Best New Music: Lirase makes life’s uncertainty sound hopeful on “Don’t Know”
Best New Music: Lirase makes life’s uncertainty sound hopeful on “Don’t Know”

Best New Music: Lirase makes life’s uncertainty sound hopeful on “Don’t Know”

The Ghanaian singer-songwriter offers defiant hope

The world is still a mess. We’re still reeling from the effect of a pandemic (that’s still ongoing), and an entire generation of young people continue to bear the brunt of a volatile global economy, especially in Africa where several countries are going through record levels of inflation that’s raising cost of living to astronomical highs and incinerating purchasing power.

In all of this, Ghanaian singer and songwriter Lirase would like you to believe that life is beautiful, a plain statement he offers at the very top of his new single, “Don’t Know”. If you’re cynical enough you might be tempted to call bullshit but, hey, hear the man out. Immediately after that opening line, he quickly follows with, “but sometimes feel like shit,” and it all feels very right—an idealist lyric line followed by one soaked in the mud of reality. It’s not exactly a bait-and-switch move, as the general tone of the song is one of optimism, but it does set an affecting tone for Lirase to figure out what really makes life beautiful.

A week before this new song, Lirase shared his official debut single, “Dark Ages”, a personal and reflective ode to new beginnings over an orchestral blend of new wave synths, dream pop guitars, contemporary R&B drums and fuzz rock ambience. Initially entering the Ghanaian music fray as electro-fusion beat-maker and occasional rapper TonioBeatz back in 2013, that first single partly served as a symbolic moment of reinvention, clearing space for an artist potentially committed to telling his truth over electric instrumentation.

“Don’t Know” continues that early streak, establishing Lirase’s bonafides as a singer-songwriter coming into his own. In his commitment to assuring himself (and us) that he’s taken “life as a blessing,” you can tell Lirase is baffled throughout the song. Whether it’s by kids wanting to be all grown up or adults wishing for the idyll days of adolescence and youth, there’s a curiosity that makes his defiance to view life as a worthwhile—wholesome, even—experience come across as admirable.

“I got too many questions, me I don’t know,” he sings on the pre-chorus, with a twinge of shakiness to his voice that makes the cathartic swell of the chorus—“That be why I’ve been searching, searching wey no dey end/journey wey no dey earn”—feel earned. Thematically, it’s reminiscent of Jason Mraz’s “Life is Wonderful”, but Lirase is a lot less zany with his writing and perhaps that makes “Don’t Know” a little more bracing. It also helps that he’s speaking from his personal perspective, allowing himself to be uncertain even in his earnestness.

Like its preceding single, “Don’t Know” is produced by John Ekow Barnes, who’s worked extensively with Ghanaian jazz-fusion group Overtone Band, and it benefits from his experience with live instrumental arrangement, collecting influences from reggae, rock, funk and folk. The music reminds me of revered Nigerian singer-songwriter Asa’s classic, “Jailer”, and even though Lirase isn’t speaking truth to power with the same combative vim and narrative excellence, but it’s remarkable how he offers hope without sticking his head in the sand or acting like he’s handing down lessons from a soapbox. Also, like Asa all those years ago, Lirase is working within the same lineage of modern Afropop artists rooting their music in the grittier aspects of going through life.

Listen to “Don’t Know” here.