The sensational quintet, Dade Krama are storming Britain's major cities with their soothing, sometimes cheering or even inciting, yet elusive ancestral music of Africa. At the time I caught up with them on their travelling programme, they had already enlivened London, Leicester, Leeds and Birmingham. I decided to find out what their fans in Manchester had been missing.
...Dade Krama were ready like the artistic warriors they are to take on the old industrial city... "Enua num na adofo (brothers, sisters and fans)...Dade Krama." The group promptly launched into an Asafo war song, "Ena ena-aa, ena ena, aboa bi seo-o djata bi seo-oo..." - an order for the thumping charge of Atumpan, Atsemevu, Prempensua and other percussive instruments all in martialled formations. The music finished in a screech...
...Word got around that the great big-band highlife maestrro, E.T. Mensah was in the audience (he is in Britain for a medical check up). The next song had to be dedicated to him: "Wo se gye shun noni ete- noni eba-ye" - "we've come from afar, what has gone, what has come we endure." The song was so heavy-handedly nostalgic that it made one want to reach out for a steaming meal of kenkey, a giant hairy-legged land crab steamed to a red-brick colour with hot Kpakpo shitor (pepper). A bottle of real unadulterated akpetechie would have been great!
By now the audience had unravelled into a crowd. Whistles, catcalls and general uproar drowned the handclaps. In the intermission the group was assaulted with goodwill...
I spoke to Nana Tsiboe and Dada Lamptey: what strategy did the group have in getting across the ancestral music of Africa, considering that Western audiences may find the instruments, lyrics of music strange? "We believe, and to some extent have found out that only by the use of a creative format on the basis of a traditional platform can our music develop. For a long time African musical instruments, for instance, developed without the interruption of Western instruments. With regards to the lyrics, our songs could not be sung in English - the feelings come across with minimal translation.
"...People hesitate to appreciate the proper context within which our music is realized. I can only comment on what we are doing in the sense that we try as much as possible to project our African culture so that it is appreciated in a proper perspective. We are now more than a music group, we are a way of life. Our music fits into our way of life - it is a lifelong thing. It demands, we are aware, a very delicate kind of exposure, care, thought and presentation."
What is Dade Krama's position on blacks here in Britain and elsewhere in the West? "It is essential for every black to know he or she is black. We try to advance this basic consideration through the medium of our music - that is total glorification of our own musical culture."
In the light of existing arguments here in Britain for a sound basis for Black Arts heightened by Kwesi Owusu's book on this, The Struggle for Black Arts in Britain (Comedia; 1986, ₤14.95) what contribution is Dade Krama making? "We've worked a lot within the struggle for Black Arts here. We have participated in concerts, workshops, etc, to popularise Black Arts. But we are only making our art. It is the system that creates the struggle. We can appreciate the fact that African people must have arts in this country but nothing will be given to you without a fight...
"...There are African people fighting and infiltrating on other levels - we can help by producing .a very bigh level of our art and linking up. It is like a call to all black people to say, hey look this is what you are made up of!"
Will the group continue to be im England? "No, presently England needs to be used to popularize our music. It is also important to make our music audible. We have to rely on the technology of this part of the world.
All members of Dade Krama have backgrounds in Western music or have used Western instruments. When was the break? "It is the instruments that broke us - we can't rely on electric current to make music for our audience. It is only efficient musicians who can play African music. In getting together, we all had the same interest and decided to share our instruments communally. "
You make your own instruments? "We make some of the instruments like Gonje, Brekete and Gai. We attempt to repair our damaged instruments and in the long run make them ourselves."
How is the group's debut record faring? "The'LP is three weeks old. We would say it has sold to a fair percentage of' our audience at performances. Also response in the form of write ups, and radio interviews has been great."
Dade Krama comprises: Nii Noi Nortey - former saxophonist and flautist with Misty in Roots and African Dawn; Nana Tsiboe - formerly with Jazz Africa, High Tension and the Afro-Rock group Ojah (which he led); Dada Lamptey - a filmmaker/graphic designer (he designed the sleeve of Dade Krama's new album), who played with Watusi and Eneaben V; and Kweku Gabrah, who worked with the highlife group. Carousel 7 and has since been a sought-after session percussionist. Afari Aboagye, a professional agricultural economist, administer them.
When the lights of our ancestors dimmed, the crowd called for more. Afari routinely pleaded with them to come back. They did, but not with instruments: they formed a circle and with sleight of hand clapped a tune from our youth: Sasakroma (the hawk) out of each other's hands in the ecstatic manner of a group that had had a truly successful evening.
Brilliant!Dade Krama's uncompromising approach to their music was admirable at a time when many African musicians felt the need to "cross over" - water down their art in hopes of commercial success. Probably for that reason their following was somewhat limited. Discogs lists only two releases by them - Ancestral Dance (Round Music ROCD 9601), which came out in 1996, and their debut, the one we're going to hear today, 1986's Ancestral Music of Africa (Akoben AK1). Descriptions of the songs are taken from the above-cited article by Kofi Hagan Jr.
Dade Krama - Tete Nantye
"...Using the Mbira (hand piano), Gonje, rattles, etc., Dade Krama performed 'Mutani N'Africa' - a Hausa tune and 'Magana Chiki' in a medley..."
Dade Krama - Mutani N'Africa / Magana Chiki / Aninwula Dagbon
Dade Krama - Inkululeko / Ye Azania
"...'Touba,' a mobilizing arrangement employing the use of Atenteben (flutes) and percussive instruments in an increasingly rapid rendition of a Northern Ghana tune..."
Dade Krama - Touba
"...'Brothers, sisters and fans, two years ago Reagan invaded Grenada and stifled the revolution. A few weeks ago he dropped bombs on Libya with the assistance of Thatcher. Two days ago with the knowledge of Reagan and Thatcher South Africa invaded Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe...We dedicate this song to all freedom fighters.' Wild cheers of approval from the audience. The song, 'Alkebu Lan,' - the original name of Africa, started with a bee-like droning sound from a pipe horn. Then the solitary whine of the Algaita - the instrument snakecharmers use, reared its lethal head and gave a lightning strike at the real cradle of State Terrorism. The recurrent sombre thums of the Brekete and Fomfomfron drums merely beat a warning to weakened hearts..."
Dade Krama - Alkebu-Lan
Dade Krama - Kronkohinkoo
Dade Krama - Adowa
Dade Krama - Wo See Dze Shonn
Dade Krama - Anukuo Nsele
Download Ancestral Music of Africa as a zipped file here. A few words on the inscription "Direct Metal Mastering" that appears on the sleeve. This technology appeared in the waning years of the analog era, probably in competition with digital recordings, which were then appearing on the market. I'm generally unconvinced that analog recordings are superior to digital (at least these days; a lot of the early CDs did sound awful!), but this record makes a good case! I was struck by its remarkable clarity while digitizing this disc. Something to look for if you're really into vinyl records! For more information on the process check out this Wikipedia article.