Since releasing “Osey” in April 2014, Nero X has constantly played on our emotions. Why? The Ghanaian is both copiously emotional and incurably religious. I mean, this is the place where there are more churches than health centres, where there are billboards and radio adverts for fetish priests, and where we are at the most risk of heart complications during Black Stars games.
This young talent (whom we’ve not discovered fully yet), since winning the Born Stars singing competition –and through a series of singles and collaborations –is gradually gaining a place in our music dialogues –so much so, that he’s got, perhaps, the most realistic chance of coming out tops in the New Artist category of this year’s VGMAs.
The way Nero X sings ɛh, it’s like he knows (very well too), the dynamics of the Ghanaian emotion, and so far, he’s done it better than any other rookie I have come across. But then again, he’s always been a disciple of one of this generation’s most effective emotional manipulators with voice — Theophilus Tagoe, or Castro, as we commonly know him, so it’s not so surprising.
Exactly! See how your eyes flared once I mentioned Castro? Now don’t get me wrong, I respect Castro immensely. In fact, I find him both a brilliant and an efficient musician. There’s a longevity to his career which will always be enviable. He always had a song out, and if we did not like it, he just went and made a new one. But very often, he’s appealed to our pity –singing about envy, jealousy, and tribulation in a way that brings tears to one’s eyes. Before he went and got missing On Ada waters, he was the go-to person for hooks on themes thus.
Anyway, like I said, it is logical to assume that Nero X is protegee of Castro The Destroyer, as their techniques are parallel–there’s an emotion to their voice, almost like they’re crying.
Like Castro, Nkrumah Boabeng (a.k.a Nero X), is not strictly, a gospel musician, because gospel is hardly a genre: all genre is fundamentally rhythm, and gospel is not a rhythm. Also, he sings about girls too. Nero leans toward the assertion that gospel is not a genre. These are his words as reported on seancity.com some time ago:
“I’m a highlife musician, high-life is a rhythm. You can sing gospel and other love songs with high-life . High-life is our mother rhythm, the Ghanaian cultured rhythm”.
…but he might as well be –a gospel act, that is — because he invokes that spiritual response from us in the Ama Boahemaa kind of way. He is now, what Castro has been to the industry for decades; the blur between gospel and secular music. By the way, I should mention that Castro is one musician who may have gotten the Ghana Music Award scheme scratching it’s head occasionally over categorization, because hiplife is rap, and Castro doesn’t exactly rap. That’s another conversation, all in due time…
We fall in love with a new artist easily, once their song is tolerable and comes in high tempo. It is a different thing staying in love with an artist though. Even “established” artists constantly have to fight for a comfortable place in our hearts. (Ask Omar Sterling…Sarkodie even). We know what we said when we first heard your sound: that it’s new and refreshing and is the closest thing we’ve come to experiencing heaven. But become even a bit lazy in giving us more of that good stuff we like, and we will break your heart in a way worse than an orphan who has been bullied out of his lunch money. I remember when Tinny was king, I remember when K. K Fosu brought us Anadwo Yɛ Dɛ. There was a time when we never spoke negatively about Ofori Amponsah. Once, in this town, we actually looked forward to hearing the sound of JQ breaking bottles in a song, and I never imagined that today….Anyway.
But that’s where the Castro brand of emotionality comes in. Employed Takoradi-cally, it will always do wonders for you. Relax, Castro has superior talent and is a hard worker, I’ve admitted that already…but so are JQ, and Tinny, and K.K, and Screw Face.
Let’s talk about the song now —Nyimpa Nua— after all, it’s what I propose our conversation entails today. It’s just that it’s inevitable to talk about Nero X without Castro coming up. Unfortunately, it’s one of the few place he can resurface, since, you know… I don’t mind, and I imagine that you don’t, because he’s a very important part in music conversations in these parts.
Nyimpa Nua, which might translate as “man’s brother” is sweet highlife, and is listened to with a smile and hand gesticulations. In there, the narrator appeals to the listener not to hold back in offering him help as nyimpa nua ni nyimpa — man’s brother is man.
It is rendered in in Fante, a language which I find very beautiful, and the use of the first person narrator makes it all the more personal.
