Uniting the world with his music and straddling the boundaries of Africa, the Caribbean and the United States, Ghanian singer-lyricist Rocky Dawuni is determined to bring the unheard melodies of his continent to the forefront.
Growing up in a tumultuous era in Ghana, Dawuni found solace in music, something that he continues to find comfort in. “I was raised in the military barracks in Ghana as my father was a cook. I excelled at school and eventually my father decided to send me back to our home village so I could learn more about our cultural heritage,” says Dawuni.
The 49-year-old Grammy-nominated artiste, who was recently in India to perform in Bengaluru, says that he instantly connected with the country as Indians are rooted to their culture. “My first visit to India was when I had come down to collaborate with Grammy Award-winning artiste Ricky Kej and it was love at first sight. I admire the culture and the music of India, and look forward to coming here each time,” he adds.
His Afro Roots sound — an amalgamation of various genres of music like reggae, Afrobeat, highlife and soul music — has now become his signature piece.
Being cut off from the rest of the world in his village and in the barracks did not deter Dawuni from letting music make inroads in his life. He gravitated towards melodies instinctively. “The multi-ethnic mix of Ghanaian tribes in the barracks also revealed the diversity of expressions found in my own country,” he reminisces. “I was always looking for music. There was a band in the barracks called Hot Barrels, and I remember that every time they had rehearsals I would listen to them play.”
Sharing stage with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Peter Gabriel, Bono, Jason Mraz, Janelle Monae and John Legend, among many others, Dawuni was named one of Africa’s Top 10 global stars by CNN in 2011.
The groovy beats and soulful rendition of his numbers soon made a mark, getting him a nomination in the 58th Annual Grammy Awards held in 2016, for his sixth album Branches of the Same Tree in the category Best Reggae Album.
From starting out with his first band, Local Crisis, back in his college days, with barely any instruments, to producing his first album in 1996, titled The Movement, supported by members of his band and other Ghanaian reggae stars, Dawuni aimed for the sky and has never looked back since.
He recollects that the drummer managed to etch out a drum kit from a cardboard, while the keyboardists used a toy keyboard. “It was the most low-tech thing you can imagine,” Dawuni recalls, adding, “There was just the fire and determination and we believed in what we were doing.”
The artiste now divides his time between Ghana and Los Angeles, and has immersed himself in music and in humanitarian activities that take him to many nations. Dawuni has lent his voice to important global issues, especially to promote the music and culture of the various tribes of Africa. In 2012, he was appointed the Tourism and Cultural Ambassador of Ghana and World Ambassador for the Musicians Union of Ghana.
His compositions are often inspired by his multi-cultural upbringing in the barracks and are a reflection of his thoughts. “The album Branches of the Same Tree was inspired by the songs and melodies I heard over the years during my travels. It contains snippets of my personal observations of various cultures and global musical developments,” Dawuni says.
Similarly, his love for Africa and its people can be deeply felt in his compositions, often inspired by the conflict and turmoil faced by many African countries. “I feel that the world today knows a lot more about the music of Africa than in the past,” he says. “This is the best time for many of us who belong to the continent to showcase our music, culture and our heritage to the world.”