GHANA: Kologo - Alostmen
Updated: Apr 10
Highlighting an ancient musical form and fusing it with modern sounds, this Ghanaian four-piece take the kologo into the 21st Century
Africa is a continent of myriad musical traditions. One of the most interesting parts of this project has been exploring the music of that continent, and it’s exciting to know that even after 18 months of looking for music from all over, we have still only scratched the surface. Many individual countries within Africa are also infinitely fascinating from a musical perspective. The West African nation of Ghana is one of those countries. We have previously covered the talking drum chief Mohammed Alidu, and we have spoken with Accra-based conscious rapper Kwadjo Spiri, and today we look at another musical scene in the country – the kologo traditions of the Frafra people of northern Ghana. The 2021 album by Ghanaian outfit Alostmen Kologo is a showcase of its titular instrument. But 'what is a kologo?', you may ask. It’s a type of two-stringed lute that is native to that part of Ghana. It can be seen on the front cover of the album held by lead singer Stevo Atambire, though typical of the unconventional approach taken by Alostmen, it is a kologo made from a metal oil can. This visual is a clue to what lies within the album. What Alostmen are adept at doing is mixing the traditional rhythms of the kologo with more modern beats and production.
“By hook or by crook, he gets the kologo to do what he wants it to do, and the result is often compelling.”
Throughout the album, Atambire’s kologo is used to propel the rhythm of the song as well as being used to provide hooks and riffs, and this is best exemplified by the track Teach Me. In a rather impressive manner, Atambire uses the kologo to both provide a hook for the song as well as use it alongside other West African instruments such as the talking drum and the djembe to keep the rhythm going. On their Bandcamp page, Atambire says he likes to “force [his] instrument to work”, and he most certainly does that. By hook or by crook, he gets the kologo to do what he wants it to do, and the result is often compelling. The song Minus Me sees the band take a trip into the popular genre of highlife, and it even has Ghanaian highlife icon Gyedu-Blay Ambolley performing on the track. Guitars and jazzy horns, typical features of the genre are present here as well, but once again it is the kologo that is the star of the show, alongside Ambolley’s charismatic vocals. Do Good is another song where the band combine modern genres with the kologo, as it features popular Ghanaian hip-hop artist Medikal as a guest, rapping over the repetitive hip-hop hooks alongside the kologo. There are more ‘traditional’ songs on the album which I do also enjoy, but for me where it really marks itself out from the crowd is in these songs, as well as in Teach Me, for its sheer technical inventiveness.
I can’t speak for Alostmen’s intentions when making the album, but I do think it is fair to say that showcasing the kologo and all it can do was one of their motivating factors. In that regard they have definitely succeeded, and in doing so it is unlike anything I have ever heard. Of course, fusion is nothing new and there’s plenty of albums out there taking one random genre and putting it in a blender with another, with varied results, but having not known anything about the kologo or even heard it before listening to this album, I think you do get a good sense of the instrument from the songs. What’s more, it is an entertaining album. Songs like Teach Me and Minus Me are really catchy, fun tunes, and it’s easy to forget you’re listening to what I imagine is technically complex fusion music. For a few tracks it may take some time to adjust to the unusual sound of kologo-driven music, but Atambire and the rest of the band, alongside their producers, are savvy enough to know that meeting the audience halfway in terms of tradition versus modernity is enough to keep people interested. And once you are, you’ll be hooked.