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Koo Nimo
Highlife Roots Revival
Whilst listening to Highlife Roots Revival, you
might be surprised to hear the faint crowing
of a rooster or the distant murmur of a child’s
voice bubbling underneath the guitars. But rest
assured, it is no accident that these sounds were
left in the mix; they were captured during a
series of recording sessions, which took place
in Koo Nimo’s courtyard at home in Ghana.
Adding a wonderful sense of intimacy to the
album, these interjections underline the ethos
of palm-wine music perfectly. This is, after
all, a musical style named after the alcoholic
drink imbibed at outdoor acoustic sessions,
where musicians swapped their songs beneath
the starlit sky and where palm-wine music was
born. Join Koo Nimo in the spirit of palm-wine;
kick back, tap your foot and listen to the stories
Koo Nimo was born in 1934 in the Ashanti
region of Ghana, then a British colony named
the Gold Coast. For a period of his childhood
he lived in the house of his brother-in-law,
a member of the Asante royal family. This
formative experience grounded him in Asante
tradition and, combined with his natural
musical ability, set the foundations for a career
dedicated to promoting and preserving local
culture via his music.
By his early twenties, and by the time Ghana
had achieved independence (1957), Nimo was
well respected across the nation for his gentle
acoustic approach and versatile skill. During
the 1960s he studied science in London and
schooled himself in several diverse musical
styles, including Western classical music and
flamenco guitar technique. He is also a keen
jazz fan and holds a deep respect for the music
of American pianist Thelonious Monk. Though
well versed in multiple genres, Nimo’s own
music remains firmly in traditional palm-wine
style. As he explains in conversation with Joe
Latham, ‘I studied the classical style, learning
scales and arpeggios. But 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.’ Ensuring the continuation of tradition
is a sentiment he holds dear, and one he instils
in his music. ‘Old Man Plants A Coconut Tree’
is an ode to the virtues of preserving tradition
– the lyrics intone, ‘Grandson, I know I won’t
live to see the fruits of my labour. Because of
you, and children yet unborn, I am planting the
coconut tree’.
Now approaching his eighties, the music on
this album showcases Nimo’s relaxed style,
and is his first recording with a large ensemble,
Adadam Agofomma. The line-up here includes
guitars, seperewa, traditional drums, percussion
and an accompanying vocal group. On the
track ‘Medley: Anansi Song Story/Bear, What
Is The Matter With You?/Hornbill’, you can
hear the full ensemble in rich polyphony. The
arrangement moves seamlessly from one folk
tale to another, first considering the none-toosalubrious character of the trickster spider,
Kwaku Anansi, then discussing the merits
of marriage via a tale about a bear, and lastly
reminding us that palm trees must be allowed to
grow without obstacle.
Palm-wine music has its roots in the burgeoning
krio culture of late nineteenth-century West
Africa. Portuguese sailors winding along the
coasts of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ghana
introduced the guitar to the region, an
instrument itself circuitously related to the
various harps and lutes of West Africa. Sea
shanties mixed together local styles like gumbé
and foreign influences such as Trinidadian
calypso. During the early twentienth century,
palm-wine gatherings were commonplace,
often taking place under the shade of a large
tree, with performers happy to play on as long
as they were still being bought drinks. As the
twentieth century rattled on, musicians began
to work palm-wine into the concert music they
were playing to entertain the colonial elite at
functions and balls. By the 1950s, these bands
had moved away from simply playing formulaic
European waltzes and mazurkas, and included
full orchestrated versions of palm-wine and
other traditional African songs in their repertoire
– an approach that came to be known as a new
genre, highlife. In the history of African popular
music, highlife is hugely significant as one of
the earliest modern genres to mix European and
traditional African music together. It signalled
an assertion that traditional African music, too,
could be transposed into a dance-band format,
and be played at ‘high-class’ events (hence the
name highlife). Later, highlife was harnessed
by guitar bands that worked in the influence of
African-American soul and rock ’n’ roll music.
