Daughter of Ghana’s music legendary producer Faisal Helwani of the Bibini Music fame, Yasmeen Helwani, has stated that the highlife genre as we knew it before is gradually fading out.
Yasmeen Helwani spoke to Nii Ogbamey Tetteh in an interview about her experience working with her father.
Yasmeen is a renowned songwriter and vocalist who has over the years shared stage with international acts like Xhibit, Naughty by Nature and Snoop Dog among others. Her vocal abilities earned her the nickname ‘Golden Voice’.
What genre of music do you do?
I would like to say Afro-soul but it is difficult to categorise me into one place because I’m quite versatile. These days a lot of artistes are also doing same. We are not pigeon-holed into one genre. I have always been into the Soul genre because I feel my expression has the kind of Soul vibe to it. I also like to fuse it with other genres like Reggae, Jazz and Afrobeats.
I really want to have my Ghanaian side also reflect in my music. When you listen to my ‘Paddy’ song which I released recently, you will hear a very distinct African side.
What was the starting point of music for you?
Eeerrhmm, in the womb. My father has been a pioneer at the forefront of the Ghanaian music industry. Even in the womb, I’m sure I was hearing the music outside and all the vibrancy that was going. Immediately I could speak, I was singing. So basically, I was born into it and it looks like the spirit sort of guided me into it. I was born with a phenomenal voice and I don’t know where I got the voice from. It just so happened that I was put into this environment that helped me to grow my skills and my talent.
Among all the songs you have, which one will you say is your favourite?
That is a very difficult question. I wouldn’t really have a favourite song because as a song writer it is very difficult. Every song I have really put out there was written and arranged by me. But I can maybe say recently the last songs—Paddy and Medication—are very dear to my heart. They are my favourites because these came after the death of my father and I had been sort of free to be the creative director of my own stuff. These songs are like the couple of first recordings that I have been able to express myself very well without any influence from anywhere.
Were you under the management of your father?
Yes, I have always been since I was a kid. He was a music producer, manager, promoter and I was under him. He was the one taking care of all my recordings and guiding me in the industry. He built a name for me and built up my value to a point where people knew that when it comes to Yasmeen, you had to go through Faisal.
How was the experience like working with Faisal?
It was both a blessing and a curse because he was my father and you know the relationship between fathers and daughters. Sometimes it was like expose her, but do you want to expose her? Put her on stage, but do you really want all these guys staring? I’m sure for him also, he had this conflict of love, emotion, versus business. With him gone, I did feel a huge loss and a huge void but at the same time creatively, it spurred me on to really bring out what was deep inside me and hadn’t really come out yet. My dad was very ‘my way or the highway’ so it was like do what I say and that’s the end of the story. For someone who had the kind of experience he had, you needed to respect that. I was always told that ‘ok you are a brand or an artiste so people don’t need to be seeing you everywhere’. I will say he groomed me in the right way.
Do we sell our culture in the music being played today?
Yeah you still get that. You still have the authentic Ghanaian sound but I feel there is a whole lot more that is not being explored. Ghanaians pick one trend and ride it till God knows; then it gets boring, and then they pick another trend. I feel Ghanaians are more into rhythms. If your song is not a rhythm that they can dance to, then forget it.
What is your opinion on the recent trend of Highlife Music?
Even the highlife, it is sort of waning. I’m not hearing the real highlife that we used to hear those days. Now there is hiplife but it can be like a sub-genre of highlife. We are a very trendy kind of people. But I have also noticed that a few people are also trying to get the highlife thing going; and Castro, wherever he is, tried to incorporate that highlife vibe. There are also a few other artistes who are doing well and pushing a little highlife into the system.
How did it go at Felabration ?
It was actually very interesting. It was the first time I had performed in Nigeria and for me, it was the best entry for me. People have now come to revere the event. Secondly, my father Faisal Helwani and Fela had a relationship so it was sort of a reunion for the two families. I met with Yemi and Femi, Fela’s children, and it was awesome.
Yasmeen, apart from music what else do you do?
Well apart from music, I’m a creative person who likes doing things with my hands. I’m into eco-friendly lifestyle and I also have a couple of different businesses that I’m into and most of them are in social entrepreneurship. I love people and I love to affect the lives of people. Whatever work I do, it has to be something that empowers people and helps to bring people into a better situation. I have a product line called ‘Madame Yasmeen’ which is mainly organic; and I make everything myself—from soap to body products—and it is all natural because I’m against too much chemicals.
Where do you see yourself in the next two years?
I live in the ‘now’. I have stopped sitting down and saying ‘oh next year I will do that or two years I will do this’, because I could be gone tomorrow. What I’m doing now or I can do immediately today is where my focus lies. Of course I could have goals but I don’t really do these projections. My wish is that I’m going to continue contributing greatly to that demographic of people who appreciate good music. I’m always going to put out music because music is in my blood. Whether commercial or not, I’m always going to put out music. On the other hand, I will say touching people’s lives, making a difference, because I’m always about spiritual enlightenment.
What religion do you belong to?
I don’t publicly declare any religion because religion is manmade and we are sinking so deep into this manmade concept where now we are not even sure how to interpret our own creation. For me, I operate on the fundamental laws of the universe which we are all a part of. Love is number one on the fundamental laws. You must love yourself enough to be able to love someone else and you must love someone else the way you love yourself. When you look at someone, you must be able to see that person as a reflection of yourself so that you treat that person as if you are treating your own self. If you don’t have love, you will be mean, wicked, you will kill and steal. The love here is all encompassing. Nobody is perfect and I always say I’m not religious but I’m spiritual.
By Nii Ogbamey Tetteh email: firstname.lastname@example.org , twitter: @ogbameytetteh