“Homegrown”, a documentary of a young Ghanaian hip-hop group, was screened at The Studio Theatre to a packed house of HHTF fans. The story of this unlikely group drew in an audience that spanned racial, social, religious, and age divides, and the seats filled fast. Some late comers were turned away.
We’ve heard it before: a determined group of young boys from the ghetto grow together pursuing a dream of fame, fortune, and stardom through hip-hop music. Nothing new there. Neither is the concept of a documentary following them from the streets to the stage and ultimately to a success of which they could have only dreamed. What is new is that group of boys being from Ghana and making music in both English and their native tongue, and the movement that started from that.
The story of Vision In Progress, (V.I.P), is a story with more complex themes and layers, starting with the world view (or lack thereof) about music that comes out of Africa. The film starts with discussing and dispelling common myths about its availability and influence in Ghana and all over the African Continent.
V.I.P were some of the first to embark on the movement of bringing hip-hop to mainstream status in Ghana, and although they faced their share of hurdles, they stuck together throughout several personal and professional events both positive and negative, including the loss of two group members to solo and other efforts, as well as the deaths of loved ones.
What V.I.P members Abdul Hamidu Ibrahim (Lazzy), Emmanuel Promzy Ababio (Promzy), and Joseph Nana Ofori (Prodigal) didn’t do was stop the movement with themselves. V.I.P managed to discover, encourage, and even produce several young hip hop acts in Ghana, including Fruit of Inspiration (F.O.I) – the title is a play on the Muslim security group called Fruit of Islam (also referred to as F.O.I).
More interesting than the ups, downs, and eventual success of this innovative Ghanaian group are the socio-political barriers that they manage to break. V.I.P. managed to create a hip-hop sound that is played in clubs and at parties in Ghana and throughout Africa while infusing highlife, a form of popular music that draws from several genres of Ghanaian music such as palm wine music, swing dance and church music, similar to the complex hybrid of genres that go into American pop and hip-hop music.
At awards shows and other performances, V.I.P often stop to recognize the musicians, politicians and others who made it possible for them to live out their dreams as performers. At a 2006 performance at the All Africa Awards, they dedicated their performance to Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first Independent leader.
V.I.P’s African roots shine through in their personal lives,too. Promzy gave up an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of his father (now deceased) and become a Chief, a decision he says he made because he could not be a good chief and develop and nurture his music career. Promzy did however pay for his mother to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, which is a cornerstone of the Muslim religion.
Above all, of these things perhaps the best part of the documentary was seeing the similarities between the hip-hop life and culture in Ghana and the one here in the United States. For that reason I could relate to this story. Scenes from this documentary looked like they could have been shot in my neighborhood. The movie inspired and awed the audience and made us want to root for V.I.P to keep their Vision In Progress.
By Porscha “Lyrik” Coleman
The Hip-Hop Theater Festival in DC continues around town all this week, ending Saturday, Jul 11. Details are here.