K.O.G & the Zongo Brigade is Afro-fusion in the truest sense of the word: “you can call us Afrofusionists! Think about African music and fuse it with every other genre you know in the world” said Kweku, founder member of the band, in our recent interview. He originally comes from Ghana, but settled in Sheffield and welcomed every cultural expression enriching the UK scene.
Even though they haven’t released an album yet, the hype surrounding their name is growing exponentially, performance after performance and single after single.
Before getting loose, and following the exhilarating West African rhythm of the Brigade, have a read of what Kweku told us a few days ago about his band, music and relationship with his country.
“I moved from Ghana to Sheffield in 2008 and I tried to bring my music with me. One year later, in 2012, I went to play with some friends in a studio called Henwood Studios, near Oxford. We were playing with a band called Nubiyan Twist at that time. So, I jammed with them and when I came back, I decided to form a band myself. With Tom [Wylie], who is the band’s guitar player, we formed the Zongo Brigade. We started playing original songs influenced by Ghanaian music. Then, after a while, we called a few friends, we rehearsed and went into the studio together, and, in 2014, we played our first gig. From that moment on, we really started to develop our sound and in 2015 we won the Glastonbury emerging talent competition allowing us to play the Avalon stage. Finally, I also want to say that we have received a decisive boost and are pretty fond of all the guys at Wormfood and André in particular. They really helped us in our growth”.
Today, the Zongo Brigade is composed of nine musicians, but, despite the number, everything works quite smoothly within the band.
“We are a 9-piece band with a saxophone player called Richard Harrison, a trumpet player called Matt Price. The first guitar, who’s Tom Wiley, the second guitar and keys is called Philip Clegg. Then we have an MC called Fran Von, a drummer called Henry Chester and the bass player is called Ed Chester. Laurie Jones is the percussionist, and finally, I’m the singer and the one who writes the songs.
The good thing with a big band like this is that we can play different sets at different times. Having such a large number of musicians involved, that allowed us to be more accessible and inclusive.
Also when we compose, the process is quite straightforward. Since our music is strongly Ghana linked and West African linked it’s only two of us who write it in the end. The melodies need to come from me, because I’m the one from Ghana. Then I ‘translate’ and interpret them to Tom and he writes the whole music. So, in the first stages, the band plays the script of what me and Tom have written together. Then, we move to the second stage, when everybody in the band brings their own influences to the composition. After we have written the basic chunk of it, we just say ‘look this is what it is and you guys… what do you think about it?’ So they can bring and share their own ideas. Everybody helps the process, it becomes homogeneous”.
The inclusive and all-embracing nature of the band is clearly mirrored by the styles the musicians play, and their wide-ranging influences
“The sound of the band is mainly coming from my influences. I grew up in Ghana listening to the records that my dad and uncles used to play. My dad lived in England for a while, so he brought back home many records released here in the UK. They were records of different styles of music also, many UK folk bands. At the same time, growing up in Ghana, I got used to listening to, and loving highlife and traditional West African music. So, I always felt a bit in-between and that’s reflected in my music. With the Zongo Brigade, we always tried to fuse styles and our band is based on the concept of Afrofusion, which means to fuse African music with Western and to make it work. We deeply believe that most of the music that people listen to today comes from African rhythms, most of the melodies and rhythms are Afro-based. For this reason, what you can do is to take those pure African traditional elements and mix them with the tastes of the audience, with what they enjoy to listen to. Then, you need to inject some energy into it. In the end, it’s all about how much energy you can bring to the table. I’m talking about positive energy!”
Despite having spent many years in the UK, Kweku is still deeply linked to his country. As he told us, that’s embodied in his music and development of his band.
“We always want to be related to West African music. To do so, we need to have an authentic and genuine sound. We don’t want to sound like something that we are not. That’s why the source of music comes from me, because I’m Ghanaian and I lived many years in Ghana. So that’s the kind of perspective we bring to the UK music scene. Our music is indeed all about peace, love, unity and tolerance. It is strongly linked to Ghanaian morals and culture. In the last couple of years, we have started building our name in Ghana too; we are starting to spread our music there too. It’s happening slowly, but we have some attention building there. It’ll be a dream for us to play there”.
In some ways, it’s easy to be so fond of your country’s music when it has such a rich tradition as Ghana’s. For this reason, we asked Kweku to introduce us to the scene.
“There’s a couple of very, very good Ghanaian musicians coming up. One is King Ayisoba, who released his new album for Glitterbeat. Then, there are these guys who live in London and are called Afrik Bawantu. The band leader is Afla Sackey and they’re an amazing band. Our advantage in Ghana is that it’s easy for us to fuse our music with different styles, like reggae, afrobeat, ska, dancehall and funk. We can be really more modern and energetic”.
At the same time, the Zongo Brigade is also an expression of the Sheffield music scene, which is livelier than ever…
“The music scene in Sheffield is really, really cool at the moment. It’s on fire! There’s a lot coming out of Sheffield, many amazing bands and new sounds. The underground scene is exciting with all kind of bands and genres and soon people are going to hear about them. There are Latin American bands, some Afro bands, then there’re a lot of indie and funk bands too. Give them a few months and people will be hearing a lot about what’s going on in Sheffield.
From Sheffield to London, because next week, K.O.G. and the Zongo Brigade will be performing at Epic Dalston. We know that their gigs are unique experiences, but we wanted to hear from Kweku himself what people should expect…
“For that gig we are absolutely thinking of bringing the splendor and energy of West Africa to the positive attitude of English people. We would love it if people come with positive minds, people should make sure that they don’t wear make-up because they’re going to sweat; they should make sure they wear trainers too because they are definitely going to dance. Then, I hope for one night they will forget the elections too! Anyway, don’t forget to register and go to vote! Jokes apart…we just want to tell everybody to get down at Epic Dalston and enjoy the splendor of colours, love, peace and harmony we will bring. To come and sweat out, get together as one, and sing and dance all night”
We close our chat asking about the band’s future plans…because it sounds like their first album is almost in its final stages of preparation.
“Our album is coming out soon! We are also waiting for our new video from Ghana. About the album, people should expect exactly what we are. It will be our debut album and it’s going to be about what we are. For two years we set back and released EP’s and singles, but the album will be our first real work: that’s what K.O.G. and the Zongo Brigade’s music is about. When you see us on stage or during a gig, that’s what the album will be. Put it all together for 50 minutes and enjoy our sound.
Then we have a few festivals coming up this Summer. It will be really, really cool to play there. We are playing in Liverpool during the Sound City. Then, in July, Secret Garden Party, Kendall Calling and Rhythmtree festival. One in Amsterdam and a few more… So, yes, it will be a cool summer for us and after the Summer, we can drop our album”.
We told you it was going to be an EPIC show and it didn’t fail to live up to those expectations. Smiling people, funky vibes and striking musicians! But don’t take our words for it… have a look at the photo gallery of our event at EPIC Dalston in partnership with…