K.O.G talks about Sheffield, Ghana, and Zongo Music – a collective to represent the next generation of alternative music in the North.

When I meet with K.O.G, he’s just arrived from Australia where he’s been performing as part of the Young African Commonwealth.

The picture I saw of him on Facebook, he reminds me, showed him at the event with South African producer and rapper Spoek Mathambo, and Kweku Mandela – Nelson Mandela’s grandson.

‘It was Nelson Mandela’s hundredth birthday, so we performed as part of that,’ he tells me.

‘Mim Suleiman was there – she’s also from Sheffield, and she played for the Queen recently!’

K.O.G, which stands for Kweku of Ghana, is the stage name of Kweku Sackey – a Ghana-born and now Yorkshire-based singer, rapper, and multi-instrumentalist.


Watch now: K.O.G & The Zongo Brigade – Turn up the music


He’s the leader of afro-fusion collective K.O.G & The Zongo Brigade, and the singer and front man of ONIPA, the afro-futurist project led by Nubyian Twist’s Tom Excell. As a solo artist, Kweku also performs acoustic sets with traditional African instruments, and regular live P.A. gigs all over the UK.

On top of this, Kweku is the co-founder of Zongo Music – a new collective for alternative music, based in Sheffield and Ghana.

I was intent on speaking with Kweku because of his contribution to music in Sheffield and the North more broadly, and his reputation in the global music community which has seen him travel and perform extensively, working with his management agency, Wormfood.

He’s recently shared stages with the likes of Thundercat, Femi Kuti, Gilles Peterson, and Fatman Scoop.

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In a city that is still often misrepresented as a place only for indie, Kweku is bringing something fresh and progressive to the live music scene in Sheffield in particular, and across the North.

But Kweku highlights that he’s building on an underground scene whose foundations were laid in Sheffield by many people besides himself.

He emphasises the role of Mim Suleiman, MC Nige and Alan Deadman (the organizers of Tramlines’ city centre world music stage), rapper Franz Von (a long-time collaborator with K.O.G), and Steve Edwards (now leader of Sheffield-based funk/blaxploitation project, Universal Tree).

It was with the help of these, plus long-term supporters and creative advisors George Ntumwa and Sheleena Antwi, that K.O.G broke through.

So how did he get here?

kweku spoek mathambo zee mandela
Left to right: Kweku Mandela, Kweku Sackey, and Spoek Mathambo

After leaving his hometown of Agege, Ghana, eight years ago Kweku came to the UK with the aim of continuing his education at the University of Sheffield.

‘My mum said I should come here to do my masters. But I walked out because of music. I had a band called K.O.G & The Allstar Revolution. That was my first band in the UK.’

In these early days, Kweku fitted in all kinds of paid work around music, as he and his wife supported four young children. But talent and sheer determination meant that within a couple of years, Kweku was able to work on his music full-time.

All Kweku’s projects today have a strong connection with traditional African music, but his early projects like The Allstar Revolution came via Jamaica.

At first, Kweku was making reggae music, both with The Allstar Revolution, and in collaborative projects with King David and Riddimtion Soundsystem.

It wasn’t until a fateful meeting with Leeds-born Nubiyan Twist that Kweku began to connect with his more traditional African influences.

‘I try to hear things in the mainstream like jazz, hip-hop, reggae, grime, reggaeton, anything – and when I hear something that has a link to an African beat, I fuse it.’

‘I was down in Oxford with Nubyian Twist to do a reggae recording, but when they heard me they were like, “woah your voice! Come and do African music with us!” They had afro-fusion nailed down, so I started jamming with them, writing music with them.’

‘I spent long days with Finn Booth, the drummer of Nubiyan Twist – we were jamming and helping each other with crazy grooves.’

‘Now I just write African music and I fuse it with the mainstream. I’ve jammed with a lot of musicians all over Africa, and imbibed a lot of styles.’

‘I try to hear things in the mainstream like jazz, hip-hop, reggae, grime, reggaeton, anything – and when I hear something that has a link to an African beat, I fuse it.’


Watch now: K.O.G & The Zongo Brigade – Jabulani


Kweku is quick to highlight the role of other members of the Zongo Brigade in the creative process, including Dave Nicholas and Tom Wiley, the masterminds behind the extremely hooky Jabulani and Turn Up The Music.

Now, after several months quietly working away in their Sheffield studio, K.O.G & The Zongo Brigade’s debut album is nearly ready. The album is the fruit of a collaboration between Kweku, Franz Von, and members of Mansion of Snakes, Nubiyan Twist, and Tantz.

‘The album is gonna be crazy, ‘Kweku tells me. ‘It will show a new era and new class of Zongo.’

In between finishing the new record, Kweku has been gearing up for a summer of touring. The coming months will see him travel to France, Switzerland, Scotland, and Germany.

He’ll be appearing at festivals with The Zongo Brigade, as well as Nubiyan Twist, The Busy Twist, Little Mesters, and Tropical Tea Party.

Kweku is also preparing for the first live shows of ONIPA – an afro-futurist ensemble that combines traditional African music with heavy electronics.


Watch now: ONIPA – I Know


ONIPA is led by Nubiyan Twist’s Tom Excell, who Kweku credits as the first person who encouraged him to focus on African music.

Looking to the future, Kweku’s mission is to foster alternative music projects and particularly African music in the North – through both performance and education.

‘There’s a whole psychology to African music that people don’t know about. That’s something I want to build in Sheffield and teach people.’

‘My aim is to do what Franz Von and Otis Mensah are doing with hip-hop. I want to do the same with African music, so that people can feel comfortable with it, and they can say, “look, I’ve learnt the psychology of this. I don’t have to feel like I’m culturally misappropriating anything. It’s the music I love, and I’ve learnt it.”‘

‘There’s a whole psychology to African music that people don’t know about. That’s something I want to build in Sheffield and teach people.’

‘The only African artists in Sheffield are Mim Suleiman and me. But we want more people investing, more people writing, more people involved.’

‘I played with Fatman Scoop on Saturday, and that was because of African music. It was a hip-hop show, but because I can rap in African I was invited to do it.’

The next phase is the imminent launch of Zongo Music – a broad collective of alternative artists in the North including Franz Von, ONIPA, The Zongo Brigade, Danae, Mim Suleiman, Tete de Pois, Mansion of Snakes, Universal Tree, and more.

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K.O.G and Franz Von – Image credit: Mal Whichelow

Zongo Music will also have a branch based in Ghana, which will be led by Kweku’s long-term collaborator, Skai.

‘Zongo Music is like the headquarters of the collective. It’s not a booking agent, it’s not management – its just a massive, nice collective.’

‘We want to create a scene where it’s comfortable to do this kind of thing up North, where people aren’t culturally listening to this kind of thing that much. We have to join forces and push it. We’re going to put on nights, too, where bands can come and sell their records, and there will be food and everything.’

‘Underground nights, underground scene – and we’ll always play. It’ll be a mad thing. It’ll be really good for Sheffield.’

Follow K.O.G on Facebook.

 

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