Ishmael Abbey got his start as a DJ in the Ghanaian capital of Accra, eventually rapping in the languages of Twi and Ga over his records' instrumental breaks. Soon he was adding live hits from a sampler and a Yamaha DD-11 drum pad, creating rhythms on the fly. This would become a production technique once he started making his own tracks, which he did somewhat late in the game, at the age of 39.
Hovering in the vicinity of 140 BPM, Abbey's tunes are digital interpretations of neo-traditional dance music found around Accra—namely gome, kpanlogo and gyama. He replaces the hand-played percussion patterns with precisely programmed drums, and those potent rhythms are Trotro's principal focus. In fact, many of the best moments come when Abbey strips his productions down to darting sequences of kicks, snares, claps, hi-hats and cowbells. The approach is exemplified on "Lalokat" and on the album's closer, "Cocoawra (Angel)," which adds sporadic chants and sparse raps to the tune's rhythmic core.
On tracks like "Nkran Dokunu," Abbey fleshes out his lively beats with simple melodies—using digital woodwinds and MIDI guitar here—as well as call-and-response vocals from his daughter, which he often pitches up an octave. The title track reveals a darker side. In a nod to Abbey's Detroit techno and Chicago acid house influences, icy digital synths lace "Trotro"'s hypnotic percussion. Later, "Ice-Inc" further explores those Western electronic influences, slowing down the tempo to lay bouncy synths atop a tom-heavy drum sequence.
Trotro is generally rough around the edges. Some songs drag on, and there are production quirks that stick out—particularly, a reliance on basic software sounds and the warped chipmunk voice that appears on more than half of the album's nine tracks. And yet those same qualities make this a singular collection. Trotro was popular in its home country when first released, and now its inclusion in the Awesome Tapes From Africa catalog brings a vibrant sound to the larger electronic community.