Review: Various Artists – This Is Kologo Power!

This Is Kologo PowerA kologo is a two-stringed lute from West Africa, with a long cylindrical neck and a resonating chamber made out of a dried calabash gourd (the large, round fruit of the calabash vine). The tone of the instrument is a firm, bright clack – vigorous in its plucked attack and beautiful in the resonant chime that follows, often played in a ceaseless stream of repetitious melody and restless rhythmic drive. In the case of King Ayisoba’s “Africa”, the kologo is the irresistible invite to dance – an instrumental mimicry of jerking hips and bopped heads, shimmying through syncopations and bouncing against the congregation of accompanying instrumentation (drums, harmonised flutes and ecstatic overlapping voices). In the case of Atimbila’s “I Have Something To Say” – which places the instrument in the exclusive company of hushed double-tracked voices – the kologo becomes a vessel for melancholy and emotional sincerity, channelling human spirit in the scuff of nails and buzz of fingers pressed against the instrument neck, amplifying the body with as much fervour as string vibration. The instrument wires itself into human reflex, accentuating every emotional sentiment with its urgent sound, arriving with as much fiery impulse as the voice itself.

This collection was put together by kologo star King Ayisoba and Arnold De Boer (vocalist of The Ex, one-man band as Zea), with most of the pieces centring on duets between the kologo and the human voice. With the instrument acting as a rippling bed of improvisation or recurrent motif, the voice is free to cartwheel and leap into the air above, bouncing off the beats and swerving in and out of rhythmic parallel. On “Yaaba”, the yelps of Amoru cling to the instrument melody, intimately synchronised with each flurry of melody as though the kologo notes are pouring out of his mouth; on “Who Knows Tomorrow”, the voice of Ayuune Sule scampers out of the melody and retreats, alternating between visceral screams and recuperative silences. Only on Prince Buju’s “Afashee” does the kologo’s feel stiff and lethargic; he deliberately locks into a stuttering 6/8 that fails to find its groove, dragging his instrument through memories of suffering and loss, howling in visceral half-song over a jagged pathway of melodic progression. It’s moments like this – with Buju’s voice ripping open over the patter of plucked strings – that highlight the kologo’s potency as an emotional intensifier. It presses kernels of ecstasy and despair toward the absolute extremes, working with the voice to exorcise the sounds of the body and the sensations embedded within it.