Dancehall is one of those special genres that has taken root and formed pockets of fans in countries all over the world. It’s so big in Ghana that the country’s biggest dancehall star, Samini, has been showered with the country’s top awards as well as international accolades including Best African Act at the UK’s 2006 MOBO awards, Artist of the Year at the 2007 Ghana Music Awards, and Best African Artist at the 2008 Hip Hop World Awards.
Samini recently stopped by MTV Iggy headquarters for a photo shoot and interview where he discussed his career and how dancehall became such a strong influence on his life.
He began the conversation talking about his background, explaining, “My dad and big brothers listened to reggae music—from Bob Marley to Shabba Ranks to Beenie Man to Shaggy.”
He couldn’t resist making Jamaican-inspired music when jumping into the Ghanaian music industry. “I thought it wise to be as African as I could be with my kind of dancehall, because I could not run from the way dancehall influenced me. It kept coming into my compositions.”
Born Emmanuel Andrews Samini in Wa in Northern Ghana, he grew up in a big family, with more than ten siblings. Because his family wasn’t wealthy, he and his siblings learned to value one another as their strongest resources. His parents kept the unit strong with their guidance.
“My parents were strict about keeping us in school and into our books, which helped us all.
“My siblings are currently all in various professional fields: engineers, teachers, and I am doing this” he paused and then exclaimed, “I mean, you can call me a sound engineer!”
>He adopted the name Batman Samini after his favorite superhero and started making music after high school. His first album Dankwaserecame out in 2004, and the single “Linda” became an instant hit. In it, you can hear his music’s blend of highlife, dancehall, reggae and hip-hop topped by Samini’s gruff yet suave flow.
As he matured, he made the decision to drop the “Batman” in his name and made the wise decision to come out with the hit single “Samini” in 2007 to mark the transition for his fans. It has become a signature hit that he says that his fans request at every performance.
Since then, he’s stayed true to his dancehall sound, but has also dabbled in azonto, as the past two years have seen the genre become a hit with local and international audiences. He’s collaborated with WizKid for “Time Bomb” and dissed Nigeria’s P-Square for jumping on the trend with their song “Alingo.” Nonetheless, he explained that azonto will never be the heart of his music, saying, “Africa loves dance music.
“Azonto has made the dance part of African music be seen, but as for us, who do more than just one trend, we are always here and we have more to do than just one movement. We always adapt and make sure that we give our fans what they want and some more. If possible, we’ll meet with the current trends, but we won’t get too carried away and water down the music to something that’s unrecognizable.”
On the side, Samini is involved in social efforts, specifically concerning government transparency and tracking the revenue streams from the extraction of African resources. He is the founder of Samini Africa Resources Watch Foundation and spoke at the launch of the international organization Revenue Watch’s Resource Governance Index in May.
He described his involvement by saying, “As a child growing up, I always thought about how society was going to gain from all that the government is supposedly supposed to take care of for us all. Being a people’s person, I thought to start a campaign to let these people know that there is going to be a call to account for the loopholes currently being identified.
“It’s going to put a lot of butts to bed, if I may use that phrase. It’s a passionate thing that if it gets to be on the road, as I hope it will be, it’s going to go all the way to the rest of the African continent.”
Citing Ghana’s transition from military rule to a democratic system in the 1990′s as inspiration, Samini explained his hopes for the country: “I witnessed Jerry John Rawlings rule for at least sixteen years before he gave the power to the people. Since then, people have maturely move from one president to another.
I see all of that happening and I know that there is potential for a better Ghana and a more established society where we see everybody as one and we see productivity as the focus/target rather than fighting each other. I think Ghana should be commended for moving from the military system to democracy without war, for that because it isn’t that easy—even for developed nations to wish for that.”
In addition to his own music, he launched the Samini Music record label five or six years ago.
Through the label, he supports younger dancehall acts like the MC’s Kaakie (Best Dancehall Artist winner at the 2013 Ghana Music Awards) and Kofi Kinaata who raps in his local dialect, Fante. Samini’s most recent hit song, “Body Flame” is a duet with his protégé Kaakie and shows off Samini’s signature sexually-explicit African patois.
His recent New York visit was for an appearance at the Ghana Summer Jam on July 13th. This summer tour of the United States has been to “try to get the fans awake” in preparation for his fifth studio album. “I’ve reached the point where I know what I really want to do and the style I’m representing,” he said. “I’m so comfortable in my zone that I can create without thinking twice.” Samini is at the place most artists dream of reaching—he’s become an elder statesman in the Ghanaian music scene.
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