GEN F: Bola

Photographer Jane Hahn
May 29, 2012

Volume 7, as the name suggests, is the seventh release from Bola, who, along with a handful of others, has pioneered the fusion of traditional kologo music (the kologo being a two-stringed lute made from a calabash resonator) with drum machines and synthesized rhythms. Released in Ghana in 2009, its sonic qualities—the raw, ecstatic power of Bola’s vocals, echoed drum-and-electric piano rhythms so spare they’re almost geometric, the trance-inducing twang of the constantly modulating kologo—suggest to the new listener an unknown species of sacred Moroccan Gnawa music, recorded strictly on lute and, potentially, a broken old Casio set to “samba.”

“One of my elder brothers…introduced me to the instrument,” explains Bola via email translated from Frafra. “When [my mentor] Guy One went into kologo music, he also encouraged me to follow suit. This never came easy as my family started to discourage the whole idea, citing my elder brother who gained ‘nothing’ from playing kologo. Why should I? I had sleepless nights for some time and I thought of nothing but kologo. I built myself a kologo, only to have it destroyed by my family members. This happened three times. When I persisted and built my fourth kologo, my family realized how serious I was.”

By Volume 7, Bola had linked with the house producer at Park FX studio in Kumasi, who “programs the drum patterns and beats to suit” his voice and kologo, augmented by Gulugu drum and wia—a wind instrument. Along with another Bola tape, the cassette found its way to Brian Shimkovitz, who runs the Awesome Tapes from Africa blog and label, and soon he realized how serious Bola was. “I picked up the phone and dialed the number on one of the tapes,” Shimkovitz says. “The person on the other end didn’t speak English, so I started speaking Twi. 
I explained that I love his music and that I have a way to get it out there.”

For Shimkovitz, the arresting sound of kologo music, almost totally unknown to non-Frafra speakers, conjures a powerful sense of place. “When I first traveled to Ghana as a student, back in 2002, I was living in this neighborhood in Accra where a bunch of local guys were playing the kologo in an empty shipping container where we went to go smoke weed in the afternoon. I never forgot it.” But releasing Volume 7, and hopefully introducing Bola to a wider audience, seems to be more about recreating the moment of discovery itself. “Recalling these dudes singing and playing really repetitive and powerful jams,” Shimkovitz says, “made me realize how interesting Bola’s music would be to those who have never even heard kologo music or praise singing from northern Ghana.” Which is just about everyone. With the release of Volume 7 and planned shows this summer in Europe, that’s likely to change.

Stream: Bola's Volume 7 LP

GEN F: Bola