Fellow Ghanaians, the moment of waiting for classic highlife music is over!
Before I wax lyrically for this review, let’s get into the breakdown. Indeed, Alewa album has come in handy.
Ghana is highlife, highlife is Ghana. Highlife dominated Africa beginning from the mid-1950s and thereafter, slowly got consigned into oblivion. In the past two decades, there have been clarion calls by Chiefs, lecturers, producers, entertainment pundits, among others for the re-introduction of authentic highlife music into the Ghanaian music industry and to some extent, the world as a whole. A lot of music lovers and majority of Ghanaians considered the genre “dead”. But like a messenger from God, the legendary highlife crooner, Amakye Dede blatantly declared that the genre would never die. That was nearly a decade ago.
Today, this prophetic declaration has been fulfilled by a new brand highlife widgets – SANTROFI.
Santrofi (the new band) has arrived right in the nick of time to inject fresh energy into our classic highlife genre. Santrofi is an eight man band encompassing talented young and high-spirited multi-instrumentalists and musicians based in Accra. As the name implies in the Akan mythology, Santrofi has come with the aim to resurrect and celebrate Ghana’s classic highlife worldwide. The band having tasted, toured, shared platforms and performed together with some Ghanaian highlife and afro fusion heavyweights – Pat Thomas, Ebo Taylor, Osibisa & Kwashibu Area Band, draws tremendous inspiration from them.
*Now Santrofi’s debut album!*
Alewa is a creative excellence from Santrofi. It is Santrofi’s debut studio album released on April 24 this year. The album is a potpourri of culturally rich, colourful and authentic Ghanaian highlife music interwoven and brewed with melodic beats, blues, jazz, funk, groovy percussion and silky vocals served in a Ghanaian pot. It bursts with triumphant horns and traditional Ghanaian Atumpan drums.
This blend of classic album laced with Ghanaian traditional rhythms produces a genre of music that is pleasing to the ear. The songs on the album speaks to everyone across the continent. It tells a story of cultural happenings, humanity, racial segregation and discrimination, unity in diversity, socio-economics, relationships, and love praising. Simply put, Alewa exudes love and unity.
Yes, I will never compare this classic highlife album by Santrofi with their predecessors. However, I can confidently say that by the time the band comes to a full stop, Santrofi would have carved a niche for themselves as one of Ghana’s greatest bands of all time. As a new band, Santrofi, has delivered a glowing musicality and displayed exceptional artistry with the Alewa album.
*The album review.*
The 10-track body of work comes at a time the world is confronted with the coronavirus pandemic.
The first track, *“Kokrokoo”* is an announcement of Santrofi into the Ghanaian classic highlife genre. Delivered poetically amidst personal attributes, appellations and heavy Ghanaian traditional drumming, Santrofi is welcomed with a mission to help resurrect Ghana’s traditional highlife genre through cultural awesomeness.
Santrofi as a social commentator and activist
*“Alewa”* , the eponymous track of the album is one of the standout songs to be played million times a day! The album title is metaphorical. Alewa is a popular black-and-white boiled sweet. The track opens up to the dark era of racial segregation and discrimination that have existed since colonization. The song preaches the tolerance of racial diversity. Singing in the local Akan language, the lead singer begins by greeting the Whiteman saying “it is God that created us all. So there’s no difference between you and me.” He further emphasizes that the Whites can “dance” so as the Blacks; Blacks can also “walk” so as the Whites to literally mean Blacks and Whites are all the same. The song is both a call to love and a cry for unity among all races.
“Alewa” has come at a time the whites still disrespect, and denigrate Africa. Until recently, as the world is bedeviled with Covid-19, and in an attempt to find a vaccine, a racist professor, Jean-Paul Mira, head of the Intensive Care Unit at the Cochin Hospital in Paris and his cohorts shamefully said “shouldn’t we do this study in Africa where there are no masks, no treatment, no resuscitation?” Jean’s bad speech attracted global condemnation.
Indeed the track has come for a reason. Alewa is a mid-tempo song. The lead singer’s silky voice is low and dark over a beautiful guitar and trumpet loop. The chorus is interspersed with an intelligent beep sound effect, horns, drums, bell, which, along with the singer’s mesmeric voice, add sweet flavour to the track.
