In western Africa, there is a popular two-stringed lute instrument called a kologo. It’s perhaps most identified with the Frafra people, who hail from areas of northern Ghana and the neighboring southern lip of Burkina Faso. It’s an interesting rudimentary banjo-type contraption—traditionally made of a hairless animal skin stretched over a gourd, with two nylon strings containing only two tones (bass and treble) tightened across a wooden neck, wrapped around two tuning pegs, and usually some crushed bottle caps or other metallic materials are wedged at the top of the neck to create a tinny, rattling effect (sort of like self-amplification). Most interestingly, once the instrument is built and owned by a musician, its identity is strictly entwined with that of the musician—it’s largely considered improper to cover another person’s music on your kologo. The instrument produces an eerily familiar sounding plink, it’s the kind of sound one can recognize uncannily without ever having heard it before. Most kologo artists play solo or with a string of traditional percussionists. There is an innovative generation of players, however, who fuse the western influence of drum machines and synthesizers to supplement their more bare-bones kologo plucks. One of these up-and-coming kologo musicians is the handsome late-twentysomething, Bola Anafo.
Bola’s ascent began with the tutelage of one of the best-known kologo players, Guy One, who favors a stripped-down almost wandering-bard style of performance. Bola still sings in the raspy but affecting intonations of Frafra, though it’s fair to say he offers a bit more delicate melisma and mellifluous singing in his vocal plaints. This vocal accessibility and marriage of musical styles is perhaps why his tape, Volume 7 was handpicked by Awesome Tapes from Africa for a stateside release.
Awesome Tapes from Africa is the blog-cum-record label founded by world traveler and DJ Brian Shimkovitz. It began, literally, as a bedroom industry and has since blossomed into a purveyor of obscure western African sub-genres. Shimkovitz conducts markedly fair and transparent licensing practices with the artists—he is foremostly concerned with exposing their music to wider audiences than repeating the recording-industry ills big labels had in the past with, say, mid-century blues musicians of the American south.
However, Bola is not a charity case. His music is undulating and repetitive in a way that can be difficult for our nation of attention-deficit disorder hoarders to grasp, but it’s also spirited, danceable, and fun as hell. The tracks are long, however, mostly clocking in over six minutes, so you likely only need one or two for a backyard barbecue soundtrack or a summer jams 2012 mixtape. Unless, of course, you become completely entranced in what might prove to be a longstanding relationship with what fruits an organization like Awesome Tapes and provocative, burgeoning artists like Bola have to offer.