Home Music K. Frimpong Backed By Vis-A-Vis: K. Frimpong Backed By Vis-A-Vis

K. Frimpong Backed By Vis-A-Vis: K. Frimpong Backed By Vis-A-Vis

With a sweet tenor voice that evokes both joy and longing, singer-guitarist Alhaji Kwabena Frimpong crooned a funky pop that was a gentle force in Ghanaian highlife. Hot Casa has reissued the 1978 album K. Frimpong recorded with the band Vis-A-Vis, a delightful example of the chemistry that can brew when traditional music meets Western pop in the name of universal dancefloor appeal.

Highlife emerged from Ghana informed by everything from sea shanties, church music and traditional folk. Ronnie Graham, who began his academic career studying the aluminum trade in Ghana before devoting his life to the arts, makes an apt point in his invaluable The Da Capo Guide to Contemporary African Music. He notes that the gulf between traditional and modern is in fact a “false dichotomy,” and Ghanaian music in particular should be considered “a living whole.”

Frimpong, who by the ‘70s was a veteran of the Ghana music scene, seems totally on board with this seamless blend of influences. The brooding “Aboagyewaa” launches things with a lightly distorted guitar figure that soon turns into heavy funk fuzz. The track has all the elements of old school highlife, but the soul charts, bristling horn solos and sinuous rhythms pick up some synthesized timbres from disco for a then-contemporary hybrid. At 11 and a half minutes, it’s the longest performance on the album, and sustains a swampy groove through extended instrumental breaks and spacey keyboard fills that may well have been influenced by disco. But the timbres and rhythms are more complex and moodier than your typical ‘70s Western chart-topper.

The lilting “Ohene A Oda Apakan Mu” is more like what one expects from highlife, with more melodic horn charts and barely amplified rhythm guitar. If “Abogyewaa” was a hip-grinder, this is a finger-snapper. The vocals are more percussive, almost accusatory, and the title seems to translate approximately to “What Are You?” The zouk-like “Abrabo” picks up the tempo to a frenetic pace, with call-and-response vocals tailor made to urge on spirited dancing.

The original record labels credit Frimpong’s band as “his Cubano Fiestas,” which points to another primary source of highlife rhythm, the Afro-Cuban guajeo that drives everything from arpeggiated guitar figures to the horn charts. With deep roots like that, you know this is great dance music. The too-short album turns down the tempo a hair with “Acheampomaa,” whose percussive bassline makes it hard to keep still. With just four tracks in just over a half hour, K. Frimpong Backed By Vis-A-Vis can only hint at what the group must have been like in concert, given free rein and fewer time restraints. The curious should investigate Hot Casa’s reissue of the 1975 album Ahyewa Special, on which Frimpong is backed by the band Super Complex Sounds. This album consists of two side-long medleys, and the continuous program gives a better sense of the Frimpong groove. Given the seemingly endless supply of reissues and the bottomless treasures of YouTube, one could spend a lifetime studying highlife, or any African pop subgenre. It wouldn’t be a bad way to pass the time at home.

Traditional African music meets Western pop in the name of universal dancefloor appeal.
70 %
Infectious Afro-funk
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