The rap duo of Ghost & Tec which makes up SDC (Show Dem Camp) has begun a musical journey that is all at once so profound that it is run by the risk of sinking into oblivion. But before this catastrophe happens and we return to our more accepted Pon Pon sounds, let us arise to praise an African developed sub-genre of Hip Hop; a worthy child of the marriage between Hip Hop and Highlife. Palm Wine Music.
The term on its own isn’t new. It bloomed in the fifties and early sixties when the Ebenezer Calendar and His Maringar band released songs to critical acclaim. Anthropologically, the Portuguese sailors were said to have introduced guitars to West Africa and when the local artistes had achieved a mastery over the instrument, they would gather and drink palm wine and this goes with the music.
In the year preceding Tekno’s famous rejection of The Headies Next Rated award, there was Mr. Eazi. His strength was (is?) the subtle and stylish reminder of the genius of highlife sounds, one so popular in Ghana and Nigeria in years past that it is shocking to think of how scarcely that sound has been recycled. His music instantly found favour with a more experimental majority of today’s audience.
I like to imagine Ghost and Tec one day in the studio, thinking of how best to capture the socio-political anxieties of a generation. And it slithers. The idea. Whilst lyrics could be as important in Hip Hop, the instrumentation places the listener in a scene. The listener begins to live in it, in the bamboo bars cum shacks that smell of palm wine, that rises and inflects with voices from arguments and musings on a struggling nation. The listener, therefore, must be aware that there is a specific music for such settings. Just like the basic plot of a fantasy story where the hero discovers his powers, nurture it and faces a villain.
In such gatherings, the music behind the bamboo bars and shacks is highlife, the regal sound, the deliberate strumming from the guitarist, the soft drum playing, the usual baritone of the lead singer. Highlife. The retreat of the average after the stress of weekdays. Highlife. The music that inspires thought and protest. Highlife.
SDC took away the baritone of the lead and brought in Funbi, BOJ, Odunsi The Engine. They crafted catchy hooks and laid-back verses that melded smoothly into the backdrop of Highlife. I became aware of the applaudable project one morning listening to Naija 102.7 FM. They talked about, at length, about how the bulk of their Clone Wars volumes were a phase in their careers, in their life, in their ambition to not make the jejune sound and themes that dominate today but to teach. They talked about how they met in the UK and all that.
In the course of writing this piece, I have come to realize what SDC have boldly done. The two of them, Ghost and Tec, have acted as a bridge of some sorts between the dominant sound of then, and the dominant sound of now. For many of us who find Oliver D’ Coque boring and Osadebe pointless, the records off their Palm Wine Music project is a contemporary fusion. It is the Wu – Tang Clan and The Oriental Brothers coming together. It is the recapturing of the zeitgeist of then; tired men leaving the familiarity of family for the forging of thought and philosophies which they find alongside strangers-turn-friends, alongside music.
And so whenever I listen to Feel Alright by the duo, I would pin a finger on it as the moment when it was conceived and when I recall that morning I sat beside the radio, it became a thing; Palm Wine Music. And it is the hope for people like us that the disciples of Show Dem Camp, and contemporaries alike, keep this going.
Another artiste who has tapped off the experiment is Jesse Jagz, unsurprisingly. Often lauded as the Kanye West of Nigeria, his music comes across as scattered fragments of a collective so distinct that parts of it are so different from each other. In the song titled Highlife in which he features radio presenter and musician Rexx, he delivers two verses with his usual authority and trademark one ending syllable rhyme pattern. Perhaps Rexx’s hook on that song is a dirge, a perfect metaphor how we allow this beautiful musical landscape go away slowly, slowly. Which is what we do when we fail to give credit to the renaissance individuals, from SDC to Jesse Jagz, to the hook masters Funbi, BOJ, Rexx, who is again featured to grace the show of the MCs Paybac and Boogey Odey on their BBQ & Shayo song off The Faceoff Album, their collaborative effort. This musical evolution in all its genius is seminal, and as such, should rightly be the first entry in these series.