Album Review: KonKoma
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KonKoma’s debut album highlights Ghana’s rich afro-funk history and musical legends.

By Clyde Macfarlane

Ghanaians must feel left out when it comes to afrobeat. People often forget that Ghana, rather than Nigeria, is where it all started. This was the place traditional African rhythms first combined with European brass, an essential mould for the sound later popularised by Fela Kuti. It may have been given a different name – ‘highlife’ – but the roots of afrobeat are obvious. Loyal fans of Ghana’s musical history – as can be seen from their past compilations – Soundway Records are now proudly releasing the debut album by contemporary afro-funk outfit KonKoma.

“KonKoma is the name of a tribe in Northern Ghana”, says lead guitarist Alfred ‘Kari’ Bannerman. “They are very colourful and their rhythms are wonderful. The band is a rebirth of Ghanaian music from the 70s and 80s – it feels very authentic.”

Both Bannerman and keyboardist Emanuel Rentzos are living relics from that period. Bannerman played regularly with Pat Thomas, acknowledged by Ebo Taylor as one of highlife’s most important singers, while Emmanuel Rentzos exemplifies KonKoma’s American funk connection, boasting collaborations with Bobby Womack, Johnny Nash and Herbie Hancock. The superb funk/highlife instrumental ‘Accra Jump’ is an easy marriage of the two styles, showing a direction the two genres could have pursued if such collaborations had been commonplace back then.

Perhaps the most valuable Ghanaian characteristic displayed by KonKoma is impeccable timing, reflected in tracks like ‘Sibashaya Woza’ and ‘Kpanlogo’. The drumming in particular stands out as James Brown worthy. Amidst a rich crowd of horns, African and European drums, guitars and keyboards, everyone gets a fair slot. On ‘Handkerchief’, a xylophone-driven backbone is tweaked back and forth from prominence using 21st century sound engineering; guest mixer Mike Pelanconi (aka Prince Fatty), noted for his genre-spanning back catalogue, seems to be on the right wavelength. On the album, building a contemporary group around two legends has proven to be a wining structure, not just for KonKoma but for Ghanaian music as a whole.

KonKoma is released by Soundway Records.