Raw and celebratory funeral music from northern Ghana.
Hypnotic kologo excursions. Pulsing percussion. Enraptured voices.
Recorded 100% live and outdoors by Ian Brennan (Tinariwen, Ustad Saami).
Sixth release from Glitterbeat's acclaimed Hidden Musics series.
Still buzzed at 9am on Pito (millet beer) from the night before, the fra fra quartet proclaimed that they play better when they are drunk. This was telling as they seemed plenty inebriated already.
On the dusty-road outskirts of Tamale (Ghana) near the School of Hygiene, the group says they prefer to use the name given to their tribe by colonialists (Fra Fra) rather than being commanded what to correct after the fact; a retraction made on their behalf.
The group is led by Small, a man who celebrates his diminutive size rather than seeing it as a lack. He picked the two-string Kologo guitar' with dog-tags fastened at the head as rattles.
As funeral songs are often done in procession, I took the mics to the group since they seemed reluctant to enter the compound. Instead they gyrated in circles on the gravel outside. In recording, coverage is more important than precision. Every microphone tells a slightly different version of the truth, so I quickly threw up as many as possible.
Ive often wondered: What is the tensile limit of cohesion culturally? How far can geography stretch scaled for cities and nations before a culture fractures?
Ghana struggles with its own north/south divide.
This northern zone was a wellspring of the Blues, a land where they emanated and never left.
Rather than resembling deathly dirges, these funeral songs were largely celebrations.
As so often is the case, literacy in no way interfered with creativity. Small was able to riff almost endlessly. In fact, his performances grew freer and stronger past the ten-minute mark, so much so that songs would become nearly different tunes entirely. Following his flow, I simply let tape roll until things fell apart, but even then I feared that still greater things may've lay beyond if only the musicians had kept going.
A hallmark of Fra Fra culture is the tiny, bone mouth-flutes that they actually call horns, since that is what they are made from.
When we were through, Small asserted that he could see that music was in my blood. But I protested.
Music is in all of us. Rhythm must run through our very veins to carry life.
--- Ian Brennan
Ian Brennan is a Grammy award winning producer (Tinariwen, Ustad Saami, Zomba Prison Project, Ramblin Jack Elliot) and the author of several books, the most recent being: Silenced by Sound: The Music Meritocracy Myth.
Hidden Musics explores lesser known sonic traditions from around the world. Focusing on highly localized sounds as opposed to globalized musical hybrids, the artists presented by Hidden Musics make music that is raw, time-honored and bound to a specific place. The platform began as a series of albums released by Glitterbeat Records which have featured field recordings from Asia and Africa. In 2019, the acclaimed Le Guess Who? Festival (Utrecht, Netherlands) introduced a Hidden Musics curation program in participation with producer Ian Brennan and Chris Eckman from Glitterbeat.