Recorded in 1999 and featuring the ferocious Lord Kenya, Daasebre Gyamena’s Kokooko is unanimously deemed a standard in modern highlife, a true classic. It is perhaps his most important contribution to the genre till his death Friday July 29.
Concurrently, it is a highlight in hiplife discourse, because hiplife is a conflation of hip-hop and highlife. If we consider Lord Kenya a very successful Ghanaian rapper, Kokooko’s role in that is central. And when we refer to producer Mark Okraku Mantey as music mogul, we also know that Kokooko set him (really set him) on that path. He has maintained on several platforms that the project (a joint effort with fellow music giant Zapp Mallet) is among the best of all music he’s ever constructed.
Daasbre Gyamena started singing at 8, and was largely influenced by his grandfather, himself a guitarist, and with whom he had stayed for a substantial part of his infancy (his mom passed when he was a mere 3 months old, and work had his father away for significant periods). This perhaps explains why elderly wisdoms are very much a part of his expression (that, coupled with the fact that he grew up in a palace). And since 1998, through a colourful career filled with several albums of sensitive music, he has navigated the Ghanaian love story with powerful truth and creativity. Yet, when you learn that such icons as Nana Ampadu and Gregory Isaacs also raised him, his brilliance is suddenly not so surprising anymore.
Daasebre has regularly sung about God, or hope in the face of bad times. And of course, about love; it is what he was introduced to us through, after all. When he has treated the concept of love though, it has almost always been about the pains that surround it. Daasebre grew up in difficult circumstances, and living with a disgruntled stepmother could wipe the delights of love from one’s eyes, or at least make you weary of them.
Much of his early efforts at music were a flop, commercially. As early as 1989, he had a project out; Tsere wu Tumi (mostly a compilation of songs he did while in Benkum Secondary School) has largely remained a secret till date. He explored other ventures, travelling across the continent to find wealth, but encouraging advice from one Mr Addison of Afro Media kept his mind on music. While in Nigeria as an agent of sorts, friends he made, as well as interactions with the great Fela Kuti, also ensured that he was always close enough to music.
Years later, he returned, and has gone on to record an endless repertoire of premium highlife: Seetei, Wofam, Ahuofe, Still I Love You, Calling, Obaa, Onongbo, etc. He has also hailed You Can’t Touch Me as what truly brought him fortune. He has been described as “one of the finest” by many of the industry’s key voices, most notably comedian and broadcaster Kweku Sintim- Misa, as well as Abusua FM frontman Kwame Adinkra. His work, spanning close to three decades, has earned him a place among the greats, for sure.
To us, he will forever be the delicate young man in the oversized shirt in that 1999 video, and Kokooko, his real debut. No other song he has done quite and matches the accomplishment of Kokoko as what secured him presence in our ears and a place in our hearts, for those six minutes or so defined Daasebre’s music persona; smooth and courteous, soft-spoken and especially affable due to his gift of rendering our exact sentiments on romance in melody.
The video itself was avant-garde, artistically. Entirely set in a field, with nothing but a door impeding him from a disinterested love interest biting into green apples and enjoying flirtation from a Casanova in Lord Kenya, a hopeless Daasebre cries “I can never live without you” to no avail, till he’s dragged into a nearby bush by a macho painter who has become sick of this absurdity. It is this specific symbolism in that locked door, that one legitimate entry into the woman’s world, which so bonds with our individual testimonies and makes us fond of that video.
But Daasebre was only “desperate” in music videos; as for most of his peak, he was the darling of many, eventually earning the name “Ahuofe”, to concretize what symbol of beauty he was seen to represent.
Unfortunately, a 2006 encounter with UK customs officers would significantly dent this “favourite son” image in the eyes of Ghanaians, and it is something he never completely purged himself of, even till his death. On June 28, while on a trip to London to record music, he was arrested on drug-related charges and remanded for 11 months. And even when, as the story completely unfolded, the law proved him innocent, his public image was already so far down the slippery slope that nothing was quite the same again.
Daasebre is one to stand his ground, for while during his trial he was pressured by a first barrister and fellow inmates to admit to carrying narcotics and ending all this, he refused, preferring to speak truth, or suffer in the attempt. It took him nearly a year, but was eventually acquitted 10:1.
He tells one of the most beautiful stories of friendship you will ever hear. While still a child, his elder brother was forbidden to enter the house by his stepmom as a form of punishment. And for weeks, he too slept outside in protest of the punishment, and in solidarity with his brother, till they were eventually allowed back into the house (also because there was nobody to fetch water for the house, and it was beginning to take a toll).
Everybody who knew him, most certainly, would have a story thus, of how he was ready to be of help, even when it meant great personal sacrifice. It perhaps explains why fellow musician Tic Tac testified during his trial.
Once more, Kokooko, which is the sound we make when knocking a door, might be the most important statement of the man Daasebre Gyamenah, for he has been measured, even through the toughest times, holding on solely to his faith in God, and hardly imposing anything, even his truths on others. He simply knocked and waited. Knocking represents being patient as long as you believe in something. That is an important lesson, but more so for a generation which can’t afford patience.