Dancehall’s new star Patoranking talks Ghana, changing labels and Jamaica’s influence

The opening shot in Patoranking’s latest video Another Level pans to Miami’s magnificent coastline…

The view from his private jet before he touches down for a merry time spent cruising the city in a customised tour bus and stopping off at a mansion for a house party. It’s of course, purely aspirational, and directed by Matt Alonzo (Far East Movement, French Montana, The Game, Common). The song’s message, a curious mix of holy braggadocio, is that his finances are flourishing, the devil’s mad and it’s all God’s doing.

 

 

Counting 2014 as his breakout year, the 25-year-old (born Patrick Nnaemeka Okorie) has risen through the ranks like greased lightning to contend for the crown of the most prolific dancehall artist in Nigeria – if not Africa. Nine major award wins so far for him include the coveted Nigerian title of Headies’ best new act for 2014.

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At a time where making a grab for the crossover (and cross-regional) hit is the order of the day, one of Pato’s strengths has been in effortlessly carrying off some of the stand-out ones in Africa over the last two years: My Woman, My Everything with Wande Coal is currently a sure-fire crowd pleaser from Kampala to London. His remix for Girlie O featuring Tiwa Savage remains his biggest track. Murda, on which he features with Island Records-signee Seyi Shay is widely considered her breakthrough single.

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When we speak, it’s on the eve of a sold-out show in Johannesburg featuring South Africa’s rap elite from Khuli Chana to Anatii, and with Wizkid in attendance. It will be the second time he performs there, but his first as a headliner.

Earlier on in the year the news dropped that Patoranking had signed a distribution deal with dancehall/reggae holy grail of labels, VP Records, home to Sean Paul, Beenie Man, Lady Saw and Mavado among others. He’s the first African dancehall artist on the roster. Habitually changing labels – at least three times in his short career – his African interests are now looked after by Foston Musik.

‘Africa is being taken care of by me and my team.’

‘VP is the biggest reggae label in the world and I am a reggae dancehall artist,’ Patoranking explains his signing decision, speaking from Lagos. ‘If I want any affiliation it would be with someone who is vast and experienced in the world. I don’t expect them to do for me much here because Africa is being taken care of by me and my team.’

Okorie was born in Ijegun Egba Satellite Town and later moved to Ebute Metta, starting his entertainment career as a street jam and carnival dancer. ‘I did that for a couple of years because I grew up in the ghetto and in trying to hustle I had options of either joining a bad gang or doing that. I was about 17 or 18.’

What many don’t know is that it was Ghana where Patoranking started to make deliberate moves towards a music career under the auspices of Ghanaian music OG’s like XProject and Reggie Rockstone.

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‘I schooled in Ghana for a year but I dropped out to pursue music. I was there alone without my family. It wasn’t really easy. I love Ghana; it’s a very peaceful place. I like their musical
heritage. They have a very strong scene – more so than Nigeria. That was one of the things that appealed to me.’

Buju Banton, Bob Marley and Fela Kuti are artists Patoranking credits with making him more sensitive.

Alubarika, a song from 2013 which means God’s blessings in Hausa, and features fellow Nigerian Afro-pop/dancehall titan Timaya, shows this other side of him: ‘You know if you hear Alubarika, it’s a bit conscious. It was my first song that brought me into the lime light in Nigeria. I have more conscious songs. Even me just talking about love is conscious.’

The love affair between African dancehall/reggae fans (and artists) with the genre’s Jamaican originators is as lengthy as it is widespread. Uganda, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Malawi, and Zambia all boast robust strongholds where the likes of Konshens, Sean Paul, Mavado and several others are known to command stadium-size shows in the tens of thousands.

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Ghana’s Samini and Popcaan paired up on Violate in 2014; Busy Signal jumped on Naija singer/songwriter Tiwa Savage’s Key to The City remix; and Brick & Lace’s Nyanda can be found on Burna Boy’s Mine Tonight.

As the case for global sub-cultural cross pollination builds today, one topic always at the centre of the conversation is how identity is preserved and expressed – no less in the case of the arts, and specifically music. The influence of the black diaspora on continental Africa is undeniable: hip hop is the clearest example of how this has and continues to play out.

African artists were recently criticised for their use of Jamaican patois.

And just like localised African hip hop is increasingly expected to communicate authenticity with rap in native tongues, homegrown accents and true-to-life stories, the mandate to keep it real is slowly making its way through the dancehall/reggae circles on the continent. African artists were recently criticised for their use of Jamaican patois.

Patoranking is among them and, for example, uses the expression ‘whayasay’ as a sort of brand signifier. His position is unwavering: ‘It is just me, you know. It is what I do. I am a reggae/dancehall artist. That is how I talk.’

But Patoranking makes it simple:

‘I think everyone has their own opinion. We are doing music and we are trying to make music. It is not our language. We love how (Jamicans) sound not because we are trying to be like them. It’s just for the love of how they sound and that is why we do it.’

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