New language and identity in Kumasi (Ghana)

young people
A group of young people in Ghana (Photo credit: Josiah Sarpong)

Language is a key component of identity. The language of a people or a society says who they are, what their practices and belief systems are. Language varies based on the changes that a society undergoes. It would not be too farfetched to say that language is a mirror of society. One phenomenon recently emerged in Ghana, precisely in Kumasi, the commercial hub of the country. The youth speak a new language called ‘SAKA” and a category of young people also claim to be living in ‘KUMERICA’ (America in Kumasi), a kind of society which has its own codes. Today the ‘Kumericans’ sing in a language called ‘Asakaa’ a derivative of Saka, the alternative form of ‘kasa’ which is the word for “to speak” in Twi, one of the main languages in Ghana. Twi is the language of the Ashanti, most of the residents in Kumasi.

Ingenious linguistic construction and impressive hybrid music.

The Ghanian youth amazes many with their creativity and ingenuity. In a crafty manner, they manipulate languages and also music genres through borrowing(s) and combinations in order to create their own language and music in Kumasi.

Saka or Keshey

Saka is a slang which epitomizes the youngsters’ desire for a new linguistic/language identity. The name comes from the Twi word Kasa, which means “to speak.” This code name ‘Saka’ is now a slang which is quickly becoming an alternative to the pidgin language. Saka is called Keshey in the high school milieu and this slang mixes sounds from Twi (mainly) and English into unique words. This new language, which is the pride of the Kumasi boys, has no exclusive alphabet and no definitive sounds. The main rule or secret is for the speaker to be smart enough to interchange sounds and articulate swiftly. A student put it in these terms: “It’s like when you have a word, you just take the first pronunciation [sound] of the word and take it back and take the back one and bring it forward. So, you just change it, and you have to speak it fast and when you are saying it, you have to change it in your mind fast”. The reason behind the coinage of Saka is that in Ghana, Accra in particular, almost everybody speaks pidgin, and the Kumasi youth want to distinguish themselves through their own language, Saka or Keshey. What started as a mere street code is now a symbol of pride with which many people in Kumasi yearn to be associated, especially high school students. The prestige of the street code turned language is reflected in the admiration and desire that this Kumasi gentleman expresses: “I feel attracted to the Keshey, I have the passion to learn but it feels difficult to learn it. Sometimes, when I hear my friends speaking that language, I feel left out”. The value of Keshey increased during the 2021 National Science and Math Quiz, when the supporters of the team from Kumasi were speaking keshey they were much admired. It is almost unimaginable what a special place this language occupies in people’s hearts. They pray that it flourishes and spreads in the two big cities of Ghana, starting from its source, Kumasi, as this statement shows: “Our prayer is that God will help us to give the children and the elderly people the knowledge to speak the language because it is now becoming the whole thing in Kumasi; some of the Accra people also speak the language.’

Kumerica Subculture

In 2020, a group of young men from Kumasi went viral for their aggressive and hard-hitting music as well as their accompanying videos which bore a striking resemblance to the rap videos coming out of America some 10 years earlier. Rap music is nothing new to Ghana, which has seen the rise of many local stars in the last couple of years, but there is something different about the latest movement from Kumasi that has brought international recognition to the ‘Kumerica’ subculture. While the songs are partly in English, they also feature both Twi which can easily be understood in Ghana, as a dialect of Akan, and new Kumerican slang, which is effectively a form of Twi code that sees the first and last parts of words swapped, or Saka.

Kumerican artistes add an ‘A’ on both sides of the word to get the name of the new rap subgenre they created which is ‘Asakaa’. The word Kumerica itself is a ‘mash-up’ of Kumasi, the city these young rappers hail from, and America, the country that has inspired much of the new culture. It has primarily influenced the fashion and sound of youth in the Ashanti region of Ghana, but through its regular presence in the region’s music, the circulation of the term finally became much more prevalent across Ghana and the world. Stars of Asakaa confirm that the uniqueness of their music lies in their  use of local language and their unique street terms, something that  other rap music around the world does not do. Another striking feature of Asakaa is that this music is a harmonious blend of Kumasi realities and the American influences embraced by the artistes who are honest enough to say that their sounds are not uniquely theirs. This new music carries a very distinctive American influence that is noticeable from the common “Woo’s” and growling adlibs that featured heavily in the recent Brooklyn-based drill movement, but Asaaka mixes that with a local sound and style to create an experience that stands out against their international competition. One of the most popular songs which seemed to have really made Kumerica’s presence known, was the posse cut “Sore” which is Twi for wake up. It sees 19-year-old Yaw Tog alongside other talented Ghanaian artists like O’Kenneth, Reggie, City Boy and Jay Bahd, rap about their experiences on the streets of Kumasi.

While Asakaa and Kumasi’s most popular rappers are a big part of what Kumerica has become known for, the concept of Kumerica is much greater and covers more than music. Numerous suburbs in Kumasi are now increasingly referred to as different locations in the US and every important area in Kumasi is given the name of a state or big city in the US. For example, Manhyia (the royal palace in Kumasi) is commonly referred to as Washington DC. Abrepo is Georgia, Abuakwa is Chicago, and so on. Furthermore, Kumerica has its own flag, with the following colours:  yellow (Kumasi is the  reservoir of mineral resources), green ( the city is referred to as the Garden City in Ghana) and black (Black pride, the hope of the motherland). The designer chooses the pattern of the colors.

Kumerica residents stress that Kumerica, Asakaa, Saka and Keshey do not have any tribal, separatist or political intention. They emphasize its contribution to Ghanian culture and ask that the language Saka or Asaaka be added to the list of national languages studied in Ghanaian schools. 

Moussa Traoré is Associate Professor at the Department of English of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.

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One Comment

  1. Interesting. Your articles are very unique and highly inspirational. I really enjoyed reading them.

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