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Stonebwoy Discusses Black Star Line Festival And Making Music On A Global Scale

Written by on February 22, 2023

New Def Jam signee and Ghanaian superstar Stonebwoy virtually sat down with Vocalo host Bekoe to discuss his new single, his signature Afro-dancehall style and his love for his country…

“I know that… we can continue to grow and grow, and they say the sky is the limit, but the sky is just a starting point.”

– Stonebwoy

Stonebwoy is an Afropop, dancehall and reggae artist hailing from Alakple-Anloga, Ghana. Over the span of his career, Stonebwoy has earned international acclaim; at the 2015 BET Awards, he won the Best International Act: Africa category and was awarded Favorite African Star at the 2019 Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Awards. More recently, in 2022, he won the Vodafone Ghana Music award for Reggae/Dancehall Artist of the Year and the 3Music Award for Reggae/Dancehall Act of the Year.

Back in May 2022, he signed an artist deal with Def Jam/Universal, and this year he made an appearance at Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper’s Black Star Line Festival on January 6. Stonebwoy feels festivals like these are crucial to support Ghanaian arts and culture on a global scale — especially one which, through name alone, brings to light an important part of Ghanaian culture: Marcus Garvey’s 1919 shipping company Black Star Line.

“It gives me a lot of joy for brothers who live outside of the country, to also put their effort, resources together to bring such a name to life,” Stonebwoy said. “In a nutshell, all these festivals… whatever name it is, we embrace it, we love it, we understand what it’s bringing to the culture, what it’s doing to the rest of the world.”

RELATED: Black Star Line Festival 2023: Bekoe’s Recap

In his conversation with Bekoe, Stonebwoy also discussed being the first major Afrobeats signee with Def Jam Africa, how he infused his influences to create Afro-dancehall and his 2023 international tour — which is scheduled to kick off with two US stops: New York City on March 3 and Columbus, Ohio on April 2.

This conversation originally aired on Mornings With Bekoe on February 22, and is streaming on Spotify now.

Stonebwoy by Kaystudios, courtesy of the artist.

Bekoe: I’m your host Bekoe on Vocalo Radio 91.1 FM ,Chicago’s only NPR Music station. And alongside me, I got one guy, BHIM nation leader known as Stonebwoy with me. How’re you doing?

Stonebwoy: I’m doing fine, and you?

Bekoe: I’m doing great. It’s a blessing to have you on the line with me. Is December festival season for Ghana?

Stonebwoy: Yeah, definitely. December is actually… it’s become a festive season because of Christmas and holidays, and etc, you know what I mean? But if you take a very critical look at it, you realize that… people go on break. I mean, workers do go on break, somewhere, maybe 21st. You know, like, they just have a few days. That’s the reality. And we actually, you know, we have talent and want to do a lot of festivals, but there are actual festivals that go on, or happen in Ghana, you know, from different ethnic tribes and ethnic groups, which are like amazing, and that’s the next thing that, trust me, we’re going to be tapping into greatly. Not only in December, but December is like a festive season anyway, because of Christmas. But there are other major, major festivals that have to be developed, you know, and brought to the mainstream.

RELATED: Chance the Rapper at Vocalo: ‘You Can’t Thrive Without Community’

Bekoe: Another festival that made its way, its first annual festival, is the Black Star Line Festival, which Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper put together. Now, I made my way. When Vic’s performance came, and then you did like a surprise pop up and took the stage, Stonebwoy, you blew my mind, man. I’ve never… like, I’ve felt energy before, but the way that energy was, it was electrifying to feel the vibration in the ground. 

The way the crowd… you captivated the attendees that was there. When you performed “Hero,” and hearing everybody screaming word-for-word. It was just an amazing feeling for me, to be… back home, and see an artist like yourself hit that stage. So… how did you even connect with Vic Mensa? Because you also have a song together called “Blessings.”

Stonebwoy: It all started by… I’ve known Vic Mensa as an artist. I also look out for my fellow artists. So Vic is amazing. And when I go to realize he was a Ghanaian, we also have a representative on that global level, when he was working with Roc Nation, I believe that was time… and he’s also a Chicago brother. The links were actually made, eventually, through, Sheila O, Sheila Ozons, from Africa, from Nigeria… so she actually put the link together, finally… 

And then we took it from there, we made the song “Blessings” and we shot the video, we put it out as a single and that’s when he and I… never stopped. And we’ve recorded a few other singles as well together. So it’s just nice. It’s just nice, to work with somebody like Vic. So when he was coming out… when the festival was up, I mean, I would definitely go to support, to pass through and give them a piece of what they all, they know me to be, you feel me?

Bekoe: It was love that you showed up. I mean, when I saw how he turned to look at you, he was like, “Oh shoot!” And I’ve heard you say that… Black Star Line Festival, to you, it’s a very important festival for Accra. I want to know… for you, why is it important to have a festival? Not just Black Star Line, but in general, the Afrochella, the Afro Nation. Why is it important for these festivals to start making their way… to Ghana?

Stonebwoy: Yeah, man, the Black Star Line is actually so powerful a name, and I know Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper, and their teams, really understand what it really is to go and pick that name and resurrect that name. That name is based upon why we are the Black Stars of Ghana. Not only is our football team named the Black Stars, but that is who we truly, really are. Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah, the pioneers of Black supremacy. I would have probably been saying that, “Why is that not a festival that has been happening already in Ghana?” The Black Star Line Festival should probably have been happening a million years ago, before Vic Mensa and Chance would go and bring it. 

