Album Review: Santrofi – Alewa [Outhere Records; April 2020]

santrofi alewa cover

Here to revive the golden era of highlife, box-fresh 8-piece Santrofi bridge the mid-century sound of Ghana with polished afrobeat and an azonto attitude (more on that later.)

Assembled around bass player Emmanuel Ofori, whose credentials include playing with elders Ebo Taylor, and Pat Thomas and Kwashibu Area Band, the band’s debut album Alewa is a ten track tro tro (minibus taxi) ride through their lively hometown of Accra.

Named after the elusive four-winged bird from Akan mythology (the hunting of which brings bad luck) the band begins Alewa gathering around rumbling percussion and the call and response chant of ‘Kokrokoo.’

The album then takes off with the titular ‘Alewa’ named after a local black and white humbug sweet and intended as a call for the need to recognise, accept and embrace racial diversity. Featuring a gorgeous arpeggiated guitar part, the band answers with warm stabs of organ and chatty brass, creating a classic big band highlife sound.

Santrofi then switches up for ‘Kwaa Kwaa’ with it’s spiky afrobeat and four to the floor funk, before expertly demonstrating how you play both styles at once with ‘Africa.’ 

Beginning with Kwame Nkrumah’s hopeful ‘United States of Africa speech’ made at independence when highlife was the popular music, and indeed the soundtrack of a newly postcolonial continent, `Africa’ reunites the two age mate siblings of highlife and afrobeat.

Another standout is ‘Adwuma’ which translates as ‘work’ and on which the guitarist sets up a breakneck tempo that would terrify a lazy drummer. It’s highlife with an azonto BPM (the band have backed azonto superstar Sarkodie), allowing breakouts for the brass and requiring the drummer to keep the lid on a boiling groove. 

All in, Santrofi don’t put a foot wrong with this excellent album. Highlife has always been an optimistic music (which is exactly what we need right now) and this welcome debut is as refreshing as a cold Fanta on an Accra afternoon.

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