business that can transform ideas into high-impact ventures. To make an even larger impact with the mobile authentication concept, I’m working with socially oriented investors to raise an Angel round of funding. This will help us prove the concept on a large scale with a number of local drug manufacturers in West Africa, before signing on multinational firms in a few years. I am also actively working with leading industry trade groups in pharma and telecom to raise awareness on the need for a cross-boundary “911 for fake drugs” number for checking drugs with cell phones."

Since late last year, Ashifi's work has been recognised by the World Summit Awards, World Economic Forum Tech Pioneers, etc and he's given presentations at top institutions. When I made a grand entry into Boston earlier this year to attend the Harvard African Business Conference, Ashifi was in town too, but to speak at Harvard. Level. He's still very humble and accessible and is there to guide me when I need him. I couldn't be more appreciative of this guy and it's really great to know him. When Odadee.org went through tough phases, he strategized and re-tooled the project for sustainability purposes. He didn't ask for a dime. When he was in Ghana, he'll go by Presec and take pictures for the Odadee website. Ashifi almost always had an answer to some technical problem. He was the webmaster for Odadee.org while studying Math and Physics.

All of this, and he's under 30. Obama called on young Africans to take charge. Ashifi has been doing that for awhile now so if you need an example, here's one. Even the non-Ghanaians know, including my Ugandan buddy from MIT who met him at a Global Health Conference. In Ashifi's own words, Sproxil is doing the real heavy lifting (not MPedigree), and focuses on providing software and systems that capture market intelligence in emerging markets using cell phones. Obviously, fighting counterfeit drugs is only a start. This Ashifi entry follows the one I did about Eyram Akofa Tawia of Letigames and there are more entries like this to come. Let's begin to celebrate the young upstarts and acknowledge their work. More over, it will give us more inspiration to start investing our talents where they count. Tsooboi!

Top 10 Hiplife artistes today

This blog entry is upon request to list the Top 10 Hiplife artistes currently eliminating those who haven't done anything in a year and half. In determining this order, I took into consideration, artiste popularity, song popularity, demand for shows/concerts, award recognition, number of features with other artistes, amongst others. I also took out the groups with more than one member, and artistes who are more Afro pop or hip-hop. This is not scientific and this list is adjudged by a committee of one. Let's get into the countdown.

10. Barima (Sidney) - This former Nananom member has been in the hiplife game for over 10 years and is still going strong. He's stayed pretty consistent with his style and he may have earned some more fans with his last album 'Barima bi ba', which did really well. Africa Money was a huge hit outside Ghana's borders, as its French lyrics endeared it to Francophone Africans as well.

9. Obour - His last album was around 2007 but he has released a couple of singles since which have garnered major airplay. His social campaign songs, President Obour and Ghana Reads, did well. His hit collabo with Okyeame Kwame called 'The Game' also was huge, and sparked a lot of debates about the state of the Hiplife genre. Though he's busy with various entrepreneurial ventures, he's finding time to churn out great music and maintain visibility on the Ghanaian music scene.

8. Tic Tac - Tic Tac is respected a lot in Hiplife for helping send the genre international. His latest single, Bosoe, is doing well in Ghana and it features a Nigerian group, Key Note. He's been a constant show-stopper in many Ghanaian events in the UK and maintains a steady presence in Ghana.

7. Ayigbe Edem - The Ewe rapper is scoring a lot of fans with his flow and his putting Ewe firmly on the Ghana hiplife map. He's probably not higher on this list due to the lack of familiarity Ghanaians have with the Ewe language. His album launch was great and coming from the Last 2 (Hammer) stable, he's here to stay.

6. Wanlov - Kuborlor may not want to be classified as a hiplife artiste but hiplife is the closest category to his Kuborlor music. He came to Ghana in late 2007 to make a name for himself and succeeded. He is probably the most unique artiste in Ghana at the moment and being on the Culture Caravan showed how far he had come. He's been releasing many singles and continues to use his online presence and travel experience to secure many shows abroad.

5. Tinny - Aletse Kankpe may not be enjoying the same airplay as some of these artistes but he has major visibility. He was recently nominated for African Artiste of the Year at Nigeria's Hip Hop Awards. Not much has been heard about his international album called Attention though many singles have surfaced. He's also featuring in many shows and is the undisputed premier non-Twi rapper in Ghana.

4. Asem - His 'Gimme Blow' and 'Pigaro' tracks may have started the GH RAP movement, together with his partnership with Richie. He consistently outshines people when he features on their songs. He's been unlucky not to pick more awards than he has at the moment. Doing some quick Facebook checks, Asem's fan page had the most fans, followed by Wanlov.