It gives me a lot of joy for brothers who live outside of the country, to also put their effort, resources together to bring such a name to life. And I’m telling you, it means so much more to me now than I’m explaining to you, because I really understand the fact that we are the ones that have to do it for ourselves. So, just in a nutshell, all these festivals, whether Afro Nation, whether Afrochella — Afrochella is now going to be called AfroFuture… obviously, because of the little issues, but whatever name it is, we embrace it, we love it, we understand what it’s bringing to the culture, what it’s doing to the rest of the world. And we couldn’t have achieved this no other way, but through entertainment, arts and culture.

Bekoe: These festivals are bringing resources and job opportunities, is helping with financial gains, I wanted to ask you, too… for things to be beneficial for Ghana, what’s something you would like to see Ghana’s government officials prioritize as… more tourists is coming in and more money is starting to flow.

Stonebwoy: I may not even have the slightest idea of how to run a country, but I can put a submission into that one. And I believe that my, the government officials, those who hold all these posts, they even know better what to do with this, the influx, and this great thing that is happening to the nation by… establishing and developing the infrastructures that can harness and host these events. Because when you come to America, you have all the other venues, you know what I mean? Like huge, huge event venues that can host the capacity that you think, 40,000, 50,000. And they are just event venues. 

I think that government should be able to invest in these kinds of venues, you know what I mean? And venues nationwide, because that’s how we can be able to grow… and bring the music and art and culture to the people at every place. It’s not only Accra, or only Kumasi, or only Tamale. There is a need to have every region, I believe, should have a state venue… At least 10,000 proper capacity, proper state venue, state-owned, and then, maybe, we can have the 40K or 50K in some of the very well developed… cities using. This is what I think we can, government can invest in.

Bekoe: Me, I look at you, as a legend in general. You also created your own specific type of genre under Afrobeats, Afro-dancehall and, listening to your music… before I even did my research listening, I’m like, “Yo, this brother got like, the Afrobeats with the dancehall.” You starting to mix some amapiano in it. It’s like, you got a diverse mixture of all, but you could definitely hear the reggae, as well. And we play a song, we still play Wayne Wonder… here on Vocalo. You know what I’m saying? We still play Sean Paul, we still play Shaggy, so for you being Ghanaian, and then also venturing off and catching up with our Jamaican brothers. For you, was it difficult trying to infuse the two in the beginning?

Stonebwoy: Yeah, man. That’s why I would say that it was a mission that came on top of my heart. Right from the beginning, it was a calling that came on top of my heart to actually hold onto this, and I’m sharing, probably sharing it the first time, like this. I’ve longtime realized that… brother, this is your calling. This is what you got to do. Because… this is the level of talent that God has put into your hands. 

I’m always proud to be known for these three styles, at least, to be known for Afrobeat, to be known for reggae, to be known for dancehall. I’m grateful. And there’s a thing that’s been on top of my heart that I had to push to the world. I put myself down as the glue to hold it together, because the sounds are being segregated a lot, too. I’m coming from a mission point of view, not only the style point of view, because you hear that Afrobeats is taking over dancehall and dancehall is dying, and reggae is doing that and, you know, all these styles of music can be put together to sound beautiful, and that is my calling, and that’s what I do.

Bekoe: Last year, if I’m not mistaken, you inked the deal with Def Jam. You’re like their very first African-signed artist, as far as… under the Afrobeats category. What was it that led you to Def Jam and say, “You know what… I’ve been dealing with contracts for a while, but Def Jam is the way for me now. I’ve been doing this for years, but I feel like Def Jam is where it’s at, that’s gonna take me to where I need to be musically.”

Stonebwoy: Yeah, man, you know Def Jam is one of the biggest record labels in the world… hands down. You can name tons of mega-superstars who have been on this table, and have worked their way through. So, for me, I believe that I’ve come a long way as an independent artist. And even during those periods of, like I said, I’ve always inked one or two understandings with different forms of companies or agencies to be able to grow the business part and grow the art… the marketing part, the distribution, etc., to the world. 

And, for me, this is yet another great opportunity to take it to the next chapter, as well. Because I know that… we can continue to grow and grow, and they say the sky is the limit, but the sky is just a starting point. Everybody tuning in, mark my words, the world’s gotta get more of I.

Bekoe: They gotta get more of you, you know? Now, you’re working on your fifth body of work, okay. Your lead single — I mean, is this the least single? Will this be on a project, “More of You”?

Stonebwoy: It’s on the project. “More of You”‘s on the project, “Therapy”‘s on the project. And so, I mean, I don’t know which one is the lead single. Whatever I drop, just take it. The whole album is a lead, bro, the whole album is the lead. So everybody’s gonna find their own from it. Everybody’s gonna find something beautiful from the album. It’s a promise. And so I want y’all to get ready for that. 

You know, I’m coming right back to the States. Next month, I’ll be at the Palladium Times Square, I regard that one as an intimate session… for the fans out here. And we’re gonna… we’ll use that to see where I go. You know what I mean? Yeah, man, so I’m inviting everybody who loves Afrobeats, reggae and dancehall to come out and get the experience of your life.

Bekoe: I love to hear it. Well, we’re gonna get into this single that my mom enjoyed. I played it for her, she says she love it. I love it. We lovin’ it here at the station, man. I want you to introduce it, let people know what we finna get into.

Stonebwoy: Yo, drop that song. That’s “More of You.”

Keep up with Stonebwoy and his upcoming international tour by following him on Instagram and Twitter.

Interview hosted, edited and produced by Bekoe

Introduction written by Omi Salisbury and Morgan Ciocca

Transcription and editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

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