What is Asakaa, and what does it mean to be Kumerican?

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In the second half of last year, a group of young men from Kumasi, Ghana’s second-largest city, went viral for their aggressive and hard-hitting music as well as their accompanying videos, which bore a striking resemblance to the rap videos coming out of America some 10 years earlier. Rap music is nothing new to Ghana, which has seen the rise of plenty of local stars in the last couple of years, but there is something different about the latest movement from Kumasi, that has brought international recognition to the “Kumerica” subculture.

Whilst the songs are partly spoken in English, they also feature both Twi (a dialect of Akan, spoken in central and southern Ghana), and new Kumerican slang, which is effectively a form of Twi code that sees the first and last parts of words swapped. This slang is referred to as Saka, which is also a perfect example, as it is a slang version of the Twi word Kasa, which means “to speak.” Add an A on both sides of the word, and you get the name of the rap subgenre that inspired this article, Asakaa. The word Kumerica is a mash-up of Kumasi, the city these young rappers hail from, and America, the country that has inspired much of the new culture. It has primarily influenced the fashion and sound of youth in the Ashanti region of Ghana, but through its regular presence in the region’s music, the circulation of the term has become much more prevalent across Ghana and the world.

Reggie, one of the stars of the burgeoning Asakaa scene, was kind enough to answer some of the questions I had for him, and he pointed towards the use of their local language and their unique street terms as the main difference between the sound he and his friends created and other rap music around the world. He also mentioned the authenticity of Asakaa, stating “We don’t cap (a now globally-used term meaning to lie), Asakaa is all about facts,” which is evident from the artists embracing their American influences, rather than claiming their sound is uniquely theirs. The music does carry a very distinctive American influence though, that is noticeable from the common “Woo’s” and growling adlibs that featured heavily in the recent Brooklyn-based drill movement, but mixes it with a local sound and style to create an experience that stands out against their international competition.

Whilst not the first Asakaa tune to come out of Ghana, one of the most popular songs which seemed to have really made Kumerica’s presence known, was the posse cut “Sore,” which is Twi for “wake up.” The tune saw 19-year-old Yaw Tog alongside O’Kenneth, Reggie, City Boy and Jay Bahd, rap about their experiences on the streets of Kumasi, over a Chris Rich beat – the English producer who has also worked with plenty of the UK’s top artists. The result is a single that has garnered over 2 million plays on YouTube and over 500,000 listens on Spotify. The music video perfectly mimics a classic US rap video but noticeably takes place in a different setting. Yaw Tog takes centre-stage surrounded by 20 to 30 friends, all wearing similar clothing and joining in with the extremely catchy chorus. Not only did the world take notice, but Ghanaian rap star Kwesi Arthur and Grime goliath Stormzy are now expected to feature on the highly anticipated remix.

Since then, a similar group of Kumasi-born artists have hopped on several different tracks together, consistently recreating their success. Reggie explained how the group came together, saying that it was his most frequent collaborator, O’Kenneth, that introduced him to fellow rapper City Boy and also Rabby Jones, a core founder of Life Living Records, the label under which they all now perform. From there, Jay Bahd, City Boy’s younger brother would join, alongside a smattering of other friends and locals who all pitch in on each other’s songs to create the collective that fans can’t get enough of. But Reggie made a point of the group’s friendship extending much further than business and a shared label; they are like a family, whose chemistry in their music came naturally. This is particularly interesting as Kofi Jamar, another big Kumasi-based rapper, recently acknowledged that rappers in Ghana traditionally weren’t very close, and any partnership was strictly business motivated. The new Kumerica movement has not only brought a new sound, but also a new sense of togetherness.

This response to the music hasn’t all been positive though. In fact, its references to street life and everything that might entail has brought a fair share of negative media attention towards the Kumerica movement. Red bandanas are visible in most Asakaa videos, with many of the rappers claiming to be “Bloods,” a notorious gang founded in Los Angeles. For every positive article I have read about the success of the movement, there are just as many critiquing it, believing that the music not only promotes violence but also taints Ghana’s reputation and the Ashanti region. But this hasn’t hindered the movement one bit, Ghanaian teens are enticed by Kumerican culture even more thanks to its rebellious image, and are now flocking to purchase “Kumerica” clothing. The rappers maintain their music does not promote illegal activity, but depicts their life in an honest way that wasn’t previously accepted. And their gang affiliation, unlike in the US, is supposedly non-violent, with only the family aspect being of interest to them.

Whilst Asakaa and Kumasi’s most popular rappers are a big part of what Kumerica has become known for, the concept of Kumerica is so much greater, covering more than the music. In fact, different suburbs in Kumasi are now increasingly referred to as different American states, for example, Manhyia which is now commonly referred to as Washington, D.C. Furthermore, Kumerica has its own flag, the previously mentioned clothing lines, and even its own passport, that Dancehall artiste Shatta Wale, who featured on Beyonce’s “The Lion King” Album, flaunted on his Snapchat not too long ago. Understandably, this has shaken plenty of the Ghanaian public, who aren’t sure what to make of these developments, with some suggesting it’s just a passing trend, whilst others worry about its impact on the preservation of local customs.

Photo of Kumerica passport pops up on social media | Nsemkeka

That’s what sets the debate over Asakaa apart from UK and US variants. As well as there being some concern over the content of the music, there is also a worry that the Kumerica movement is slowly replacing Kumasi’s identity and Ghanaian traditions. The extent of this is hard to judge solely from internet research conducted at a distance of 8000 km, but it is certainly a unique situation that has brought success and opportunity to the young rappers of Kumasi. Whatever the impact of Asakaa and the Kumerica movement however, the likes of Reggie, Yaw Tog and the other Kumerican rappers have undoubtedly made quite the first impression: Whatever controversy they have faced, their careers show no indication of slowing down anytime soon. And it’s clear the tide is beginning to turn: The US-influenced Kumericans are quickly becoming the inspiration for the rest of the world.