3. Sarkodie - He is probably the most popular rapper in Ghana now. The tongue-twisting star has been underground for a while and his debut album may be the biggest seller this year. His Babe track with Mugeez (R2Bees) is arguably this year's most popular track from Ghana. He's also been featuring on other tracks.

2. Kwaw Kese - Abodam Kwaw Kese is still the king of the streets. When Wyclef was in Ghana recently, he did a track called 'War' with Kwaw Kese as well as 'Glad' with Reggie Rockstone & Kwaw himself. That just proves how hot Kwaw is now and how mad people are still going over him. He was also the beneficiary of MTV BASE's Shell Initiative music video shoot.

1. Okyeame Kwame - The reigning Ghanaian artiste of the year takes the cake here. He also just won three nominations for this year's Channel O Africa Music Video Awards. Wish him luck as he guns for awards. His album, M'awensem, is one of the best ever and the work he put into it paid off. He's also one of the hottest names to feature on a song, something he really enjoys doing.

So there is my list, what's yours? Let me know what you think by adding comments below.

Monday, July 20, 2009

I watched Inter Milan play at Stanford

Yesterday, I went to see Inter Milan play Mexico's Club America with my brother and some other friends. It's absolutely awesome they played the game right down the road from me on Stanford's campus. Which other universities host international soccer games? Stanford even hosted a game in the USA 94 World Cup. This game was not attended well compared to the time Chelsea came here, but the game was enjoyable with the Mexican drumming and Vuvuzelas blowing. Both teams scored from corners and settled for a 1-1 draw and Inter lost on penalties. I had gone to see Muntari, Balotelli and Ibrahimovic play. Sulley got injured early in the game but I did get to shout his name and have him wave at me when he was exiting the stadium.

I was surprised when I saw the Mexicanos selling these trumpets/Vuvuzelas. I've not been a big fan of those things but I am beginning to accept that it's a part of the game. That thing is not easy to blow, much respect to the South Africans who provided the soundtrack to the recent Confederations Cup. Kai, Mexicans are hustlers. The area around the Stanford Stadium looked like Accra with all the Mexican/Spanish hawkers. And they were marketing their goods in Spanish? "Cinco, cinco ahora". Hawkers in Accra don't shout in English, do they? Nowhere cool. There were some Black men also selling tickets by the stadium. I didn't ask for the prices, but I wonder if they managed to sell it for profit like the Nima boys did during CAN 2008.

I was a little worried Zlatan Ibrahimovic would be absent at the game since it looks really likely he's going to Barcelona. He'd been with Inter on the America trip for awhile so I suppose he was going to be at Stanford. Mourinho, who did not want to lose the match, brought him on in the second half and he gave a little 'show'. 'Keche' be what? As my brother said, he has great ball control and ball sense. When he came into the game, Inter looked more dangerous, though they didn't get any goals because Diego Milito messed some up and their wingers had forgotten how to dribble. Inter's defence sucked though, Materazzi was pretty useless and they probably only won a couple of headers all game. Maicon & Figo were absent. Cambiasso is a baller. Quaresma is a wastepipe, he needs to go back to Portugal. For Ibra, he joining Barca would make them a killer team! Those El Classicos this season would be fantabulous! The wizardry of Messi, Zlatan, Henry, Iniesta & Xavi versus the artistry of Kaka, Ronaldo, Benzema, Raul & Higuain. Barcelona is coming to town next month and will try to see them as well.

Balotelli played well too but that guy plays kinda rough (buga-buga) and needs to be better disciplined. Wanted to see him after the game to say, "Come play for Ghana, son". This boy is good and would add a lot to the Black Stars. He can shoot, even play on the wing a bit, hustles back and can take set-pieces. Discovered the Nigerian guy called Joel Chukwuma Obi who played for Inter. Why is it that most of the African stars in top European teams are holding midfielders? What happened to the Abedi Peles and Jay Jay Okochas? Or the Osei-Kuffours and Radebes? Obi acquitted himself well but he had a straight red card at the end, which was quite harsh. I wondered where Obinna Nsofor was, he's a great player. It was sad Muntari couldn't play the whole game. Lower back problems? "Atopa no dɔɔ so, Menaye, ɛyɛ a, susu" :-D

I kept wondering what at all is this Club America team? You have Chelsea, Inter Milan, AC Milan playing in this Football Challenge, and then Club America? They ain't even from 'America'. I googled and found out that they are the richest team outside of Europe and one of Mexico's most successful. Most of their top players were playing for Mexico over the weekend so they faced Inter with a second-string side and still drew. Club America had more supporters than Inter at the game, serious business. How is it possible that I've seen Club America play two more times than Man U, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Arsenal, New York Red Bull (just kidding) combined. Shyous right? Try this one, I've seen them play two more than I've seen games involving Accra Hearts of Oak or Kumasi Asante Kotoko. Now that is something I need to change really fast, it's atrocious.

