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Music review – The death of Afrobeat

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London based Afro-funk outfit KonKoma released their debut album last June. The group proposes a sound typical of the 1970s Ghanaian music scene. The band has been built around two Ghanaian musicians – Alfred Bannerman and Emmanuel Rentzos – who have stage experience with the likes of Bobby Womack, Hugh Masakela and Peter Green as well as being long term members of the Afro-rock band Osibisa. The full line-up of KonKoma sees Emmanuel Rentzos on vocals and keyboards, Reginald ‘Jojo’ Yates on vocals, mbira and percussion, Alfred ‘Kari’ Bannerman on guitar and vocals, Nii Tagoe on vocals and percussion, Jose Joyette on drums, Derrick McIntyre on bass guitar, Scott Baylis on trumpet, Max Grunhard on saxophone and Ben Hadwen on saxophone and flute.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, Ghana was in the forefront of Afrobeat. The genre was soon to take over in discos around the region and became famous as Highlife. This is why many think of it as a Nigerian or Ivorian music. However, it is in Ghana that local artists combined traditional African rhythms with European brass, an essential mould for the sound later popularised by Fela Kuti. KonKoma wants to re-propose that sound.
M1“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. And this is not exactly a good aspect. In fact, in listening to this album, one fails to warm up to the 12 tracks proposed. The opening song, Lie Lie, is delivered in a perfunctory way, nothing more. Sibashaya Woza is the typical song that makes you say “déjà vu”; there are thousands of tracks like this, and any unconvincing band from Lubumbashi to Nairobi offers the same quality as KonKoma. Ditto for the following tracks.
In this album, KonKoma show a penchant of impressing the listener with elaborate drumming (which is largely copied from other artists, nothing new under the sun). They even fall in the cliché of performing Jojo’s Song, a track devoted to the kora. Why is it that there must be a kora?

KonKoma, KonKoma, Soundway / SNDWCD 044, 2012

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