Accra, Ghana – In 2006, Ghana made its maiden appearance at the World Cup. It was a long overdue arrival for the proud footballing nation which at the time had won four African Championships, two FIFA U-17 World Cup titles, and two FIFA U-20 World Cup trophies.
The palpable excitement on the streets was eventually encapsulated in Yenie, a song by the gospel singer Grace Ashy meaning “This is Us” in the local Twi language. It played nonstop in private cars and public transport, on airwaves, and was sung affectionately by children converging in compounds to discuss their favourite players.
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In the Black Stars’ dressing rooms and on the team bus, players led the team in singing the song ahead of games. Striker Asamoah Gyan who was part of the 2006 team and remains the country’s all-time leading goal-scorer, was noted for leading many such sessions.
The inspiration for the song came from “being a patriotic citizen”, Ashy told Al Jazeera.
The singer, who has gone on to record five other songs for the team, eventually received a presidential honour from ex-Ghanaian President John Agyekum Kufuor, alongside members of the squad after they exited in the last 16.
Emergence of ‘jama’ song culture
Music and colour have always been integral to domestic football, prominent broadcaster Gloria Peprah told Al Jazeera.
“Growing up in Kokomlemle [a town in Accra], club football fans from Olympics FC, Accra Hearts of Oak, and Kotoko would tout their horns, wave their flags, and all that. As a child, it was exciting though I never understood the rivalry and all that,” she said.
Songs sung in support of your team in the West African country usually come in one of three forms, Abraham Nkansah, leader of the Die-Hard Supporters Union told Al Jazeera. There are folk songs in another local language, Ga, called “kpanlogo”, brass band music and then the most popular of them all – “jama” songs.
Jama – a word originating from Ga for songs sung at events – is a genre of cheer songs with lyrics from Twi, Ga, Ewe, and Pidgin languages passed across generations of sports fans. Composed to praise one’s team and banter with opposing teams, fans say they help boost the morale of the fans in cheering for their team.
In 1970, club football in Ghana reached its peak as Asante Kotoko Sporting Club of Kumasi – the country’s second largest city – won the CAF [Confederation of African Football] Champions League, the first for a team from the country.
Their fan base soon found ways to assert bragging rights through jama songs fusing sounds from homemade instruments like “bugarabu” drums, agogo, castanets, shekere and trumpets with local rhythms like highlife to create jama songs.
Other supporters followed suit, creating a boisterous atmosphere at games as they willed their teams to victory and jeered opposing sides.
But the club rivalries fizzled out whenever it was time to unite for the Black Stars.
After Ghana qualified for Germany in 2006, Ashy’s Yenie was one of the first Black Stars-themed songs specifically fashioned for the World Cup – to unify fans nationwide.
“I believe my cheer songs inspired citizens to be supportive and also fostered unity amongst the people of Ghana irrespective of their background,” Ashy said.
That same year, Straight to the Top, an all-English tune was composed and sung by Talal Fatal, then a songwriter and music producer but now CEO of an Accra-based TV channel.
Like Yenie, it was a slight departure from jama culture but also became a hit.
“You know during that time, television was limited and so were the stations and I remember when Ghana scored a goal”, Peprah said. “The songs would be played during half-time and Ghanaians will be so excited singing “we’re going straight to the top’.”
Soon, producing football songs in studios became a norm but only a few captured the attention of fans, especially those incorporating the familiar jama rhythms.
When Ghana made it to the quarterfinals of the 2010 tournament in South Africa, Yenie and a number of other songs released – to varying success – were soundtracks.
During every match day, every goal, and post-match analysis, pubs blasted the songs on huge public address systems and fans randomly sang and drummed in the streets. It was a chaotic rendition of fan love.
After Ghana qualified for the 2022 World Cup, more songs were released including most notably a freestyle track from Gyan who is now retired, as well as from highlife musician Akwaboah and rapper Kweku Flick.
“Jama is meant to ginger the players,” Sani Mohammed, founder of Ghana First Supporters Union (GAFSU) told Al Jazeera. “Without the jama, the players will be dull and can’t score goals. You could see from our game with Portugal [at Qatar 2022] that the jama was what boosted the morale of the players to score [two] goals.”
If supporters in the stands do not sing the jama tunes, being present at the stadium means nothing, he added.
‘For God and country’
But Ashy who believes she paved the way for this new era of football chants, says she is yet to earn royalties or monetary compensation for their work.
“I never received support from the government for producing the song but I guess being a citizen of Ghana, this is my quota for my nation,” she said.
In 2013, the singer told a local newspaper that the Ghanaian Football Association (GFA) and the Black Stars were ungrateful but she did not regret it because “I did it for God and country”.
Still Ashy says hearing her songs being sung along to at stadiums, football bars, and elsewhere, makes her happy and inspired. “For me, I think we did a great job,” she said.