So there was a lady who 'streaked' unto the field at the end of the game to hug the players. Nah, she wasn't naked but that was hilarious. Maybe, soccer lovers in the US have to start regular American sports terms to get Americans to love the game. This American dude next to me was getting on my nerves. One time, he said that guy had a 'booty fall'. He and his lady partner were using terms like steal, turnover, overtime, etc. Come on! They kept on referring to Inter as the Italians and Club America as the Mexicans. Club America had some black defender dude (another position Africa is exporting pretty well). He did help tell some Mexicano in front of me to sit down when I needed him to so that was nice. Get your mind right buddy, it's football not soccer.

It was a nice game, as well as the half-time soccer match involving Special Olympians from Northern California and folks from EA Sports. Next time, I wish I'll be watching Manchester United or the Phobia boys. There are few more games in the World Football Challenge left across the US, try and catch one. And who is organizing this thing anyway? How does Club America have 3 points and Inter have 2 points after this game? WednesdayThursdayFriday? Read their yawa tournament rules. Enjoy the games and get ready for more Vuvuzela action, especially at next year's World Cup in South Africa. "Local is lekker".

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Dissecting Barack Obama's speeches in Ghana

On July 11, around 12:40pm GMT, I was rounding off a night of partying in Las Vegas. To me, life was good. What was I missing? Barack Obama's address to the Ghanaian Parliament in Accra. Obama is building a legacy of great speeches and this was also bound to be a historic one. Hussein did not disappoint. He was speaking the capacity as the 'leader of the free world' and president of the great US of A. As I read the speech more carefully today, I felt America's first Black president seemed to be speaking for Africans and Africa, even more than for America. He did show a lot of tough love to Africa in there but his tone was one of - this is what Africa needs and desires, this is the way 'we can do it', and this is the way the rest of the world (America, etc) should help. Obama has some Africa in him and for those of us Africans who wondered how much help he'll be to us, I believe we should sleep well at night because he does mean business.

I wish I could post the whole speech for y'all to read here but I'll have to redirect you here. I admired Obama and his speech writers doing their homework. Who told him about Anas Ameyaw, and Patience Quaye? What else does Obama know about Ghanaians making impact? Obama's speeches are just too good. Did Bush have speeches this good? If so, why didn't anyone talk about them? Great speeches are defined by telling stories, and this is an art that has been nurtured in Africa since time immemorial. The way he presented the stories about his father and grandfather was just 'lekker'.

I was able to catch Obama's departure ceremony from Accra live. While listening to President Atta Mills, a lot of Ghanaians will tell you they were just hoping for zero gaffes. He gave a short speech, showing remarkable adoration for Obama. Really? I haven't seen him that excited in a while. Whose fault was that? Ghanaians as a whole or Obama? There was nothing memorable about Asomdwoe hene speaking other than what I just discussed. It's a good idea he spoke before Barack, because his speech would have been a let-down. I don't know for how long Obama spoke then but his speech was much much better. Is public speaking something that African-Americans just excel at? Kwame Nkrumah was a good speaker and am looking for a few more Ghanaians cast in his mold. Obama mentioned that "Africa's future is up to Africans". I feel it's a little hard to speak this statement into the lives of people in the West, especially those who really have Africa's best interests at heart, imagine this statement being proclaimed by the 'leader of the West'.

I'd like to pick a few lines from his speeches.

"And I have come here, to Ghana, for a simple reason: the 21st century will be shaped by what happens not just in Rome or Moscow or Washington, but by what happens in Accra as well." - Pretty deep, I'll offer another meaning, this is to say, Africans don't need to be in foreign lands to shape the 21st century, but on the continent as well.

"Only this time, we have learned that it will not be giants like Nkrumah and Kenyatta who will determine Africa's future. Instead, it will be you — the men and women in Ghana's Parliament, and the people you represent. Above all, it will be the young people — brimming with talent and energy and hope — who can claim the future that so many in my father's generation never found." - It feels good to be a young African, I know Barack Obama has my back. He calls for Africa's youth to take charge of the future, I am not sure if we understand what this means. It's as simple as volunteering. America has peace corps in Ghana, what does Ghana have in Ghana?

