One on One with M3nsa Ansa, An Unsung Hero (Talks Genesis of Hiplife)
Once in a while, a musical gem and a force is born but uncelebrated despite enormous contribution to the society and one of such figures is Ghanaian musician, M3nsa Ansah.
Born in 1981 to a family well noted for music, creative arts and raised in different cities from different countries, M3nsa Ansah is a true reflection of the experiences from these cities as his wit and knowledge encompasses all and surpasses that of the average Ghanaian musician.
Son to Tumi Ebo Ansah, a celebrated guitarist of British afro-pop sensation, Osibisa, cousin of Joey Ansah who featured in popular movies such as the Bourne Ultimatum and Batman Begins, a nephew to decorated Ghanaian film director, Kwaw Ansah, who directed Heritage Africa and Kofi Ansah, a well renowned fashion designer who designed clothes for the Royal Family wedding in the 1980s, M3nsa’s prowess with being creative and associated to creativity can never be undermined.
Although a strong force in the realization of popular music genre hiplife, which provides a lot of Ghanaian youth their daily bread, it is somehow sad such a gem is neither mentioned nor celebrated when the genre is mentioned.
In a special interview with M3nsa Ansa, the musician shares with us his life and contribution to hiplife music.
NYDJLive: Although Reggie is referred to as Grandpapa of hiplife, you were a strong force on his album. Your contribution to his first hilplife album. Did you write for him? Feature? Produce? Etc. Which year?
M3nsa: Rockstone had heard of me from LifeLine Family (Wo Sisi). We later found out our families knew each other from a long time ago. I was initially featured on Rockstone’s 3rd album (Me Ka) in 1999, on a song called Mapouka.We ended up doing a Europe tour the year after and when we came back I began sharing a few ideas/ beats I had and that was how it all started. I was barely 18 then and Reggie was a pro, he’d listen to my ideas and show me how to make them more effective or connect with the people more. I learned a lot from him. I produced the beats and we wrote songs together.
NYDJLive: Who were some of the early hiplife artists you worked with? Either production or features and which songs?
M3nsa: OK so this just a list of some of the EARLY hiplife artists: Obrafuor, Reggie Rockstone, Ex Doe, VIP, Sidney of NanaNom, KK Fosu, Kofi B, Azigizah, Kweku T, NFL, Yogie Doggy, T Blaze, Tic Tac, Cy Lover, Freddie FunkStone, Abrewa Nana, Shoetan from BukBak. These are guys I either produced for, recorded with, engineered their sessions or mixed for. All this was during the formative years of hiplife, most of them didn’t realise I was still a kid.
NYDJLive: Did you ever think the genre had a future especially coming from a background where hilife ruled?
M3nsa: I never really thought of it like that. All I knew was that this HipHop music that I loved so much had found its way to Ghana and we’d taken it and made it our own. We weren’t really in competition with HiLife Music or HiLife Musicians but even they had to jump on it to remain relevant. It was obvious it was going to do what hip-hop had done in the West; and that is to be around for a long long time.
NYDJLive: What motivated you to support that music revolution?
M3nsa: Once again it wasn’t a conscious decision to do it. Hip life had come at a time in my life where I’d been unwittingly training my ears from playing classical piano and listening to all the good kind of Hip-hop, Jazz, Classical, Soul and Highlife Music. The timing was right, I was at the right age to try different things without caring too much about failing or making money out of it. That really allowed me to be experimental and apply some of the music skills I’d acquired as a kid.
NYDJLive: You taught music in the UK sometime back. Was it related to hip life music?
M3nsa: I still do, and no it isn’t directly related to Hip life Music. Though the influence will always show. What I teach is Music Production, and the fundamental tools and skills you need are universal or let’s say non-genre based.
NYDJLive: What was the title of your first album and when was that? Was a hiplife album?
M3nsa: Chale, my first album was ‘Rapublic’ in the year 2000. If I’m being totally honest I’ve never considered myself a Hiplife artist per se. It’s too constraining for all the other types of things I like, and am influenced by. So even from that album you can tell I was doing everything from what you might call ‘pure’ HipHop to Highlife, soul and even traditional jazz. When you take a critical look at my music career it’s been a little experimental, and very dependent on where my creative mind is at the time of making the music.
NYDJLive: How many albums so far? Titles and years?
• In 1998 I first recorded an album with LifeLine Family,
• 2001 Rapublic (M3NSA)
• 2004 Daily Basses
• 2007 Weather Report
• 2010 Coz Ov Moni 1 FOKN BOIS
• 2011 No.1 Mango Street
• 2012 Fokn Dunaquest In Budapest FOKN BOIS
• 2012 Fokn Wit Ewe FOKN BOIS
• 2013 Coz Ov Moni 2
And then there are the albums and numerous singles I produced for other artists
NYDJLive: Do you in anyway feel “hurt” when you are not mentioned when hiplife is talked about?
M3nsa: Nah man, I’m not that way attached to it. I’ve never been part of any clique or relied on any body’s approval to justify my work or worth. All I say is “Go do your homework”.
NYDJLive: Do you see a deviation from the movement you started? As in, has hiplife lost its basics? Content, originality, production wise etc.
M3nsa: Nah, just like any form of popular culture it’s going through very normal and expected transitions. The good stuff will stay, and the chaff will be disposed of. But every now and then some flukes will also slip through. It’s definitely growing and could have an even greater future we apply more quality control. I will say some of the basic things still need to be looked at. A royalty system in Ghana and more support for musicians as a whole from our country. From the top officials to the bottom.
Take a look around the world and you’ll realize that every ‘successful’ country holds its creative and sportsmen (and women) high not just as celebrity, but as respectable, contributing citizens who play a critical role in the positive growth of the nation.
Our so called Musiga must also be dismantled and restructured with people who really care about the organisation, and not just there to also chop and quench.
NYDJLive: Can you list some of the awards won and recognition as a solo artist?
M3nsa: Well, over 5 times nominated for Ghana Music awards (believe it or not).
4 times Channel O Music Nominations
1 MOBO nomination
Winner Best Song, Best Video Ghana UK Music Videos Awards (whatever that was)
Other people’s stuff I produced or worked always win something, I hardly win anything ever! Ha!
NYDJLive: What is your latest project and what next are you working on?
M3nsa: Recently released Coz Ov Moni 2 with FOKN BOIS. Still working on the film festivals etc. Also preparing for our annual FOKN BOIS Europe, US and Africa tour. And working on a new M3NSA Album which is long overdue I think.
NYDJLive: Aside music, is there anything you are working on? Charity works, other projects etc.
M3nsa: I’ve been doing some work with charities that focus more on children and young people , like Akosia Foundation and Hope Foundation. Then I was recently made ambassador for Kunim Foundation, this one provides sexual health services for young people in Africa, and encourages them to take HIV AIDS tests to know their status… Pretty heavy stuff chale!
FOKN BOIS has a series of screenings we’re doing for Coz Ov Moni 2 in Europe and in South Africa this summer. Along with our annual talent hunt and tour in Ghana.
There’s also a documentary Wanlov and myself have been planning in the works
Also trying to be a normal dad to my two very special children
And maybe a M3NSA album before the end of the year! I like to keep busy chale.
NYDJLive: Thanks for your time M3nsa.
M3nsa: Thanks man but check out all M3NSA and FOKN BOIS work on FaceBook, iTunes, www.m3nsa.bandcamp.com, www.foknbois.bandcamp.com , or just Google us chale.