Display options Mobile website

Music of Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Source: ghanamusic.com

Koo Nimo - King of Palmwine Music


With over 50 years’ experience playing traditional and palmwine music (highlife music), for which he has become so well-loved in Ghana and internationally, Koo Nimo has expressed concern that this unique heritage is under threat.


“There are threats to traditions of the Court music,” Nimo told The EastAfrican, adding: “The youth today dance foreign music and are moving away from our own. Some of the lyrics of the songs do not live up to Ghanaian decency standards.”


Nimo, Ghana’s leading folk singer, is well known for playing multiple forms of traditional music. For over four decades, he has devoted his life to promoting and preserving local culture through his palmwine music and ballads.


“I started my musical career the first day I was born. I sang my first song when I cried. A man is born as a self contained musical instrument,” Nimo, who was born on October 3, 1934 in the Ashanti region, and whose real names are Daniel Amponsah, said.


The musician spent part of his childhood at the Asante king’s court where he learnt his trade.


“I spent the formative years of my life at the Asantehene’s court (King of Asante) where I was taught the traditions of the court. I sat under the tutelage of many old men and women who are the custodians of our culture.”


Elegantly draped in the traditional Akan cloth, Nimo and his Adadam Agofomma (Back-To-the-Roots Ensemble) recently put up a pulsating private show for the finalists and judges of the CNN Multichoice African Journalist Awards 2008 in Accra, Ghana.


The ensemble played some of its best palmwine guitar music hits from Nimo’s “Osabarima” and “Tete Wobi Ka” collections.


“I have released about six albums and over a hundred songs and there are new albums to come,” the poet, storyteller and songwriter said.


“Osabarima” was Nimo’s first CD containing eight of his popular songs. It was issued by Adasa Records in 1990 and then re-issued in 2000 and distributed by Stern’s Records in London.


It contains tracks like: Aburokyire Abrabo (A song about the disillusionment of living overseas), Owusu Se M’Amma (Advice about lack of consideration for a neighbour), Osabarima (Good Friday song, about the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ), Akora Dua Kube (A very old man plants a coconut tree which he will not live to see bear fruit), Onipa Behwe Yie (Forewarned is forearmed), among others.


“Tete Wobi Ka” was Nimo’s second CD issued in 2000 featuring his trademark guitar and vocal style with traditional rhythm section.


He is joined on this CD by Osei Kwame with his modern interpretations of the pre-colonial praise singing tradition with seperewa (6- to 14- stringed harp-lute) accompaniment.


The seperewa is the Ghanaian (specifically Akan) version of a harp-like instrument found in many West African cultures.


It has traditionally 6 strings (Osei’s, which he made himself, has 14), and is played by plucking with thumbs and forefingers.


Osei is one of the leading exponents of this instrument today, and is Seperewa Instructor at the University of Ghana at Legon. Osei’s grandfather helped to reintroduce the seperewa to Ghanaian popular culture in the 1920s and taught Osei many of the traditional songs he now performs.


Nimo’s music has been described as “A pulsating mix of melodious and intoxicating guitar patterns, harmonious vocals, and mesmerising percussion.


It brings to life the meaning of the Sankofa image, a symbolic bird of the Asante people of Ghana, looking backwards with one foot forward to the future,” by Professors Andrew Kaye and Cynthia Schmidt. “Koo Nimo sings lyrics infused with Asante wisdom, peppered with the proverbs that are so essential to a West African audience.”


“Certainly one of the elements which gives Nimo’s music a strong indigenous flavour are his lyrics, which show a great deal of attention to the use of court language and subtle proverbs, many of which he gleans from the local elders who are knowledgeable about Ashanti traditions…,” A. L. Kaye writes in a paper, Up-Up-Up and More Up.


“He uses the proverbs to pepper lyrics centred around messages dealing with contemporary issues of African life. Koo Nimo’s lyrics, like his rhythms and entire performance format, are multi-leveled.”


“What has become obvious to many listeners and specialists is that the origin of jazz is firmly rooted in Africa and shared throughout the black world,” Kwabena Fosu-Mensah writes in the sleeve notes of Nimo’s CD “Osabarima.”


“African Americans, however, deserve the credit for having put a certain stamp and credibility to it across the whole world. They retained the music which they carried from Africa in the colonial times and successfully created a novel sound of the moment out of it,” Fosu-Mensah adds.


Apart from his early exposure to music by his parents and playing in local groups, particularly IE’s Band, Nimo also studied classical guitar style, harmony and counterpoint, among others, at various times, to enhance his musical appreciation.


“I didn’t want to be a Segovia. I wanted to be an African guitarist, using my technique to do justice to my own music, which I understand better,” he is quoted in the sleeve notes of his CD.”


Although a great consumer of jazz music — from Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Wes Montgomery and Count Basie to Antonio Carlos Jobim, Lorendo Almeida and Thelonius Monk, Nimo is said to have drawn inspiration first from Ghanaian guitarist, Kwabena Onyina.


“I didn’t, however, want to be a second-rate guitarist, hence my determination to dig into my past for a traditional sound which I have now fashioned on the lines of Odonson (which literally means, ‘let love succeed or prevail,’ developed from an old dance form during which old folks — “men and women” — performed close to each other,” he explains.


His retirement from the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana, as the chief laboratory technician in 1994 has enabled him to concentrate on his achievements.


Nimo and his ensemble have represented their country at several international arts festivals and have also toured extensively throughout Europe and America, where he shared the stage with Puerto Rico’s Yomo Toro during a 1988 ‘Guitar Summit.’


He was president of the Ghana Musicians Union for 10 years, and received the Grand Medal for Lifetime Service to Ghana from the head of state.