The track, “ _Alewa_ ” strives to improve conversation on racism and discrimination sloganeered by white supremacists. It’s a song all must listen to! Perhaps, the best track on the album.
*“ _Africa_ ”* tows the same activism line. However, this time, it discusses a familiar philosophy and conceptual framework promulgated by Ghana’s first President, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah – African Unity. With a rhythmic beat, “Africa” is a neo-soul song that calls for unity, peace and love among African nations. It is another standout track from the album.
*“Kwaa Kwaa”* is an infectious hybrid of ballad and folk music. As a sentimental ballad, the song discusses the maturity of a woman who is ripe for relationship. While the baroque pop beat rumbles, the singer confesses that Kwansema is indeed fertile and no need to wait longer.
*“ _Odo Maba_ ”* documents the current struggles of a lover who wants a comeback with his previous mistress. Like the good old days of E. T. Mensah and King Bruce in the 1950’s and 60’s, “Odo Maba” begins with an instrumental break with a trumpet fusion. The hook is soothing and addictive, and the beat of the song is flawlessly molded around the lead singer’s silky voice.
*“ _Cocoase_ ”* is pop-infused authentic highlife track sung from different perspectives. First is love. A man is in love with a woman who has travelled. While he admits that she might dwell in a thatch house, he chooses her regardless. Second is time. As the saying goes, time is nobody’s friend. The alternative pop song with a folk percussion admonishes individuals to respect time. The last perspective is a call for mankind to stop making quick judgment on something they’ve not experienced before. The track is a medley of soothing and irresistible tunes and instrumentation.
*“Adwuama”* is a decent addition to the album. With frenetic pace drumming, rhythmic beat, and a tempo to match amidst elastic guitar lines, the track is about the daily life of work. It admonishes mankind to be passionate about one’s work whether formal or informal since work is our daily source of food. Though the track is a muscular and beautiful piece, it failed to mention some of the types of work people do to lend credence to the thematic concern; and also to inspire people, especially those with menial jobs to love their work.
_*“Kwabena Amoah”*_ is pop-infused medley track in which the lead singer uses his eclectic vocal range and a layered beat to inform listeners about Kwabena Amoah’s vicissitudes of life. It also creates awareness on decency on the part of young women and historically taking us back to the roots of the great Fante famed warriors – Obrumankoma, Odapagyan and Oson. This powerful and brilliantly delivered track is a museum of love, decency and history you will cherish to be inside.
*“Konongo Kaya”* is a successful fusion of funk, groovy percussion, silky vocals with triumphant horns and an ingenious rhythmic bell. The track is a serious attack on people consumed by selfishness and in a fit of jealousy, blocks others chances in life.
*“Mobo”* as the last track, Santrofi goes spiritual, urging their listeners to give thanks to God while seeking for God’s mercy with a touch of supplication. The track is a marriage of blues and West African rhythms brewed with guitars, trumpet, saxophone, piano, and drums with a fruity voice to serve listeners with sumptuous music.
The *“Mobo”* track so far shows Santrofi attempting to bring us back to the days of Louis Armstrong, B.B. King, W.C. Handy, Bessie Smith, John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, and the likes in 1950s. Refreshingly sang in the local Akan dialect, the song is destined to win hearts with its electric vibes. Though it is beautifully arranged, composed and excellently delivered, it is a serious deviation from the classical highlife which dominated West Africa a little after World War II. Perhaps, the track is a testament to their strong musical dexterity and uniqueness.
Here is a link for you to access Alewa album https://ampl.ink/nDQG1
Without a shred of doubt, it will be a daunting task for different classic highlife albums to topple Alewa in 2020. As the writer said in the beginning, the album is easily one of the best highlife projects to come out in the last decades. The album is top-notch, but I think the inclusion of an English track or a significant blend with the local language could have been amazing.
All in all, the album is conceptually and musically cohesive. Each track oozes charm and flows smoothly into the next track. Kudos to the sound engineer for the yeoman’s job done on this album.
Thank you for this album, Santrofi!
Songwriting, Content and Themes: 1.9/2
Enjoyability & Satisfaction: 1.9/2
Total Score: 9.7 - Champion
The writer is with the Centre for National Culture, Kumasi.
He is a Creative Arts Director, Playwright & Critic.
Email: [email protected]