It is hard to find a soundtrack that would illuminate the intricacies of the city of Accra due to its volatile and mercurial nature. At some tangents, the city is a cool breezy, slowly gracing the hairs of your skin. At other blurry and serendipitous moments, it is an electric shock zipping through your being. DJ Katapila grooves and rocks with both sides and chose to memorialize his love for the city of Accra and the abounding energy it exudes in 45 pulsating minutes of electronic dance music.
You experience Accra vicariously through this 9-track album, reissued earlier this year by Awesome Tapes From Africa despite an independent release in 2009. This much-needed publishing and publicity boost did well to provide a wider audience for this sonic portrait of Accra, leading to coverage in major media outlets. However, very few have tried to dissect the music on this tape beyond is sonic nature to expose the deep-seated social issues it addresses as well as the musical brilliance that birthed it.
This highly formulaic music with its extremely repetitive flair has the tendency to be monotonous. It is constructed by looping the same hushed yet abrasive 808-drum pattern and poly-synth phrase throughout the song. However, DJ Katapila, renowned for his tenacity and insanely lengthy DJ sets, manages to allow the sound to meander into dynamic patterns by layering it with interesting samples, some of which are pitch distorted yells and other bits of social commentary, which are so prominent in contemporary Ga music. This style of toasting, originated from the practice where DJs had speak to the crowd to implore them to react to the music, thereby creating their own vocal performance to complement the music they were mixing.
By employing this simple and efficient means of production, Trotro stays compact and remains relevant to the core group that inspired the ingénue mind to sculpt this sound. It also draws new listeners in due to its unique and refreshing zest. Songs like Cocoawura ,which was a massive hit on radio circa 2009, thanks to Tema based radio personality, DJ Lalo, will still draw a crowd anywhere it is played in Accra, not just because of the nostalgia associated with it, but also how eternally contagious the rhythm is.
Named after the ever-present minibuses, which serve the main source of transportation in Accra, Trotro’s sonic signature bears an uncanny resemblance to deep house, synth-pop and post-disco era techno. However, it is clearly differentiated by the infusion of Ga music, lending a unique shadow to the pulsating baseline and chilling programmed chords. Indeed, it is the engineering of traditional and contemporary Ga musical influences like “Gyama” and “Gome” (communal procession music) as well as pre-azonto hi-hats and sharp snares and the present bell jingles that epitomize DJ Katapila’s mimetic use of tradition on reimaging the future of Ghanaian electronic music.
The social commentary that the music on Trotro provides might take longer to notice but is equally as consequential as the hard-hitting melodies on which it travels. Through sprinkles of humour, wit and irony, DJ Katapila pokes fun at the prevailing social condition existing in his muse. On the opening track, Sakawa, he raps/sings about the motive behind internet fraud, which is the need to survive. Over gritty and heavy electric synth riffs and metronomic snares, he examines the phenomena sweeping the youth, through a humours lens with his signature pitch disported phrases and other ad-libs that appear irrelevant to the passive listener but carry his dispositions about the subject. On other tracks like “Zoomlion” and “Nkran Dokunu”, DJ Katapila paints a collage of the city of Accra by providing little portrait of the social landscape through his samples, despite some of the songs dragging on for too long . With these simple phrases, almost meaningless at first, you began to notice a scene building up and gradually see the picture of the heart Accra where dance music does not rest!
DJ Katapila’s production was entirely self-taught, driven by his own will to transform the music he was spinning to suit his audience. Years of experience gave him innate musical knowledge to be able to determine which rhythms are prefect for dance especially among the Ga people. However, these same schemas for interpreting good dance music tends to be universal as Trotro continues to be enjoyed by audiences all over the world. You can read the full story of how this album came to be on his bandcamp page.
Trotro demonstrates the need for Ghanaian and African musician to continue to ensure variety in their music. They must try to look beyond rigid mainstream categories reliant on sales figures but prioritize their creativity. Because representation matters and dynamic sounds are needed to represent the dynamic nature of our lives and experiences.
Written by Hakeem Adam