In commemoration of Ghana’s independence, On The Radar is dedicating the month of March, dubbed, “Ghana Month” to celebrate Ghanaian musicians who have contributed immensely to the local music industry and paved the way for a new generation of music stars.
And this week, we celebrate Rex Owusu Marfo, popularly called Rex Omar.
Rex Omar’s legendary status is indisputable; he possesses all the attributes of a consummate musician, has a deep knowledge of the business and revolutionised it – creating one of the biggest changes that defined the structure of the Ghanaian music business. He came, saw and conquered it all!
Rex Omar is often tagged as a Highlife artiste but he actually started with Gospel music and released two albums, Adom Nsem in 1985 and Aseda in 1987.
Interestingly, when the likes of legendary Gospel acts, Kofi Abraham, Kofi Ani Johnson and Yaw Sarpong were doing local gospel, Rex Omar wanted to be different and introduced Reggae gospel, but it was rejected by Ghanaians.
It is interesting to note how, in the last decade or more, Ghanaian Gospel music has hinged predominantly on reggae- something started by Rex Omar in the 80s.
After two unsuccessful projects, Rex finally had his big break in 1989 with the Aware Pa album which also included the hit track, Wodofo Ne Hwan?
Then came the legendary group, NAKOREX (an assemblage of fellow music legends, Akosua Agyapong and Nat ‘Amandzeba’ Brew) which released a hit album, cementing the trio as household names.
But after the group’s break up, regaining his acclaim as a solo artist was torrid.
He had several projects, which were unsuccessful and it took a radical move to get back to the top.
That was the Dangerous album, which was released in 1996 and included Rex Omar’s biggest hit, Abiba.
Rex has tinkered with almost every genre of music in the many years of his illustrious career – with an inclination for ‘criss-crossing’ rhythms and melodic inflections.
His vocal delivery has always been unique, sticking to that unwavering accent that defines a true Ghanaian and an African.
He has never been all about the razzmatazz of the trade.
He has over the years also exhibited a strong business side, which saw him invest over €25,000 in the making of the 1999 album, Fa, which was recorded in one of the most expensive studios in the United Kingdom at the time.
A consummate artiste must be a performer and Rex is a ‘beast’ on stage. He has the energy, and is original with live performances – characteristics that saw him and his band, Nu Ashanty, captivate audiences at shows across Africa in the early 2000s.
Rex Omar is currently the Chairman of the Ghana Music Rights Organization (GHAMRO) and thus far, the group is doing quite well in overseeing the royalty system for right owners but that desire to help the Ghanaian musician know his/her rights and to have gratification in intellectual property commenced a long time ago.
As a strong advocate for the rights of the Ghanaian musician, within the context of universal copyright principles, Rex, together with the likes of Carlos Sakyi, Kwaku Sintim –Misa, the late Kojo Aquai, William Anku, Amandzeba, Talal Fattal and Prof. John Collins formed the Coalition of Concerned Copyright Advocates (COCCA), a group that caused the then President, John Agyekum Kufuor, to withhold his assent to the Copyright Bill in order for some discrepancies to be corrected.
His conviction in adopting the positive aspects of African culture for the socio-economic advancement of the African also led him to set up a non-profit making organisation, the DIY-Africa.
The pursuit in getting to where he is now with GHAMRO has seen him make enemies; he has fallen out with friends and has been branded is obstinate, loud and controversial but it all turned out for the best as he has remained unfazed and is driving the organisation to its rightful setting.
The new generation of Ghanaian musicians have become accustomed to and comfortable with the release of singles but that shift commenced with a game-changer – Rex Omar!
After going to the United Kingdom to record the album, Fa somewhere in 2000, he returned to Ghana to promote it and having been exposed to how the system works on the international market with the release of singles off an album, he decided to replicate the norm by releasing the single, Obidoba.
However, radio presenters and DJs, who were not familiar with the move felt it was a sign of pride and self-aggrandisement, especially in an era where recognised artistes were all releasing albums.
A newspaper publication which quoted Rex Omar issuing a warning to radio stations not to play his songs following the release of the Obidoba single was the final straw, causing all presenters across the country to blacklist him.
That boycott could have ended the career of any other artiste, but not Rex Omar. He sold the rights to the album to a label in another country and made good money.
He had to devise a scheme to regain prominence and relevance on Ghanaian radio and what he came up with could not be matched.
He produced the hit song, Maba – a traditional Gospel tune off the album, Lion of Judah – Gospel with African Roots, that was a complete drift from the quintessential Rex Omar sound.
In a revolutionary move to not let radio presenters/DJs associate him with the song, as he refused to put his name or picture on the album.
Instead, he placed a drawing of Jesus Christ in dreadlocks on the cover.
Once the cassette sellers and operators made the song a hit by playing it in their shops, it was easy for it to get to the attention of the presenters/DJs – making the song one of the most popular songs ever released.
It was only when he released the music video to the song that the presenters/DJs realised that the song was his, but it was too late – it was already a hit!
Long Live Rex Omar!
With a deluge of chart-topping songs, best-selling albums and sold-out concerts across Africa and Europe and a career that has spanned several decades – Rex Omar’s legacy and legendary status is beyond doubt; it is certified!
We celebrate him and pray God grants him long life, grace, good health and more wisdom as he continues to impart knowledge and brings change to the music industry.