My friend Asumaya has been actively collaborating with Ghanaian musicians and producers for the past few years, and I recently re-mixed one of these collaborations (cop it below). Here is the background in Asumaya’s words:
I first met Awuni “Judicious” Bismark back in 2003, when I was a Peace Corps volunteer and he was a student at Zebilla Secondary Technical School in the far Northeastern corner of Ghana. I had come to West Africa with ears accustomed to Smithsonian Folkways recordings, old highlife, and the Nonesuch Explorer Series and expected to arrive in the pulsing birthplace of polyrhythm. Instead I washed up on the shore of a musical landscape dominated by Celine Dion bootlegs and a homegrown style known as hiplife.
As the name implies, hiplife is a fusion of hip-hop and modern Ghanaian highlife, and Judicious was the first person I met who took his love of the genre beyond the realm of listening. He wrote lyrics constantly, and wherever he went he carried with him a book of songs waiting to be born. The book kept getting fuller, but I never got a chance to hear a finished track before I left.
In the years following Peace Corps I returned to Ghana twice to teach for short intervals, and work with traditional musicians around Zebilla on putting together a group called Bawku West Collective. While I didn’t see Judicious on either of these trips, the word got around that he was living in the capitol, Accra, and recording music. It wasn’t until he summer of 2012 that we were finally able meet up again. Hiplife had grown up considerably in the four years since my last visit, and it had just spawned the Azonto dance-craze that spread its appeal arguably farther than ever before. This time in Ghana it was clear that Judicious was the teacher and I was definitely the student. He introduced me to the producer Mad Beat Z in Ashaiman (just outside Accra) and I watched as the talent of the neighborhood drifted into his Phayaworks studio at all hours of the morning, afternoon and night, day after day. It was there that I met BB and Reeload, two other Ashaiman musicians Mad Beat Z and Judicious had collaborated with in the past.
The track “This is Africa” was originally built around a Bawku West Collective recording of a traditional musician named Alalba Awin from the Northern town of Binaba. BB, Judicious and Reeload tossed around lyrical ideas for the better part of June and July while I was there. I didn’t get to hear the final track until I was back in the States again in August. I passed it along to Chants and now you can hear the result.
– Luke Bassuener (Asumaya)