Jane Clinton talks music, language and getting things done with Wiyaala
15 February, 2019 — By Jane Clinton
WIYAALA is sitting in a Camden recording studio describing her upbringing in Ghana.
She is one of Africa’s brightest singer-songwriter talents, but growing up she was called “ugly” and bullied for how she looked.
“I was quite muscular and boyish,” she says. “I didn’t care.”
She laughs at how different things are for her now. Her nickname is “the Young Lioness of Africa” and you can’t help but want her on your side.
London and Camden are her second homes when she is in the UK and she regularly rehearses at the New Rose Studios in Camden Road.
“Camden is one of the most vibrant music scenes in the world and I can’t wait to perform at some of its famous venues such as Koko and the Jazz Café,” she says.
Her music is a fusion of West African folk songs and Afro-pop with her own interpretation of traditional West African mythology and storytelling. She performs the songs with traditional dance moves, and designs and creates her own costumes and edits and directs her videos.
Her single, Better Treat Me Right, is a rallying cry to women around the world and reflects her work as a champion of women’s rights around the world.
She has also been following the #metoo movement and admits that she had “difficult” experiences in the early days of her music career.
Her involvement with UNICEFGhana includes fighting for the abolition of FGM and Early Child Marriage and helps to promote the rights of children.
The second of four sisters, Wiyaala, 32, herself narrowly escaped the horror of FGM and credits her “amazing” mother for protecting her. She also dodged child marriage and with her dance skills set out as a child entertainer.
She endured much negative reaction and all but one of her teachers were critical. “They thought it was like prostitution,” she says.
Even her father was not keen on the path she was taking.
“He is my number one fan now,” she laughs.
Then in 2012 she travelled to the capital city, Accra, and won the Vodafone Icons Reality Show.
Since then she has become one of Ghana’s biggest stars. She has performed around the world including at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in and WOMAD.
A member of the international female band GRRRL, she also supports the arts in Northern Ghana and created and organised the The Djimba World Music Festival.
Now Wiyaala, who is from the village Funsi in the upper west region of Ghana, wants to draw attention to the issue of endangered languages.
In addition to pop on her new album, Sissala Goddess, she has tracks in the dialect of Sissala, the language spoken in her home village.
She hopes to encourage recording artists from regions across Britain to record in endangered languages. Her aim is for Scottish gaelic, Irish gaelic, Welsh and Cornish speakers to join her campaign and feature their music on the “endangered language” album which she is planning.
“I love to sing in Sissala, she says. “Like folk songs from all local languages, Sissala songs contain deep truths about living. If I sing Sissala songs to you and you like them, the language and culture will live on.
“I want to encourage others to look to music as a way to keep endangered languages alive.”
Wiyaala’s enthusiasm is infectious and it’s not surprising the Wiyaala means “do-er” in Sissala.
When she is not in the UK or touring she lives in Funsi where she grew up.
She wants to build a stage there for people in the village to perform.
“I also want a festival to be held there,” she says. “I want to recruit a bunch of girls from the village and teach them editing and how to shoot videos. If nothing is happening then I am going to make something happen.”
A do-er she certainly is.
• Wiyaala’s album, Sissala Goddess, is out now. She will be touring the UK this year, for details go to www.wiyaala.com