He was interim chairman of the Copyright Society of Ghana, Member of the Board of Directors of Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, Member of the Education Commission of Ghana, and part-time lecturer in guitar at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana, among others. He has been an inspiration to younger generations of Ghanaian musicians.


Some of Koo Nimo’s works are studied alongside those of other African musicians in the West African Examination Council syllabus for music.


For the future plans for the group, he says: “The first thing is to make sure all the members become well educated, and in the process we train young talented people to take our places.”


Piracy has adversely affected African artists, to which Nimo says: “I think copyright laws should be strengthened, offenders should be fined heavily enough and artists should register with efficient copyright societies.”


Palmwine music developed as a distinctive musical style in Ghana beginning in the 1920s and 1930s, and is named after the local brew often consumed liberally during its performance and appreciation.


The Ghanaian guitar wizard has been portrayed by Afro-Pop music commentator John Collins as a kind of Homeric Bard of West African Palmwine Guitar, and who the Ghanaian journalist Kwabena Fosu-Mensah has dubbed “The Repository of Asante (Ashanti) Music and Culture.”


On his legacy Nimo says: “I would like to be a dealer in hope, and to leave behind among the youth the conviction and the will to carry on.”


Nimo’s style features the modern guitar, but includes a traditional Highlife rhythm section (bells, hand drums, and “rhumba box” or 3-keyed bass sanza). The songs are sung mostly in the Twi language of the Asante (Ashanti) ethnic group, but Nimo is fond of throwing in English phrases and quotations as well, from which one can get a sense of the Twi commentary while playing the acoustic guitar.


Others have called him the “King of Up-Up-Up.” Up-Up-Up!!?? This refers to a pulsating mix of melodious and intoxicating guitar patterns, harmonious vocals and mesmerising percussion.


“It is Koo Nimo’s distinctive fusion of indigenous Ghanaian musical forms and instruments with a wholly new and very personal aesthetic sensibility. Up-Up-Up is about a music with a youthful and buoyant rhythmic appeal, with lyrics of noble beauty, infused with elegant and powerful Asante poetic imagery,” Kaye writes.


According to Kaye, Nimo developed Up-Up-Up back in the mid 1950s, during the heady days of African liberation. During that time, Nimo had moved from his native village near Kumasi to Accra, where he became a successful guitarist in the booming popular music scene.


This was the heyday of the now vintage High Life music of groups such as E.T. Mensah’s Tempos and King Bruce’s Black Beats.


“Today,” Kaye observes that, “Koo Nimo is a musical figure of international stature. Perhaps no other artist better represents the Janus-faced nature of the new African music - looking towards a vibrant new musical future but keeping vigilant that past cultural values remain very much Up and alive. He has achieved this position through the force of his character, and the exciting, novel, amazing and uplifting quality of his music.”


On his legacy he says: “I would like to be a dealer in hope, and to leave behind among the youth the conviction and the will to carry on.”


In regards to his retirement he concludes: “I do plan to retire, but it could be a few minutes before I enter the grave to join my ancestors.”


After Ghanaian Independence in 1957, Nimo had a vision of creating a new kind of African music. He formed a new group which he called the Adadam, or “Back-to-the-Roots” Ensemble.


With the Adadam group, which consisted of acoustic guitars, a three-pronged bass sanza called the prempresiwa (relative of the Caribbean “rumba box”), the dawuro bell, African percussion and vocals, Koo Nimo revived older indigenous musical forms and infused them with a sense of style and purpose consonant with the optimistic spirit of his generation.


“This spirit lives on and thrives in the music and musical personality of Koo Nimo, which has deepened and sweetened over the years. It is not just the music which makes Up-Up-Up so alive and fulfilling, but the man himself. Whether at an intimate setting, among friends, at an all-night wake-keeping, or at a special concert at the State House in Accra before an audience of thousands, Koo Nimo never fails to captivate audiences with his seemingly unlimited resources of musical artistry and personal magnetism,” Kaye adds.


Describing the legend’s music Kaye notes: “The real wonder begins when Koo Nimo puts, his knowing finger to the strings of a guitar and does his magic, bringing together both the past and present within a wonderfully propelling rhythmic framework. Koo Nimo likes to compare his guitar to a beautiful woman, and the music he creates on it can only be described as loving. Solo, or in duet with Kofi Twuniasi, his musical partner for the past twenty-five years, Koo Nimo produces a sweet and limpid texture of gracefully overlapping melodies set in undulating cross-rhythms which create a sparkling symphonic atmosphere that simultaneously appears new-born and ageless.”


Kaye adds: “This extraordinarily appealing guitar work, however, is only one layer of a musical texture that is incredibly multi-layered, while always maintaining a crystalline clarity. Several indigenous percussion instruments, including the prempresiwa (rumba box), dawuro bell and apentemma drums played conga-style, create the impression of an infinity of overlapping rhythmic planes, with patterns alternately rising and falling below a smooth surface. Floating above these interlacing rhythms and harmonies is Koo Nimo’s gentle voice, which soars in broad melodies, or speaks in “lip improvisation,” a kind of rap of Ashanti wisdom, in which the singer recounts proverbs old and new and creates that environment of articulate meaning which is so essential to an African audience.”


“Today,” Kaye observes that, “Koo Nimo is a musical figure of international stature. Perhaps no other artist better represents the Janus-faced nature of the new African music - looking towards a vibrant new musical future but keeping vigilant that past cultural values remain very much Up and alive. He has achieved this position through the force of his character, and the exciting, novel, amazing and uplifting quality of his music.”


On his legacy he says: “I would like to be a dealer in hope, and to leave behind among the youth the conviction and the will to carry on.”


In regards to his retirement he concludes: “I do plan to retire, but it could be a few minutes before I enter the grave to join my ancestors.”

Comments:
This article has 10 comments, give your comment