"As I said in Cairo, each nation gives life to democracy in its own way, and in line with its own traditions. But history offers a clear verdict: governments that respect the will of their own people are more prosperous, more stable and more successful than governments that do not." - I feel talk about democracy is a little overrated, we must begin to move past celebrating good democracy and focus on laying the platforms for our citizens to create wealth and succeed. Having relatively better democracy than so so and so African country shouldn't be our goal, but creating the environment and infrastructure for the players in our development to play. Obama said some more in the few lines after this one that must be regarded highly.

"Africa doesn't need strongmen, it needs strong institutions." "From South Korea to Singapore, history shows that countries thrive when they invest in their people and infrastructure; when they promote multiple export industries, develop a skilled work force and create space for small and medium-sized businesses that create jobs." - Do we understand what investing in our people means? Are we as citizens, and not just the government prepared to do this?

"Across Africa, there is bountiful wind and solar power; geothermal energy and bio-fuels." - We must sit up and work on this. We must become self-sufficient energy producing countries. Africans need to take the lead on something and this can be it. Like Obama said, "Africa's boundless natural gifts can generate its own power, while exporting profitable, clean energy abroad."

"Yet because of incentives — often provided by donor nations — many African doctors and nurses understandably go overseas, or work for programs that focus on a single disease. This creates gaps in primary care and basic prevention. Meanwhile, individual Africans also have to make responsible choices that prevent the spread of disease, while promoting public health in their communities and countries." - I fear health professionals in Ghana may be getting enamored with sexier incentives and wage demands as well as more celebrity diseases while losing sight of the basic health problems we collectively face as a people. We must be leading the research on problems that primarily affect us and take steps to ensure healthier living and prevent these diseases. If health costs are huge, 'let's do prevention is better than cure'.

"Africa's diversity should be a source of strength, not a cause for division. We are all God's children." - Colonialism divided us but as our countries have grown, we've grown to appreciate our similarities and the differences. As we integrate our nations and differentiate our continent, it should unify us and make us the best consultants for each other and not people who are not as culturally similar to us. We are all God's children, when the dust settles, we are here to co-exist in love. While at the Cape Coast Castle, Obama said, "One of the most striking things that I heard was that right above the dungeons in which male captives were kept was a church, and that reminds us that sometimes we can tolerate and stand by great evil even as we think that we're doing good." Did he just make that latter part up on the fly?

"With strong institutions and a strong will, I know that Africans can live their dreams in Nairobi and Lagos; in Kigali and Kinshasa; in Harare and right here in Accra." - If you've read some of what I've written since I found spaces to share my thoughts, I've asked about an African dream over and over again. So I ask, What is the African dream? Either way, Obama knows his father went to America to seek greener pastures and did well but he believes that must not be the story that defines Africans. I am confident there are stories of success built on the continent, it's time to fish them out and broadcast them.

I'll end this blog post with the last few paragraphs of Obama's speech because he speaks the truths I would have spoken anyway. Kinda ;-)

"Now that triumph must be won once more, and it must be won by you. And I am particularly speaking to the young people all across Africa and right here in Ghana. In places like Ghana, young people make up over half of the population."
"And here is what you must know: The world will be what you make of it. You have the power to hold your leaders accountable, and to build institutions that serve the people. You can serve in your communities, and harness your energy and education to create new wealth and build new connections to the world. You can conquer disease, and end conflicts, and make change from the bottom up. You can do that. Yes you can, because in this moment, history is on the move."
"But these things can only be done if all of you take responsibility for your future. And it won't be easy. It will take time and effort. There will be suffering and setbacks. But I can promise you this: America will be with you every step of the way -- as a partner, as a friend. Opportunity won't come from any other place, though. It must come from the decisions that all of you make, the things that you do, the hope that you hold in your heart."
"Ghana, freedom is your inheritance. Now, it is your responsibility to build upon freedom's foundation. And if you do, we will look back years from now to places like Accra and say this was the time when the promise was realized; this was the moment when prosperity was forged, when pain was overcome, and a new era of progress began. This can be the time when we witness the triumph of justice once more. Yes we can. Thank you very much. God bless you. Thank you."

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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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

My interview with Project Diaspora about BarCamp Diaspora

I recently talked to Tracy Pell of Project Diaspora about my work with BarCamp Diaspora and BarCamp Ghana. I thoroughly enjoyed the chat and appreciated the opportunity to do it. It was my very first video skype chat and I must say I'd love to do more :-D. If you haven't heard of BarCamp Diaspora, it's an 'unconference' bringing together people interested in Africa to discuss and dialogue about Africa, doing business back home, doing business targeted at Africans and Diasporeans in the US and sharing ideas about Africa's development. It is also ad-hoc and informal whereby the business of the day is determined by those present. Power to the people. If you can gain easy access to Washington DC on July 25, come to BarCamp Diaspora. Find out who's coming, the agenda amongst other info here. It's free and it will be worth your while.

