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The phenomenal rise of Sarkodie

The phenomenal rise of Sarkodie
  • PublishedJanuary 17, 2024

A new wave of creative talent is gripping Africa. One emerging superstar is Michael Owusu Addo, better known as Sarkodie. Professor Elikem Nutifafa Kuenyehia, an entrepreneurship guru and mentor to aspiring artists, profiles his rise and rags to riches story.

Tucked away on a meandering, unmotorable road off the Accra, Kumasi highway at Mile 7 is a structure I’d be magnanimous in calling an uninhabitable shed. It defies imagination to think anyone would live here.

Yet, five people did exactly that, and hosted visiting relatives, some of whom would stay for several days, making for a rather chaotic home.

A flimsy partition divided the shed. In one half, two adults and two teenage boys shared two thin worn-out stained mattresses on the floor. In the other half, seemingly a master bedroom of sorts, the ‘lady of the manor’ and a teenage boy shared another mattress, slightly thicker than the others, but just as stained and worn out.

At dawn, one of the teenage boys would emerge from this structure, wearing the one uniform he had, to traverse, on an empty stomach, three kilometres of treacherous interconnecting highways to reach Achimota Preparatory, which doubled as a school and an escape from the abuse of the mean-spirited and vicious lady of the manor who ironically was an older cousin. 

The extremely malnourished boy was Michael Owusu Addo, better known today by his stage name Sarkodie. Looking back he tells me, ‘The last thing I wanted to hear was the bell to go home. Home was a dark place of abuse, pain and suffering with no peace.’  When his parents divorced, his father uprooted him from relative comfort, and dumped him on his cousin where he survived on one meal a day – lunch, bought with the measly sum he was given for school. Dinner was rarely an option, and breakfast was never an option. To this day the concept of breakfast is alien to him. 

Writing became an outlet for his pain. A loner, he would spend hours on the floor filling his diary with raw emotions felt from his day-to-day reality and imaginary conversations with his mother. That diary would later inspire his music –  lyrics for some songs came right off its pages. ‘It was the toughest period of my life. But it also shaped me to become the person I am today’ he says, without a trace of malice towards his cousin.

Serendipity was to play an important part in his journey, when his mother, who had previously not known his whereabouts, found him and moved him to live with her. The house in Tema was a stone’s throw from G7, a pub that hosted open mic sessions. 

By this time, Sarkodie had started to rap in his native Twi inspired by Obrafour, the first musician he had seen perform in Twi. But it was at G7 that he honed his skills, often risking his mother’s wrath and beating by staying out late at rap contests. He became the undefeated champion of G7 and began to travel across Accra to participate in other rap battles, many of which he won.

After an introduction by his sister, Veronica, who he calls his biggest supporter, Duncan Williams (Dr. Duncan), invited Sarkodie to perform on Adom FM. The rest is history. Listeners fell in love with him and his music, and he became a regular feature of the show. Dr Duncan was so impressed that he’d later sign Sarkodie under his label Duncwills. 

In quick succession he produced a series of hits, and accolades soon followed. At the 2010 Ghana Music Awards he made history by winning five awards including ‘Discovery of the Year’ and ‘Artiste of the Year’. International recognition followed – his second album ‘Rapperholic’ earned him a BET Award, the first Ghanaian to win this prestigious award. He also became the first African to win BET’s Hip Hop Awards. The Guardian listed him as one of the top five African hip-hop acts. Channel O featured him on the list of top bankable African artists and in 2014 he won an MTV Africa Music Award. 

Today he is settled and looks back fondly at how much he’s achieved since those long, solemn walks to school. As he says, he has a beautiful wife and two adorable children, money in the bank, an Instagram following of 5.3 million and an army of fanatical fans who call themselves Sark Nation. Yet Sarkodie is frustrated and restless. Frustrated by the difficulties Ghanaian artists face, and restless to see the narrative change to one where talented artists obtain capital and other support to succeed.  After his success, his mission is to now focus on the success of others. This is why he’s now spending more time investing in and mentoring talented aspiring artists.

When we meet, we are sipping lattes at The Mix Design Hub in Osu, a long way from Mile 7. Fifteen kilometres to be precise. Metaphorically, Sarkodie is as far from Mile 7 as we are. He is perhaps even farther, thanks to his resilience, grit, sheer determination, and dedication to his craft. By any measure, he’s emerged from the ashes of a life prior.

Written By
Prof. Elikem Nutifafa Kuenyehia

Professor Elikem Nutifafa Kuenyehia is founder of Kuenyehia Trust for Contemporary Art and Chairman of Keystone Solicitors both in Ghana, as well as Professor of Practice at The University of Buckingham in the UK.

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