This piquant selection of highlife, afrobeat, and afro-rock from the 70s and early 80s in Ghana puts a personal spin on the history and lore of the legendary Bokoor Recording Studio. Ten years before there was a studio, there was a band, the Bokoor Band, founded in 1971 by a twenty-something British émigré, John Collins, and his Ghanaian guitarist friend, Robert Beckley. Collins had come to Ghana in 1952 when his father began teaching philosophy at the University of Ghana. Later on, in the 80s and 90s, Collins would transform his father’s farmhouse into Bokoor Studio and record over 200 local acts, creating an invaluable record of post-independence popular music in Ghana. This release focuses mostly on an the 70s, when Collins played guitar, harmonica, and percussion, composed songs, and even sang with a variety of groups, but especially the Bokoor Band.
Bokoor means “coolness,” and the band’s 12-14 piece lineup—which evolved steadily—encompassed a long list of decidedly cool characters. The Bokoor Band contributes eight of the twelve tracks here, and they lean towards afrobeat in the early Fela mode, local adaptations of Congolese soukous, and that elastic category, “afro-rock.” “There is Time” plugs along with English lyrics and a dash of surf guitar, and “Been To” slips in earnest vocal harmonies right out of the British folk revival. The Bokoor Band’s soukous is raucous and raggedy, at its best on “Money in Bed”—about a man who does not like to discuss finances first thing in the morning—which features a terrific and decidedly Ghanaian percussion break laced with Congo style vocal animation. But the Bokoor Band shine most brightly on down-and-dirty, afrobeat numbers like “Yeah Yeah Ku Yeah” and “Onukpa Shwarpo (Bigman’s Shop)”, both featuring Collins on harmonica. Collins co-wrote these songs in Lagos with a band called The Bunzus in 1974, and first performed them in Fela’s legendary nightclub, the Shrine. These Bokoor versions are joyously funky, with male-female, vocal cross talk, chicken-scratch rhythm guitar, searing harmonica filling in for the brass section, and deep pocket grooves.
Four other bands get one track each here, and bring a strong shot of highlife to the mix. “Atiadele (Deceiver)” by Mangwana Stars is driven by a pumping, active bass line straight out of traditional percussion, and offset by sweetly sad, descending melodies in guitar and vocal. T.O. Jazz’s “Onam Bebi Basa (Walking Astray)” is even rootsier, leaning to the palmwine branch of highlife. “Egbe Enyo (Bad and Good)” by Brekete and the Big Beats (Bad and Good) offers another formulation of afro-rock with clave sticks tapping out the Ewe agbadza rhythm in the midst of a funky groove. Detailed sleeve notes help make this a must-own edition for collectors of music from Ghana’s golden age of guitar pop music.
Contributed by: Banning Eyre for www.afropop.org