Emmanuel Kwesi Danso Arthur Junior AKA Kwesi Arthur is an artist known for his open-minded attitude for music and unique flows: he has an iconic singing voice and spits in both English and Twi. At 26, he has already built his reputation as an emblem of Ghana’s youth, well-loved in Ghana and internationally, with sell-out shows in London and New York. In London, Kwesi’s headline show featuring Sneakbo, Ramz & Silvastone was one of the most electric performances of 2019, and his friends and fans refer to him as ‘the hustle manifested’. Kwesi’s story that brought him to the global stage is one that nearly didn’t happen, with him getting accepted into the Ghana Institute of Journalism before unaffordable school fees made that impossible. He then looked to other work, including considering to become a security guard (even going so far as to be called to collect his uniform) before deciding to stick to music and eventually getting discovered by innovative creative house Ground Up Chale. Fast forward to today and he’s already solidified his position as a stand-out rap talent, last year becoming only the 2nd ever Ghanaian rapper invited to the BET Hip Hop Awards Cypher and collaborating with those he came up listening to like fellow Tema boy Sarkodie, through to people such as Mr. Eazi and Shatta Wale.
His range can be felt with songs like the reflective ‘Radio’ through to the high-energy ‘The Anthem’, with visuals that show how chill he is, fixing himself gari with sugar and peanuts. He had a great recent hit with the sentimental ‘Baajo’ (meaning ‘come and dance’ in Ga and Twi) and is currently preparing to release the album from which this is a taster of. Kwesi tells us ‘Baajo’ is influenced by his experience as a child in community 5, Tema – ‘spending time in my mother's kiosk with the radio blasting on Christmas Day was a memory of fun, sun and being surrounded by family.’ A warm and love-filled song, we see Kwesi and Afropop singer Joeboy talking to and dancing with their loves in a video directed by Andy Madjitey. The tone of the ‘Baajo’ is playful, with lines like ‘I want to make you my last bus stop’ from Joeboy and Kwesi calling his girl to let down her guard and dance ‘Oh baby girl baajo / no motromojo’. When asked about the romantic aspect of the song he explains, ‘I wanted to capture that puppy love feeling of crushing on my neighbour's cousin who only came to visit during the Christmas holidays.’
The music video is set in Kwesi’s hometown in Tema, Ghana – and it is one that connects us even closer to his heart, with scenes at his beloved Grandmother’s house and an appearance from his family matriarch. A beautiful tribute to her and his roots.
We interviewed Kwesi while he was driving into Accra for the day and our conversation is as follows:
‘Baajo’ that was actually the last video my grandma shot before she passed away...she also allowed me to do whatever I wanted to do and I’m grateful for her.
Your song ‘Baajo’ that you put out recently has had a great reception globally. It’s part of an album Son of Jacob that we’re all looking forward to. How’s it going?
We were supposed to release the album last year but we couldn’t so we’re hoping to have it out soon. We’re still working on it. 2021 it's dropping. Very soon.
How have you found things with the pandemic and being able to make your music?
Not the same but fortunately here we are still able to move around and work. For example, I’m going studio to mix some of the songs off of the album later today, after I see my friends in Accra.
Your sound fuses together a lot of different genres. Are you going to maintain that genre-hopping energy on this project?
Kind of. The thing with me and the music I do is that I love different types of music. I listen to so many genres and so I like to try new things and experiment with new sounds. I’m sure you’re going to hear that on this project when it comes out.
The production for your music is so versatile yet you have a lot of loyalty to the producers that you put songs out with. We were just listening to ‘No Permission’ your song with Teephlow (feat. Kwesi Arthur) that’s produced by Yung D3mz. It’s such a hard-hitting track. You work a lot with Yung D3mz. What’s the process like choosing the beat for your songs?
Yung D3mz is a really talented producer and I feel like we are growing together. He’s really talented with melodies, with the keys, with the instruments he chooses so I like working with him. He did the production for ‘Baajo’ as well, ‘Turn On The Lights’…
I worked a lot with KaySo. He’s a really good producer here and I really work well with him. And JuiczXxx – he did ‘Live From 233’, I’ve been working with him more.
I have to feel it, if I feel it then whatever comes to me at that point I just focus on the beat.
The video to ‘Baajo’ is beautiful. Your grandmother appears in it and there are some scenes at her home.
‘Baajo’ that was actually the last video my grandma shot before she passed away. That was the last day I saw her. On the day of that shoot. She was a very devoted Christian. Here in Ghana, people usually frown on the things we do. It’s an Islamic and Christian nation, society kind of frowns on certain things like this. Most people her age and in her situation would have told me to go find something else because she was an elder in church too. Her being an elder, she also allowed me to do whatever I wanted to do and I’m grateful for her.
I’m just talking about my life. I don’t know how people say it’s conscious. That sounds fancy. I’m just telling my story
When you feel your elders give you that approval it gives you another sense of strength. It’s special that you have that memory now though, and that video to look back at.
That’s true. Another thing with that video is that Joeboy flew in all the way from Nigeria to come do the video too. Shouts to Joeboy, I’m really grateful to him and his team.
You say that when Yung D3MZ first played the beat, you heard a JoeBoy verse even before you even recorded yours?
