Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng



Innova 583


 1. Greetings  (1:50)

 2. Oprenten #6  (5:04)

 3. Message  (4:12)

 4. Kid’s - Konko-da  (9:42)

 5. Akampa (4:52)

 6.  ’Round Midnight (5:19)

 7.  Ghana Gumbo (7:43)

 8. Fine Fine Baby (5:15)

 9.  Worship  (6:10)

10. Thank you  (7:40)

            Total Time: 57:47


William Lowe, Jay Hoggard, Wes Brown, Dominic Kanza,

Paul Austerlitz, Michael Veal, Scott Kessel, Taylor Ho Bynum,

Rani Arbo, Jeff Penn, Gloria Koomson, Ismail Lawal.


The music here is a reflection of spirituality, and is achieved through mixing many musical forms from Ghana with other forms from the African Diaspora and other places. Many of the melodies here are based on traditional rhythms of African music. By traditional I am talking about an environment where ancient values and customs are the way of life. Children are raised according to those values and customs. They are raised to know the difference between what their ancestors have saved for them and what Europeans and others later brought.


The traditional rhythms of spiritual, court, ceremonial, and healing music are not the same as the pop rhythms of discos and nightclubs. In Ghana today, Muslims, Christians, and native physicians have found a way to live together. One reason for this is the way the different ethnic groups in Ghana today have lived, worked, and traded together for a long time before the European colonizers arrived at the shores of the mother land with their “divide and rule” mentality based on the ”Bible and the Gun.”


This cultural mix has created all types of music. Ghana’s major musical forms, including court, ceremonial, recreational, social, harvest, funeral, war, healing, Asafo (warrior’s association) as well as European church music, have found places in music throughout the world. As a result, artists from all over the world visit Africa, and in particular Ghana, to study rhythm, structure, ear training, and especially so-called polyrhythm.

Because I’ve embraced all the various traditions, including what I’ve heard in the last three decades during which I’ve lived in the United States as well as Ghana, this allows me to hear, feel, understand and respond to music in many ways.


The colonizers set out to control the minds of the people through slavery. They built concentration camps, now known as “castles,” along the coastal areas of Ghana formerly known as the Gold Coast. Yet despite this often-brutal treatment of the African people, we are still blessed. Now, in the twenty first century, we have wonderfully rich music in Africa itself, as well as from the African Diaspora - from the Basque people of Spain, and from the many peoples of the Caribbean and the Americas.


We are also beginning to realize that the same rhythms have gone back to Africa and come around once again. More and more, people are discovering the power of drumming and the role it plays in our society. That is why so many suburban kids own a drum like the Oprenten, Donno, Djembe or Congas and are showing a strong interest in drumming.

There’s a great deal of traditional music out there that reflects African heritage, influences, and connections. All these musical forms can be found in Jazz. America has been the melting pot for artists from all parts of the world, and many come to places like New York and New Orleans to enjoy Jazz.


Yet we are still struggling to find the appropriate major record label and distribution network, the right market for these wonderful traditions, so that we can maintain the future of this wonderful culture. Although universities and colleges are offering African drumming, dance, song, and history classes, what we tend to hear about Africa focuses on sexuality and poverty while the traditional values are pushed to the side. Corporate executives say that Jazz does not sell. I think this is because it is hard to sell tradition. This is especially true for a tradition that has a history of pain, suffering and struggle, a tradition that came from all parts of the continent of Africa and later developed in the Americas. In part the question is how to sell a tradition to the people who created the tradition. At the same time those who are trying to maintain the tradition do not receive much support.

What you are hearing on this recording, incorporated into my own compositions, are traditional drum rhythms, songs, chants and arrangements. It is important to remember that as well as being rhythmic instruments, drums are tuned and use pitches. Traditionally, most of the drums are tuned to imitate the human voice, and hence are called “talking drums.” Depending on the occasion, they all play different roles to create the mood within the traditional ensemble. If you listen carefully you will hear the traditional rhythms. In addition, the influence of Jazz on my work has grown tremendously. I am learning and discovering a lot about Jazz everyday. Jazz music is especially exciting because it is alive and it embraces all cultures. In fact, I have been blessed by the Lord, Jah, Jesus Christ, Almighty Lord, Allah. I’ve been fortunate to be alive at this time and lucky to have gotten the chance to play with legendaries in Africa and in the new world such as Max Roach, Randy Weston, Cecil McBee, Anthony Braxton, Jay Hoggard, Roy Hargrove, Yosuke Yamashita, Mike Knock, Claudia Acuña, Reggie Workman, James Wiedman, Bill Lowe, Richard Harper, Wes Brown, Pheeroan akLaff, Abraham Adzinyah, Chief Bey, the late Freeman K Donkor and many more.


