Welcome dear readers to a new and extravagant feature! We present Panel of Proles, a shiny & multiplicitous take on reviewing… why have one opinion when you can have two?! In this grand Panel of Proles opening episode we invited regular PROLE JAZZ muso-hack Captain Jack Avery to form a panel of wisdom and invention alongside Copius, one of Sheffield’s freshest emcees. The discerning duo wax lyrical about one of 2019’s hottest releases: K.O.G & the Zongo Brigade‘s debut album Wahala Wahala…
Captain Jack Avery: One of the country’s premiere festival bands, the mighty Zongo Brigade led by Sheffield’s inherited musical son Kweku of Ghana (K.O.G) have released their long-awaited debut album Wahala Wahala, and it’s a high-energy, brass-laden, sunshine-drenched afro-hop classic.
These past few years have been turbo-charged for K.O.G & the Zongo Brigade: every season the gigs have got bigger, the energy wilder, the vibrations stronger. Their debut has been 5 years in the making over which time the Brigade have gone from strength to strength, taking their equatorial vibrations from the underground tropical scene of Sheffield to festival stages all over Planet Earth.
The first tracks on Wahala Wahala are a mission statement introducing the Zongo Brigade’s jump-up music to anyone who has yet to see them setting the crowd alight in some distant, hippy-scattered festival field. For My People is all crazy party energy and horn stabs and dancing guitar line; it writhes and leaps beautifully beneath the stacatto rap of Sheffield’s premiere emcee Franz Von. Money and Sura Nipa are acid-jazz groovers furnished with Kweku’s characteristic yelp and rhythmic rapping, his words like a vocal djembe.
But for me things really get moving with Medowo – this is West African sunshine music, ecstatic and fervent. The band lock in and let loose and the result is explosive. This is K.O.G and the Zongo Brigade at their electrifying best: the guitar writhes and tinkles like rays of sun scattering in the breaking surf upon a golden beach in Ghana, the vocal line is meandering and euphoric, the saxy riff an cheery earworm you’ll find yourself humming on and off for the next six months. Franz drops his flow into the mix and everything builds until the trumpet drops a hands-in-the-air solo and I’m lost in a dancing fugue like a happy delirious cosmic fool…
What’s surprising about Wahala Wahala is that it’s a beautifully diverse yet coherent collection of music, with a dynamic perhaps unexpected from such maestros of the festival stage. It would be easy to slot K.O.G & the Zongo Brigade neatly into the Afro-fusion party band category but for songs like Imela, an acapella vocal track filled with yearning for a distant home. It’s a song of sorrow and hope and freedom, a moment of tenderness amidst the riotous party, a sign that Zongo Brigade are also capable of feeling and depth. The reflective vibration continues with another unexpectedly nuanced stand-out track. Home floats elegantly, a wistful musical sojourn showcasing the ability of these musicians to work with space and atmosphere as well as fire and beat. The lyrics and sounds meld to create a vespertine, pensive emotional landscape, an elegaic soliloquy painting a pastel image of life and loneliness on the road.
Next up is Agoro: afro-disco at it’s most propulsive, driven along with a relentlessly danceable woodblock, limby funk-bass, wah-wahed guitar and Kweku’s wild emceeing. The middle 8 breakdown with Franz rapping over an Amen-esque break and horn stabs is nothing short of genius! A stand-out section on an album filled with greatness. Close your eyes listening to this and be swept up and off into a daydream of euphoric dancing in a Shambalan tent deep in the midst of summer. It’s a total banger, crafted to free the primal movement that dwells deep inside all of us, a joyous trance-inducing groove beast.
Mona Lisa is another classic , instantly recognisable with a wonderfully serpentine guitar line courtesy of the jubilantly talented Matias Reed (member of PROLE JAZZ faves Mansion of Snakes & Vipertime), Kweku’s insanely catchy sing-song rap and a joyous brass melody. The frantic energy drops to allow Franz room to hit centre stage before the whole thing explodes into a carnival of equatorial music and snare drum.
