by AIGERIM SAPAROVA | photos by MANTSE ARYEEQUAYE
[Double-click on images to enlarge]
If you’re ever lucky enough to meet Ghana’s very own FOKN BOIS aka Foes of Kwame Nkrumah, you’d immediately know one thing: they are both a bit bizarre. Not the deranged, repulsive kind of bizarre. More like a magnetic and high-energy hypnotic that comes from the MCs’ fearless humor.
It’s not every day you run into a half-naked, self-proclaimed gypsy who also happens to be a dynamite lyricist [Wanlov the Kubolor] and a master music producer/vocalist who’s legendary family produces artists like May rain showers [M3NSA Ansah]. In a conservative city like Accra, Wanlov and M3NSA stick out like a sore thumb. As their popularity continues to skyrocket [they are performing at Glastonbury next month and have been invited to SXSW twice], it’s no surprise that FOKN BOIS is lining their schedule up with back-to-back interviews.
When I arrived at Wanlov’s house, the two had just wrapped up with Afropop Worldwide. Stretched out, face down on the carpet M3NSA rested while Wanlov happily played with his pet monkey. Throwing around jokes that bounce off one another like a burning ping pong ball, it’s clear the FOKN BOIS are taking this music thing all in stride.
Coz Ov Moni described as the “World’s 1st Pidgin Musical,” struck gold with fans back in 2010. It tells the story of a day in the life of two wandering friends, played by Wanlov and M3NSA, in Accra. The film gives the audience a look at the challenges young working-class men face in contemporary Ghana by not only revealing their talent as musicians but also as storytellers and scriptwriters. The sequel, Coz Ov Moni 2, is set be released within the coming year. The duo hopes to finish filming by the end of this month. The follow-up will be more extensive with higher production quality value and even more controversy and all-out hilarity.
The FOKN BOIS call their genre of music “Gospel Porn Christian Rap” – another way of describing their back-and-forth, politically charged humor that reveals the contradictions of life in Ghana. “Thank God We’re Not A Nigerians” on the 2012 album, FOKN Wit Ewe, attracted an abundance of attention and catalyzed tense conversations between Nigerians and Ghanaians on sites all over the Internet. The rappers are adept at binding humor and wit together with seductive sonics that tease and twist the listener’s ears. You shake your head, smiling and playing it back – did they really just say that? Sexing aliens in outerspace? Jesus is Coming one day? But of course. Wanlov was even spotted at Jahwi’s album launch a few weeks ago – reversing the debt aid gaze – wearing a large yellow jerry can atop his head, collecting coin donations to “Help America”.
In this interview, I spoke with the FOKN BOIS about the group’s dynamics, religion in Ghana, American visa denials, and maintaining artistic individuality. Check the full story out – in their words – below.
How did you two meet?
Wanlov: The first time was in high school – ’97 in Cape Coast. That’s a vivid recollection but we have this blurry one several years back in Boy Scouts. We were playing flag wars and we both ended up in this clearing – it was like Lost the TV show. I was like “who is this guy?” and [M3nsa] was like, “who is this albino guy?”
So were you friends throughout secondary school?
Wanlov: Rap partners.
M3NSA: Purely for rap purposes. We wouldn’t help each other in other situations like “this is not rap, sorry!”
Wanlov: Yeah, I used to go to his class and lie to his teacher that another teacher was looking for him to do a chore and then we would go to the village or an empty classroom and start drumming on tables and rapping. Bad students…
M3NSA: …Good rappers.
What is the FOKN BOIS lifestyle?
M3NSA: FOKN BOIS together: we’re just exploring our minds, the crevices of our thoughts, exposing it to the rest of the world. Gleefully exploring the world – we go wherever we are wanted, sometimes unwanted. We are enjoying life and sharing. It comes with a price, but it’s definitely worth it.
What’s a day in the life of FOKN BOIS in Accra?
Wanlov: We meet up to do interviews. Otherwise, we won’t hear from each other until we’re like “oh, we have to go to the studio!” Or we go around Accra looking for pre-amps, equipment, that one of us has broken and it’s usually me breaking his because he has more equipment…
M3NSA: Yes, I have more equipment…girls.
How is it working together?
Wanlov: When we’re working together, we just have to be intelligent assholes.
Wanlov: Which is not very difficult for us.
Wanlov: When we’re working separately, I have to be a spiritual harem. I’m a bit more serious. I’m also more naked.
M3NSA: Not in the music, in the lifestyle.
Wanlov: My solo thing is more experimental, more hippie-ish.
M3NSA: My solo thing is more about myself! You know, it’s like having sexual intercourse with somebody and then having a masturbatory experience. It’s just getting to know your self better and understanding what excites me. I have to get in touch with myself.
Wanlov and M3NSA: Alone.
Wanlov: It’s just that FOKN BOIS is more fun and more imaginative. Alone, you’re just by yourself in the studio, in the room naked.
M3NSA: I don’t know…Wanlov must have been, in his previous lifetime…
Wanlov: A naked person.
M3NSA: No! Just really overdressed. Repressed – like he was made to wear clothes all the time. He was like an Eskimo or something. Or he had to take a monthly bath so he never got to really see his body naked. He’s making up for all those years. Whenever we have something, the first thing he suggests is – “let’s go naked.” I swear! You know we were going to come to the [ACCRA dot ALT] Masquerade Jam naked? We were – with just the mask on our equipment.
