An Existentialist Breakdown Of Obiri Tete’s “Life Be Beans”

Obiri Tete's Life Be Beans released in September

This is a breakdown of Obiri Tete‘s Life Be Beans by Achaab Daniel Abalansa

While going through my WhatsApp status feed, I found an artwork. It had half the face of a guy in pink corned-rows, some cowries attached in the hair, all on an orange background with the words: Life be Beans.

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cover art for Obiri Tete’s Life Is Beans designed by Rolteq Graphics

Knowing this was pidgin English, I was certain it meant Life is Beans in a literal translation but that wasn’t all that caught my attention…The face was familiar. The face on the artwork was that of a bright talented guy I shared my first desk with, while at the Pope John Senior High School and Minor Seminary.

Obiri-Tete.

He had changed, he’d now grown some hair.

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Obiri Tete image via Twitter @obiritetelive

With thoughts about what had led him to switch to this new look over the years, I patiently waited for September 15th. The day I get to listen to what the Whatsapp status was asking us to “anticipate Life Be Beans.”

The day came, I listened to the song and…I found the wait worth it.

Obiri-Tete kicks start the song with the basic goal beyond survival – to find something valuable amidst the chaos. By hinting at the often-emphasized anxiety suffered by his generation (with the invention of social media), he makes his point in a clear enough verse: having many friends does not guarantee a thing. Only time does.

Obiri Tete drops new single, "Bebiaa beye fine" – LISTEN | Beenie Words
Obiri Tete image via Beeniewords.com

For your typical millennial, making friends is only a click away. It’s no longer that tedious task of having to go out into the world with the net of luck. However, this does not translate into a deus exmachinaic tool to keep one’s personal struggles at bay. Obiri puts it this way:

"3000 friends who you call or text (charley) when you need some help (yh), Telling you time will tell, time will tell…"

We get introduced to a problem, like your average dissertation, by the end of the first verse. At which point the need for the solutional chorus is created:

"Life be beans make you add your own kɔkɔɔ
Make you add your own kɔkɔɔ x8"

What can we make of the chorus? Obiri-Tete’s definitive metaphor is brief and pithy; enclosing wild ideas within the wall of words as Mardy Grothe classifies metaphors of this kind. Instead of saying “life is meaningless – create your own meaning” or “life is chaos – make your own order”, he uses the jargon, one which resonates so well to his target audience… The Young Ghanaian of his generation. “Beans” is used to symbolize the normal benefits we are all privy to, the common problems we all have to live by – by virtue of having life and kɔkɔɔ (fried ripe plantain) as the one sweet addition one has to personally prepare in response to the basic provisions of life.

Red Red Recipe (Ghanaian Beans Stew) - Dream Africa
The popular Plantain and beans meal image via Dream Africa

Obiri-Tete gives the same solution proposed by those men of existentialist fashion (Nietzsche, Sartre, Kierkegaard and Camus), men who all philosophized the problem of living life individually by personally defining one’s own value and working towards that – instead of adopting by default, the dictates of societal values which may not consider the individual’s uniqueness. Obiri only does his in a different way, through Ghanaian music and jargon.

As though these insights aren’t enough, Obiri makes a shift before presenting us with his chorus again. In the second verse, the artist highlights how easy it is for the fortunate to assume those who aren’t as fortunate as they are, are lazy folks. He writes:

"Rich folks calling broke folks lazy just because they don’t own shit they do,
Tryna play it fair never easy when you norr say life serves no rule (yh),"

Albeit, the need to keep on moving, like Sisyphus, is not ignored in subsequent lines and when the chorus comes to remind us of the needful existentialist maxim, Obiri-Tete concludes with yet another maxim from the sages, only through the use of a different metaphor again. Consider how he speaks on the need for one to be self-content with what life presents in the moment, only looking on the future for a better day:

 "No dey matter, whether Gob3 or waakye, Dwen hw3 kann, keep your eyes on daakye"

Life be Beans is a true work of art, spanning only 2:20 minutes and yet, exemplifies how simple mundane efforts by a determined artist might possibly carry enough complexity akin to that of the academic scholar.

It’s a project not only to entertain but address the necessary antidote to the everyday problems faced by humanity, most especially Obiri’s generation.

We’ll be needing more of this, Obiri-Tete. Keep the fire burning!

Stream Life Be Beans by Obiri Tete here.

Written By: Achaab Daniel Abalansa

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