The Grammy nominated Ghanaian musician and activist Rocky Dawuni brought the house down with his eclectic Afro Roots vibes at the UN Environment headquarters in Gigiri, Nairobi last week. The occasion was the closing ceremony of the Global Landscapes Forum during which Dawuni was named as regional goodwill ambassador for UNEP.
“Throughout my career, I have used music as a platform to empower the community towards positive action and social transformation,” says Dawuni who had arrived in Nairobi just a few hours before the concert.
In his new role, he will be leading support and publicity for UNEP messages by engaging, organising and leading conservation activities targeted at fans of his music.
Last year, he participated in the World Environment Day celebrations in Canada during which he met Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and UNEP executive director Erik Solheim. He has also been an advocate for Clean Cookstoves, which is hosted by the UN to create clean and efficient household solutions.
“This designation to advocate environmental protection is a natural progression of work that I am already deeply involved in,” says Dawuni. When the UN reached out to him with news about his new designation about two months ago he didn’t need to think twice about jumping on a plane from his base in Los Angeles to Nairobi to accept the honour.
“Performing here at the UN before a gathering of the world’s top environmental policymakers and experts is the best forum to articulate the issues on sustainable solutions to the threats facing our environment,” says Dawuni.
One of the most successful African musicians, Dawuni has shared the stage with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Peter Gabriel, Bono, Jason Mraz, Janelle Monae and John Legend. He has released six highly successful albums, including the last “Branches of the Same Tree” which was nominated for Best Reggae Album at the 58th Grammy Awards in 2015. He became only the second African artist to be nominated in this category at the biggest music industry award ceremony.
Musically, his style straddles Afrobeat, Highlife and Reggae, a fusion that he describes as Afro Roots. On his last album, he featured guest appearances by reggae veterans Steele Pulse and Bob Marley’s eldest son, Ziggy.
He joins other UN Environment Goodwill Ambassadors including the renowned actor Don Cheadle and singer Ellie Goulding.
“As a musician I have huge influence to reach out especially to the youth who have the biggest stake in protecting the environment for the sake of future generations,” says Dawuni. “Social transformation has been a part of my musical journey so this is just another opportunity to expend my collaboration with the UN.”
Dawuni will use his global platform to advance the conservation message but he is keen on the situation Africa. “Africa is home, so my energies will be focused here,” he says.
Last week, he announced a crowd funding initiative by the Global Landscape Forum to support communities whose efforts to repair degraded mangroves, farm and other land were highlighted during the conference.
The concert took place on the last day of the conference with an opening performance by another UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador, singer and guitarist Suzanna Owiyo. Dawuni then stepped on stage with his fusion of Afro pop, high life and reggae
“It was a really cool set because I was able to showcase what I represent musically,” says Dawuni. “It was also very special to play the song “Nairobi” from my last album in the very city to which the song is dedicated.”
Dawuni has just completed recording a new album “Beats of Zion” whose release is set for early next year. The album was recorded in the two cities he calls home: Los Angeles and Accra, Ghana and features a range of collaborations. These include Batimbo Percussion Magique, a group of drummers from Burundi whom he connected with at the 2017 Sauti za Busara Festival in Zanzibar.
The album also features musicians on the cutting edge of Ghanaian music like hip-life star Sarkodie and Stonebwoy. He will be returning to Kenya in a few months’ time for a series of concerts to promote his new music while also addressing the major environmental challenges that the world faces.