It was produced, of course, by Willis Beats (sometimes known as Skinny Willis), who also has produced most of Nero’s songs thus far (including the explosive Osey). It feels live, with a melodious chorus of trumpets which are both warm and reassuring (specifically toward the end). The strings of the guitar we hear tingle our sympathies, and every other instrument feels thoughtful. The song is very emotional…emotional enough to be used as soundtrack for any of the movies which come out of Kumawood, and more.
There’s a lot to say on this topic, so the song comes in three verses. The message though cliche, is still urgent, so there’s hardly an intro. We are not alien to the theme of this song, but as with everything else, we constantly require reminding.
Hence, in verse one, we are reminded that helpers are usually rare, hence the need to help our brothers in need. The future remains blur to us, and the earlier we recognise that no condition is permanent, the better. The chorus translates something thus:
when I’m down, help me, for man’s brother is man
when I’m in trouble, help me, for man’s brother is man
if someone is in trouble, help them, for man’s brother is man
“obiara hia obi”, the second verse starts –everybody needs somebody. Especially when we have been let down, we coil into solitude, but it’s only a matter of time before we come back to the statement…and then the cycle begins again.
obi wɔ wiase mma onya edziban na w’edi, kotoku mu nni bi
ebusua bɔni mpo ama obi dan obi, so you for help the needy
today wey be your own, morrow you no sabi
nobody knows tomorrow, so you better take precaution, oh my padi
These are inevitable truths which are self- explanatory, and it is in our own interest to live by them.
nsa tia nyinaa nyɛ pɛ da —
The fingers are all not the same, the above line translates, and then it is followed by advice to do good today, bearing in mind that life is not rosy all the the time –for what we sow is what we shall reap. Oneness is the key, so it is important to not give ear to dissenting views, Nero admonishes in Fante.
The piano interlude which follows the second verse is shrill, like a child pleading for mercy, or moments before a humble animal’s death. Nero’s voice itself is passionately pitched, and for most of the song, it’s extremely moving, but he can also afford to be playful at some parts, like when he harmonizes during the interlude. At some points in the bridge, and sometimes when he calls for the nyimpa nua response, he screams out of an exasperation. It’s all unsettling, and it’s all calculated to bring the sadness right up to your eyes.
Sometimes too, the message accomplishes the job if it comes in an example. Jesus did it with parables, and it achieved wonders. So, in verse three, Nero X recounts a sad experience about a well-to-do person he knew, who did not help others in their time of need and lived to regret it when sickness befell him, and so we should take a cue from it. These are the final words of that verse:
“ahokyir nyɛ dɛ’o wati…”
The state of want is not a pleasant place to be. Our lives are made comfortable by the generosity of others, and logically, we should do same. What if God gave all of us equal measures of everything? There would be no one to help, there would be no lessons for life to teach us –and in a life where there are no lessons, are we really living?
Sounding “gospel”, is Nero’s forte. Nearly every song he has made with that feel has gotten attention. Maybe it’s what he’s realised gets us. Maybe he’s realised that singing about adversity and God’s role in getting us out of it, sells. Maybe he’s been playing us all along.
But emotional trick or not, Nyimpa Nua is such necessary music. It seems like common sense to me –the art of lending a helping hand –it sounds like something which just has to be done. But today, we are more likely to pull out our smartphones for Facebook pictures when we come upon someone else’s misfortune than go in and help them.
We’ve heard stories about how beggars might not be humans after all, and not in a good way. We’ve also heard (and witnessed) how begging has become a chore to many unscrupulous con artists in our Trotros today. Have you met the gentleman from University of Ghana who has lost his wallet? What about the man who requires assistance to buy drugs for a relative who has been admitted at Korle- Bu? If you haven’t and your runs involve you boarding public transport at Nkrumah Circle, it will happen eventually. Thankfully, you’ve been given a heads up.
Yet, must these deter us from lending a hand? There’s a way we feel when we engage in acts of charity; a peculiar sense of fulfilment, which might end up being injured once we find out that we’ve been hoodwinked, and when you’ve been tricked while you’re in the middle of doing good, it’s someway.
Ultimately though, all acts of charity are to God, and come back to us at some point. Also, we all need a shoulder to lean on. So, brotherly love is what is good –onwia dɔ na ɛyɛ.
The writer can be reached at email@example.com, @myershansen on twitter, and myershansen.wordpress.com.