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Faisal Fire
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Music of Tuesday, 26 September 2006

Source: ghanamusic.com

Faisal Fire

Like a marauding cowboy on horseback, the famous music producer and promoter, Faisal Helwani, continues to unleash rapid fire at anyone he perceives as a stumbling block to the music industry in Ghana.

His latest bombshell has many casualties: musicians he described as lazy, producers and promoters he called thieves and radio DJs he labeled as quacks parading as managers.

Many perceive him as maverick with no inhibitions for stirring controversy and last Monday, the 60-year old veteran with 42 years experience in the music business was at his controversial best.

Calm in the stuffed producers? seat in his Bibini Studio at Osu, Accra and sipping hot decaffeinated coffee, Faisal's environment reflected his frustration.

Decades ago, the same studio where Helwani produced and managed five bands, organized many international tours for the late Onipa Nua, Ghanaba, Uhuru and Hedzolleh bands.

It was the same facility that attracted international deals with South African trumpeter, Hugh Masekela and the King of Afro pop-beat Fela Kuti.

At his prime, Faisal also produced Agya Koo Nimo, Kwabena Okai, Sr. Eddie Donkor, Abrekyeaba Kofi Sammy as well as twenty albums from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Today what remains of that live recording studio is a relic of history, a library of old and new records and CDs to remind future generations of where production started.

Bibini and all facilities like it have lost the war to computer music, where live groups are no longer a necessity, only a singer, a microphone and a computer.

And Faisal's first frustration at the status quo is with the promoters and sponsors of musical shows.

"Why should Ghanaians be made to pay a whopping ?500, 000 to see a concert Does it mean the poor people of this country are not supposed to enjoy the creative impulses of our musicians?" asks Helwani.

he said sponsors of musical events like phone companies and brewies have the financial clout to ensure that gate fees are kept to the bearest fees minimum adding that extremely high gate fees have affected the frequency of live concerts.

Helwani who is the first ever music promoter in Ghana said Talent Hunt, which was initiated by Bibini Music has been hijacked and turned into a money making venture with phone calls and sms text messages to radio and TV stations taking centre stage.

"It is only sponsors, promoters and TV stations that gain from these talents discovered talents have gone international", he queried The next in Helwani's line of fire are some radio presenters he accused of extortion through the practice of payola (i.e. paying radio presenters in exchange for airtime).

he said this practice has resulted in the "pushing of hiplife down the throats of Ghanaians while lowering the standard of Ghanaian music".

Indeed, radio presenters now carry their own 'special' collection of cassettes and CDs - and the twin words - 'quality ' and 'authenticity 'appear to be totally out of their vocabulary.

"Payola can be reduced or eliminated if radio stations establish their own in-house libraries with Ghanaian/African music as top priority. DJ's and presenters must select what they play only from the library as it will ensure easy access to quality locally produced music".

"This will also assure the proper logging of tracks so as to facilitate effective payment of royalties. Again, it will enable us to play 80% Ghanaian/African and 20% Western music on radio and TV at all times".

"There are a few good hiplife musicians but most of the productions are like demos - they are mechanical and virtually lack any form of creativity. Tourists who visit this country are shocked not to hear Ghanaian music on radio and TV", continues Helwani, who in 1980 co-ordinated the Fleetwood Mac Project that earned Ghana a cool 250, 000.00.

He maintains that the issue of payola is sending wrong signals to young musicians, who then assume they can be successful with mediocre recordings thus refusing to learn or experiment. "Instead of venturing into areas like highlife and African Jazz/Classics", which are full of melodies and carry decent lyrics, they prefer rapping and mining.

He revealed that during test transmissions, a number of radio stations played diverse Ghanaian tradition and highlife music without a word or break, thus enabling pirates to record. This scenario enabled pirates to go into action thereby drastically reducing CD/cassette sales.

The government, he said must help to equip music departments of selected secondary schools and all tertiary institutions with traditional and western musical instruments adding that a strict rule must be made to ensure that these instruments are used solely for the teaching and practice of Ghanaian/African music.

He accused MUSIGA, the umbrella body of musicians in Ghana, of creating rift between producers and musicians to the extent that no promoter is currently willing to buy instruments for musicals or offer substantial support adding that most modern day musicians are looking for a quick way to make money through deep cheap music.

On the Copyright Society of Ghana, he said royalties are paid according to the airtime a track enjoys but the Society seems to be paying the same rates to all musicians. "If they have done the right thing, hiplife musicians should have received 90% of all royalties over the past five years".

"Indeed, we must invite the Performing Rights Society, a renowned UK based society to help collect royalties due to Ghanaian musicians locally and internally", he added

He expressed reservation about the distribution system, insisting that people in control over distribution tend to favor some particular musicians thus discouraging a number of them and their fans.

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