In just a few years Ghanaian dancehall artist Ebony Reigns has become one of the country's most talked about musicians. The self-proclaimed 90's bad girl became something of a raging phenomenon in the second half of 2017. Her monster hits, Kupe, Poison, Sponsor, Hustle, Maame Hwɛ and Date Ur Fada, dominated airwaves. She became a household name across the country – in Winneba a participating group at the recent Winneba Fancy Dress Festival even paid homage to her with their costume.
Despite her success Ebony has also faced a backlash to her craft. Take for example her interview on The Delay Show last year. The host, Delores Frimpong Manso, spent the first quarter of the twenty-minute interview asking the musician about herself, and prying into the marital affairs of her divorced parents.
There were unmissable condescending, paternalistic questions and remarks tones about Ebony's "sexually suggestive mannerisms" and whether her breakthrough could be attributed to that, and what she would do if men ever pounced on her because she "invited them". Frimpong Manso went on to discuss her not being in the habit of wearing bras and "exposing [her] breasts"; her romantic and sexual relationships and how "it looks like [she's] been around" for someone her age.
Such ridiculousness may be typical of The Delay Show, but it is not inconsequential. And this situation, sadly, is but a microcosm of how the media in Ghana has generally treated the phenomenon that Ebony has been.
There have been other malicious statements made against her. Attorney Gary Nimako declared on radio that Ebony could be arrested for exposing herself publicly “in a manner which is abhorrent.” There was the body-policing tirade by the journalist Manasseh Awuni, written in the guise of "a love letter to Ebony." And also the comment by the president of the Musicians Union of Ghana (MUSIGA), Bice Osei Kuffour, describing Ebony's dress code as "very bad." And his enjoinments to musicians to be "conscious of the moral values of the countries in which they're operating." Ironic considering the lyrics Osei Kuffuor's Konkontiba.
Twenty-year-old Ebony, born Priscilla Opoku Kwarteng, followed her intuition and dropped out of high school to pursue music full time with the support of her father. Not long after, she connected with Bullet, her current manager and main songwriter, and signed to his label, Rufftown Records. They hit the ground running, releasing Ebony's first single, Dancefloor, in 2015. Dancefloor was followed up with other singles that would launch her onto the scene and eventually lead to her blowing up spectacularly in the space of two years.
Considering how male-dominated the music scene and the larger society is, a young woman who freely expresses herself dominating the airwaves for as long as Ebony has, could be described as a disruption. She has disrupted the monopolisation of air and social-space by male voices and altered the minuscule space allotted women regarding what to say, what to wear, how to look, how to be.
It is therefore a sorry state of affairs that of all the substantive things that could be said or written about a talented, dark-skinned, dreadlocked young woman, self-assured and uninhibited, an overwhelming much of what's out there is just hostile and superficial talks about her dress code and her body.
Going forward, it is essential that there is a much more thoughtful and critical engagement with artists; in this case, Ebony's work and her personality for posterity sake, at the very least. Because those who come after should know that Ebony was not the delinquent that faux moralists have purported; that she is far from the caricature that puritans and people – especially men – with sentiments jaundiced by patriarchal thinking have written her to be.
In the meantime, Ebony is expected to make history at the forthcoming Vodafone Ghana Music Awards (VGMAs) as the first woman to win the coveted Artist of the Year award in the event's eighteen years of existence. For many, like the rapper Medikal who already bestowed the title on Ebony in his song Boom, it would be merely ceremonial if she clinches the prize come that night in March. For, to them, Ebony is already Artiste of the Year with or without the affirmation of the VGMAs.
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