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Borga - matters arising in Diasporean living and returning home

Posted by abocco on Tue, 01/26/2010 - 05:05 GhanaThink Managing Executive

Yes, I'm back. Like they'll say in Ghana, wɔabɔga bio. Well, I've been back to Yankee for more than two weeks but this is my first post of the new decade. Had too much fun chillaxing and chilluping in Ghana to blog, so I saved most of my thoughts as texts on my Nokia phone. In fact, na Borga nso ayɛ loose to afford the costs of slow Ghanaian internet. It's not always easy for us Borgas. Even when we have 'returned' to Ghana on holidays to visit families and do other things, we find the costs of living not much different from 'Aburokyire'. Ghana's fastest and hottest rapper at the moment, Sarkodie knows this too. He composed a song about Ghanaians in the Diaspora and it is quickly becoming a cult classic. In fact, in the years to come, we shall all remember Sarkodie's Borga as one of the legendary hiplife songs. Let me tell you why.

Michael Owusu, known to many fans as Sarkodie, is a hiplife artist. He had spent the last few years freestyling and engaging in rap battles in Tema. Rumour has it that he never lost one. If you've watched Eminem's 8 Mile, Sarkodie has a similar story. He recorded various underground mixtapes and then eventually became widely known after featuring on Ayigbe Edem's Bougez (Ke va) song. His first music video, Babe (baby), featuring Mugeez of R2Bees catapulted him into the national spotlight. He's still been churning mixtapes, his 'Politics' track surfaced around the 2008 elections and quickly went viral. Today, he has been signed to Konvict SA, Akon's record label in Africa. Hiplife legend, Obrafour, featured him on one of his latest singles, Hiplife, as if to say, Sarkodie was to bear the torch for the genre in these times and beyond. With songs like Lay Away (ft Sway), Edey be (ft Paedae), Altar, and a monumental song like Borga, the sky is the limit for Sarkodie.

Borga is a name given to Ghanaians who are abroad or who've returned on holidays or for a short time. Since these people are usually held in high esteem, it's a nice title to have. Many families in Ghana look forward to Borgas' remittances. In fact, so far as you are a Borga, you are expected to release cash every now and then to folks back home. It matters not how or when or if you get the cash. Like the chorus of the song says, Borgas try to survive with the pay or salaries they get, working extra hours to make it some day. For some Borgas, the day never comes. They end up staying at one job for a lifetime and never return home as planned. Money is power, it can cloud your judgment and revise your dreams.

Because Borgas are held in high esteem, they sometimes seem to lord their esteem over Ghanaians back home, whether they are in Ghana or still at their bases. When proper research is done, one will find that many Borgas are indeed 'suffering' at thier bases. They are clutching at straws to maintain 'flashy' lifestyles or be the breadwinners for their families. Here's where Sarkodie's song takes root. He asks, "Bɔga, bɔga ɛna ɛyɛɛ dɛn!" This is loosely translated as "You are a Borga, and so what?" The following part of the chorus describes a little conversation between Borgas. "Masa, na wobaa year bɛn; Me, mebaayɛ nkyɛɛyɛ, afei na mabɛdu nti obi nsoa me o na me kɔn mu rebu" - Master, which year did you come? Me, I haven't been here long, I just got here so someone should help me with this burden because it is too heavy".

Sarkodie describes different situations some Borgas are in. He states that someone may be in Canada and has to beg for what he eats. He goes on say, "You live and work in Ghana, at the very least, you have somewhere to sleep. You've collected money to get a visa, you want to travel to America just to suffer". And it's true. Go to the American embassy to see. It's called the African dream. The African dream is to seek greener (or pink) pastures abroad. It's not just in this common case of people using all they have just to get a taste of America, but you can also see it in the 'brain drain', seeking medical help abroad and other cases. "Aburokyire tumi ma ɔsɔfo nom jot; Ɔpɛ sɛ ɔtwitwa n'adwendwen so short" - Living abroad can make a pastor take up smoking; wanting to cut short his worries".

"Dɛn na ɛyɛ fɛ sɛ makɔdi holidays; na maba fie na mente obiaa case" A lot of Ghanaian students travel to the US, UK and other places during vacations. Many have the same goal, find a job, make some money, come back home and spend it. Or spend the money there, come back and let everyone know there have been changes in one's lifestyle. There is always a difference between the student who has 'borgaed' and the one who hasn't. The Borgas have this air around them. As for Sarkodie, he is not enthralled by the features of 'Aburokyire'. He rates fried rice over 'superghetti'.

Sarkodie's song has sparked various responses, mostly from Ghanaian artists based abroad who seem to argue that they are better off than Sarkodie, who is living in Ghana. One response from Fada & San is a direct remix to Sarkodie's Borga, pretty much calling his song, "boila" or rubbish. They state that they don't like the Ghana Cedi, but they like the dollar. "when you reach Miami, you will see that Accra is a village". They diss an Honourable Minister for becoming a photographer upon seeing Obama. They argue that toothpicks are not even made in Ghana. This line has been used for a long time, someone should please tell me why someone in Ghana is making toothpicks in Ghana today. Fada & San chorus, "If you don't have money, shut up. We haven't been around for too long, but we see our riches and possessions, you will be shocked." Except these things are probably on credit and there are outstanding bills to pay. Hey, fada & San have an admirable remix, but I'm sticking with Sarko on this one. :-)

Doing menial jobs abroad are ends to a means. Some people use the opportunity of traveling to set themselves up for better jobs and better standards of living for them and their families. You can't exactly walk into a well-paying and lucrative job in someone else's land. Even in Ghana, things are changing. Many Borgas are returning to Ghana for good. This is partly because of the economic crisis in the developed countries and the many lucrative and comfortable job opportunities being created in Ghana. Look around for the most successful, entrepreneurial and popular Ghanaians today, most of them live in Ghana. Granted, some of them may have lived abroad at some point, but many of them are really making their names by their exploits back home.

Sarkodie ends the song with a word of advice. "Nya ntoboaseɛ ma wo nnwom na ɛbɛben" - Have patience with your music and it shall be well. It's not all rosy abroad. We can all make it Ghana or wherever in Africa we find ourselves. We don't have to give up the little luxuries we enjoy to suffer in someone else's land before we 'can make it'. Sarkodie doesn't argue against travelling, he supports it. I agree with him. It's my wish many of us get the chance to travel and experience other cultures and places, it opens our eyes to different possibilities, ideas, attitudes and mannerisms. Being second-class citizens is not one of the wishes.

I was at BarCamp Ghana last December and one of the breakout sessions was about travel and development. I wasn't able to attend the whole session but I believe the conversation centered around how traveling abroad can change people's outlook and how a lot of Ghana's leaders of today seem to have the 'outside' experience. I fall into the category of Borgas, but I am in love with this song. In fact, I knew about the song before I went to Ghana last Christmas, but hearing it there made me love it more. When the song was played in Shirley Frimpong-Manso's "A Sting In A Tale", I was sold. Of course, Sarkodie's song is just one take on the whole Diasporean/Borga issue. The conversation must continue. We must make the most out of our travels, "African dream pursuits", etc.

Photo from


obrafuor on bbc

23-02-10: Obrafuor has been nicely promoted by Ato of the web site Museke. Go to bbc 1 xtra, dj edu ( Be quick: the show is re-recorded every 7 days. One of my favourite radio DJs. Are any others equally good in terms of playing pan-African music?