Popular culture is the literary works such as music, art, literature, fashion, etc which are consumed by everyone including the working, lower and middle class. (Crossman, 2012). Popular culture can be seen in our everyday lives and this can be backed by a quote: "Pop culture is what happens around us every day. Whether it's clothes, movies, music or cars it's all a part of popular culture. In conclusion pop culture is in every day of your life so when you are walking on the street or in the halls, take a look around and see what is popular" (MacKinnon, 2002). Popular culture tends to portray some concepts relating to the society such as Marxism, Feminism, National Identity, Postcolonialism or Postmodernism, etc. In this paper, I am going to address how gender inequality and national identity in relation to popular culture have informed us about the society.
Gender inequality is the differences in the status and power men and women have in the society (McQueen, 2012). Mostly, in the societies, women are given less power as compared to men. The women are given the less-respected jobs while the men are given the highly-respected jobs. National identity is the extent to which a given culture recognizes and is identified with its unique characteristics ( Hult&Keillor, 1999).
Ghana, a country located in the Western part of Africa, is rich in gold, diamond, bauxite, manganese and oil. Ghanaian music such as hiplife, highlife and oldies has gone far in the entertainment world as it has gained a lot of fans across the world. Recently in the entertainment world in Ghana, a dance and a type of music known as "Azonto" emerged which has gained the love of people all around the world. It has increasingly become popular as foreigners now come to Ghana and seize the chance to learn "Azonto" when they can, or they learn it through "Azonto" tutorials on YouTube. Foreigners sometimes try including bits of the dance in their culture. "Azonto" became popular through Asamoah Gyan, the Ghanaian footballer who danced it in his goal celebrations for his club and during matches of the Ghana Black Stars (Folson, 2012). Padre James of Fiji Times said he had witnessed the students of the Dudley Intermediate School incorporate Azonto, both music and dance, in their Tadra Kahani(school dance festival) item, as they presented it as their sevu (welcome ceremony) to the school board before performing it on the stage (Bhagwan, 2012). According to Kwaku Agyeman in an interview with Guardian News UK he said he is thinking of adding some "Azonto" moves in his fitness class for the African ladies who do not normally go to the gym (Mark, 2012). This means "Azonto" apart from being a dance for entertainment can be used for exercise.
A symposium has been held on "Azonto" and how it should be included in the culture of Ghana. In the symposium, PaJohn Dadson, the renowned Ghanaian arts, culture and lifestyles columnist of Bentsifi's Tattle (The Mirror) and Dinning with Bentsifi (BFT Lifestyle) gave a talk concerning this. He said since Azonto cuts across young and old, it must become part of our culture now (Debrah, 2012). Kobby Graham of Dust Magazine also pointed out that, Azonto has the potential to change the mindset non- Ghanaians have about Ghana being a politically progressive West African country. He also said that, "Young Ghanaians have done a lot more than recreate tradition; they have created new Ghanaian culture" (Graham, 2012). This tells you how "Azonto", a Ghanaian-originated dance has had an impact on the mindset the world has about Ghanaians. However, have you asked yourself about the history of "Azonto" and its meaning?
Well, "Azonto" is a dance originated from the Ga people of Ghana. "The dance was first called "Apaazee Renetta Kojo" (which means work for pay) by the people of Bukom. Another school of thought has it that the term "Azonto" was first used by students of the Senior Secondary Schools to mean life (or the hardships of life - "abraabo")" (Owusu, 2012). Also, musician and instrumentalist Azonko Simpi says "Azonto" means Prostitution (Duah, 2012). But whether "Azonto" means work, life or prostitution it has made its waves around the world and it's seen to be as "A Ghanaian International Identity" according to Bernard Buachi of MordenGhana.com (Buachi, 2012). With the addition of its music videos, it has increased its fans and a lot Ghanaian and non- Ghanaian musicians such as Davido and Wizkid of Nigeria are producing Azonto music. This is because they have seen the large number of fans and the market they can make from it. "Azonto" Music Videos, which has gained popular respect from people all around the world, have exhibited the national identity, gender inequality and rich culture in the lives of Ghanaians.
"Yenko Nkoaa" a song by Edu Wodzi featuring Stay Jay's depicts the national identity, feminism and rich culture in the lives of Ghanaians. At the beginning of the video, scenes from Sogakope and Keta such as the Volta Lake are shown. A group of people (Keta people) dancing in their local dress are very happy swaying their bodies. The local dance of the people "Agbadza" is also performed in the video. "Yenko Nkoaa" in direct English translation means "let's go only." Anyone who watches the video for the first time would know it is related to Ghana because of the geographical signboards in the video. The video tells us that the people of the Keta are mostly at the beach and enjoy wearing their local dress and dancing. This tells us about the way of life of the Ewe people of the Volta Region of Ghana. Gender inequality can also be seen towards the end of the video. Ladies are seen showing their cleavage and happily dancing. It is also clearly shown in the video as the men look very decent (they had their chest covered and almost every part of their body was covered) while the women are showing their cleavage ( as they wore bras showing with parts of their breast and the whole of their belly exposed). This is clearly seen in our Ghanaian culture as young ladies of today feel comfortable showing their cleavage. They get influenced by the dresses they see as they deem it as being in vogue. This leads to the increase in rape cases in the country as men get aroused by the exposure of the ladies bodies. Thus, scenes in "Azonto" music videos tell us about ourselves and the society as a whole.