Here's the interview

Ato Ulzen-Appiah On BarCamps Ghana and Diaspora from Project Diaspora on Vimeo.



You can read up a story about the chat and the barcamps at this link

I first met Tracy at BarCamp Africa which was held at Google's campus in Mountain View, California last October. This event is one of the best 'conferences' I've been to. Shara Kasic, Elia Varela Serra and Ellen Petry Leanse did a spectacular job putting it together. They were able to reach a wide range of African entrepreneurs, some of which are very popular and making impact on the continent. The energy and synergy of the participants there was super. I joked with Tracy that I would love to hire them to do the next BarCamp Diaspora. Together with the BarCamp Ghana team, we tried to create that same vibe at the December 22 event and succeeded. There's room for improvement and that's what we hope BarCamp Diaspora and subsequent BarCamps can provide.

I already blogged about BarCamp Ghana here and you can read a whole lot of other comments and thoughts on the event through this link. Like I said during the interview, when your attendees find fulfillment in what you are putting together, you find fulfillment too. A few shortcomings were communicated and best believe, we'll be working at making future events better. For a start, we want to do a better job of documenting discussions and ideas, so that we can easily refer back and see the progress made. An idea bank can be proposed where people can hatch onto different ideas and pursue them in the spirit of African development.

It's very difficult to organize things, especially events like these. Sometimes, the planning involved is underestimated. It's not easy raising funds and new things are always tough sells, no matter how intriguing or awesome they are. We've had to make BarCamp Diaspora 'free bonto' and with good reason, because I believe all that follow should be free as well. Nevertheless, we are hoping for a successful BarCamp Diaspora which will dissect issues and take care of the shortcomings that befell BarCamp Ghana. There are many more BarCamps in store. Dorothy Gordon, the CEO of the Kofi Annan ICT Center of Excellence (AITI) in Accra, encouraged us to organize more barcamps in all of Ghana's regional capitals. It can be done. AITI believed in the concept and the work enough to provide their facility to us for free. Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies is also doing the same.

I like to think of these BarCamps as physical forums, continuing the work of forums like GhanaConscious and the countless conversations I am sure we have in our homes and apartments when we feel the need to. Collectively, we can bring the major stakeholders who are pushing African excellence together to share their stories and ideas and make them viral. We need your support, we are doing this for you. Together, we can all make sure we invest our talents where they count.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Writing African stories, young African writers and the Baobab prize

Deborah Ahenkorah sent some info about Baobab Prize 2009 out recently and it has inspired me to write about African writers and African stories. Growing up, my favorite novels to read were the JAWS (Junior African Writers Series) books as well as those from AWS (African Writers Series). I used to be really intrigued by them and this followed into my love for books like Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe), Half of a Yellow Sun (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) and Our Sister Killjoy (Ama Ata Aidoo). Many of the famous African novelists are still writing but a whole new generation of writers are starting to join the gang and the Baobab Prize is encouraging that. Maybe, I'll also write a novel soon, who knows.

According to the website, "The Baobab Prize is an annual award designed to encourage the writing of African literature for young readers. It has been birthed from a recognition of the dearth of fictional African literature that focuses on the youth and encourages them to explore and develop an interest and pride in the African continent." Winners for the inaugural edition included these stories for different age-groups: Lorato and her Wire Car by Lauri Kubuitsile, Botswana; Mr. Goop by Ivor W. Hartman, Zimbabwe; Strange Visitors that took her life away by Aisha Kibwana, Kenya; and Tortoise and the Thief by Michael Anim, Ghana. This effort was started by Deborah Ahenkorah and Ramatoulaye Shagaya, with support from Bryn Mawr college, where they both went to college. It's great to see African students using available resources at their schools to augment African development in this case - African literature. The 2009 edition is due for a launch soon. Stay tuned.

Ivor Hartman is part of a group, Story Time Africa, which is also focusing on promoting African literature. They highlight different novels by different writers on their Facebook page. It's great to see Africans taking charge of promoting African arts, especially through social media. At this age, where everyone is writing a book, it's good to know African fiction writers are also stepping up their game and using all the tools available to stay alive.

