Seprewa Kasa (Riverboat Records/World Music Network TUGCD 1051, 2008)
I must admit I’d never heard of a seprewa until I listened to this album and read the liner notes. Even as far as African instruments go, it’s an odd-looking one, with the cover illustration giving it the appearance of a birdhouse with strings. Give a listen, though, and a bit of sonic familiarity will kick in. Turns out the Ghanaian seprewa has a delicate, chiming tone quite similar to the Malian kora, and it’s played in the same sort of swirling patterns that caress the ears in a decidedly heavenly manner.
A threesome called Seprewa Kasa (one of whom is Osibisa guitarist Alfred Kari Banaman) recently took up the cause of restoring the status of their namesake instrument, which has been endangered since the guitar was introduced to West Africa. This disc touts the seprewa as the “soul of highlife,” and indeed, the liveliness and sheer infectiousness of the songs and the rhythms they’re built around suggest a stripped-down, unplugged, more traditional version of the electrified highlife music once the rage in Ghana and Nigeria. It’s a sound that also put me in mind of palm wine, a vibrant acoustic style widely considered highlife’s most direct forerunner. But regardless of where it came from or how, the music of Seprewa Kasa is delightful.
The dual seprewas of Osei Korankye and Baffour Kyerematen sparkle their way around Banaman’s guitar as percussion, bass, intimately joyous vocals and a bit of flute join in the celebratory re-introduction of a nearly forgotten instrument. One of this year’s very best African releases, for sure. Don’t miss it.
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