The beat was so happy. It’s so happy and the melodies on there are heartfelt so I could only hear him on it. I just had to get him on the song and he liked it too so yeah, chale! I’m just grateful we could make it happen.
You’ve previously described yourself as ‘not just a rapper but a preacher too’ –with songs like ‘Revolution Sound’ talking about “real bad men in designer suits”, ‘Elevate’ saying “In the lands of snakes you know I'm very conscious” and then your Fire In The Booth session talks on subjects like the challenges you’ve faced and outrageous school fees. Do you see yourself as someone writing conscious rap?
I’m just talking about my life. I don’t know how people say it’s conscious. That sounds fancy. I’m just telling my story, the stuff I go through, the stuff I think about.
On a song like ‘Revolution Sound’ I spoke about those things because it bothered me at that point. It’s not 2020, it’s even 2021 and we have to discuss certain systems that are old, chale, it’s just not right. I’m just a human expressing how I feel on every song. I’m not afraid to show my humanness.
Do you find that your music helps you to raise social awareness around certain things?
Music and art is a mirror of society and what’s going on within it.
You had your start with Ground Up Chale, what did it feel like back when you were discovered and had your rise?
I’m just grateful I met them and I’m able to work with them. What we set out to do has produced such positive results. Ground Up to the top. Ground Up for life. I met them in 2016, they heard my music when I went to the studio with a friend of mine, Fedu G. I used to talk music with him a lot and he used to help me too. He knew KaySo at that time, and KaySo was working at Ground Up Studios so we went there to meet him and through that we met Ground Up. They decided to take me in and help me develop. We started doing videos and dropping videos, and so far so good! I’m just grateful to represent my people, speak for them and be a voice for them.
You’ve got a lot of strong relationships with the UK. You’ve been here four times and have features with people like Sneakbo and Silverstone.
They show me love in the UK and shouts to the team who make it happen. My show in 2019 was really nice, I liked it and I’m looking forward to doing another one soon.
Your sound works so well on a Ghanaian Dancehall beat, songs like Larruso’s ‘Killy Killy Remix’ with Stonebwoy and ‘Porpi’. You’ve also made music with some of the icons of that scene like Shatta Wale. What is your relationship with musical scenes across the Atlantic like Jamaican Dancehall?
Like I said earlier I love music and listen to a lot of stuff. Two days ago I was telling someone about Skillibeng and he just dropped a song ‘Coke’. “Di plane just crash wid e coke…” It’s a really nice song. I like Dancehall, I really like Dancehall. I listen to Skillibeng, Popcaan. Boy Boy from Trinidad, he’s really hard. I like Buju Banton too. Dope Boys. I love music, I listen to everything.
How do you prepare yourself mentally for a writing session?
With writing you’ll never know what’s going to happen, you can never predict it. Sometimes it just comes, sometimes I have to sit for a while. I don’t really have a ritual per se; I just go and hope that something comes to me. I’ll stay there till it does. I even write when I go out, I can go out and work on music. Last week I was with KaySo recording a song. It actually depends, sometimes I will hear the beat and I’ll just go. A song like the one I did with Darkovibes, ‘Confirmed’, he had done his part and the song felt so good, so I did something there on the spot.
every day I’m learning new things and I feel like there is something bigger than all of us that we are connected to and it empowers us all.
Which artists on the come up from Tema should we be paying attention to? So many people and not just from Tema. Dayonthetrack – that’s my brother too. Twitch 4EVA. Quamina MP, Fayorsey. There are so many people, so many people. There are lots of artists in Tema and I’m looking forward to working with them and just growing together, for everyone.
What’s been your experience with collaborating so far? It seems like you maintain a lot of those musical relationships and you’ve done collabs with people like Sarkodie a few times.
The funny thing is that Sarkodie and I come from the same community, when he was on the come up I was a kid then. I could still hear people talk about him from then. Getting to work with him always feels great because he’s from where I’m from and he’s made it, and become so successful taking the music further than anyone who has done it from here. We recorded the verse for ‘Jehovah’ at his studio in his house, it was really nice, we’re really cool.
With most people we just connect on the songs.
We watched this interview where you said that in everything you do; you picture yourself as the guy at the top. Could you share a bit more about where you draw your confidence from on this path with your music?
It’s just natural. I feel like every day I’m learning new things and I feel like there is something bigger than all of us that we are connected to and it empowers us all. I'm just grateful. Chale, I just do what I think is right.
You’ve released a song, ‘Father’ with your brother Dayonthetrack and J.Derobie. How does your relationship with music and your family link together?
On most of the songs I make I talk about my story, if I’m inspired by something I’ve gone through with my family. On a song like ‘Colours’, I say ‘menti afei watɔ radio now he fit hear ma songs’, talking about my father and how he got a radio so that he can listen to my songs on the radio. That’s real. Do you get what I’m saying? They be real life stories. Soul-filled raps.
We love the storytelling in your music. What do you hope for us to come away with when we listen to this upcoming album?
I just hope that it touches people and that someone somewhere feels like they’re not alone because someone else feels what they feel too. I just hope that it can touch as many people as possible.
You can follow Kwesi Arthur on his socials @KWESIARTHUR to keep track of his music and upcoming album Son Of Jacob.