Another friend, Ayesha Haruna Attah is busily promoting her first novel, Harmattan Rain, in Ghana at the moment. It's awesome to see her take on this project and it will inspire many more young Africans to try book publications. I know other young Africans are working on different novels and I will sahre info about them in the future. I haven't read the book yet but I plan to get a copy soon. Maybe I can do a review? Eventually, we'll have to make a movie from the novel, it holds true for many Hollywood movies these days. Where are the upcoming Ghanaian playwrights who will take over from Kwaku Sintim-Misa and Uncle Ebo Whyte?

Adjetey Osekre has also published an anthology called Verses for the Masses. Adjetey is an inspiration, he led me into doing more spoken word and performance poetry, an art that he championed while in Ghana after his secondary school days in Presec. Kwadwo Juantuah made a name for himself when he published an anthology of 100 poems under Mrs. Charlotte Akyeampong's guidance while at Presec and he re-published it recently in the US. The anthology is called 'Morning of Gold'. Kudos to these guys. I am yet to write even 21 good poems that are worthy of publication. I was reminiscing the other day about a couple of short stories I wrote for the Odadee Magazine. Maybe I could write a novel too :-)

Many young Ghanaians and Africans are doing big things and I salute them all. I have said I will try to promote them as much as I can at various opportunities and we shall all endeavour to do the same. Writing and telling African stories, especially with the cultural metamorphosis we are going through is one way to document our culture and pass on the present times of our nations unto future generations. A lot of our history has been documented in books, whether fact or fiction. Like we used to say in Presec Editorial board, "the pen is mightier than the sword". A lot of people are taking to blogging, heck, someone published a best-seller of blog entries. Now, that is something I can work on. Let's continue to encourage our writers to write about Africa, the issues affecting us, the topics of the day and document the stories that will define us in the old-school literature forms that will be adorn libraries all over the world in the future.

My 10 favorite American songs

While Barack Obama was visiting a sub-Saharan country for the first time, I was also visiting Vegas for the first time for college reunion. Pi reunion, in fact. I don't know what his expectations were, but Ghana sure did pull out the red carpet for him. I wasn't going to command that welcome in 'Sin City' but Vegas did not live up to expectations. I have few stories to tell and not many interesting things happened. The parties were on point though. I didn't get a single phone number :-) One girl told me Vegas was no place to meet someone. For real? It's not like I'll go to USC and track her down. And that tipsy Indian Australian girl probably gave me a wrong name because I can't find her on Facebook. Bummer. Too many people on the Strip looked like the white Ciara I met on Friday. One of the most interesting things about the weekend was the 'very little African music' I listened to all weekend. This must be the longest stretch of time without a healthy dose of Museke. The long road trip gave me the chance to listen a few American songs closely and reminisce over a few jams I loved back in the day.

Before I get into a selection of 10 American songs, you have to check out my favorite Kenyan songs, 10 favorite songs from South Africa, my 10 favorite Nigerian songs and 10 African songs I think you should know about. I still haven't run into Beyonce on the street but am holding out hope. Enuff respect for MJ. Here are the 10 songs in no particular order.

Where is the love - Black Eyed Peas
Quite easy to understand why I love this song. "Father Father Father help us; Send some guidance from above; Cause people got me got me questioning; Where is the love?". I also have mad love for this group because of their name, do you know that I make waakye from black eyed peas? That's what's up. BEP continues to churn hit party jam after party jam, but this song is how they got introduced into my life. Will.I.Am also led the Youtube music efforts for Barack Obama. That's what up too. We only got one world.

Lose yourself - Eminem
8 Mile is one of my favorite movies. Eminem's lyrics are so sick, I love listening to him. This song oozes emotion and has a pretty good message. "You better lose yourself in the music, the moment; You own it, you better never let it go; You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow; This opportunity comes once in a lifetime yo".

Hey ma - Camron
Now this is my jam right here. "Hey ma, whatsup?" I love saying it to a special girl. Whatever happened to Camron anyway? He kinda feels a little out of place on this list. But what's really really good? This song. "She looked at me laughin', like boy your game is tight; I'm laughin' back like shordy you right" Hehe. And the song is set in Washington DC. Bonne!

With you - Chris Brown
I first heard this song when I was in Ghana during Christmas 2007. My friend King Como loved the song so much, I got into it. I always went crazy everytime I heard it on radio that I had to get the song eventually. Chris Breezy did beat Rihanna and all so it's a lil interesting having to sings 'I need you boo' these days. The lyrics to this song are so good, they make me cry. Breezy, why?

Fallin' - Alicia Keys
This was a battle between 'Fallin' and 'If I ain't got you'. Alicia is the bomb when it comes to music, she's super. She's a good humanitarian too to boot. She's another person I'll love to meet.

