World Music Matters

Ghana's Wanlov, truant, vagabond and committed outsider

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Wanlov the Kubolor: singer, rap artist, environmentalist and activist and one of the most original and daring voices on the Ghanaian music scene. He talks to RFI about his Afro-gypsy vibe and speaking out against corruption on his upcoming album Red Card.

Wanlov the Kubolor
Wanlov the Kubolor DR

The 'African Gypsy' is in Paris for the Cop21 climate talks. It’s 5°C outside, and true to form, Wanlov is barefoot.

"I never wear shoes," he says. Never? "Well my limit is maybe minus 5°C, for about 15 minutes," he grins.

Compromise is not part of this man’s vocabulary. Compassion is.

The nickname "Kubolor" was given to him as a youngster growing up in Accra. It means truant, vagabond, outsider. "I’m even more like that now," he admits.

Born in Romania, raised in Ghana, he’s woven this double culture into developing 'Afro-gypsy' music, rapping on a pulsating mix of Balkan and West African rhythms.
He’s a key figure on the Ghanian rap scene, one half of the duo FOKN BOIS with M3NSA.

His upcoming, fourth, album Red Card is more acoustic. "Softly sung, strong words," he says, "greatly influenced by [Detroit protest singer] Sixto Rodriguez".

Corrupt Christian preachers get a trashing on the track Very Soon feat. Funsho Ogundipe while They never go change talks about the endemic nature of "our national resource" corruption.

"I’m singing about both us, we who are waiting to be in positions, who’ll also be corrupt. And the ones who are currently there."

Ghana recently replaced dozens of judges in an anti-graft drive but Kubolor holds out little hope much will change. Judges are not well paid enough to escape the temptation of a bribe.

"Once you’re in that position you’re in your SUV "sports utility vehicle". You don’t know that the road is rough, so there’s not much desire to change."

But Wanlov remains very much a force for good. A committed environmentalist for whom the fight against plastic bags is a priority, and a defender of children’s rights via the charity OrphanAid Africa which works to prevent children being abandoned.

As Europe tears itself apart over the refugee crisis, his song Human Being which featured in campaigns by Amnesty International and Unicef resonates as much as in 2011.

"I wrote it at the time of the war in Iraq. I wasn’t happy with the idea, just like I’m not happy with the Syrian idea," he says. "These borders are just man made, we’re just one people."

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