Spitting bars and rhymes over a beat; that’s what rappers are known for. But very few have an incredible story like Kennedy ‘Kenzey’ Ayikwao.
“My father says he bought me a toy aeroplane one day [when I was about four years old] but I could not accurately locate his hands to take it. We went to the hospital and a prescription was made in respect of spectacles. Instead of medicating the left glass which actually had the problem, the medication was wrong. It was rather on the right glass.
It started gradually. Around 2004, I couldn’t see from the board any more so I had to go to the Mampong School for the Blind and 2007 saw the complete demise of my sight.”
From Mampong, Ayikwao gained admission to Okuapeman School; one of Ghana’s first grade secondary schools which runs a mixed system with the visually impaired and the sighted sitting in the same classrooms.
Just before our interview at the University of Ghana, where Kennedy is a third year student of Political Science and Philosophy, he joked with another blind student about how he was ‘the visually impaired on the m.i.c’ (a quintessential way of saying microphone in rapland).
However, prior to 2011, Kenzey was ostensibly a singer. Then he started rapping along to some popular hip hop tunes from artists such as Sarkodie. He was really good at it so friends encouraged him to explore the ‘goldmine’.
“They kept saying that I was sitting on a goldmine and that I should get serious with it. It was not like I was not making good use of [my talent]; it is just that I was not getting the push.”
Although Kenzey has not totally given up singing, he is rather well known now for his punch lines.
He counts artistes such as Samini, Sarkodie and M.anifest as musical influences.
The flying star
In a mix of English, Ghanaian pidgin and Twi, Kenzey’s songs are inspirational, about his life’s experiences and “of course about God and how his greatness has been in my life for a very long time now”; he says.
One of his records; ‘I’m a star’ talks about the pain of losing his mother and how he is ‘going to shine and fly high.’
The 20 year old has recently started performing on stage. He has previously performed at the finals of the Airtel Trace Music Stars competition at the National Theatre and the launch of Airtel Flex at the World Trade Centre, Accra.
According to Kenzey, performing was something he dreaded initially because of the fear that he may fall off on stage one day.
But his manager, Alex Kwaku Frimpong, is also always around to ensure that does not happen.
Popularly known as Manager Kay, he got to know Kenzey when he (Kenzey) moved in next door at Legon Hall, one of the university’s residential facilities. The final year student of Social Work, was awed by the talent and instantly struck a friendship.
According to Frimpong, “[people always ask how and where I found Kenzey. And they become surprised when I tell them we attend the same university except that I am a year ahead. They also wonder…whether he writes his rap or I do.”
Of course, Kenzey is responsible for his own lines.
One of Kenzey’s main challenges is the lack of a sponsor to ensure that he can spend time in the studio recording more songs.
Eyes on Ghana
In 2014, Dr Oscar Debrah, director of eye care of the Ghana Health Service, said there were 240,000 blind people in Ghana (about one percent of the population). 80 percent of cases are avoidable with cataract and glaucoma as leading causes of blindness.
People with disability also face discrimination, stigmatisation and belittling on a regular basis; something Kenzey says he has experienced before. A child born with any form of disability is also considered a bad omen in some communities in the country.
Uneducated, unemployed and unskilled, many disabled people have turned to begging on the streets.
“There is stigmatisation against my kind. Sometimes you walk and people ask ‘what can this guy do? Why will I associate myself with this person?” – Kenzey says.
The silent advocate
While Kenzey is not involved in any advocacy work currently, he hopes that his music would be a force in getting attitudes towards people with disability.
“…I wish to see myself as someone who is bringing change in terms of the perception people have about myself and my kind. I want to be that person who is causing that change from the notion of these people are forbidden.
With me getting a shine in the music industry, it of course will send a message across that [will force a change in perception and behaviour].
In that sense, with my career as a musician, which I wish to build and I am building, I am advocating indirectly.”
“Maybe in the future, I may go through a very positive situation where I will regain my sight. Which I believe will come to pass” – he says.
Not only does Kenzey want to become a successful musician, he hopes to further his education to the law school after he graduates in 2018 and become a philanthropist.
So from defending people at the bar to having a good time at a bar, Kenzey’s voice will soon be heard across Ghana and beyond.