‘You are way ahead of all these people because you can rap and sing,’ someone tells Ghanaian artist Delasi early on his debut album #ThoughtJourney. That sentiment as expressed is both consolation and critical insight. It also sells the artist short. Delasi may rap and sing—and he does—but he is essentially a spoken word poet who has recorded an album. It is all there in his themes and the minimalist production on show. Clearly, #ThoughtJourney isn’t for clubs; there are no pop domination plans here. In its place is intimacy. As the contemporary Ghanaian scene thrives on hiplife, Delasi has provided the alternative.
There are social concerns but even a conscious poet has women on his mind. But when women and lust make an appearance on the pair of songs ‘Adabraka Girls’ and ‘Miss Material’ it is about the transactional basis upon which much sex is carried out. In other words, Delasi fuses sex with consciousness.
‘Adabraka Girls dropped out of tuition,’ he sings. ‘Grass to Grace and back again.’ The deft trick here is that Grace could refer to the state of grace or to a pimp named Grace.
The narrator on 'Adabraka Girl' try as he may to show support by not judging a fallen woman appears motivated by bitterness. As the story goes, this one time he expected a discount from one such girl but never got it. He ‘caught feelings’ and true to the nature of transactional sex those feelings were unreciprocated. Thus the bitterness.
The conceit of a bitter, unreliable narrator comes up again on ‘Miss Material’. Madonna provided the manifesto of the material girl back in 1984, but we haven’t quite heard enough from or about the guys who can’t afford her. Now we know what those guys do. They whine. Compare the glee in young Madonna’s voice when she says, ‘We are living in a material world and I am a material girl!’ to the sombre, pleading tone of ‘Is that all you care about, Miss Material?.... we used to be good friends, hook up every weekend.' Indeed. And now the rejection rankles: 'She was all innocent now she’s full of sin.’
Despite the distance and decades both songs are in conversation. Delasi’s begin with a woman saying ‘Broke ass I’m leaving you’. Madonna’s begins with a burst of pop joy. Delasi's narrator may not know it but there’s only one winner here and she knows herself.
The next time women show up on ’Pigment Matter’ about ‘bleaching creams and tanning lotions’, the listener will be right to question Delasi’s view of women. Yet #ThoughtJourney brings something different to mainstream's presentation of women—he may protest too much but he has made femalefolk the centrepiece of his consciousness without objectifying them. And in any case, there is a counterpoint pair of songs. ‘She’s Ghanaian’, where the subject could be woman or country. It is a celebration of both. (But Delasi is a poet carrying melancholy in his pouch: ‘If the sun dey shine for your eyes make you no smile, maybe just frown ‘cos there’s nothing to smile about.’)
‘Fine Gal’, the second of the counterpoint songs, speaks of love—but what is love between man and woman without lust? ‘The way she kisses me…she looks like she’s heaven-sent. Like an angel so innocent but she seducing me.’ The song has #ThoughtJorney’s most delightful beat, over which Delasi employs a languorous flow like he is in the throes of a pleasure that cannot be named. So delicate is this happiness that calling its name soils its nature. Our narrator’s switch in demeanour—from bitterness to languor—shows a fact that abides in men-women relations: a woman is the solution to the problems men blame on womenfolk. It is, in part, the logic behind remarriages.
#ThoughtJourney loses its sparseness towards the end and becomes something that could work in a club, especially at ‘Lom Na Va’ and ‘Enyonam’. But at that point the listener may have tuned off. Running for 76 minutes, #ThoughtJourney is a trip too long. The skits are mostly disposable as are some songs. There was a chance for an ‘all killer, no filler’ album but Delasi has not taken that route.
‘Destination greatness,’ he says at some point. But like an artist unsure of the greatness of his material, Delasi opts for great length. It’s a mistake. With some editing #ThoughtJourney could easily be a thriller, delivering delights every four minutes—instead it’s a reference book. Pick it up, skip to your favourites, close. Repeat.
Nonetheless, the excess works within the ambit of thought journeys, because there is always a chance that certain stops are of interest only to the driver/thinker. You can't censor a poet's thoughts. As he says about the album, ‘I want you to hear what’s inside my mind. I want to be able to start discussions through the music.’
He is wrong, though. Discussions are fine. But the thing to do as a passenger on this ride is to lay back, enjoy the view. And, yes, play ‘Fine Gal’ again.