The cover of the Ebony Reigns album Bonyfied

My nightly TikTok binge was going as it normally would. I swiped through comedic videos made by couples; calming videos of people recounting their day as they clean their homes, shop, and go out to eat; and other videos of people dancing to dancehall, soca, and Afrobeats music. When I was new to the app, it only took TikTok’s algorithm three or four nights to get a clear picture of the video content I enjoy. 

On that particular night in October, I saw a video of one of my favorite online personalities, Nella Rose. Beside a friend, she loudly proclaimed, “If you cheat on me I go date your fada,” and then the video cut to footage of a woman onstage in all black performing amid a group of dancers. “If you break my heart I go date your fada,” the woman sang. “You gonna be my son, you go call me your mother.” I not only laughed (and danced, because I loved the snippet of the song), but I was also curious—because even as Afrobeats has become more popular worldwide, women are still lacking in the genre.

The 2017 live clip of Ebony Reigns performing “Date Ur Fada” that I saw on TikTok

The song, “Date Ur Fada,” appears on Ebony Reigns’s first and only album, 2017’s legendary Bonyfied. In 2015 the late Ghanaian artist had released her first single, “Dancefloor,” also an upbeat Afrobeats banger, and it helped her gain a following in her home country. I’d started listening to Afrobeats the previous year, with Wizkid’s Ayo. From there, I backtracked to his album Superstar and tuned in to artists such as Flavour, R2Bees, Tiwa Savage, Burna Boy, Mr. Eazi, and Yemi Alade—but it was obvious from the start that women weren’t as visible as men in Afropop and Afrobeats.

But Ebony Reigns not only made Afrobeats, she also made dancehall—another genre in which women’s contributions are minimized. Many songs on Bonyfied, including “Dancefloor” and “Sponsor,” fuse elements of the two genres. Throughout the album, Ebony tells her story of hustling as a young musician and navigating the hazy world of dating when potential suitors look unappealing. One of the most memorable songs on Bonyfied is “Maame Hw3” (roughly translated, “Mama Look” in Twi), whose introduction recalls Kelis’s 1999 “Caught Out There”—Ebony screams “I hate you so much right now,” then proceeds to detail how a girl was bamboozled by an abusive thief who misrepresented himself as an honest man.

Ebony Reigns’s video for “Sponsor,” directed by Yaw Skyface

Sadly, Ebony passed away in a car accident at the tender age of 20 in 2018, just two months after the album was released. But she’s still loved and honored by West African people across the diaspora. It’s a relief and a joy to see other Ghanaian woman artists—including Amaarae, best known for “Sad Girlz Luv Money,” and Gyakie, with her hit “Forever”—continue innovating Afro sounds and creating their own lanes in music. Even Tidal has a playlist dedicated to Ebony, which recognizes not only the mark she made in Afrobeats but also the role she played in continuing the cultural connection between Ghana and Jamaica. Her legacy lives on.

Ebony made the video for “Poison” in Dubai.

The Listener is a weekly sampling of music Reader staffers love. Absolutely anything goes, and you can reach us at thelistener@chicagoreader.com.

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