So why didn’t you?
M3NSA: Well, the masks that we had were transparent and small.
Wanlov: And we would’ve had to sit down in chairs.
M3NSA: We weren’t thinking about ourselves just the people who would have to sit after us.
M3NSA: The band is already rehearsing. They’ve been rehearsing like crazy. Those guys are quite meticulous.
You’re traveling a lot – how’s that been?
Wanlov: Sometimes, I meet like these anal airline staff that really don’t want me to be on the plane barefooted. Like what is going to happen if I get on the plane barefooted? Isn’t it less weight? We like trains a lot.
M3NSA: It’s more relaxing.
Wanlov: And the country. We love Budapest, I like going to Romania and just being on stage wherever we are.
M3NSA: Yes, we do like travelling a lot.
Wanlov: Human beings are happy when they travel.
M3NSA: We travelled through France, Belgium, Amsterdam, Germany in a day on the train. I really felt at ease. Even though we always have passport issues.
Wanlov: Yeah, they kept holding my passport.
M3NSA: And looking at his hand for scars.
Wanlov: They checked my hand and said that some guy had my name and he’s being searched for in Germany. A wanted person. And he had a scar on the back of his hand. What if I go and cut my hand right now? Are you saying I’m a criminal?
M3NSA: Yeah, every time. Ghana is unique to all these other places. Besides being a great place to be, it’s home. That’s where the family is, your childhood friends and a certain kind of freedom. Even though there are certain struggles, it’s still home so it’s good.
So why do you choose to make music that’s so controversial?
Wanlov: We just do stuff in the studio that makes us laugh and then we put it out there and see if somebody else will laugh.
When you’re putting out music are there any limits or do you rap about whatever?
M3NSA: You see the thing is that we don’t set out just to shock people. We don’t limit ourselves either. If we feel like it’s going to keep us entertained, then we do it.
So it’s more like a personal thing?
M3NSA: Very much so. The music we make us is very personal.
Wanlov: Now we have a song we’re planning for African Americans but it’s not going to make them happy but it’s going to make us happy. Because when I applied for an American visa in March – we’ve been hoping for the second time to headline the South by Southwest festival – the guy just looked at me and said “No” – and he’s an African American guy. And I just saw him standing there and saying, “No, I will not let you come to my slave master’s house”. So now, we’re doing a song in the studio as therapy for me, you know? And it’s going to make us laugh. And the other side – the ying to the yang – is that it’s not going to make that guy laugh.
What do you expect the reactions to be?
Wanlov: Hate. The first person is going to be Bill Cosby.
What’s the gist of the song?
Wanlov: The gist is – African Americans, go back home to your motherland – the United States of America. Do you think African Americans will like it? Tyler the Creator will like it. It’s really just self-therapy. When we do something about the church, like Jesus masturbating, it’s really because, we don’t know any other way to lash back, because in Ghana, your neighbor could just build a church in their house – LOUD! You can call the police and say it’s noise pollution, and they won’t do anything about it because that’s “Jesus stuff.” So we are just helpless. So for us, instead of getting angry and using violence, this is the best we can ease our tensions, by just making fun.
When you travel outside of Ghana, how do people react to your music? Is there a difference from the reactions you get here?
Wanlov: In Ghana, we don’t have to translate certain lyrics. People get all the stuff we’re saying right away. But then, the religious kind of stuff – that one goes over heads in Ghana. In Europe, that stuff flies, but there’s a language barrier. You know, in Denmark, it’s legal to marry an animal. You can marry a snail and have sex with it and the police will not arrest you. You can walk in holding a shell and that’s your husband or wife. We have a song called, Sextraterrestrial Sex, and we perform this alien sex song. So when we were there, we told them that we were very happy but we were disappointed that they hadn’t extended this marriage thing to aliens.
Homosexuality in the west has less and less opposition now because the youth are more open about it. So people realize that homosexuals are not demons. That is still what we are fighting in Ghana because people are still hiding in their houses. They are afraid of the public stigma of homosexuality. It’s a slower process here. We have this song called Strong Homosexual Guys which is just an exaggeration of “is there really a homosexual person out there trying to rape you? What is your fear about?” I mean, we’ve allowed Americans to build army bases here and that doesn’t worry us. That was one of the main things Nkrumah spoke against – the whole of Africa should not allow any western power to build an army base here. America has an army base here so we are a colony of America right now whether we like it or not.
So you think by making fun of the system, you’re above the system?
Wanlov: No, we’re just using it as therapy to endure.
M3NSA: To release.
Wanlov: The names, Achimota school, the curriculum – it’s the same British everything. The judges are still wearing the white sheep or pubic hair… sheep pubes.
So what do you think Ghana needs to do to cut itself off from western control?
M3NSA: It’s all about getting wiser, finding ways to regain our power. I suppose it’s not our fault really. The influences are crazy – the western influences. Once the mentality is that the western world is more virtuous than us in every sense, that’s already losing the battle, isn’t it?
Do you think that the FOKN BOIS lifestyle is a permanent thing?
M3NSA: Our lifestyle is in its most natural form. It’s nothing contrived or fabricated for us to be crazy. This is what we are. I don’t think it’s going to change. I like being this way.
Follow up with the FOKN BOIS | @FOKNBOIS