In Akan, ‘Apɛsɛ yɛ kɛsiɛ a, ɔyɛ ma dufɔkyiɛ’ means when the pangolin develops well, it is to the benefit of the wooden log.
Quite apt when you consider that this animal is one of a number under global threat (including in Ghana’s Atewa Forest) because their scales are believed to hold medicinal properties in countries such as China.
“The inspiration for this album came during the lockdown," said Super Opong Stars frontman Kyekyeku (aka Eugene Ampadu).
"I was thinking about the obvious contradictions between how our ancestors revered the pangolin and how, in contemporary times, this creature has been hunted to the brink of endangerment - and blamed by conspiracists in the early part of the Covid-19 crisis, for being the cause of the pandemic.
“It got me thinking that this proverbial animal teaches us, through our culture, about respect for nature. But our rejection of this message has led to its destruction, resulting in the pangolin saying symbolically: 'it's payback time'.
"The album's artwork places the pangolin against a backdrop that highlights the destructive effects that our mining activities are having on Ghana's natural vegetation and rivers. At the same time, it highlights the impact that conspiracy theories linked to 5G, use of face masks and the vaccines, have had on people's perceptions; and how little, we know about our existence as humans.
"The album is as an exploration of this proverb, its connection with the pandemic and this quest for a rebirth.”
Rebirth, hope and nostalgia Kyekyeku - on the new album
Kyekyeku and the Super Opong Stars are an internationally acclaimed group whose sound is a mix of Highlife, Palmwine, Afrobeat and World grooves. They have performed at a number of venues and festivals including Sauti Za Busara (Zanzibar), Montreux Jazz (Switzerland) Latitude (UK) Pirineos Sur (Spain) Kasumama (Austria) Canaria Jazz (Canary Islands) Etnosur (Spain) Joy of Jazz (South Africa), and New Morning (France).
As a solo artist, Kyekyeku already has two albums (A Higher life on Palmwine and Sor) under his belt. But this forthcoming album is a group effort with his band, and includes eight songs. The album touches on themes linked to hope and happiness, but also taps into some of the iconic sounds and visuals associated with Ghana’s Highlife music.
“We are trying to capture specific sonorities that are reminiscent of classic Highlife music,” said Kyekyeku. “The idea is to follow the path of how the music used to be played in the 1970s when the analogue sound was popular.”
To capture this specific sound, the band is recording the album at Joy Sound Studio, part of the infamous Philophon Records [known for producing many Highlife albums], which moved in 2020, from Berlin, Germany to Kumasi, Ghana.
“There are great studios in Ghana but most are very contemporary in sound, which is great, but for this album, it has to fit specific sonics which only Joy Sound can give us," said Kyekyeku. "And it was also fortuitous for us that they offered to break their rule for once and agreed to produce our album as a non-label project.”
But creating such a specific sounding album comes at a cost, which is why Kyekyeku and his bandmates are appealing Highlife and live music lovers to help them fundraise. The band has set up a crowdfund on their Indiegogo page 'BBC Band Beyond Covid' for this studio album.
As a minimum, they need €7,500 for recording, which has already started, mixing, mastering, vinyl pressing, the CD digipack, and the online stream upload.
Art and music
In addition, they have teamed up with a Ghanaian artist Nicholas Wayo to recreate an album cover that captures the creativity of vintage Highlife album, which featured hand-illustrated designs.
“When they made the album arts, the artist did all the illustrations by hand and these were reproduced for the sleeves," said Kyekyeku. "We want our forthcoming album to explore this piece of Ghanaian history, so we found Nicholas who used to design cinema posters in the 1990s in Ghana, to create the cover art album.
“I remember as a kid on my way to school, I would stand in front of the cinema and admire these paintings and make stories out of the cinema posters. We wanted to combine this creativity with the old album covers that would feature on Highlife records back in the day.
The album cover is featured on the Indiegogo website as well and can be collected from anyone that donates money.”
To find out how you can support both crowdfunds, and to learn more about the gifts you can claim from your donations, click here. The deadline for donations is 31 May 2021.
And if you are a fan of Highlife music, why not check out the HMD Series – a livestream series on YouTube that maps out almost 100 years of Highlife music from the 1920s when indigenous and foreign sounds shaped the genre, through to its golden age when legends including Ebo Taylor, Pat Thomas, and The African Brothers Band dominated the sound.
This livestream includes a feature from Kyekyeku himself here.