With this step, it took on an edgier, bad-boy
flavour and was reinvented once more.
Palm-wine’s stance as an early roots version of
highlife is historically important and musically
fascinating. By delving deep into Nimo’s
narrative style you can trace out the link to
the melodious strains of Prince Nico Mbarga
and, subsequently, the heady didactic Afrobeat
of Fela Kuti, and even further to the currentday exponents of the highlife hip-hop fusion,
hip-life. Or, by unpicking Nimo’s mellifluous,
bubbling guitar style, you can identify links with
the zany, distinctive style of Nigerian highlife
superstar Sir Victor Uwaifo. Nimo’s music
effortlessly revives the beautiful roots of highlife
once more.
For more information and song descriptions,
please visit:
Executive Producer, Mary Hark
Koo Nimo (Daniel Amponsah): lead vocals, guitar
Eugene Oppong Ampadu (Goodies): guitar, vocals
Noah Owusu: percussion, atumpan, seperewa, rhumba
Osei Kwame Korankye: vocals, seperewa, rhumba box
Odei Oben: vocals, guitar, percussion
Ankoma Mensah George (Spratz): guitar, vocals
Yaw Badu: percussion, banana bell
Gifty Tagoe: vocals, dancer
Kwegyir Joseph (Agya Sammy): vocals, percussion,
banana bell
Yaw Manu: percussion, banana bell
William Affreh (Paa Willie): guitar, vocals
Kwaku Donkor: percussion, rhumba box
Special Project Assistant, Jon Kertzer
Produced and recorded by Ben Mandelson
This collection of music was originally produced as
part of a limited-edition, fine press book titled Listen,
Listen – Adadam Agofomma, published by Take Time
Edited and mastered by Rob Keyloch at Church Walk
Studios, London
Friends of the project: Bill Kubeczko, Korine Hark,
Pamela Clarkson, Atta Kwami, Thomas Kruppa, Bette
Schmit, Nick Musachio, Frank and Christine DeMars,
Paul Hark, SaNsA Ghanaian Artists’ Collective, Take
Time Press and the University of Wisconsin–Madison
Graduate School.
Sleeve notes by Rachel Jackson
Photographs courtesy of Amara Hark Weber
Design by Brad Haynes
Coordinated by Brad Haynes and Rachel Jackson
All songs written and arranged by Koo Nimo, except tracks 5 and 8, written by Osei Kwame Korankye
All songs published by Riverboat UK Music (MCPS) except tracks 5 and 8, Copyright Control
Visit, to receive free music and listen to sound samples of all World
Music Network and Riverboat Records releases.
Koo Nimo is one of the last true veterans of highlife
roots and palm-wine music, which dominated
Ghana’s popular music scene throughout much of
the twentieth century. Recorded in his backyard at
home in Accra, expect acoustic guitars and rolling
percussion all topped off with his gentle, story-teller
singing style.
Koo Nimo est l’un des derniers vétérans de la
musique highlife et du style palm-wine qui a dominé
la scène musicale du Ghana durant une grande partie
du XXème siècle. Enregistré chez lui, à Accra, il
transcende sa douceur et son art de conteur par des
percussions et guitares acoustiques.
01 See Wo Nom Me (Tsetse Fly You Suck My Blood)
03 Old Man Plants A Coconut Tree
04 Integrity (The Cat And The Dog)
05 Life Is What You Make It
06 Medley: Nation Building/Adampa
07 Medley: Anansi Song Story/Bear, What Is The
Matter With You?/Hornbill
08 Praise Song For Otumfuo Osei Tutu 2nd
09 Yaree Ye Ya (To Be Taken Ill)
10 Efie Ne Fie
11 Adowa Palm-Wine Set: You Will Be Overtaken
By Events/Listen, Listen And Listen Again
Total playing time: 64:30
TUGCD1064 Made in Hong Kong
Riverboat Records/World Music Network
® & © World Music Network 2012
T. 020 7498 5252 F. 020 7498 5353
E. [email protected] W.
LC 11068