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V/A - Bokoor Beats

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Artist: V/A

Album: Bokoor Beats

Label: Otrabanda

Review date: Jul. 31, 2007

John Collins – a writer, musician, and record producer from Ghana – was the entrepreneur behind the amazing 1980s compilations entitled The Guitar and Gun. With Bokoor Beats, he has assembled another fine collection of rootsy, rough Ghanaian guitar-band music recorded in the concrete bunker of Bokoor (“Spirit of coolness”) Studios near Accra over the last two decades.

The lion’s share of the cuts here are by Collin’s own Bokoor Band, and they offer a solid range of Ghanaian sounds, from Fela-esque afro-beat to sweet and lilting electric guitar-driven highlife. Collins’s wailing harmonica adds an unusual touch to a number of cuts, an early Yardbirds blues-rock feel in addition to the behind-the-beat bass throb and chewy guitar textures that are at the heart of Ghanaian guitar-band music. Eclectic approaches seem not to frighten the Bokoor Band: With gentle harmonies and vocals sung in English, the closing “ Money In Bed” even offers an oddly folk-rockish Ghanaian twist on Congolese soukous.

Collins seasons the mix with some classic guitar-band cuts by other bands, and each offers unique pleasures: The thick analog synth lines on and hypnotic agbazda percussion groove on “Egbe Enyo” by Blekete and the Big Beats; the chugging guitar and organ groove of Mangwana Stars’ “Atiadele”; the plaintive and elegant vocal call and response and urgent spiritual message that drive “Onam Bebi Basa” by the veteran T.O. Jazz. Collins’ liner notes, while perhaps a bit dense with history and chronology , also offer a vivid look at the strange and sometimes gritty lifestyle of a working band musician in Ghana. The tale of the snake-dancer and the angry audience members might be the best story I’ve ever read in a CD booklet.

A number of good collections of Ghanaian music can be found in the import bins, most of them slanted toward afro-beat and funk sounds. Bokoor Beats has plenty of that, but it also offers a bit more in the way of roots highlife. This makes the anthology not only a nice update on the utterly essential The Guitar and Gun (available now on one CD), but also a very worthy collection in and of itself.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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