The Culture Joint

An icon who changed the game: The story of Mzbel

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Despite being a male-dominated industry, Ghana’s music space has seen women come to the party and contribute heavily to its success. While some were leading the line, others were behind the scenes, pulling strings to see our sound and image rise. A lot of names would come to mind when you asked people to list females who have paid their dues in Ghana’s music history.

The likes of Paulina Oduro, Akosua Agyapong, Abrewa Nana, Daughters of Glorious Jesus, Tripple M, Becca, Ohemaa Mercy, Efya, Kaakie, and Mzvee to Gyakie, Amaarae, Adina, Cina Soul, Anabel Rose, S3kyerewaa, Darkua, and Essilfie have played their part and continue to play their roles in elevating the status of female acts in the country, and one of such females who deserves to be celebrated is the iconic Mzbel.

Belinda Nana Ekua Amoah, popularly known as Mzbel, shot to fame in the mid-2000s and became one of the leading voices of hip-hop. Her craft and showmanship made her one of the most sought-after artists in the end and cemented her place as one of the pillars of female artistry in the country.

Prior to her music career, Mzbel had stints at several media outlets in one role or another, including show host, production, and others. She worked at GBC, Adom FM (then Groove FM), TV3, and Metro TV. Through her stints, she got a job at Hush Hush Studio in Accra.

After a few months working in and around the studio, she would give music a shot, releasing her first album in 2004 with the hit single “Awoso Me.” The album took her places and propelled her status as one of the stars to look out for. It is reported that the album is one of the best-selling female hip-hop albums to date.

She would win multiple awards and perform on some of the biggest stages across the country. She would follow the album with her most popular album and lead single “16 Years”.

The album title track “16 Years” generated a lot of talk, which is still discussed today.

The song had a subtel comical touch, but spoke on the issue of Child Molestation and abuse in Ghana. The song, which many described as a reply to Obour’s Konkonteba song, brought to light the plight of young women at the hands of older, richer, and more powerful men. 

The album cemented her place as one of the front runners of hip-life as she gave male acts a run for their money. Despite receiving backlash from people, including industry players, Mzbel would not back down. She would harness all the criticism and put out another album in 2007 with the lead single “It Dey Be.” At this point, she was at the peak of her career and was arguably the number-one female artist in the country.

She formed a beautiful partnership with Castro, with whom she made hit songs. With multiple hit songs to her credit and an even larger following, she surprised everyone by pulling out of the 2008 Ghana Music Awards, stating years later that she did not feel comfortable being nominated by people who spoke badly about her.

The same people who condemned her for using explicit lyrics and dressing badly were the same people asking people to vote for her. She never got nominated but would receive awards from other platforms, including a special Portrait of an Excellent Woman award for forging a way as a female artist and contributing to female empowerment.

After two decades in the game, Mzbel has taken a step back to pursue other interests as an entrepreneur and a mother. She may not be the artist she once was, but it is imperative that we do not let her contributions to the space go unspoken of. For the sake of younger people who may not have listened to her music, especially female musicians, we must tell the Mzbel story so they know what others have done to make things much smoother for women today.

She recently dropped a very controversial song, Ashibolanga,” which raised a few eyebrows. While she continues to take center stage in one controversy or another today, she always finds a way to come out even stronger. From the lyrics, her looks down to her explosive and expressive nature did not sit well with a lot of older folks who painted her to be a bad influence and role model, but she was loved among the Ghanaian youth.

In a period where women were not offered a lot of freedom and grace within the music space, Mzbel stepped in and defied all the odds. Her stance came with backlash, insults, and abuse, but she knew what she wanted to do and stood her ground. Her ability to voice out the worries and realities of young people in her music was her biggest achievement. She spoke about love, sex, abuse and other subject matters women shied away from for fear of being targeted and harassed. 

She was attacked and abused physically, but she still never backed down. She moved from just being a singer to having her own reality show “Bel In the City”, a fashion brand, and successful business ventures. For someone who is said to be a bad influence, she has really done amazing things for herself and her family.

People allowed their bitterness and ignorance to stop them from enjoying the music Mzbel made. For someone often slut-shamed, Mzbel made the music to empower and amplify the plight of women while being vocal about the needs of women in relationships. In today’s world, she would have been described as a baddie, a diva, motha.

The music she makes today may not be as brilliant as it was years ago, but that should not stop us from highlighting her contribution to Ghana’s music industry for women. While male artists got away with the most outlandish and explicit songs, women were chastised for simply singing about how they wanted to be loved, touched, and treated in bed. She did not cave in or allow society to dictate to her. She was the outlaw that started a movement that is still alive today. 

For women like Amaarae, Fantana, Wendy Shay, or any woman in Ghana’s music space being called names for how expressive they are in their body, song, and clothing, there was Mzbel. She was “the diva” before it became cool to become a diva. Mzbel may not be the best in terms of vocals or performance, but to this writer, she was an activist and a great influence. Her lyrics were some of the best in the game.

She employed a singing and talking rap style which made her words very audible and clear. She may not have been an out-and-out female rapper, but she did find a balance between being a singer and a rapper. She was the match that lit the fire that continues to burn today, where women are expressive about themselves through their personalities, looks, and talents. While many would not agree, Mzbel’s career has been a blueprint from which other women have shaped theirs.

Everything about her was a statement, a moment and an experience.  Like the late Suzzy Williams, Mzbel’s fashion which was also heavily condemned has become the go-to style for most female artists. She is an icon who deserves to be celebrated. She had a vision, a plan and saw it through regardless of the outburst and backlash.

Written by: Nana Kojo Mula


The Culture Joint