The old guard is gone. At the turn of the century, boy bands dominated mainstream music markets in Africa with foreign groups such as Backstreet Boys, Westlife, Boys to Men connecting people with the various emotions of love and local groups such as Plantashun Boiz, Remedies, Styl Plus and Psquare defining the sonic experience of African RnB. With the turn of the new decade, the era of boy-bands is fast metamorphosing into the emergence of genre-defying collectives.
In Nigeria, the first emergence of such a group was with the alte-collective who broke afrobeats conventions and pushed local socio-normative fashion boundaries. Although they never unified under a collective music umbrella, the alte-collective collaborated with each other and bred an alternative sound as well as daring fashion. In Ghana, the La Meme Gang –– a five-man collective extrapolated the genre-defying and boundary-breaking nature of collectives.
The new era is here. Now, in Nigeria, we have the Apex Village and Chop Life Crew coming into their own and altering the sonic palette. In Ghana, there is the Superjazzclub – an eight-person collective steeped in music, fashion and skate culture.
In the early ’90s, Reggie Rockstone pioneered a new genre of music in Ghana, hiplife. Hip-life was a fusion of native American hip-hop and the local high-life music. While a young Ansah grew up in Accra on his grandma’s ever-present storytelling and was only put onto American hip-hop by his late brother, it was Okomfour Kwadee’s storytelling version of the then-emerging genre, hiplife, that ingrained in Ansah a dream to weave words into raps and hold hopes of becoming a music artiste.
“High school was really where it took off. I started to write my own raps when I was in high school. It was corny, I still think my raps are corny ” Ansah tells me via a zoom call “Back then we had what we called the Real Dream Team. I was in there with my seniors, and it was really cool at the time. When my mates were going to class, I got to kick back with my seniors in the dorm and talk about rap music.” Ansah mentions in-between laughter. One of the seniors Ansah used to hang out with in high school was Tano Jackson, now a member of the Superjazzclub. Tano believes the coming together of a music collective such as this was imminent. “It’s only right that such great talents come together and embark on a journey of greatness,” Jackson says to me via a phone call.
Elsewhere in Accra, BiQo grew up listening to his dad’s records of Mariah Carey, Tracy Chapman, and Bob Marley. Eight years ago, on a Choice FM show hosted by Berry Brown – a staunch advocate of Ghanaian hip-hop culture, BiQo would meet Ansah and that seamless connection over rap styles and music began BiQo’s journey to becoming a part of Superjazzclub. “I believe that with the collective, we are all benefiting from each others skill and energy” BiQo says to me via a phone call.
While trying to set up a neighbourhood studio to record music, Tano Jackson told Obed Otchere, a music producer, about the Superjazzclub
“I joined the collective because I did not know how to execute the music I was making indoors” Obed remarked.
Along with Obed, came JoeyTurks. Through a mutual producer friend, Dopebymania, who at the time was abroad and wanted to work with Ansah, Seyyoh met Ansah and the pair connected musically
“I loved their music. I was a fan. I thought, why not? I really thought I could do something there so I joined” Seyyoh says. Anthony – Ansah’s marketing classmate and friend from the University of Ghana and Gloria completed the octet, each handling administrative and visual direction respectively. Together, the Superjazzclub was born.
Why the name Superjazzclub? I question Ansah.
“Jazz was a word that we started using as a synonym for a cool or dope and jazz music was something that everybody in the collective could relate to” He answered.
Before the emergence of collectives, alternative African music was often streamlined to records with mild guitar chords and an overlay of piano mid-riffs. Now, alternative music in Africa is as diverse as can be with YawTog championing the drill sound in Ghana, Psycho YP finessing an African version of trap music & Amaarae spearheading a climactic fusion of alternative sounds.
Despite being formed in 2018, it was not until 2019 that the Superjazzclub released their first single, A Couple Black Kids. After a year-long hiatus, Bordeaux – a psychedelic song that transcends you into the peak of self-awareness with little or no words – was released in July 2020.
“It was one night with me and Obed in the studio. We had been making songs for days which we were already tired of because they all sounded the same to us. And then we decided to stop for a moment to take another approach towards the music we were making that night. We decided to write a song with little to no lyrics. Obed took over the piano and I sat there beside him with my notepad and we just vibed with the melodies and all.We had about three or four other versions before we finally decided to settle with this final one.” Ansah says.
Two months later, the collective’s debut EP, For All The Good Times was released. The eight-track EP plays like a guide for the African millennial. The EP starts off with a voicemail from a Ghanaian girl abroad who is at a crossroads with life on America’s independence day and is explaining her situation to the Superjazzclub.
“Hey guys, sorry I haven’t been answering your calls. It’s just that I don’t know who I am anymore. I don’t know where I am going, what I am doing or if any of these even matters”
As each track seeps into the next offering you an immersive experience, the girl occasionally comes back on date-stamped tracks talking about new experiences that have shaped her life, and how Superjazzclub’s music helped guide her – and probably every other millennial- through life experiences.
“Even if it is an alternative sound, we try as much as possible to make it understandable to the roots and to the people” BiQo tells me about Superjazzclub music.
The Superjazzclub is an autonomous group that comprises their own producers, singers, marketers, and visual creators. In their first official video, the video for previously released single, cellular, the collective seems immersed in a retro-aesthetic fueled by 90s fashion.
“The aesthetic is a combination of different emotions so sometimes it takes a minute to grab it. It’s not too loud but it’s present. The visuals are approached almost the same way we approach the sound. Nothing is off-limits, no idea is too abstract.“ Gloria, the visual director for the group, says to me via email.
Despite getting a lot of love online, and getting some international traction – the collective were the covers of a Spotify playlist less than 24 hours after Bordeaux was released – the Superjazzclub like many alternative musicians still struggle to amass airplay in their home country, Ghana.
“There are just maybe a couple of radio stations that play our songs, to be honest, airplay is quite hard when it comes to our music.” Anthony, who handles marketing for the group, admits to me “It is not like we don’t want to be on the radio but there isn’t a proper structure to accommodate our music right now. We know that most of our audience spend much time on the internet so they listen to us anyway.”
In spite of the lack of regular airplay, the Superjazzclub forges on amassing an ever-growing cult following that expands through different continents while individually and collectively curating alternative music that caters to the ever-changing demands of the African millennial. The collective is expanding territories by dabbling into other activities such as skating and creating fashion that embodies what it is to be young, wild and free.
For the members of the collective, the Superjazzclub represents limitlessness. For listeners, the Superjazzclub is a sonic mirror that tells the stories of the African millennial and represents what it is to be a millennial in a world that demands more than it gives.
“What does superjazz mean to you?” I ask BiQo, my final question.
“The Superjazzclub is freedom” BiQo says “And we, the Superjazzclub, stand for that freedom in sound.”