She was talented, brazen, youthful, exuberant, and even refreshingly rebellious. She was an Ebony!
In life as in death, Priscilla Opoku Kwarteng and controversy fit well into many contexts.
In many ways, she was a mystery wrapped in a riddle hidden in an enigma.
She, known better by her stage name ‘Ebony’, was — and probably still is, to the few pitifully hopeful fans of hers who believe her reported confirmed demise is but a tasteless prank she’d soon snap out of — an enigma of a sort Ghanaian showbiz hasn’t seen since Daddy Lumba in his prime, a character who divided opinions so sharply you’d easily forget she sprang out of her teens and into the realm of national consciousness not long ago.
Because of the sheer enormity of her body of work in the brief period she held us all spellbound, it is almost forgivable to lose sight of the fact that she was barely an adult who, in the face of a lengthy her rap sheet of alleged wrongdoing Ghanaians leveled at her, stood for what she believed in, lived and dared to be different.
Truth be told, it’s hard to cast Ebony into a particular mould — her vivacious, dynamic self just wouldn’t permit it. For a dancehall artiste, she did gospel too well (more on that later), and for a girl whose sense of fashion would make her a perfect fit at any club on a sweaty Friday night, Ebony’s voice would hardly have been out of place as part of a sombre Sunday service choir. Like I said, you just couldn’t tag her — unless you were the ‘mortuary man’ at the Bechem Government Hospital charged with that uneasy duty.
It’s easy to remember Ebony as one of the naughty ones — her own nickname, identifying her as a self-styled ‘90s BadGyal’, left little doubt about that. Her eye-poppingly suggestive choice of clothing for music videos, live performances and even TV interviews, along with a catalogue of risqué stagecraft, did plenty to validate the said moniker. She was brazen in that regard, presenting herself in a manner that Ghanaians hadn’t had stamped into their orbital regions since Mzbel’s star dimmed — and, really, Ebony in many ways was like Mzbel, only more talented and daring. Half of the society she sought to entertain — an exuberant, even rebellious, youthful army seeking a poster figure for an increasingly liberal outlook — egged her on, while the other half — unwavering in their resolve to stay conventional and desperate to preserve norms of morality apparently being dragged down the drain by Ebony and her likes — slammed her afresh after each show.
Oh, and about her music itself? Where do I even start?
Well, let’s just say only her appearance made her lyrics — loaded with double entendres that would make even the notoriously vulgar Lumba envious — seem mild. If you could read between lines she rarely ever left unblurred, you’d easily realize hits like ‘Kupe’, ‘Poison’, ‘Sponsor’ and the incredibly popular ‘Hustle’ were packaged and delivered to convey so much subtlety.
That, though, was just one of Ebony’s faces. Like the mythological god Janus, she had another which stared right in the opposite direction. For every ‘Dancefloor’ that begged to be wiggled to at the waist and would long remain a staple on the, er, dancefloor, (forgive the pun), there was a ‘Maame Hwe’ which tugged at even her harshest critic’s heart and has come to stay forever and a day as the anthem for the campaign against domestic violence in Ghana. And for every gospel-heavy ‘Aseda’(which, per revelations after her death, many now discern as an ultimately futile attempt to curb ‘prophecies’ about her premature death) that a mom-of-six trader at the Makola market would hum to herself as she assembles her wares each morning, there is a innuendo-laden ‘Hustle’ (the video of which actually has a market setting) that some Circle-based (a few ‘circles’ in Accra actually) ladies-of-the-night wouldn’t mind having as their unofficial soundtrack as they go about their nocturnal business.
To think that Ebony crammed all of this between 2015 and now is even more startling than anything she’d actually accomplished. It’s why she has had her genius acknowledged and has been mourned by many whose professional affairs have little to do with a music studio, including international football stars as well as past and sitting Ghanaian presidents. Indeed, while 2017 may have only been her second full year in the limelight, it already qualified as something of an annus mirabilis; the ‘Bonyfied’ album she launched in December last year was only her maiden compilation, but we knew it would only be the first of many. Now, though, it’s certain that offering would eternally stand alone as a body of work to be prized as a collector’s item, an enduring memory of one who did more with three of her 20 years on earth to define Ghanaian music than any of her gender — yes, there have been an awful lot of those, I know — has in contemporary history. Ebony remains in contention to become the first female ever to be named the upcoming Ghana Music Awards’ Artiste of the Year (the icing on what is expected to be quite a haul), anyway — and not just because of some sympathetic swing.
But after all tears dry and the dust settles and the ‘pastors’ who have lined up to claim ‘credit’ for Ebony’s February 8 passing each enjoy their 15 minutes of fame (pending the next big tragedy, of course), and after the conspiracy theorists rest their cases about who predicted the misfortune [but shouldn’t have] and who could have averted it [but didn’t], the story would be told of a young lady who boldly bared her body and soul — literally — to Ghanaians all the way down till a saddening and sudden anticlimax.
To borrow the words of Roman politician and general Mark Anthony when he mourned another whose life was brutally truncated while at the peak of their powers. . .
Here was an Ebony!
When comes such another?