In the universe of African music, many genres float about, some frequently colliding with each other to produce breathtaking showers of melody, whilst others stay true to their orbit. Stevo Atambire is from one of such musical traditions that is magnetized to its path. However, the seasoned musician has decided to steer his asteroid of sound towards you. On Teach Me his latest solo album, Stevo Atambire has produced an electrifying Kologo music project that does well at clearly defining this old genre of sub-Saharan music as well as beaming its sound into the future.
The album ebbs and flows with a strong and refreshing pedagogical current for both the artist and the listeners. The opening track, Kologo, featuring Wanlov the Kubolor (reprising his role in the Afro-Gypsy band with Stevo Atambire) creates an even starting point for the immersive cultural experience that is to follow over 18 cuts by announcing what Kologo music is in grand fashion. This distinct two-stringed fiddle similar to the Goge of the Hausa has several similar versions all over the continent. However, the song drizzles the brash and tingling melodies of the Kologo, indigenous to the Frafra of the Upper East Region of Ghana, as he defines the genre and the flamboyant culture that accompanies it.
The teaching lessons that follow this introduction are a jigsaw puzzle design by the virtuoso Stevo Atambire and The Alostmen (his band) as they explore various facets of Frafra cultural through picturesque and poetic story-telling and possessive, charming melodies including electro-pop chords, auto tune vocals, rap verses, Sahelian sonic structures and highlife horn sections all of which bookmark the project as an almanac of contemporary Ghanaian sound. Stevo also uses various brief and almost cryptic skits as cues that steer you through the elaborate web he weaves with his bold voice, a steady and reassuring personality on the project.
Being economical with features, Teach Me brings in just a few other African musicians who demonstrate how unique yet malleable the Kologo sound is. Highlife legend Gyedu Blay Ambolley on the song Minus Me, spins a black super hero soundtrack with the blaring parade like horn section that start the song and eagerly chase the pacy kologo chords throughout the song. The cut doesn’t particularly attempt to clear a path for the popular highlife rhythm but rather sprinkles a new sound that goes to show just how much can be done with traditional sounds in contemporary Ghanaian music.
Aside Stevo’s didactic process on the tape, he also makes creative use of language in his lyrical architecture. Singing in Pidgin English and Frafra, Stevo Atambire leads his listeners into the deeply poetic world of the Kologo. The tiny instrument which is often played alone, relies heavily on a stellar vocal deliver to reinforce its sonic strength. This happen to be Stevo’s strongest asset, his ability to deliver notes with the force of rocket ships headed towards the stars. On all the songs, be it the acoustic cuts or the more percussion heavy songs, he soars above all the instruments and asserts an assuring presence throughout. Indeed, it could be said that the Kologo does rely much on personality than rhythmic dexterity to create beauty. King Ayisoba, one of the godfathers of the genre does exemplify this good cop, bad cop relations between the Kologo and its players, always serving as a foil to its mellow and lulling sounds.
Teach Me might have benefited from a much more condensed track listing although the entire project wraps up in a little over an hour. The midsection of the tape feels more drawn out than should be. Most of the significantly better cuts are also situated at the tail end of the tape, like the mesmeric afro-rock number with Ambolley and the electro-goje jam, Do Good featuring Medikal. Stevo could had condensed his ideas for a more impactful delivery rather than spreading them over 18 tracks, introducing something new every three minutes. Nonetheless, this projects is one of the most memorable you will hear this year, as the raspy and brash vocals layered on the skeletal and chilling kologo chords and temperate drum loops will reverberate through your subconscious after encountering it for the first time.
Kologo music with its dedicated cult following and massively talented musicians would definitely benefit from a wider audience. Teach Me on its own is serving as a much required catalyst for conversations on contemporary Ghanaian music, spotlighting the other genres outside of highlife and hip life. With this album, Stevo Atambire sketches the opening chapters a great historical tale about Frafra culture and this ageless musical instrument. Hopefully his voice is strong enough to carry the rest of the history and culture to the world. If his live performances with his band, The Alostmen, are anything to go by, then Stevo Atambire is more than capable, just as King Ayisoba helped revitalise Kologo Music years before. The striking video below, Ladelabeni, shot by Wanlov also makes a strong case!
Written by Hakeem Adam
Photos: Nii Kotei Nikoi