Wanlov the Kubolor. First time I saw him, it was outside a small venue in Osu, Accra, where there was a regular weekly show called Bless The Mic. Dreadlocked, barefoot, dressed in a sarong and t-shirt, he was in a cypher, randomly freestyling in pidgin, basking in the power of spontaneous creativity. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of engaging with his music, particularly his work with M3nsa (who I have previously profiled on evolutionary) as one half of the Fokn Bois. After working on Coz Ov Moni – the film and album -, the two lifelong friends and creative partners turned their attention to solo albums. M3nsa has released No. 1 Mango Street (see my post on it here) and now Wanlov has come with Brown Card – African Gypsy, a peek into his duality, his sensibility and his eccentricity.
The album, which was recorded in Paris – he was awarded a residency at Cites Des Arts, which was sponsored by the Institut Francais and the French Embassy, to record – reflects his Romanian (mother) and Ghanaian (father) roots. In a way, what draws me to this album is how it unpacks this dual-cultural existence. In the intro, Nkrumah Pikin, he thanks Kwame Nkrumah for enabling his father to go to Romania where he met his mother … resulting in his birth. My father ended up in Germany and I am a product of the same system of Ghanaians being sent out to learn the necessary skills to come back and run the country.
Wanlov embraces all aspects of his heritage, musical and culture, bringing them into the music in unique and creative ways whether it is in terms of instrument, language or attitude. A lot more of the Romanian in him is reflected in the album which could also be attributed to the fact that he produced the whole album except for one track, which was done by often-time collaborator Kweku Ananse – who produced his first album Green Card. Witty, intelligent and insightful, Wanlov, lyrically, builds layers that can be missed if one doesn’t engage fully. It is often easy to get lost in the humour and lose connection to the social-consciousness and awareness in his content.
From the playful Spr Mi Dat (which samples the same Fela track – Shakara – as the Hip Life Godfather, Reggie Rockstone’s classic Eye Mo De Anaa) and the ‘Romani violin-driven’ String Theory, featuring Filippo Baraldi to the tongue-in-cheek and philosophical Sticks N Stones, African Gypsy is what contemporary music should be; the marriage of influence, heritage, culture, soul and relevance. Wanlov is comfortable in his skin and embraces the multiplicity of where he has come from wonderfully.