Ordinary people - John Legend
I have the whole 'Get Lifted' album; it's a rarity for me to own a secular American album. This jam got me sold. "This ain't a movie no; No fairy tale conclusion ya'll
It gets more confusing everyday; Sometimes it's heaven sent; Then we head back to hell again; We kiss then we make up on the way"

Buy you a drank - T-Pain
Do you know T-Pain is right up there with Michael Jackson and the Beatles when it comes to number one singles? First it was Sean Paul and Reggaeton, then the Crunk music from down south, Timbaland and Justin Timberlake and now we are in the auto-tune era with T-Pain. This guy is something else. He's even on the 'I'm on a boat song'. This is one of my favorite songs to sing along to. "Walk It Out; (Now Walk It Out Bang Yo Body, Aaahhh Snap)"

Jesus Walks - Kanye West
I absolutely loved the emergence of this song. I was surprised with the lack of major gospel songs on American radio and this song tilted the scales a little bit. It was a bold move by Kanye and I'm glad he was successful. I'll let Kanye do the talking - "So here go my single dog radio needs this; They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus; That means guns, sex, lies, video tapes; But if I talk about God my record won't get played Huh?; Well let this take away from my spins; Which will probably take away from my ends; Then I hope this take away from my sins
And bring the day that I'm dreaming about; Next time I'm in the club everybody screaming out; (Jesus Walks)"

Pimpin all over the world - Ludacris
This song makes an entry here simply because the video was shot in South Africa and has the line, "the best women all reside in Africa and that's real.(Whoo...Oh yeah)". Now that's what I am talking about. Big up to Chris Bridges and Bobby V, whose jam 'Slow Down' is another fave.

We belong together - Mariah Carey
The last but not the least is this number one hit by the Glitter lady. She came back strong with this one. "Who else am I gonna lean on; When times get rough?; Who's gonna talk to me on the phone; Till the sun comes up?". Who else loves 'Anadwo yɛ dɛ?' phone conversations.

Presently, I am feeling 'girl, you know I I I' by Jeremiah, I gotta feelin by BEP and Knock you down by Keri Hilson. More from Alicia - If I ain't got you and No one. Nas' I can is another song I had to get eventually. I am a big fan of Usher, got his Confessions album and love Yeah, You remind me and You got it bad. One of my favoritest club songs is Low by Flo-rida. Also love Kanye's Good Life and Gold Digger. Others are Wyclef's 911 and Two wrongs, all of Michael Jackson's hits, Lupe Fiasco's Superstar, TI's Live your life, Mary J Blige's Be without you, etc. Akon represents with Mama Africa, Lonely, and Don't matter and his countless sweet collabos with African musicians. This is all I remember now, will update as I remember some more.

Long live good music.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Obama in Ghana - A round-up of blog posts by Ghanaian bloggers

This past weekend marked the visit of Barack Obama to Ghana. A lot has been said about the significance of this visit, this being the first trip to a sub-Saharan African nation by the first Black American president. I missed most of the speeches and festivities since I had 'gotten away' for the weekend and have been reading up on some blogs written by various Ghanaians on the Obama trip. I will like to share some thoughts from these awesome people.

GhanaConscious' own Omanba critiqued Barack's speech. She broke it down into four major parts - democracy, health care, conflict resolution and doing it yourself. I personally think too much mention is made of democracy but Omanba spells it out nicely - "An era of tyranny, gagging, misuse of power and governing with impunity sprinkled with a dash of Elections every so often, does not constitute democracy. Africa must take note!" She stresses the fight against HIV-AIDS and Malaria and also mentions drug counterfeiting which leads to a shameless plug about the fantastic work of Mpedigree.

About conflict resolution, Omanba says, "However another school of thought like the one I belong to would rather we didn’t start these conflicts in the first place. The West never asks for our troops or our money when they have Internal problems. They don’t pick up arms and sticks and machetes and go brandishing them on their kith and kin. They use their own security and civic interventions and they respect the powers of these organs of governance and their powers thereof. People take each other to task under the constitution and there are checks and balances in society." Like someone mentioned somewhere, what Barack said this weekend has been mentioned over the years by people like Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta. Omanba queries - "Barack Obama has spoken. Is Africa ready to listen or is this visit going to be taken for just the honour of him signing the VISITOR TO AFRICA guest book and file it in the archives to gather dust." We must act.

