Tagged: dancehall

Modern Ghanaians: a compilation of fusion Ghanaian / Western pop music genres


King Ayisoba, Modern Ghanaians, Netherlands, Makkum Records, CD MR8 (2013)

Apparently this album is a compilation made after 2006 of King Ayisoba’s most popular songs from other recordings released on the Pidgen Music label, which would explain why the music is relentlessly upbeat and doesn’t sound like anything out of the ordinary for me. This is very highly rhythmic music with a lot of call-and-response singing from a solo singer and a chorus, and it’s very light in its instrumentation. Several instruments may be playing at once but all are usually following the same melody and rhythms; they can hardly be said to be in harmony (European-style, anyway). The music lends itself easily to dancing; of course a lot of people would say, well, it’s Ghanaian pop music, it’s rhythmic, so it should be dance music, shouldn’t it? – but I have heard some (though not much) African pop music that is undanceable, so I never jump to conclusions about something simply because it comes from one particular region of the world.

The best tracks on the album are those that feature instruments unique to northern Ghana where King Ayisoba hails from: “Don’t joke to your father” features an acoustic stringed instrument (I think it’s called the kologo) which has a quality rather like a plucked violin that doesn’t resonate well but sounds a bit on the raw side – it lends itself to very intense emotive singing. On the next track, “Baaba poore”, the kologo again figures and there is another instrument providing some muted rhythm (it sounds as if someone is rubbing something to produce a sound like a muted barking dog). The singing on these songs verges on raucous but is usually restrained; it rarely breaks out into spontaneous chaotic celebration.

Other songs on the album are a mix of Western pop styles from different time periods which might be a bit disconcerting for those of us who think we’ve seen and heard everything there is to see and hear, and that old styles of popular music no longer hold much creative potential. Think again, folks: melodies and rhythms that might have sprung from the disco or reggae scenes a hundred years in the 1970s undergo sudden rejuvenation when juxtaposed with West African styles of singing and rhythms, and local instruments. The style of music featured is referred to as hip life which features hip hop and dancehall elements (and which should not be confused with hi-life which is an older style of pop music from West Africa). Lyrics are often in English (though delivered in Ghanaian accents) and refer to topics and social issues relevant to Ghanaians in their daily lives: for one, families pleading for the return of their fathers (“I want to see you my father”) who are enjoying themselves with mistresses at the expense of their children. Of these more Western-oriented songs, the best is “Don’t do the bad thing” which has a strong driving bass-heavy rhythm against which more delicate instruments such as flute and a stringed instrument flutter.

I must confess that after hearing Congolese bands like Konono No 1 with their blend of folk music traditions, electrified instruments made from scrap and junk materials and hypnotic beats and rhythms, this album does very little for me. I have the impression though that King Ayisoba’s music might be representative of an emerging style of music stripped right down to its basics to appeal to a wide urban Ghanaian audience whose origins are extremely mixed and who have particular needs and demands of popular music: a style of music drawing inspiration from traditional music forms and the latest overseas imports.

Before Fire I was Against Other People: joys of dark electronica, industrial, drum’n’bass, dub rolled into one

Submerged, Before Fire I was Against Other People, Ohm Resistance (2011)

A wonderful trancey recording that brings back memories of isolationist acts like Techno Animal and its Sidewinder offshoot, Scorn and Porter Ricks from the mid-1990s, “Before Fire I was Against Other People” is a gritty, hard-hitting and robust update on that ole-time dub electronica genre for the new millennium. Indeed, perusing the credits, I see that Scorn and Justin Broadrick had a hand on a couple of tracks so this act Submerged – a mysterious act to me, I know nothing about it apart from guessing it must be American – knew to contact the experts to get the right edginess, despair and zest. And this is a very zesty yet moody album, full of atmosphere and dread, an album just right for those of us who can’t enough of that post-9/11 paranoia though there be plenty of that in spades!

Opening track “Space Arabs” has a strong, pulsing if lumbering beat mixed with Middle Eastern melodies and flavour; it’s the kind of music you might be playing while inhaling on the water-pipe and arguing with friends about the latest revolt in Tahrir square in Cairo, Egypt, in some busy cafe in Beirut or Damascus just before the air-raid sirens go off. “Nowhere to Hide” is a delicate wafty piece that comes when everyone has just hit the floor and gone really quiet; in the far distance, planes screech and there’s the faint noise of an explosion. Vibrations soon come through the ground. Voices come through the radio and the track proper launches into another awkward, lumbering dubstep beat that stumbles for much of the piece. Pride of the album though is “Transport”, starting quietly and tentatively before going into another realm and pushing off on an urgent dancey, pounding rhythm and beat while a fragile melody repeats over and over and buzzing sounds and bleached-out squalls start zooming up and down over the galloping rhythm texture.

“No one” is a bit ordinary, featuring buzzing guitar and a percussion texture that might have been nicked from an old Techno Animal or even Hrvatski electronic breakbeat track. The music recovers with “Death Sentence”, featuring an ambience of dread and murk, and a sound that swings from thick and muddy to very spare and fragile to jungle-tribal. “Borderguard” has a worried ambience as feathery noise wavers and another monster rhythm comes to the fore. This is another track with a Middle Eastern feel thanks to what sounds like a looped field recording of chanting. Going into later tracks, the momentum is lost a bit with tracks that emphasise looping, hard-edged electronic percussion rhythms and beats, thick bass, swirling effects and distorted layers of vocals far back in the mix, and not much else. Into the straight towards the finishing line, the music becomes amorphous and uneasy and tracks often begin with sinister noise ambience before the hard pounding rhythms stomp their bovver-booted way into the music.

Though much of the music here is good, the tracks are very repetitive and don’t build on or develop music or sonic motifs that could lift their respective pieces to another, mightier level. Some of the music could have done without the rhythm textures and been full-fledged floaty ambient noise clouds. Still, as there’s not much of this good ole dub electronica / industrial music with the dancehall and dub influences around, this is a sterling effort.

Contact: Ohm Resistance

Images from Mick Harris discography