Ghana’s ancient empire and the 21st century global express. The rhythms that created the past alongside the beats forging the present. In King Ayisoba, they all converge. Everything morphing into one. And on his new album, 1000 Can Die, they stand together, history and today, side by side. The tradition hewn from the future.
“King Ayisoba and his band know that traditional instruments are stronger than anything modern,” says album producer Zea (the Ex’s Arnold de Boer). “Playing them is a gift from God. They’ll take what they can use from electronica, from hiplife (the hugely popular Ghanaian style that fuses the local highlife music with hip-hop) but they won’t let it beat them, because they know what they have is more powerful. Their music is pulled from the ground.”
The juxtaposition of the two on 1000 Can Die shows the irresistible drive of both sides. The thick, squelching bass and beats that push under the older rhythms of “Anka Yen Tu Kwai” are overtaken by the guluku and dundun drums that bring in “Yalma Dage Wanga,” its rapid-fire melody dictated by Ayisoba’s voice and two-string kologo lute. “We wanted the drums leading and upfront all the time, not as exotic additions,” Zea says. “The sense of tradition always rises above everything.”
That overwhelming sense of the past in the present has been the hallmark of King Ayisoba’s career. Born in Bolgatanga in rural Ghana, he was a prodigy on the kologo, playing locally until he’d outgrown the possibilities of the area. Moving to Accra, the country’s biggest city, he eventually released the song “I Want To See You, My Father.” There was nothing modern about it. No hiplife rap, no electronic beats. But somehow it conquered the country and brought the tradition firmly into the mainstream.