Secondly, popular culture tends to tell us about how a group of people relates to strangers or foreigners. In Fuse ODG's "Azonto" music video, there is a scene where some foreigners both try the "Azonto" dance. Each of them tries out the dance thinking they are doing the right thing, then comes a Ghanaian, who teaches them the right dance and they are happy. It is amazing how in many "Azonto" videos there are scenes of foreigners dancing or learning the dance. This teaches you how friendly Ghanaians are to other people and how willing and happy we are to share our culture. A lot of videos on YouTube show how the "Azonto" dance has grown globally and how foreigners have made their own versions of "Azonto" dance. If one goes anywhere and introduces himself or herself as a Ghanaian, the first thing one would be asked to do is give freestyle of the "Azonto" dance. In addition to that, "Azonto" has got its own brand. Nowadays in Ghana, peace campaigns organized have either an "Azonto" competition with them or "Azonto" music is played to make the awareness bigger. For example, the Nuisance Project made up an "Azonto for Peace" street dance competition. "This is where young females and males in hot spots areas making them vulnerable to conflict during elections will be brought together to engage in an "Azonto" competition. Peace messages are transmitted through this competition" (Admin, 2011). This shows how much popular culture ("Azonto") has drastically influenced the society.
Azonto Music has a lot of messages carried across in their lyrics which continually tell us about the lives of Ghanaians such as the hardships and romance they experience. In Sarkodie featuring EL's "U go kill me" lyrics, he describes the girl who he is head over heels in love with. He tells us about how hard her palms are since she works very hard. He tells us that her mother is a seamstress and her father is a hunter. This storyline tells us how Ghanaians work very hard to make a living. These lyrics are normally hidden in the music as the beat of the music covers the story it is trying to tell us. Most foreigners would not understand the lyrics but would just listen to the beat of the music and dance to it. To Ghanaians, I am sure it carries a different message across as they dance mimics the storyline of the song.
In addition, Fuse ODG's "Azonto" lyrics gives us a lesson about life. In the chorus, it points out that "nobody wants to see you rising/ and when you do it they don't even like it/ they just wanna see you deep in crisis." This tells you that in the lives of Ghanaians especially when people see you making it in life they start to envy you. In the song, it was seen that this advice was given to him by a friend of his. In the real life setting in Ghana this is very common, as family members envy their rich relatives. They either make sure they enjoy his wealth or they would seek to some god for some powers to make the person poor or sick. Fuse ODG points out in his lyrics that in order not to worry yourself about how people hate you, you should just dance "Azonto" to wipe all your worries away and live life the way you want to. Donaeo who featured in the song said "Life can be a rollercoaster as it sends you round and round/ Sometimes when you feel it is over, then it takes you sad and down/ But don't worry, lets "Azonto." This tells us that we would not get life as we always wish it to be, but we should rise up even if we are sad and continue on with life by dancing "Azonto." Thus, "Azonto" lyrics carry out real life fact. I am sure you have never taken notice of the messages "Azonto" tracks carry out. The next time you listen to an "Azonto" track do not just dance to the beat but pay attention to the lyrics to see what lesson you can pick from it.
On the other hand, my opponents may raise the issue that "Azonto" music and dance is gradually fading away. This is because a new dance known as "Amanda" has come to overshadow "Azonto". But the question here is that, "Is culture not dynamic?" Culture would definitely change; so "Azonto" is not here to stay. Experts in the music industry may also argue that the rhythms for most "Azonto" music are all the same and the beat is the same. Okyeame Kwame, the "Rap" Doctor (Ghanaian musician) said, "Some Azonto music have common rhythms due to the ingenuity of the producers who create fast tempo beats that make it easy for musicians to lay simple and nonconstructive verses on them". The unconstructive verses would mean that the lyrics do not make sense and thus "Azonto" music has nothing better to offer the society. But this is not the same story for all "Azonto" music. Popular culture tells us about our way of life because people enjoy watching what they can relate to or what they are interested in. If it does not tell us anything worthwhile I do not think one would enjoy watching it. This can be backed up with a quote from Kurt Loder (2012) which said that even the issues of drug use, issue of AIDS and other things all arise naturally out of pop culture (Annenberg Foundation, 2012). This should tell you that popular culture does not only tell us about ourselves but gets us informed about things going on around us. Just think about this point and I am sure you would have a change of mind.
In conclusion, popular culture has a lot to do with our ways of life and thus tells us anything worthwhile about ourselves and our society as a whole. This can be seen through the things shown on our television such as the series and adverts. Popular culture has told us about ourselves and our society as a whole. Firstly, popular culture has exhibited our national identity, secondly, rich culture, shown the hospitality in the midst of Ghanaians and finally, told us about the general life of Ghanaians. "Azonto" music videos, which have gained popular respect from people all around the world, have exhibited the national identity, gender inequality and rich culture in the lives of Ghanaians. This shows that "Azonto" music videos have made the world aware of the lives of Ghanaians. Could "Azonto" grow to become part of the whole world's culture? Don't you think "Azonto" could bring everyone in the world as one through its competitions? Let's just sit and relax and see how "Azonto" continues to exist in our everyday life. Just remember if you are sad and worried just play an "Azonto" track and dance "Azonto" to drive your worries away.