“Africa’s musical landscape is, understandably, just as diverse as the people of its 54 countries, meaning the task of acquiring all types of music from a place where 85% of its purveyors are unknown is a near impossible task.”
The vast scope of Africa’s musical offerings is diverse in it’s very nature. As writer Lawrence Haywood suggested at the tail end of last year, music monoliths like YouTube, SoundCloud & iTunes dare not even delve into such an unknown. But what about the other way around? What about when African musicians journey outwards?
Ghanaian MC, Blitz The Ambassador, was brought to my attention whilst travelling in Ghana. Born and raised in the capital Accra, Blitz developed an obsession with hip-hop at an early age when he heard his brother playing the Public Enemy album ‘It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back’.
“Walking through the dirty streets of Accra/I heard the sound pumping through the speakers from the backseat of a car/I could’ve sworn I heard it before/But this was something new/Run to my older brother, asked if he heard it too/Told me this is hip hop music, and don’t confuse it/Cause when you grow old you choose it.”
Blitz The Ambassador – Hands of Time
Blitz: From ACC to NYC
As a youngster, his listening base was wide, ranging from American Soul, Ghanaian highlife and later hiplife – pioneered by Ghanaian super producer Hammer of the Last Two – as well as the likes of Public Enemy, Rakim & KRS-One. Making the journey to the US to study Business Administration at KSU, Ohio, Blitz polished his craft as a live performance artist, even opening a show for one of his idols Rakim.
By 2004 he had self-released his first album ‘Soul Rebel’ and, after graduating a year later, moved to NYC to pursue his dream of making it as a rapper and released ‘Double Consciousness’. Both drew on his love for history and cultural observations of his homeland of Ghana and his new surroundings in New York.
Blitz avoided the trappings of other African MCs, moving away from total emulation of the US-influenced “gangsta rap” culture spreading through the genre. A name change and deep courtship with live instrumentation followed, seeing him become Blitz The Ambassador, pushing the boundaries of hip-hop with the release of ‘Stereotype’ and formation of his live band The Embassy Ensemble. He began assembling them with the aim of flowing over live instrumentation rather than in front of a DJ and assembled the 6-piece band consisting of a drum, bass, guitar, bone, sax and horn.
With the formation of said group, Blitz re-released Stereotype as StereoLive, and frankly some of the performances are genuinely breathtaking. The intonation and tone of the musicians assembled, combined with Blitz’s socially-conscious lyricism, have in some ways brought hip-hop full circle: moving away from the sampling and chopping that the art is so renowned for.
Blitz is at the very epicentre of what is being dubbed the New African Renaissance and has surrounded himself with like-minded thinkers, creatives and socially aware individuals in the shape of MVMT (the producers of the linked video above).
Shantrelle P. Lewis most aptly defines that Blitz the Ambassador is “using hip hop grounded in enlightenment consciousness (sic) to deliver a message of liberation and empowerment to the African Diaspora.”