Will Kojo Antwi play this December 24, as he has always done this past 30 years? Of course he will, as sure as the sun rising in the east every morning. What with all the hours and hours of rehearsals and sweat?
A new move though - when he plays on Friday, December 24, he will be doing so from East Legon’s newest and plush event venue, De-Icon Event Center. This is where Kojo Antwi’s love train has found its new home.
Observing Mr. Music Man at close range as he strides in and out of the studio at his MacCharty Hills estate in Accra where he is engaged in rehearsals with his bandsmen, it is understandable why his annual gig packs the crowds.
The man wants to give everything. He experiments with one idea after idea, fitting them where they should. The same goes for even the songs, the very love songs that have endeared him so well to the nation and beyond – he wants to be precise about their flow, which one should precede another and which should follow another. When satisfied, he wants different permutations of the songs as would speak to different situations should they come up.
When I remark that it’s a lot of hard work, he says “But that’s how we’ve always done it. We always go the extra mile to make the fans happy. They deserve it. They have been there for these 29 years, this is the 30th and I can’t let them down especially when I should be thanking them for sticking with me.”
“When I was young I used to dream of a platform to experiment with things. I love avant-garde and that is the true me. We will fine-tune our acts, try different things until we hit the stage. As it is now, we can’t even tell what will be our final preference for anything we plan to do. As the ideas come, we experiment with them to see how they fit in.”
And for all the 30 years that he has played, Kojo Antwi remembers every story of this journey pretty much in detail – how his first time out on 28th September, 1991 at the Trade Fair Centre, La, Accra, which featured highlife greats and friends, Thomas Frimpong and Pozzo Hayes, as well as the mystic Roots Anabo band, was a fascinating eye-opener.
The following year Kojo decided to play on 24th December, and that date has since been an annual fixture in the lives of many. Some even suspect the day is Kojo’s birthday. It’s not, but the story of his birthday can wait awhile.
“It didn’t use to be a regular thing for a musician to fix one particular date in every year to play. What used to happen was to first consider if the day would be a weekend. Now you see it all over that one musician or band picks a date and stick with it. It makes me proud, that that small revolution is growing, to see Stonebwoy will be playing at a certain fixed date, Kofi Kinata is in Takoradi and people can look up to a date with him in the course of the year.”
“And so have many individuals and groups also lend support along the journey. Nana Osibio and my colleagues at Classique Vibes. We set out dreaming very big you know. We dreamt of playing at Madison Square. And it inspired me to dream big. Along the line, the great Bob Marley’s lyrics inspired me a lot. It will only be an act of ingratitude to attempt to name them all because it simply is not possible. I owe many, many people my deepest gratitude.”
Kojo is careful with his stagecraft, and he says it is his nature to do so. Whether taking to the stage on a spotless white horse, descending from a half moon, emerging from a pit, or sitting in a haze of candlelight, it has all been the work of careful planning.
“People don’t just come to listen to the music, they come to watch me play and I try to make it memorable. That they will go home with some special experience. Something must stay on their minds and I do not take them for granted. It is the same motivation that drives me to invest in my shows. I’ve brought in the great Salif Keita, Richard Bona, Freddie Meiway, Monique Seka, Steel Pulse and a whole lot of great musicians, some even more popular than myself, to grace my shows.”
Having moved the show from the Trade Fair, to the National Theatre, Golden Tulip, Accra International Conference Centre, Osu Oxford Street, Kempinski Hotel and the Labadi Beach Hotel, the Music Maestro says a time comes when you feel you need a new environment to do new things.
“From Kempinski to Labadi Beach Hotel the show became very intimate, getting the audience very close to me and letting them feel the music. I feel that nowadays we are losing true musicianship. Technology makes it so easy to perform, and we’ve reduced the whole art to hype and selfies. One may say this is the new era, but no, I think the fans have stuck with me for these three decades because we engage more meaningfully. Sustaining this Broadway kind of thing takes more than just singing. They want to feel you. They want you to act some of the lyrics for them to better appreciate the songs.”
He recalls playing the chef at one of his recent shows, where patrons “ordered” their preference and were quickly “served hot” what they requested for. On another occasion, it took the shape of the Maestro’s wheel of fortune where fans spinned dials to pick any song from his rich repertoire to be played. And last year, he grouped the songs according to various themes and life experiences and dished them out.
The stickler for perfection that Kojo Antwi is, he will not let the cat out of the bag no matter how hard I pressed for what is going to be new at the De-Icon Event Center, East Legon. On stage will be the sentimental Fameye, the adorable Efya, the lively Kwame Yeboah, and from South Africa, the passionate Sonti Mndebele.
“How do I tell you what I’m myself not sure of. All I know is that it will be special and lovely. That one I can promise.”
The Lovers Celebration, an intimate night with “the Maestro”, as this 30th anniversary bash is themed, is in celebration of all the years of respect and affection, both for patrons, and the legend of Kojo Antwi.