In commemoration of Ghana’s independence, Graphic Showbiz’s ‘On The Radar’ is dedicating the month of March, dubbed, ‘Ghana Month’ to celebrate and extol legendary Ghanaian musicians who have contributed immensely to the Ghanaian music industry and paved the way for the new generation of music stars – and this week, we celebrate Rex Owusu Marfo, popularly called Rex Omar.
Rex Omar’s legendary status is indisputable as he possessed all the attributes of a consummate musician, had all the requisite knowledge of the business and fought the system to revolutionize it – creating one of the biggest changes that defined the structure of Ghanaian music business. He came, saw it all and conquered!
Rex Omar is often tagged as a highlife artist but he actually started with gospel music and released two (2) gospel albums, ‘Adom Nsem’ in 1985 and ‘Aseda’ in 1987. Interestingly, when the likes of legendary gospel acts, Kofi Abraham, Kofi Ani Johnson and Yaw Sarpong were doing local gospel, Rex Omar wanted to alter the status quo and be different and introduced reggae gospel, a move that was rejected by Ghanaians. However, in the last decade or more, Ghanaian gospel music has hinged predominantly on reggae music – a pace set by Rex Omar in the 80s.
After two unsuccessful projects, Rex finally had his break in 1989 with the ‘Aware Pa’ album which also included the hit track, ‘Wodofo Ne Hwan?’
Then came the legendary group, NAKOREX, (an assemblage of fellow music legends, Akosua Agyapong and Nat Brew Amandzeba) which released a hit album, cementing the names of the trio as household brands, but, after the disintegration of the group, regaining his acclaim as a solo artist was torrid.
After several unsuccessful projects after NAKOREX, it took a radical move to get back to the top and that was the ‘Dangerous’ album, which was released in 1996 and included Rex Omar’s biggest hit, ‘Abiba’ – making the album one of the best-selling projects at the time.
A Consummate Musician
Rex has tinkered with almost every genre of music in the many years of his illustrious career – with a solid inclination to ‘criss-cross’ rhythms and melodic inflections. With this heritage plus the pervasive influence of western pop music coupled with his personal love for jazz, he has, over the years played a unique blend of Afro-pop and jazz music.
His vocal delivery has always been unique and dexterous – always sticking to that unwavering accent that defines a true Ghanaian and an African.
Rex Omar was blessed to have come from a family that was musically-gifted – and in defying his father’s wish to become a lawyer, he parlayed that knowledge in the rudiments of music into becoming one of the most valued repositories of music in Ghana.
He has never been all about the razzmatazz of the trade. He has over the years also exhibited such notable business acumen to the craft, a striking virtue that saw him invest over €25,000 in the making of the 1999 album, ‘Fa’, which was recorded in one of the most expensive studios in the United Kingdom at the time.
A consummate artist must be a performer and Rex is a ‘beast’ on stage. He has the energy, the zeal and the ability to remain original and glorious with live performances – characteristics that saw him and his band, Nu Ashanty, captivate grand shows across Africa and in the 2000s.
Rex Omar is currently the Chairman of the Ghana Music Rights Organization (GHAMRO) and thus far, the group is doing quite well in overseeing the royalty system for right owners – but that desire to help the Ghanaian musician know his/her rights and to have liberation and gratification in intellectual properties commenced a longtime ago.
As a strong advocate for the rights of the Ghanaian musician, within the context of universal copyright principles, Rex, together with the likes of Carlos Sakyi, Kwaku Sintim –Misa, the late Kojo Aquai, William Anku, Amandzeba, Talal Fattal and Prof. John Collins formed the Coalition of Concerned Copyright Advocates (COCCA), a group that caused the then President of the Republic of Ghana, to withhold his assent to the Copyright Bill, passed by Ghana’s Parliament in order for some discrepancies to be corrected.
His conviction in adopting the positive aspects of African culture for the socio-economic advancement of the African also led him to set up a non-profit making organization, the DIY-Africa.
As a long-standing member of the Copyright Society of Switzerland and his Publishing Rights contract with EMI (Germany) gave him so much insight and exposure on how an effective copyright system works – a situation that has intensified his desire to see that the Ghanaian musician is adequately paid for his works.
The pursuit in getting to where he is now with GHAMRO has seen him make enemies, fallen out with friends and branded as that man who is obstinate, loud and controversial – but, it all turned out for the best – as he has remained unfazed over such classification and is driving the organization to its rightful setting.
The new generation of Ghanaian musicians have become accustomed and comfortable with the release of singles, an ideal phenomenon that has persisted for some time now and that shift commenced with a game-changer – Rex Omar!
After going to the United Kingdom to record the album, ‘Fa’ somewhere in 2000, he returned to Ghana to promote it and having been exposed to how the system works on the international market with the release of singles off an album, he decided to replicate the norm by releasing the single, ‘Obidoba’ – but radio presenters and DJs, who were not familiar with the move felt it was a sign of pride and self-aggrandizement on the part of the artist, especially in an era where recognized artists were all releasing albums.
A newspaper publication which quoted Rex Omar issuing a warning to radio stations not to play his songs following the release of the ‘Obidoba’ single was the final nail to the coffin – causing all presenters across the country to blacklist him.
That boycott could have ended the career of any other artist, but not Rex Omar. He sold the rights to the album to a label in another country and made good money.
With the boycott still in place, he had to devise a scheme to regain prominence and relevance on Ghanaian radio and what he came up with could not be matched, not even by the controversial Prince, who had to go nameless over a dispute with his record label.
He produced the hit song, ‘Maba Obofo’ – a traditional gospel tune off the album, ‘Lion of Judah – Gospel with African Roots,’ that was a complete drift from the quintessential Rex Omar sound and it was a move to not let radio presenters/DJs associate him to the song – as he refused to put his name or picture on the album. Instead, he placed a drawing of Jesus Christ in dreadlocks on the cover.
Once the cassette sellers and operators made the song a hit by playing it in their respective shops, it was easy for it to get to the attention of the presenters/DJs – making the song one of the grand songs ever released.
It was only when he released the music video to the song that the presenters/DJs realized that the song was his, but it was too late – it was already a hit!
Long Live Rex Omar!
With a deluge of chart-topping songs, best-selling albums and sold-out concerts across Africa and Europe and a career that has spanned several decades – Rex Omar’s legacy and legendary status is beyond doubt; it is certified and cemented!
We celebrate him and pray God grants him a long life, grace, good health, grace and more wisdom as he continues to impart change and knowledge to the music industry.
Watch ‘Abiba’ – arguably the biggest joint from Rex Omar;
By Arnold Asamoah-Baidoo (www.entertainmentgh.com)