For someone whose life ambition was threatened by a crash that almost wasted him, it is a miracle that popular Ghanaian reggae/dancehall musician, Stonebwoy, refused to crawl, but stood to overcome his circumstance, even if he had to bear terrible pain. Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes
Going on his 29th birthday, Livingstone Etse Satekla, better known as, Stonebwoy, popular Ghanaian reggae and dancehall artiste hobbles along, adjusting gradually to the awkward manner that he is confined to walk. An unfortunate accident in his teenage nearly wrecked the ship of his life ambition. It is close to two decades since he was involved in that ghastly crash, but the pain and the scars are yet to go away. Perhaps, the biggest encouragement he needed at the time came from his late mother. But Stonebwoy is not a quitter. His movement may be slow and he still has to cope with some degree of pain, but this has not stopped him from becoming the CEO of Burniton Music Group.
In 2015, he won Best International Act: Africa at the BET Awards. It’s been a long and eventful walk for someone who was reduced to a crawl by a crash that nearly wasted him. Today, he can move the knee of his right leg with some effort. In the past, the knee had become stiff from a surgery gone bad. He was in the university at the time, studying marketing. The accident nearly took his self-confidence away. However, his mother kept drumming into his ears that there were certain situations that one had no control over.
She reminded him often that he was not born that way. These homilies were a great booster to his poise. She encouraged him to overlook his flaws and physical imperfection. Watching him prance about on stage, it is almost impossible to discern that he lives with some kind of handicap. Reggae/dancehall, his choice genre of music, demands liveliness and steady outburst of energy. However, Stonebwoy is a delight to watch at every performance. He hits the stage with such a force that he has been rewarded with Best Performer in Ghana many times. Many fans did not know he had a damaged knee until the publicity that attained the surgery.
“People didn’t really know I had a damaged knee. It was in the way I carry myself. It doesn’t really affect my performance. It used to be worse than this. I have since had another surgery to replace the whole knee joint which was not fixed well or damaged during the accident. I went to Germany, did the surgery. I stayed there for three months. I have been very active. I had to go to America for therapy,” he said.
Stonebwoy has an interesting perception of pop music in Africa. “Pop music is popular music which usually takes trends from all sorts of musical genres. Pop music as a genre allows freedom to express creativity with whatever influences. In Ghana, we tend to consume different kinds of music. But it is a reggae/dancehall dominated country. It is rooted in reggae and highlife music. Hip hop comes across as its own indigenous hip life which originates from the fusion of hip-hop, highlife, reggae. Highlife is the foundation. For instance, my song ‘Go Higher’ is a combination of highlife and dancehall. The style you use defines your musical genre.”
His growing fan base in Nigeria is argely nurtured by collaboration with popular Nigerian artistes. He does not hide his desire to make more than a passing impact in the Nigerian market. “I believe I’m one of those who are accepted in Nigeria by the youths. I just finished a video shot by Clarence Peters in Ghana. I have a song with Olamide, Banky W, Yung6ix, Phyno and Cynthia Morgan. I’m working on something with 2Baba, Wizkid. I already have something with Davido. So, I can say from 2009 to now, Nigeria has been so receptive. I think the Nigerian market is difficult to break in. Once you are accepted in Nigeria, it means you must be doing something right. The acceptance is large.”
As much as he would love to work with more Nigerian artistes, Stonebwoy is careful and not easily swept off his feet. “I’m the type that chooses to do music for music; not because of the hype or anything. I have to love the music, to understand that what we are creating, even if it is not understood today, it will be tomorrow, then it will last. I will like to work with Asa and Simi. I just followed her recently and I love that her song ‘Love Don’t Care’. These two ladies sound indigenous and original. I will always like to put reggae, raga on Afrobeat to see how to create an authentic and original sound. I have been in Nigeria for a couple of times, having worked with certain artistes, MC Galaxy and Seyi Shay.”
The nickname ‘stone’ is actually from his middle name Livingstone, pronounced ‘Livingstine’. He corrected the widely held impression that he adopted the name from another popular Ghanaian artiste, Reggie Rockstone. He explained why he holds Reggie in high esteem.
“He is somebody who also paved a way for others. Reggie was a rapper. He was a good musician. We all grew up to know that. He actually pushed the hiplife initiative, that is having Ghanaian music with the highlife and the hiphop on top of it because he had lived in America for a while. He just blended what he learnt out there with what we had at home. There’s an argument with one of the foundation musicians, Gyedu Blay Ambolley, who also had been doing that since the 1970s. He is still alive and argues that it is not Reggie Rockstone that brought hip-life. Reggie must have brought it to light properly. It is not even a fight, it’s just for acknowledgement and knowledge to be sure that you did this or did that. But I think it should be straightened for history sake. But all of us know that Gyedu Blay Ambolley was there before Reggie Rockstone. You can take a record and listen. Reggie was spitting bars on top of the highlife and the beat was playing. He was a singer but like a slow-gun or like a slang. He wasn’t really singing anything, like a chant.”
As many reggae artistes are known to openly advertise the use of Marijuana, we sought his opinion on the use of the Ganja herb.
Halting the conversation which hitherto flowed ceaselessly, he looked up and down as if searching for the answer in those places. Finally, he replied in a witty manner.
“That’s a difficult one.”
We pressed for a more definite response.
‘Do you use it?’
This time, he was alert to good judgment, giving tacit support for moderate use of Marijuana.
“It’s for proper use. If you overuse water, you will die. I think we should look at its uses for Africans. We shouldn’t be told what to do and what not to do. Why then is cigarette, which is more harmful, allowed in the system?”
Stonebwoy does not claim to have a message of his own. He believes in deepening the existing spiritual and musical consciousness canvassed by social influencers. “I don’t think there is anything new under the sun. People will come and go. We will continue with the vibes that are already in existence depending on their inspiration. We found out that reggae music was left to the old people, just because it has certain vibes and consciousness. The youths are just doing any kind of music. As a youth, I was always trying to find a way to fully express myself that was what really inspired me – the Shasha Marleys, Afro Moses, Majek Fashek – all these people; I try to research on them. I found out that there are lots of youths who gravitate towards that reggae energy but most often, they are forced to listen to the ones who talk too much sex, money or guns. When it becomes too much, it determines the direction. So, I decided to use myself as a youth who can push vibes of consciousness; but in a modern way. That’s what I definitely preach. I have songs to that effect by the grace of God. That’s one of the reasons I believe I’m here today. Social media has made it possible for people to reach you anytime and anywhere. This is important in my trade as a musician. We need people to spread the vibes, to stay connected. I think women play a vital role in spreading these vibes than men. A man will do more for a woman than a fellow man. He gets attracted to the opposite sex. To me, the women factor is very important, but it depends on the way you handle.”