Highlife Roots Revival (Riverboat Records/World Music Network, 2012)
Koo Nimo (born Daniel Amponsah in the Ashanti region of Ghana in 1934) could have made a name for himself as a guitar player adept in the jazz, flamenco or classical styles he picked up on while studying science in London in the 1960s. Instead, this grand old man of West African music plays palm-wine, a style with roots in colonial sea shanties, Caribbean calypso and indigenous rhythms.
Once electrified and orchestrated, palm-wine evolved into what we now call highlife, but it’s the acoustic, relaxed palm-wine vibe that makes Highlife Roots Revival a pure delight. Recorded in Nimo’s backyard in Ghana (complete with background neighborhood sounds that are not in any way intrusive), the music is as intoxicating as the alcoholic drink it’s named after.
Nimo’s guitar and dryly lilting storyteller vocals are accompanied by rhumba box (providing plucked metallic bass lines), seprewa lute, hand drums, softly clattering metal percussion and a vocal chorus chiming in with additional commentary on songs about such characters as the familiar Anansi (deceiver spider extraordinaire) and homespun ballads of marriage, the environment and the simple joys of the music itself. And as charming as that music is, it’s more than that. In it, one can hear the intricacies that link palm-wine to the highlife that came later, as well as the creative spirit and parabolic grace that continue to be the basis of so much African music today.
The easygoing sessions that produced this album were surely very magical affairs indeed, and a spin of the disc feels almost as good as what it was probably like to have been there.
Buy Highlife Roots Revival in North America