Story by Shelah Moody
Photos by Rachel Samuel
Known for his conscious lyrics, contagious rhythms and syncopated reggae vocals, Rocky Dawuni has been called the Bob Marley of Ghana.
Recently, the African artist made history by being nominated for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding World Music Album for his 2010 CD, “Hymns for the Rebel Soul.”
The 42nd NAACP Image Awards will be held on March 4th and televised on the FOX channel. Dawuni, who currently lives in Los Angeles, shares the Outstanding World Music Album nomination with luminaries such as Angelique Kidjo (“Oyo”), Herbie Hancock (“The Imagine Project”). the Bay Area’s own Michael Franti (“The Sound of Sunshine”) and Bobby McFerrin (“VOCAbularies”).
Dawuni wrote and parts of “Hymns for a Rebel Soul,” in various parts of the world including Israel and Finland. Since the release of “Hymns for the Rebel Soul,” Dawuni has been quite busy. He has toured Germany, Austria and Canada. Two songs from the “Hymns….” “Download the Revolution” and “African Reggae Fever” were featured on the “FIFA WORLD CUP” and “FIFA SOCCER 2010” video games, which have sold millions worldwide. Last year, the singer/songwriter toured Germany, Austria and Canada, sharing the stage with influential leaders such as Deepak Chopra.
Earlier this year, Dawuni was invited to perform at the Vatican sponsored Journey of the Itinerary of the Soul festival in Rome, Italy. This month, he will appear in concert at Accra Stadium in Ghana.
Dawuni was born on a military base in Accra, Ghana, a politically charged environment where he developed his global sensibilities. Dawuni was consistently exposed to socially conscious reggae and Afro Beat music. Dawuni’s late father, Koyatu, was a village chief as well as a member of the Ghanaian military.
Throughout his career, Dawuni has collaborated with Stevie Wonder, (who has also lived in Ghana) and is one of Dawuni’s biggest supporters.
I caught up with Dawuni for an extended phone interview.
Shelah Moody: I know that you’ve been working hard, performing regularly in southern California. and touring the world. How does it feel to be nominated for an NAACP Image Award?
Rocky Dawuni: When there is recognition by an organization like the NAACP, what it does is, it inspires me more to keep working harder. At the same time, it’s also a validation that all of my years of hard work are being noticed. All of the artists I was nominated with—I really respect and I also grew up as a fan of their music. It’s really an honor to be nominated in their company. It’s really something to celebrate and the Ghanaian people and the Ghanaian media are very excited and everybody has been rooting for me. They’re like, ‘you have to win!” But for me, being nominated is already winning.
SM: What is it about your music that touches people?
RD: Well, from the onset, I have always seen music as one of the highest means of communication. Also, I have always strived to use my music as a means to spread awareness of God; awareness of consciousness. I’ve also tried to use it as a means to spread the message of peace and togetherness among people. Around the age of five, I felt I had that gift of communication through music. I gravitated to these sounds that were very prominent in the military barracks. At the same time I felt that I was going to use the music to transform lives either through drawing attention to social issues or me personally using it to create a platform where I can personally be involved in people’s lives and help them create a transformation in their lives. As much as it may sound very ambitious, I’ve always worked very hard to walk the talk whenever the opportunity provides itself.
SM: What tribe are you from and what does your sir name, “Dawuni” mean?
RD: Dawuni means ‘son of God,’ actually. My tribe is called Konkomba from the northern region of Ghana. I’ve been fortunate to be one of the northern artists from Ghana who has had the chance to gain prominence through music. Now, there is a whole movement of northern artists who are doing very well in Ghana.
SM: You have a song on “Hymns for a Rebel Soul” called “Extraordinary Woman.” I know that three extraordinary women in your life are your mother, AsibiDawuni, your wife, Cary and your daughter, Safiyah. What inspired you to write “Extraordinary Woman?”
RD: When you grow up in a place like Africa and you work a lot around issues that have to do with health and education, women’s issues also become a cornerstone of your work. Being from the northern part of Ghana, I have always tried to use my position to bring attention to the need for education for young girls. A lot of time, because of issues of poverty and culture, women sometimes get a little bit left behind when it comes to issues of education. I felt that as an artist, this is one area where I could totally make a difference. I’ve been advocating for that for a while. Also, there are issues to do with upliftment and empowerment of women in our communities in Africa. ‘Extraordinary Woman’ is a love song, but at the same time, it pays homage to womanhood and what womanhood has done for not only me, but for the whole world. The world is what it is because of women. Women perpetuate creation. There needs to be that recognition and respect of that. You only need to turn on the TV new s to see so many places where women’s rights are being violated. Wherever there is war, places like the Congo and Afghanistan, women suffer more. I feel that I am part of a generation that is trying very hard to change the stereotypes and traditional views of how women are treated. Hopefully, by the next generation, we will realize that when we empower women, we empower the world. Most of the people who have been influential in my career have been women, and this song is also about acknowledging their contributions and support for me throughout the years.
Incidentally, portion of “Hymns for a Rebel Soul” will benefit Africa Live!, a non-profit organization whose mission is to preserve, restore, and reinvigorate the Ghanaian music scene, creating public and industry awareness for its rich history and value, and commercial opportunities for artists and the community.
For more information on Rocky Dawuni and “Hymns for a Rebel Soul,” go to www.rockydawuni.com and www.naacpimageawards.net/42/nominees-and-honorees/recording/.