While working as a volunteer in the village of Zebilla, which is located in northern Ghana, former Peace Corps volunteer Luke Bassuener was introduced to local musicians by some of his students. Serving as translators, the students received authorization to have this music recorded on a four-track recorder owned by Bassuener. Employing his portable recorder to capture many of the country’s musicians around the Bawku West District, these were moments portrayed in churches, in street markets and everywhere else under the sun.
A few years later, some of the music from the sessions was used by Bassuener’s own band, This Bright Apocalypse. And after returning for more charity work in the summer of 2008, Bassuener recorded all of the music to make Bawku West Collective Volume 1. All proceeds benefitting these tremendous musicians and their families, the music amassed for this compilation, while uneven at times, is a worldly special kind.
For Bawku West Collective, The Saka Boys play major roles on the compilation’s bursting style. “Young Boy Take Time” is something of an improvised chant that features singing in the form of energetic shouts and the town’s own unique instrumentation. While the instruments may not be common to people on this side of the hemisphere, even when the percussion is performed by shaking strums on drums, it always appears tremendously impressive. Later, on “Let’s Go Tomorrow,” the music’s frenetic and upbeat pace creates an uprising of tenacity and push that never lets up.
Ranging from clattered drums that sound as if they were playing down the block, at the corner near the stop sign, to afro-dub that recalls some of Africa’s richest history, to the Mali Blues that has become a standing point for Kusaasis alike, Vol.1 feels like a deep look into the depths that music can reach. Bassuener’s take on the subject always feels like one of his importance. His reach is far and while he takes every step necessary to allow the music to feel varied and substantial, his own touches make for exciting listens.
Bassuener opted to record the music on humble equipment that allowed it to sustain its low fidelity settings. Back at home, he would add the layers of drums and some guitars while always leaving the focus straightly on the sounds of the people chattering about in the background. On the challenging “Ghana,” the Savanna Drummers Club brings pounding drums and choir-like vocals to the front. But underneath it all is a gently strummed guitar that provides a terrific melody. It’s these kinds of homely decorations that stir the pot in the best of methods, never comprising the integrity of the musician’s ability.
DJ Bones makes appearances on many of the song’s opening moments, serving as the introduction to give the artist’s names. On album closer, “Yela Be Wusa,” he playfully sings along before getting out of the way for the album’s best melody. The St. Charles Lwanga Choir, in one of the album’s best moments of beautiful life, lifts their voices to the skies with a touching amount of passion. For a compilation that is only out there for the greater good, there is no better fitting ending: sincere, earnest and touching, it’s a stellar end to an all-around fine benefit.