Master Drummer Reflects on His Wide-ranging International Music Journey

Nii Okai Tagoe – West to West (Arc Music EUCD 2641, 2016)

“We have to maintain dignity with each other whoever we are – from city or country, young or old, wise, poor and no matter how rich … it can all be gone tomorrow,” says Ghanaian percussionist, vocalist and flutist Nii Okai Tagoe. In keeping with that statement, he gives equal, fair attention to every player and instrument on this record. This is not an attempt to return to any roots, but a utilization of old and new, traditional and innovative, Ghanaian and Western musical tools to build a coherent narrative.

The eleven songs each have their own power and message, and the album leaves the listener feeling that his or her perspective is enhanced. Liner notes include statement summaries to accompany each song. The first cut, “Nyungmbo,” has the message, “Leave me, watch me and let me show you what I can do. A mother always feels pain when a child is crying.” The third, “Moni Sane Yemi,” is, “When you know you are in the right, don’t rush. Rushing could cost you your rights. Don’t worry, justice will come.” “Mile Mi Ley,” the seventh tune, is accompanied by the observation, “If we knew tomorrow, the way we’d approach today would be different.”

Expressing these thoughts with a number of African percussion instruments and a full, modern Western jazz band, Mr. Tagoe gives us a CD full of drive, tangents, rhythm and drive. It will draw listeners toward genres and thoughts, but not lock them into any one standard record store bin. This release could be filed under jazz, rock, world or modern folk.

Thank you, Nii Okai Tagoe, for having so much to say.

The lineup on West to West includes Nii Okai Tagoe on balafon, jembe, gome drum, kpalongo drums, chene (calabash), axatse (shaker), gankogui (bell), djun djun, brekete drum, tama (talking drum), and lead and backing vocals; Jose Joyette (Michael Jackson/George Harrison/Amy Winehouse)on drum kit; Alexander K. Boateng on drum kit; Tim Robinson on drum kit; Alfred ‘Kari’ Bannerman (Osibisa) on guitar; Wendell Richardson on guitar; Jez King on guitar; Martin Craddick (Baka Beyond) on guitar; Davide Cammelli on guitar; Derrick McIntyre (Jamiroquai & Beverley Knight) on bass; Emmanuel Rentzos (Johnny Nash/Roy Ayers) on keyboards; Paddy le Mercier (Baka Beyond) on violin; Ellen Mason on harp; Colin Graham (Wham/UB40) on trumpet; Jon Petter on saxophone; and Molara on backing vocals.

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Author: Arthur Shuey

Arthur has been reviewing music for publications since 1976 and began focusing almost exclusively on world music in 2012.

His musical background includes past presidencies of the Cape Fear Musicians Association and Blues Society of the Lower Cape Fear, founding membership in nine other blues societies, service on 17 music festival planning committees, two decades of teaching harmonica to individuals and groups, operating a small recording studio and performing solo and in combos for 30 years.

Arthur has written professionally since 1975, pieces ranging from short fiction to travel articles, humor to poetry, mainly for local and regional entertainment media. His blog,” Shuey’s World,” is featured at www.accesswilmington.com.

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