The Azonto Evangelist

 el-w2Widely regarded as one of those who fashioned the Azonto sound which has fast become a movement within and beyond the confines of his native Ghana, E.L. speaks to Eromo Egbejule on everything from comparisons with his namesake in Semitic mythology to producing Sarkodie’s hit, You Go Kill Me.

Elorm Adablah, superstar status aside, is but a 29-year-old gangly innocent-faced six-footer whose real name often times does not ring a bell even in the Ghanaian and UK circles where his music is easily recognisable among the best of African imports.

But as E.L., the multi-award winning rapper, singer and producer, who in 2012 was named by The Guardian UK alongside the likes of Wizkid and D’banj as the faces of the new Afrobeat sound, is the genius responsible for the famed “This Is Crazy, Chale” catchphrase that is the signature of his tunes.

“I needed a slogan that would reflect the feeling that me and my team wanted to transfer to our audience,” he explains. “The music was good; we wanted a catchy phrase that reflected the feeling it gave off.”

His journey into making music began even before his sojourn at the University of Legon where he studied economics and political science and often skipped classes at university to record songs in his bedroom. He learnt to play instruments after high school in Dansoman where he topped his classes.

“I have always been a sound addict,” he says. “I started in the choir in church, then went to piano school, then joined Skillionaires after high school. That’s when we recorded and released the Skillionaires Demotapes. Then I proceeded to record on my own till date, when I dropped my personal album.”

E.L. dropped his debut single “Why” in 2009 and has been forever ascending the ladder ever since. In 2011, he released “The Project Hiphop” mixtape with C-Real, which features hit single “Weytin de Happen”

Asides his environment and personal experience, Elom claims to have been influenced by good emerging trends in music and admits he grew up listening to Reggie Rockstone, Obrafuor, Notorious B.I.G, 2Pac, Jay Z etc. On his stellar production skills, the performer who is signed to Accra-based BBnZ Live says, “I practised with Jayso; we taught ourselves. And then, I kept improving at Legon. I don’t have a best beat or song. I love them all. ”

Also recognised by the British paper was Sarkodie, the tongue-twisting rap phenomenon who is now a household name in Nigeria; E.L. voiced the catchy hook for his monster hit, You Go Kill Me as well as produced it. The inspiration for the song and the Azonto movement in general, he says was borne out of the desire to break out of the norm. “It was in a quest to do something different and original that we spotted an emerging trend and developed it.”

He is deemed a co-founder of the Azonto genre, a fact which he disputes. “I didn’t single-handedly invent Azonto. I consider myself to be a pioneer but essentially a contributor in a big way to its formation. Azonto is a combination of different types of music but it stands alone.”

Azonto has spread far and wide like wildfire in the harmattan and notable converts of the gospel include Chris Brown (who admitted re-jigging some of the moves he learnt in Lagos for his Fine China video), Kerry Hilson and others. Half of the most popular songs of the sub-genre in Ghana have E.L. involved, either by way of production or him lending his vocals.  His Azonto-tinged version of Kanye West & Jay Z’s In Paris song, together with Obuu Mo Na, Lifesavers with Party Hard crooner, Donaeo and Hallelujah with fellow Ghanaian rapper, M.anifest have and continue to make waves across the continent.

His impressive 25-track double-disc debut album, Something ELse which was nominated in five categories for the 2013 Ghana Music Awards, was released last year, with lyrics in Ga, Twi, English and Pidgin and swings from the Azonto to hiphop and even R&B genres.
A nomination at the Channel O Awards last year as well as another for Best Movie Score at the inaugural Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards (AMVCA) this year, a category which he won in the 2010 African Academy Awards (AMAA) for the movie, A Sting in the Tale, are but a few of the feathers which dot his fedora. He has also amassed awards in the Ghana Movie Awards and Visafone Ghana Music Awards, over the years.

His 2013 became even more amazing in April when he was announced host of the BBC One Xtra Talent show, becoming the first Ghanaian ever and one of few Africans, to do so.

For a man who on top of all this is also an ambassador for telecommunications giant, Airtel, surely the load on his shoulders must come with a lot of challenges? He agrees, “It’s a new experience. Coming with a lot of responsibility, I’m still getting into the swing of things. Doing my best to be an exemplary ambassador.”

He has worked with big names all over the continent from J. Martins, 9ice, Fabulous, Tinny, VIP, M.anifest, C-real and Rick Ross.  Very recently too, he was featured alongside Lynxxx, Ice Prince and Sarkodie in the remix of Dr Sid’s Chocolate and has good things to say about the Nigerian music industry.

“Nigeria is the biggest player in the African industry,” he confesses. “So it is essential for every artiste to be part of it. Crossovers are relative for every artiste. We place value in establishing the strongest links with other countries and that takes time, strategy and patience.”

In Semitic mythology, the god El is referred to as “The Supreme One”, but this mortal will have none of that. “My El is short for ELOM, so no God issues there.”

But for one with such talent and passion and with the efforts he puts into refining his art, Elom Adablah is definitely carving his name into legend as one of the finest Ghanaian music icons that ever was.

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