Jemila Abdulai of Circumspect blogs on GhanaUnite mentions that most of Obama's message to Africans reiterated what we already know. He basically said nothing new. Jemila also encourages African countries to take a lead on cleaner energy and becoming self-sufficient in meeting energy needs. There's no reason why we can't export solar energy for instance. She also talks about how Accra and various places in Ghana were cleaned and prepared for Barack Obama's arrival. Apparently, we are very happy to splash money to tidy our house in anticipation of a high-profile visitor but see little reason to expend the same effort to maintain a clean environment though we are some of most Godly people on earth. This kind of Ghanaian hospitality must be re-evaluated. Jemila signs off saying, "the solutions are all around us, all we have to do is look". The issue here is look where? I am not sure we know where to look or where to find the solutions. Forums like these are a start :-)

One of the biggest proponents of the African Union, E. K. Bensah shares his view from Ghana on Obama's visit. He marvels at the airtime Barack Obama has gotten over the last few years and his status as a superstar president. With Barack ringleading the "Yes, we can" theme, expectations are much higher for black people now and coincidentally all Africans everywhere. Obama did ask Africans to take charge of Africa. With many young Africans inspired and listening to Obama, this message means that there will be no welfare from outside sources in the pursuit of African excellence.

My buddy, Kobby Owusu blogs about Jumpstarting Brand Ghana: Obamamania + Social Media He starts with some facts: Ghana is at the center of debates on Africa because of Obama's visit AND Ghana was the number one trending topic on Twitter during Barack Obama's speech to Africa. It beat out the Iran election, Michael Jackson, etc. I don't know how the campaign to get #obamaghana trending panned out since I could not get on Twitter (@Abocco) but with Obama-mania intersecting with Ghana's goodwill, Ghana must have received quite the buzz this past weekend. All the major media houses covered the events. Kobby was part of the social media panel for BarCamp Ghana and in his blog post encourages more activity on branding Ghana through social media. The Obama campaign's use of social media like Facebook, Youtube and Twitter was key in his election victory. He touches on the great job the 'My South Africa' campaign is doing, I also saw some activity at this year's Harvard African Business Conference through Brand South Africa. Kobby also mentioned the Ministry of Tourism launching a three (3) year tourism strategy (Budget:GHC 15 million).

Gameli Adzaho, who was also at BarCamp Ghana, blogged about the fanfare surrounding Obama's visit. Gameli mentions that "the occasion gave him the opportunity to spell out America’s new policy direction for the African continent." He also touches on the four-prong approach discussed by Omanba in her post. Gameli is convinced Barack Obama has been watching Africa's progress and after his speech to Ghana's parliament which is sure to be discussed at length, he'll be looking to see how Africans take charge. He seems to be looking out for interests and is taking the 'tough love' approach. There is too much about Barack to admire. Gameli also referred to the debate between Ghana being a "beacon of hope and shining star of Africa or the reward for being a good boy and an ardent follower the democratic creed as per America".

Sarpong Obed titles his post "Obama is an Energy for the Youth". He expresses frustration with the traffic problems caused by Obama's visit. People obviously loved Obama's presence in the country though some may have complained about the redness of the carpet laid out for him and attendant unnecessary road blocks. Sarpong continues with a quote from Barack's speech which also tickled my fancy - "Above all, it will be the young people — brimming with talent and energy and hope — who can claim the future that so many in my father's generation never found." Sarpong asks about the whereabouts of the Ghanaian youth policy. He signs off with "Until then, my thanks to this man who speaks and we listen."

MacJordan, another attendee at BarCamp Ghana, blogs about his view from Accra. He has an interesting start, "he long awaited day has finally come. The Black and Bright Star of Africa now blossoms in the sky. From the moment, the Air Force 1 landed on the tarmac of the Kotoka International Airport, I knew and believed that, the black man is now free after several years of bondage." He also added, "God has already anointed Africa (GHANA) was the acronym I got from a Liberian refugee last week at the mall in the hopes of getting some small coins for tro-tro… Ghana is truly the gateway to Africa…!!" He sampled views from colleagues about what questions they'd have for Barack Obama. Here's my favorite one - "What lessons in his life will he want to the Blacks (Africans) to pick as most youth look at him as their mentor?"

Esi Cleland posts Barack's speech delivered on Saturday. She asks, "So as Ghanaians, as young people , as Africans, what are your reactions? What do you think? And what's the way forward?"

Edward Tagoe blogged about Obama's visit shortly before he arrived in Ghana. He talked about the home-keeping and clean-up exercise Ghana embarked for their august visitor. "All in the bid to impress the incoming messiah. My question is “Do we always have to wait for the BIG names to come before we clean up?”You should read Frederick's comment on this blog entry.

I will update this post if I find another interesting blog posts.

What are your reactions to the Obama visit?

Originally posted in GhanaThink's online community

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