Highlife Roots Revival
Koo Nimo is one of the last true veterans of highlife roots and palm-wine music, which dominated Ghana’s popular music scene throughout much of the twentieth century. Recorded in his backyard at home in Accra, expect acoustic guitars and rolling percussion all topped off with his gentle story-teller singing style.
- Listen See Wo Nom Me (Tsetse Fly You Suck My Blood) (4:24)
- Listen Owusuwaa (4:53)
- Listen Old Man Plants A Coconut Tree (5:26)
- Listen Integrity (The Cat And The Dog) (5:52)
- Listen Life Is What You Make It (5:46)
- Listen Medley: Nation Building/Adampa (5:44)
- Listen Medley: Anansi Song Story/Bear, What is the Matter With You?/Hornbill (9:07)
- Listen Praise Song For Otumfuo Osei Tutu 2nd (5:38)
- Listen Yaree Ye Ya (To Be Taken Ill) (7:30)
- Listen Efie Ne Fie (5:05)
- Listen Adowa Palm-Wine Set: You Will Be Overtaken By Events/Listen, Listen And Listen Again (4:59)
Palm-wine’s stance as an early roots version of highlife is historically important and musically fascinating. By delving deep into Koo Nimo’s narrative style you can trace out the link to the melodious strains of Prince Nico Mbarga and, subsequently, the heady didactic Afrobeat of Fela Kuti, and even further to the current-day exponents of the highlife hip-hop fusion, hip-life. Nimo’s music effortlessly revives the beautiful roots of highlife once more.
Koo Nimo was born in 1934 in the Ashanti region of Ghana. By his early twenties, and by the time Ghana had achieved independence (1957), he was well respected across the nation for his gentle acoustic approach and versatile skill. During the 1960s he studied science in London and schooled himself in several diverse musical styles, including Western classical music and flamenco guitar technique. He is also a keen jazz fan and holds a deep respect for the music of American pianist Thelonious Monk. Though well versed in multiple genres, Nimo’s own music remains firmly in classic palm-wine style. Ensuring the continuation of tradition is a sentiment he holds dear, and one he instils in his music. ‘Old Man Plants A Coconut Tree’ is an ode to the virtues of preserving tradition – the lyrics intone, ‘Grandson, I know I won’t live to see the fruits of my labour. Because of you, and children yet unborn, I am planting the coconut tree’.
Now approaching his eighties, the music on this album showcases Nimo’s relaxed style, and is his first recording with a large ensemble. The line-up here includes guitars, seprewa, traditional drums, percussion and an accompanying vocal group. On the track ‘Medley: Anansi Song Story/Bear, What Is the Matter With You?/Hornbill’, you can hear the full ensemble in rich polyphony. Other tracks draw on varying traditional influences, such as the ‘Adowa Palm-Wine Set’ based on adowa rhythms. Or ‘Praise Song For Otumfuo Osei Tutu 2nd’, a song composed for a court occasion that praises the first Ashanti King Osei Tutu and the Asantehene, the present King.
Whilst listening to Highlife Roots Revival, you might be surprised to hear the faint crowing of a rooster or the distant murmur of a child’s voice bubbling underneath the guitars. But rest assured: it is no accident that these sounds were left in the mix; they were captured during a series of recording sessions, which took place in Koo Nimo’s courtyard at home in Ghana. Adding a wonderful sense of intimacy to the album, these interjections underline the ethos of palm-wine music perfectly. This is, after all, a musical style named after the strong alcoholic drink imbibed at outdoor acoustic sessions, where musicians swapped their songs beneath the starlit sky and where palm-wine music was born. Join Koo Nimo in the spirit of palm-wine; kick back, tap your foot and listen to the stories unfold.
01 See Wo Nom Me (Tsetse Fly You Suck My Blood)
A man rents a house, pays his rent, but is forced out after a fight with his landlord whom he compares to the tsetse flies that suck his blood.
Recorded as a tribute to the wife of Koo Nimo who died broken-hearted in 1973, soon after giving birth and losing a child.
03 Old Man Plants A Coconut Tree
A grandson asks his 90-year-old grandfather why he is planting a coconut tree in his garden since he will not live to see it grow and reap the fruits of his labour. The old man replies, ‘Grandson, I know I won’t live to see the fruits of my labour. Because of you, and children yet unborn, I am planting the coconut tree.’
04 Integrity (The Cat And The Dog)
A traditional tale about a cat and dog. One is caught stealing food when his footprints are found in the sand in the kitchen. The moral ‘If you do a job, do it well, and do not leave a blemish behind’.
05 Life Is What You Make It
Written by seprewa player Osei Kame Kurankye and based on traditional proverbs:’You are the architect of your own fortune, you lay the foundation in life, and you need to respect time. Time is like an open sore; you need truth to heal it.’
06 Medley: Nation Building / Adampa
Consider the ways of the ant and be wise. On a rainy day, you see lines of ants collecting food for the rainy day. The wise person prepares for the rainy day. If we live the grasshopper life, playing all the time, we will be overtaken by events on the rainy day.
07 Medley: Anansi Song Story / Bear, What is the Matter With You? / Hornbill
Anansi is the spider, a hero and trickster in Ghanaian folk tales. This song asks, ‘Who is Anansi Kwaku and why are there so many stories about him?’ Anansi represents a sort of Everyman, artistically represented and distorted to serve society as a medium for self-examination. He is a trickster and always ends up impoverished. The song about the bear talks about marriage and relationships and hornbill tells of how the palm tree must be allowed to grow. ‘You must allow me, the palm tree, to grow, don’t cheat, be nice.’
08 Praise Song For Otumfuo Osei Tutu 2nd
A song composed for a court occasion that praises the first Ahanti King Osei Tutu and the asantehene, the present King. Osei Kwakua, seprewa player with Koo Nimo, wrote this tribute for the band to perform for the royal court.
09 Yaree Ye Ya (To Be Taken Ill)
This song gives advice in times of illness and poverty: ‘When you are poor, you start begging and are confused.’ It is also written for students, for help when taking exams and is a very popular song at the universities.
10 Efie Ne Fie
An historical song for the asantahene. When the British arrived looking for gold in the early nineteenth century, the Ashanti king was exiled to avoid bloodshed, first to Elmina, then to Sierra Leone. The people will fight to the last person to bring the king home. An alliance was secured, and the king returned, but the queen mother was exiled to the Seychelles and died there. She was a very strong woman, committed to fighting British imperialism.
11 Adowa Palmwine Set: You Will Be Overtaken By Events / Listen, Listen and Listen Again
Based on the traditional adowa rhythms, this song tells the story of the cuckoo and the cock and was told when the king was being installed on the throne. The cock crows at dawn when people go to work while in the evening, the cuckoo sings to welcome people home. ‘If you are a king or leader and you don’t respect your elders and the youth, you will be overtaken by events.’