Wahala Wahala wends onward on its fantastical journey through the jazzy hip-hop of Transmission to the bombastic party-starting beast of Mad Up to the shorelines of a palm-tree laden coastline with the kaleidoscopic Wahala. Dr Mensa is a wonderfully odd track, occupied by simple woodblock and guitar and voice, like an outtake from some parallel reality where the White Album was written and recorded in Sheffield via Africa not so many moons ago. Wonderful Life is a reggae daydream, with dubby sax and Specials-esque organ sounds, and this gem of an album closes with Sahara, a sojourn into the arid desert traditions of the north.
Wahala Wahala is a journey through space and musical consciousness and a triumph of creative achievement. To so fully occupy such a range of genres with this level of infectious and supreme confidence is nothing short of incredible. Within K.O.G & the Zongo Brigade’s treasure trove of tunes we can find smatters of afrobeat, funk, reggae, hip-hop, vocal songs from the choral traditions, desert blues, hi-life; a dazzlingly broad repertoire all fused into something wonderful and and wild and uniquely Zongo on this record. It’s been a long time coming, and yes, it was worth the wait! What we have here my good friends is a genuine Sheffield classic that will bless our cosmic senses for many years to come. Big up!
~ Favourite Track: Medowo
Jack is the alleged front-alien of Celestial Afropunk Shamans Captain Avery & the Cosmic Triceratops of Intergalactic Peace. His favourite living Earth Creatures are probably molluscs, but quite possibly squirrels. The internal debate rages, resolution a distant space-dream.
Copius: What first grabs you about Wahala Wahala is how well put together it is. It ebbs and flows like a classic album should, taking the listener on a journey from start to finish, and after the third entire listen through I am completely hooked, singing along to every hook, verse and line. It’s not just the energetic, pumping tracks like Mad Up and For my People that I love about it, it’s also the intricate, almost floaty grooves in Dr Mensa and Suro Nipa.
As a producer I always tend to pick out different things every time I listen to a track or new project in general, but what really makes it for me are the purposefully panned instruments and percussion elements which reel you in. It’s subtle, but effective wood block hits and bottle clangs literally had me in a euphoric state of wonder thoughout. I don’t just like it now, I Love it. You could almost mistake Agoro for a Jamiroquai track it’s that funky, with the brass and bass literally moving me all on their own – it’s one of the many tunes on the album which instantly provide a feel-good factor, producing a grin from ear to ear at times. I have to say, Kweku’s range is exceptional, from singing to rapping to spoken word and back again. Every single flow and vibe has been crafted and delivered to the highest order, and whenever Franz comes in it feels so natural, effortless almost. Two shining stars combining on a work of art. The band are so, so tight and sound like they’ve been together for decades which is a real compliment for the musical camaraderie involved.
Having personally followed K.O.G and the Zongo Brigade for many years now, it gives me great pleasure to be able to write this review. A real honour. After seeing them live countless times across the country control their stages so purely, it’s no surprise that the album is a straight 10 out of 10. From the Glastonbury heroics about 4 years ago, to the staggering amount of festivals they have under their belt, it’s a real pleasure to finally have an album in my ears! If I had to pick a favourite track it would have to be Home; very Bond-esque, a journey you want to be involved in. The moody brass makes it feel very mysterious and the percussion is top notch. Franz’s verse is my favourite on the album on this one too. The line “Broken smiles, better greetings… lonely never leave me when I’m overseas believe me” had me thinking about my journey and I started to relate to the whole album on a much deeper level than the first listen. It’s got everything. It even has a ‘Graceland’ feel to tracks like Imela and the start of Mona Lisa had me making comparisons to the great albums of yesteryear. Sheffield just got it’s album of the year. Take a bow lads.
~ Favourite track: Home
Copius is an emcee/producer on Sheffield’s Northfield Records label. Rumours of new releases abound! Keep your ears peeled! Until then check out his SoundCloud and Insta
Show your love & support the Zongo Brigade by following them on Facebook or even better buying their album HERE
Wanna join the Panel of Proles? Get in touch on Facebook HERE or drop Captain Jack a line on firstname.lastname@example.org