Jazz has enabled me to compose songs like “Kids” and “Konko- da”. They reflect my appreciation for traditional Jazz and for mixing the traditions. These songs are based on when I was a kid and very happy, growing up in an environment where there were no guns around, and every elder in my town was like a parent or older sister or brother. We especially liked to run to the marketplace, which is the basis for “Konko- da.” At the market, my friends and I carried heavy loads on our heads to earn both some money and some of the food items. Sometimes the merchants paid us with what they sold. There was always a musician entertaining the crowd. Traders advertised in their own style of singing or chanting to attract customers and the radios were blasting. It was a market day for others, but for me it was a big orchestral sound system with horns, drums and happiness.

      KKO, 2002



Featuring the varieties of Bells - some Cow bells, Wood blocks, Gankoqui, and GoGo bells.

KKO: Set of cowbells, Wood blocks, Gankoqui

Oprenten #6

See if you can hear the melodies and chords…

KKO: Solo


I’ve been to Brazil few times, performing in Rio de Janeiro and a few other cities, but it was in Salvador where I found my African brothers and sisters. I was amazed to see the presence of an African heritage. I was lucky to have the opportunity to perform with the great Brazilian master drummer and percussionist Robertinho Silva. Later he invited me to his house for lunch where he gave me a beautiful instrument, the “Udu,” which later became the center of this piece. It is the clay instrument originally from Nigeria “mixing it up” with African bells, Axatze, and Clave.

KKO: Gankoqui [solo] Udu Drum  Austerlitz: Clave  Koomson: Axatse

Lawal: Gankoqui  Penn: Gankoqui   


KKO: 5 Oprenten, Clave, Eggshell  Austerlitz: Bass Clarinet 

Bynum: Cornet, Flugelhorn  Brown: Bass  Lowe: Trombone  Kanza: Guitar


Traditional harvest music from the upper region of Ghana - another touch of Funk.

KKO: Oprenten, Calabash drums, Donno, Lead Vocal  Arbo: Vocal  Penn: Calabash Drum 

Lawal: Calabah Drum  Veal: Drum Set

‘Round Midnight

I have so much love for Monk’s music, so I decided to try to make my own rendition of ‘Round-Midnight. Featuring the Donno drum [Talking Drum]

and Bass Clarinet.

KKO: Donno  Austerlitz: Bass Clarinet

Ghana Gumbo

Ewe drumming styles, Xylophone, Oprenten and a touch of free Jazz.

KKO: Oprenten, Kidi, Gankoqui, Ntrowa  Hoggard: Xylophone

Fine Fine Baby (You no go fine pass your Mother)

This is a saying in Ghana that no matter how rich or pretty you become, you will never be finer or smarter than your mother. These days young people go to school, and then they try to turn around and make their parents look like they don’t know anything. It’s because they forget that mama knows. As they say in Ghana, “Opanyin nni whee a, owo abakyew,” meaning even if an elder has nothing, he/she has been around and is older than us, so we should listen to them.

KKO: Donno, Apentema, Conga, Vocal  Austerlitz: Axatse Hoggard: Vocal Kessel: Vocal Koomson: Clave  Lawal: Drum Set  Penn: Apentema


(Holy Mount Zion – I really really love to worship Jah)

This song shows my love for the Jamaican people (who are known to be in part descendants of the Ashanti people from Ghana) and their culture. I took a trip to Jamaica in January 2000 to see it for my self. I went to Akompong to witness the annual festival of the Maroon people. There I saw another branch of the same old tree - Kumina music - the healing music of the Maroons. This has been around from before Reggae. After that I went to Westmorland to see the Bingi elders during Rastaman Christmas. There, I saw for myself the real Nayabingi session.

KKO: Drum Set, Lead Vocal, Iyabingi Session  Austerlitz: Bass Clarinet 

Arbo: Vocal  Brown: Bass  Bynum: Trumpet  Kanza: Guitar  Lowe: Trombone

Thank You

A message of gratitude to all the Elders.

KKO: Kidi, Kaganu, Drum Set  Austerlitz: Bass Clarinet Brown: Bass  Bynum: Flugelhorn, Cornet  Koomson: Axatse Lowe: Trombone  Lawal: Gankoqui Penn: Axatse


Design by Aldo Sampieri • Cover Painting by Harrison Obeng Debrah • Photos by William Johnston

Booking: 212-561-1831 • Website:


Innova Director: Philip Blackburn • Artists and Product: Chris Strouth • Assistant: Chris Campbell

Innova is supported by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation and by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.


Big shouts: God Almighty, various traditions, The Elders, Kwaboat, Dale Fitzgerald, Anani Dzidzienyo, Diable, Claudia Norman, Peter Wetherbee, Papa Black, Mr. Raymond, Cliff Lyon, Cupcake, Jazz Gallery, JAH!


Produced by KWAKU Kwaakye Obeng

All songs composed and arranged by “KKO”

except “‘Round Midnight” by Thelonious Monk.

©2002 KKO Productions BMI

Recorded at Brown University 1999

Engineered by Andy Kern

Additional recording, mixing and

mastering at Manor Recording 2002