With an amazing and unique set full of joy and energy, Ghanian musician Kyekyeku and his band Ghanalogue Highlife effortlessly entertained the crowd at the intimate Alcove Stage during this year’s Latitude Festival. Before the performance, Kyekyeku took time to chat to Exciting Stuff to talk about his experience of the festival, and why he gives his band’s sound a particular name…
Hi. Welcome to Latitude! How have you been finding the Festival so far? Is it what you expected?
The whole idea of what a music festival is in the UK is nothing like what it is in Ghana. There’s a whole cultural difference. My musicians who have come from Ghana, for them it is a was a big eye-opener, seeing happy people dancing and drinking, and having fun. In Ghana, a music festival is very traditional, with traditional ceremonies – you pour libations, you do chants, and stuff like that. It’s more tribal. Music and bands, coming to perform, it’s a big difference.
Which bands have you seen so far? And what else have you enjoyed?
Yesterday I heard The Killers playing, and that was killing already. Two of my band musicians are from France, and were “Oh my god, Liam Gallagher is playing!” So that has been good. And the projections on the water – that was mind-blowing. People doing performance art – I love performance art, people using their bodies – all of that was nice. Then again, people just walking around in the woods, sitting and chilling – and the poetry at the Speakeasy stage, that has been one of the biggest things. And the cabaret – I saw that last night, and I was, like, ok…
What brings you to Latitude?
I got invited to perform by Melvin Benn from Festival Republic. Latitude has a strong connection to Ghana, with its charity work. I met people from Latitude in Ghana about 7 years ago, and started a relationship with them. I was here once before, in 2011 – I played a duo set on the Lake Stage. This time I’m here with my full band, Ghanalogue Highlife, which is like classic highlife music, 70s stuff to mid 90s stuff, from Ghana in West Africa.
How would you describe highlife music?
Highlife is dance, energy, action. It was one of the first styles of West African popular music. It’s the sort of music that evolved into things like Afrobeat, things like that. It’s energetic, driving. You’ve got prominence from artists like Ebo Taylor, who is touring around Europe now, but it’s not heard by many people in the UK.
Is it similar to any acts that people might know of?
Well, yes, if they know music from West Africa – Afrobeat music. Fela Kuti, Seun Kuti, Tony Allen, people like that.
How do you think your style of music fits in with the indie/rock and modern dance music generally found at Latitude?
I’ve been here since yesterday, and I’ve sampled a few of the stages, and I realise that our sound is very different. Sometimes for me, it becomes a beautiful challenge, you know, as we don’t know what reaction to expect from people. But I’m also excited to give people a chance to hear music that they aren’t used to hearing.
…which is what Latitude is all about, of course.
Exactly. But in terms in sound and similarities, it’s quite electronic – not like electro music, but we have electric guitars, and the typical modern set up, with drums etc – so we’re not like a lot of World Music, with traditional instruments. So the sound will connect to people here, but the rhythms and the energy is totally different. I call the music I call with my group “sh*t hole rock”, because it’s coming from where President Trump labelled a “sh*t hole country”.
Would you say your songs are overly political then?
Yeah, because the social issues that affect my background affect the whole world. So that’s why for me, if my country is called a “sh*t hole country”, I’m going to give them “sh*t hole rock”! And through that, I can say what I feel about the world, I can show people our realities of life that they probably would not come across. It is a critical way of seeing things, but through a fun medium. So, for sure, I try to get people dancing and everything, but at the same time I try to get people to think about society, and reflect upon what are the possible solutions we can find.
What issues do you sing about?
Things like immigration, things like hunger, problems with racism, a whole lot of stuff. I know that they can be very very strong themes in music, so I try to make it in a way that people can still enjoy it, and not think that this is like a political rally or something like that.
But why have such political content at all?
I am from a very modern society, where things are changing very fast. People are not aware what is going on in Africa because, even I’m not aware of what is going on in Africa. It’s probably the continent with the most amount of young people, so life is changing very fast, every day. So for me, I can be a point of contact for people here, for what is happening in Africa, and obviously to other parts of the world.
How do you think the audience will take to it?
Well, I haven’t seen any Africa bands yet. I’ve seen music and bands of African origin, but I think we’ll be the only African band on the stage, so I don’t know… But walking around yesterday, and seeing the amount of variety and things, and seeing people vibing to everything they see in stage – people here are so open, people are eager to introduce their kids to new stage – for me, that is a big inspiration, you know. Latitude has a vibe about it, which is a blessing, because I’ll get a chance to introduce our sound to a new class of people… and who knows what inspiration we could arouse in them?
What inspires you?
Ghana is an Anglofile country, so I’ll always have strong connection with England, so English society has always been a big inspiration. My first time I came to England in 2011, I stayed in Twickenham, and all the scenes and sounds and environment gave me a lot of impetus towards where I am now. So coming back feels nostalgic to a point, because I really did it. I got this inspiration and I’ve pushed it to this level. Let’s see what happens.
Kyekyeku’s latest album ‘Sor’ (with previous band Five Days No Light Off) is available now from Amazon.co.uk. He is currently working on a new album with Ghanalogue Highlife.