Shatta Wale x Donald Trump: A rulebook on Power

This essay is interested in the similarities in the rise of Shatta Wale and of Donald Trump — both of these men are at the top of their music and political careers respectively, although not too long ago, their said careers sat on the cusp of oblivion.

Many had forgotten of Shatta Wale after his brief exploits as Bandana; treating us to hits like ‘Moko Hoo’, ‘No problem’ and ‘Obaa Yaa’. This was all to change after his infamous sexist tirade against dancehall diva, Kakie in 2013 — upon losing the best dancehall artiste to her at the VGMAs. His very public registration of displeasure couched in x-rated lingo was quite unconventional in Ghanaian showbiz history. It was bereft of diplomacy, decorum and political correctness. Many predicted that Shatta’s brazen outpour of misogyny, sexism and vulgarity at Kakie and the organizers of the VGMAs, will effectively incinerate his music career even before its rebirth.

Strangely, his very caustic outburst turned out to be the springboard he required to dive right back into the mainstream. He had forced himself onto the front pages and was bizarrely reaping positive fruits from scandals. The fact that Shatta did not only attack Kakie but also Samini and Iwan proved that there was a plot to this ‘madness’. It was desperate marketing. Shatta’s greatest hits like ‘Dancehall King’ and ‘Kakai’ had milked his new-found popularity if not infamy. These hits basically sealed his quest to make a successful comeback.  So lesson 1 in the Shatta Wale (and indeed Trump’s rulebook) is to be in the news for good or bad reasons. You only have a chance in the race if more and more people have to discuss you.

Key to Shatta’s success has been his ability to mobilize the most formidable fan base in the history of Ghanaian showbiz. Shatta Wale has attained cult status in his kingdom, Shatta Movement (SM). He hardly does any wrong in the eyes of SM members, and they ride with him no matter the backlash. Shatta Wale has smartly often utilized this ‘resource’ in his march to (and grasp on) power. He often calls on his fans with much conviction to do x or y in a manner that has hardly been seen in Ghanaian showbiz. Like Trump, Shatta Wale has survived too many faux pas moments, moments other people have  been buried by. This owes a lot to the presence of his unflinching ‘base’. The key question here really is about how to build such a vast and more-loyal-than-usual fanbase. Trump and Shatta Wale each has such a base; ever ready to commit their finances, defend their leader whenever the need arises or at times, even threaten violence. This leads us to lesson 2.
There is always a section of society craving for recognition and acceptance. This crave is not only on the part of leaders/stars but also followers/fans. In Trump’s case, this group has been the rural-white and very conservative Americans who have often felt their personal plights and narratives have been drowned by the growing liberal media and centralization of multiethnic concerns. If you listen to Shatta Wale, he decided to make himself the face and leading voice for the young Ghanaian ‘hustler’. Openly, Shatta Wale has thrown his weight behind such people and in doing so, presented the image that he is ready to defend them even where it makes him infamous — as Trump has done on a number of occasions including his not so subtle justification of racist attacks in Charlottesville in April 2017. To Shatta Wale, whether the source of wealth for the ‘hustler’ was dubious or not, it was the hustle that mattered. In fact, ‘hustle’ is one word that comes up in many of Shatta’s songs. His songs have lyrics backing the hustle, no matter its nature (listen to songs like ‘megye wo girl’ and ‘real hustler’). An example is seen in the lyrics below from Shatta’s song, “It’s my life”:
If i be sakawa boy heeeyyy
I dey like am ooo that be my life
If i be game boy heeyy
I dey like am ooo that be my life
I dey work hard for the money heeey
I dey like am ooo that be my life
I know i go make am tomorrow
I dey like am ooo that be my life

In a very moralist society, Shatta’s open welcome of all hustlers even if they were fraudsters, online scammers or into money rituals is very counter-intuitive. However, for such ‘hustlers’ (just like in the case of Trump and his so-called ‘deplorables’), Shatta Wale had become a beloved ‘legitimating’ voice.

Shatta Wale and Donald Trump are not cowered to dance to the tune of the mainstream although he benefits largely from the mainstream. The election of Donald Trump as the leader of the ‘Free World’ in light of his rhetoric often characterized as unsavory was if for nothing at all, an endorsement of political incorrectness, or to properly put it, was the death of political correctness. For a very long time, (at least for the most part of the post-twitter ‘woke’ revolution) liberal media often substituted as mainstream had zero tolerance for vulgarity and anything that was not cool enough to be politically correct. Do not be distracted by the ‘political’ in political correctness. The requirement to be politically correct (let us be honest here, only in public spaces) is not only limited to the traditional political players as the term may want us to believe but extends to everybody who feeds of the social capital that comes with audience.

Like Trump, consistently, Shatta Wale has berated anybody he considers hostile to his cause without mincing words. Words that are undeniably generally deemed inappropriate. Yet, just like Donald Trump, he keeps winning not just within his base but on the very platforms that are ordinarily anti what he stands for. We say this because of the amount of airspace granted him despite his escapades. This leads us to lesson 3: be ready to make enemies. There is nothing more invigorating for a base than an ‘us versus them feud’. Drawing the battle line is probably one of the most effective ways of organizing people. A version of this is what others call, the ‘siege mentality’: we are under attack, let us quickly mobilize and protect our existence and territories.

From his sexist attack on Kaakie, through to his ableist attack on Stonebwoy and his indecent exposure on Snapchat, among many other rather ‘unpalatable’ things he has done, Shatta Wale has found a currency valuable enough to give him stardom and success. After all, why change your winning formula. But in all of these, the media and to an extent all of us, have been accomplices to his use of explicit language and conduct as a leverage for his success. Maybe our ears love what we cannot say. Maybe, it is who we are innately.  Just as the election of Donald Trump signified the death of political correctness, the rise and rise of Shatta Wale probably confirmed that it did not matter at all in Ghana. This leads us to the fourth lesson: there are always major but silenced notions in society. People are ready to look the other way, if somebody will risk saying what they cannot say.

This essay is meant to deepen the conversation on popularity and associated power. It is meant to say that there is a path that is as present in showbiz as in politics; and in the West as in the non-Western society. Certain approaches to power may not look as moral or sound as right (like Machiavelli’s famous guidelines), but in the end, credit must be given to folks who have found a path to the big leagues and have stuck by the tenets of this path. The foregoing essay is about a rule-book that is not necessarily Machiavellian but more of an anti-status quo populism. We sometimes disregard the nous of people like Trump and Shatta Wale and ignore their thoroughly-hatched pursuit of fame and power. The more we fail to see their agency and crafty ones at that, the more we undermine our ability to seek accountability from such persons and even learn from them, where need be. 

by Azeez Gomda & Oduro-Marfo

Facebook Comments