GHANA: All In 1 Love - Mohammed Alidu
Updated: Dec 4, 2020
Ghana's very own Bizung talking drum chief flexes his drum tapping fingers, as well as his song-writing chops in this fusion album
Mohammed Alidu’s music is particularly interesting because of his musical heritage, one I confess I knew nothing about before researching him. Alidu, born in northern Ghana, is a member of a family of Bizung talking drum chiefs, and by the age of three, Alidu was already sat at his father’s feet learning the unique rhythms and sounds of the talking drum, alongside the music and history of his people, and by the age of five he was already performing. The talking drum itself is a fascinating instrument. An hourglass shaped drum, the cords that run down the side of it are stressed and destressed to change the pitch of the beat, with the resulting sound being akin to human humming, hence the name. To think of that length of musical tradition is, in some ways, mindboggling. A millennium-long chain of musicians. Even Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s familial qawwali tradition only (only!) goes back 600 years. Furthermore, though Alidu now lives in the United States, has used his position to ensure the growth of this tradition in the future. With help from the Playing for Change Foundation, he established the Bizung School of Music and Dance, as a way to preserve northern Ghana’s unique musical heritage. It is partially this context that makes Alidu’s music so interesting – where else would one be able to hear a musical tradition this long-lived and also so unique? – but it’s not just that. What Alidu has done is combine two musical forms, the traditional music he knows so well along with modern popular music, to create a fusion sound unlike any other.
“This provides a variety to the songs that keeps the album interesting and engaging throughout, which means I have very little to criticise here...”
The sound of the album is percussion-heavy (to be expected from a talking drum chief), and you do get to hear some of the talking drum sound throughout the album, one notable example being in the song It Is Time, where the distinctive twang of the talking drum is unmistakeable, but that is far from being the entire focus of the album. In addition, Tabangtaba has some rather excellent drumming on it, and is a great showcase for the more traditional side of the album. That said, on the whole, Alidu incorporates his musical heritage into an album that is really rather pop-oriented. It might sound like typical afrobeats music, and it is, to an extent, but dig deeper and there’s more than meets the eye. He really has a great ear for a catchy hook, and that skill keeps the album flowing nicely, as he touches upon political and social topics like pan-Africanism, poverty, and the possibility of change in Africa. The song Prayer also, unsurprising given the name, is about religious themes. I would hesitate to label this a political album by any means – the focus of Alidu’s work does seem to be the fusion of Ghanaian music with more mainstream pop music, and in doing to giving the listener a fun experience – but equally it would be remiss to ignore the thought put into some of the lyrics, which add another interesting dimension to the album.
Musically, there is definitely a focus on variety and inclusion of several genres. We Are Come has a stonkingly brilliant guitar solo that a rock fanatic like myself can’t help but love, whereas a song like Ebomaboca tends more towards the side of folk initially, whilst also using elements of soukous music from the Congo, and even reggae, in the song. This provides a variety to the songs that keeps the album interesting and engaging throughout, which means I have very little to criticise here, but equally I have little to exalt with the highest of high praise. Nevertheless, it is a very strong album. Alidu and his band keep on trying to do new things in each song, even if the difference is only slight. Some songs are rockier, some more funky, some more in the style of afrobeats, but all keep that base of traditional drum music meets Western, and that’s what marks Alidu out from many other musicians. He has a huge wealth of musical tradition to fall back on that few people would have access to, and I would say it is worth checking out his previous album, Asisawa, if you’ve got a taste for talking drum music. Yet even if you don’t All in 1 Love is a fine display of this musician’s prodigious talents.