A new generation of Ghanaian producers are making electronic music that's rooted in swing, highlife and Afro-Cuban music. James Acquaye Nortey-Glover talks to those who are leading the way.
Gafacci, one of Ghana's most innovative producers of the past five years, fuses Kpanlogo rhythms with electronic music elements to "create a sound that I know will be appealing globally." Gafacci and other contemporary producers in Ghana are making electronic music with echoes of the country's traditional sounds. The availability of software such as FL Studio and the rise of online distribution platforms like Bandcamp has resulted in a boom in electronic music being produced in Ghana in recent years.
As Edmund John Collins, a professor at the University of Ghana Lego, put it in his 2013 interview with Afropop Worldwide, "It's very lucky for Ghana that [its] traditional music hasn't been wiped out, because it means that there can be a re-birth at any time of live music through the interaction with modern technology and so on, producing new styles of popular music. That's very, very important."
Gafacci is one example of a new wave of artists infusing electronic tracks with live drums and instruments. Another is Hagan, a Ghanaian based in London. Hagan says his music "is a result of listening to Ghanaian sounds but staying very much interested in the UK club scene." His 2019 EP, Yenkyi, fuses live drumming and vocal sampling, and was recorded mostly on a recent visit to Ghana.
Hagan is not the only artist fusing Ghanaian and UK-centric sounds. Bryte moved to London in 2019 following the release of several collaborations with Gafacci and a track on a split-EP for R&S Records. "I think music is a universal language which people can sometimes vibe with even without understanding the words," says Bryte. "But it's also important to pass your message across to as many as possible, so I try to infuse both Twi and Pidgin. I feel more comfortable in my mother tongue than any other language but also I add a bit of Pidgin English in there every time to paint a picture of what I am saying to a wider audience."
Bryte's infectious lyrics and tireless work ethic have led to a number of tracks with Mina, a UK-based producer, who first visited Ghana in 2014. Mina first visited Ghana because she heard Gafacci's music and was "really inspired by the way he fuses together different sounds from around the world with his Ghanaian roots to create a really distinctive production style."
Gafacci and Bryte's 2017 track, "I Like Your Girlfriend," was inspired by the Bollywood movie Disco Dancer. "This was a popular movie in the neighborhood I grew up in," says Gafacci. "Hindi movies used to be shown at every local cinema or movie centre in my neighborhood. I had always wanted to do something with the melody I heard in the movie. So around the time Azonto was gaining some prominence I thought it would be the right time to make a beat like that."
Parallels can be drawn between the crossover appeal of Ghanaian dance tracks in the UK and the contemporary UK funky scene. "When funky was popular, the reason why I gravitated to that sound so much was due to the rhythms and drum patterns you'd normally hear in both African and Caribbean sounds," says Hagan.
"We are seeing a lot of UK bass and funky producers such as DJ Polo and SNØW, and UK-Ghanaian producers such as Hagan and KG, incorporating Ghanaian rhythms and sounds in their music and collaborating with Ghanaian artists," adds Mina. "It's exciting to see where the sound will go from here."