“Who is a musician?”
This is the question that comes to mind any time I hear highlife artiste Gyedu-Blay Ambolley say some musicians are not really ‘musicians.’
He has made this assertion on many platforms discrediting musicians like Sarkodie, Tinny, Guru and all musicians who cannot play at least one musical instrument.
If Sarkodie and artistes who can’t play musical instruments aren’t musicians, what are they?
It is unfathomable how an astute musician of Ambolley’s ilk would think a rapper who cannot play a musical instrument does not have the quality to be called a ‘musician.’
The word ‘musician’ is generic. A musician is a person who plays a musical instrument, performs music, composes music, arranges music, sings, raps, or performs any activity that produces music.
Rap is music too. So why isn’t someone who raps a musician? Rap is made up of rhythm and poetry. Rhythm is the flow of music and poetry is the soul of music. This means Sarkodie, Tinny, Obrafuor and all rappers are musicians even if they can’t play musical instruments.
There are different types of musical instruments: membranophones like drums; idiophones like castanets and clappers; chordophones like guitars and aerophones like trumpets, saxes and flutes.
With his in-depth knowledge in music, I expected Ambolley also to know that the voice is a natural musical instrument and that there is even ‘beatboxing’ where the mouth is used to produce the beat for a song, incorporating all musical instruments that would have been played by the real objects.
In Ghana, I know music producer DDT and Beatbender GH are well-versed in this. They have produced instrumentation for songs with just their mouths, lips, tongue and voice. Even though they know how to play the real instruments, their ability to produce instrumentation by mimicking real instruments with their voices affirms the assertion that one can become a musician without necessarily being able to play a real musical instrument.
I will not deny the fact that being able to play a musical instrument hones one’s music senses. Singers, especially being able to produce notes with precision when they know how to play at least one melodic musical instrument (like the keyboard or guitar). It helps them to organise their notes well, sing in key without going off and navigating between keys with ease.
That, however, does not mean that a singer who cannot play a musical instrument is not a musician.
Some musicians do not sing; they only write either song for others to sing. All these people are musicians.
The world of music is so broad that even conductors of music fall under the umbrella.
People like Zapp Mallet, Hammer, Appietus and other music producers/sound engineers are also musicians because they produce a song for artists. It takes one with knowledge in music to able to produce the beat for a song.
As much as I agree that we need to encourage our musicians to challenge themselves by learning how to play a musical instrument or another aspect of the trade, Gyedu-Blay Ambolley should not be going around discrediting musicians who cannot play musical instruments.
Gyedu-Blay Ambolley is one of the great musicians Ghana has produced. He sings and plays some musical instruments, but he can’t rap better than Sarkodie, Obrafuor, Tinny, who possibly cannot play even the congas.