Fancy Gadam’s historic win at the Vodafone Ghana Music Awards this year came as a surprise to many Ghanaians in the Southern part of the country. Many expressed disbelief at how such an unknown artiste was able to take home the Best New Artiste award at one of the biggest award ceremonies that purports to celebrate Ghanaian music. For some of us who have known Fancy for years now, the win was both an affirmation of Fancy’s talent at the national level and an affirmation of ethnic identities that have been largely marginalized in mainstream (read: Southern Ghanaian) media representations.
While Northern Ghanaians (Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions) have been making music for quite some time now, these art products have been limited in consumption to the primary audiences who are mostly people who live in the regions where these art pieces are made. I will limit the scope of this article to the Northern Region as my knowledge about the art scene is limited to this region.
The History of Northern Music
Since before I could speak, music was being made in the Northern Region of Ghana; from live musical performances at funerals, marriage ceremonies and naming ceremonies to recording folk songs (praise songs) performed by griots and bards on audio cassettes. Contemporary Dagbanli music began as early as the 1990s with musicians like Sirina Issah (Bangsi Nabipuginga Zilga) who thrilled fans with songs that reflected on the lived experience of many Dagbang women, marital life, friendship and familial relationships.
Then came artistes like Sheriff Ghale, Abu Sadik, Mama Rams, Abada, Sherifatu Gunu, Deensi, Blackstone (now as solo act, Kawastone) among others. The establishment of Radio Savannah in 1996 created a platform for the representation of both folk and contemporary music on the airwaves. The growth of private radio stations like Diamond fm and Fiila fm tremendously boosted the local art scene especially music.
The Lack of Diverse Ethnic Representation in the Media
Fancy Gadam’s win came as a huge surprise to many inhabitants of Southern Ghana because they believed his lack of popularity in the South should have automatically disqualified him as a nominee which I believe is a load of hogwash. There has, historically, been a huge disparity in cultural and media flows in Ghana. While a lot of music produced in the South is widely consumed in the North through radio airplay, same cannot be said about music produced in the North. Though there is still a wide gap in media and cultural flows between the North and the South, a few media players are doing their part to bridge the divide. For example, Citi fm’s Dj Gaddafi advocates airplay for marginalized Northern musicians. Despite the work that is being done, more needs to be done to address the lack of media representation of marginalized ethnicities in the mainstream.
Fancy Gadam’s Historic Win
Fancy’s win at the VGMAs was fuelled by several factors including good brand management, effective marketing skills, strategic social media engagement and more importantly centering his fans in his brand and his core message. The unfettered access that his fans have to him through WhatsApp and other avenues keeps them satisfied and loyal to his brand. It is this loyalty that enables him sell out shows hosted at the Tamale Sports Stadium. This same dedication to his person caused fans to come out in scores to welcome him when he arrived in Tamale with the award. His understanding of the social norms of the community he primarily serves works well for his brand. Upon arriving home, he went to the various chief palaces to pay homage and show appreciation for their support leading up to his win at the VGMAs.
It is important to note, however, that winning at the national stage is not just an individual win; it is a communal win as seen by the welcome Fancy Gadam received at the airport. It is a win for children who have been yearning to see themselves represented on TV and radio. It is a win for all the pioneering musicians (folk and contemporary) who paved the way for this victory. It is a win for people from marginalized ethnic groups who have longed to see their ethnic identities affirmed on the national stage. It is also a win for underground musicians in the North who have tried to convince DJs that their art is valid though they do not sing in dominant Ghanaian languages.
Wunpini Fatimata Mohammed studies media, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. She tweets regularly at @wunpini_fm