K.O.G: “That’s the number one reason I got into music: the love, affection and connection”
Colourful K.O.G & The Zongo Brigade frontman Kweku Sackey on the band’s debut album, his journey from Ghana to Sheffield and the increasingly important role music has to play amidst the political fallout of 2019.
Can you tell us a bit about your upbringing in Ghana and how that influenced your love for music.
Everything has a pulse in Ghana: society, community and even the family system all has a rhythm to it. Even if your mum is shouting at you she’ll do it to a rhythm. Music didn’t really come to me; it wasn’t like my mum bought me a guitar or I ever had any formal training. I can’t read music but everything came from listening to and the observation of my surroundings. There wasn’t any money, videogames, after-school clubs, so music came to mean everything to us.
Music became your main form of socialising?
Yes, and it was spiritual because it was in church. To get involved in music you had to go to church or the traditional places where there were choirs and instruments, so it meant that I could experiment. But I wasn’t really captivated by the instruments; it was more the integration of the sounds and tones which interested me. My music is a bit like Marmite: you either like the energy which comes from the tones of my voice and weird instruments like tray pans, or you don’t like it.
Everything has a pulse in Ghana: society, community and even the family system all has a rhythm to it.
What sort of instruments would you improvise with as a kid if you didn’t have traditional instruments?
Tray pans, milk tins, sardine tins, wooden things, making guitars with strings, drums with clothes – anything I could get my hands on in the house. So there has been sound all around me throughout my life. Those things don’t give you music, but they do give you tones, and people react differently to different tones.
Did you have anyone you looked up to musically growing up?
Yeah. My mother and father didn’t sing, but my dad’s brothers could sing, so I would listen to them. I had to give myself a basic teaching in singing, and when my dad would come home with records from abroad – artists like Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Led Zeppelin – and listening to those along with my traditional African upbringing created a fusion of styles.
Were you a part of any bands while in Ghana?
I formed my very first group in church, a gospel group called Redeemed Voices. It was an acapella group – no instruments, just tonal. There’s a South African band called Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who sang with Paul Simon, and I used to love them. My first love of music was acapella and that’s where I learned my harmonies. I went into my first proper band when I moved to England.
How did that come together?
When I came to England I got into the soundsystem business with Riddimption and whenever I saw anyone live I was like, “Woah! It’s all about the live music.” Because live music has always been in my life ever since I was in the school band at 14-years-old, so I started hanging around with a band called Chronicles of Graham and a few of them said “let’s start a band!”. So from that we formed KOG & The Allstar Revolution, which was meant to be more of a leisure thing but we got popular and people were asking us to go on tour. It kind of fell to pieces because people in the band were growing up and had other things to do, but I wanted to be a full-time musician.
What other jobs were you doing to support yourself at the time?
I’ve done loads, man. Worked in a nursing home, BT, Curry’s, NHS, teaching assistant, scrapyard, café – all sorts! But for the last four years I’ve been a full-time musician and giving the Zongo Brigade a real go. I went away for a year with Nubiyan Twist and stayed with Tom Excell to work on developing my music, working on how to build an African band in Sheffield with Zongo.
What were your initial impressions of Sheffield when you arrived?
At first, it felt very cold and very lonely because I originally came to just do my masters. I got a girl pregnant and that slowed things down, but in retrospect it was a good thing. So from then on it was working with KOG & The Zongo Brigade and getting the music out there.
This brings us nicely onto Zongo’s debut album, which you’ll be releasing very soon in March. What can you tell us about it?
It’s called Wahala Wahala, which basically means joy from the pain, and we finished it around May/June last year. It can mean stress but it can also mean happiness as well. We named it that because of how I came over here as a 17-year-old African boy who didn’t know anyone, and it was painful not knowing people, but eventually people have warmed to us and we can say we’re one of the best African bands from the north and have the opportunity to play Glastonbury every year. You can boast about that but it came from a struggle, so to inspire other kids coming from other countries, we want people know that people like me and Franz have a similar story and there is hope.
With how fractitious UK society feels in the wake of Brexit, do you feel music has a huge role to play in stepping in and filling the void?
That’s the number one reason I got into music: the love, affection and connection music creates with people. Music can play that role in bringing us together culturally and heal the cracks because music is everywhere you go, most things are planned around the music and the government and councils should be able to invest more into it.
K.O.G & The Zongo Brigade debut album ‘Wahala Wahala’ is out now and you can catch them playing Yellow Arch Studios on 30 March.