K.O.G & The Zongo Brigade
Sometimes you just stumble across a band – be it at a festival, a local gig or just browsing t’internet – and as soon as they launch into their first song, or as soon as you hit play on the first track, the most brilliant thing happens: A smile spreads slowly across your face. It’s one of the most natural things on the planet and one of simplest pleasures we can experience when listening to music. This, incidentally, is precisely what happened when I first heard K.O.G & The Zongo Brigade – and I’ll wager good money that I’m not the only one either.
Blending West African rhythms with some funky UK hip-hop, the band are a nine-piece when at full strength – consisting of an MC, vocalist, keyboardist, trumpet player, bassist, drummer, saxophonist, percussionist and guitarist – which, as you can probably imagine, packs a real punch when fused together on a stage. It’s these energetic live performances which this year helped the band nab third spot in a Glastonbury emerging talent competition of over 6000 entrants, going on to play the Avalon Stage at the famous festival.
We headed down to Shalesmoor, the industrial heartland of central Sheffield, to meet the band at CADS (Creative Arts Development Space) – once an old cutlery factory, but today a highly valued art-orientated studio/event space and home of legendary clubbing venue The Night Kitchen – to film two live tracks for Exposed Magazine. We took a pew in the courtyard beforehand with Kweku (vocals), Tom (bass), Laurie (percussion), Ed (guitar) Dave (keys) and Richard (sax) to talk all things K.O.G
Chaps, what tracks will you be playing for us tonight?
Tom: We’ll be playing ‘Heroes’, which is from our Awaaba Live EP.
Laurie: The other is called ‘1131214’.
Just rolls of the tongue, that one. Tell us a bit about ‘Heroes’?
Kweku: It was one of the first songs I wrote with Tom. It’s just a song which takes me back home, to Ghana; it’s about remembering the fallen heroes and what our mums used to sing when the men went to war.
With you guys, because your music has such a positive vibe running throughout it, you could sing songs about any topic and the songs still retain that happy feeling.
Laurie: ‘Heroes’ is one of the instances where, emotively, the song matches the lyrical content; it’s not necessarily a party tune.
Tom: It’s still got a kickass beat though!
Laurie: Of course it has! But out of the tunes we play live, ‘Heroes’ is much more of a chilled out song.
You do have plenty of scope though – especially when you look at the venues you’ve played. You’ve done The Tuesday Club, a dance venue; Glastonbury, a huge festival crowd; and your smaller gig venues around Sheff such as The Riverside and The Harley. Where do you feel most at home?
Ed: At home? I mean The Riverside has always been very good to us – we’ve played some great gigs there. But to be honest with you, the best gigs we have played are probably the festivals. I guess we feel at home whenever the audience response is good, which luckily is most places.
Tom: Yeah, there are definitely benefits from playing in different spaces. Personally, I like us being close together on the stage as it gets the energy really pumping and everyone going for it.
The whole thing is such a fusion of sounds. Is that just a case of different music tastes and everyone chipping in when it comes to making a track?
Ed: Yeah, we’ve all got quite diverse music tastes and manage to meet each other somewhere in the middle. We all bring our different influences to the table.
Is it hard to fit you all in at times? Do you ever write a track and think, ‘Shit, we need to squeeze in some bars for the MC’?
Laurie: Tom, Kweku and Dave tend to do a lot of the ideation, the early stuff of writing riffs and getting a melody together. Then that is brought to the rest of us and we all pretty much write our own part. The main structure of it usually comes from Tom, which makes the writing process a lot more fluid when you know there are one or two people that put together the bones of a track.
Today, when living a fairly divided society, through pretty tough times, there tends to be a focus on creating angry, ‘us against them’ music. The vibe I get from KOG & The Zongo Brigade is that it’s more about trying to unite rather than divide, which is refreshing.
Tom: Absolutely. And I think that’s something that I think Kweku and Franz get across really well in their lyrics.
Dave: I think it’s also fair to say that we help the audience become as much a part of it as we are.
Laurie: And at times, when people are angry at something – be it at society or something else – seeing a band who play the music we play will probably help you have a good time.
When you leave a stage or the final note closes on an EP, how do you want your audience to feel?
Tom: Sweaty and horny.
Laurie: I think mostly, though, just happy and appreciative of the music. When you discover music that you’ve not really experienced before it can really energise you and give you a buzz.
Richard: We want them to want more and not want the music to stop.
If you could share your music with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Laurie: That’s a tough question. To be fair, Michael Eavis was a good one to play in front of; we can’t speak highly enough of him. What he’s done for the UK music scene is incredible.
Ed: Fela Kuti, surely? If he was still alive of course.
Richard: Someone with a lot of money and not a lot of sense.
It’s been a very busy summer for you guys with plenty of festivals and plenty of gigging to attend to. Is that continuing into October?
Tom: We were planning on taking a bit of break, but that’s just not happened. We’ve started booking gigs in and we’re also planning a very impromptu tour in November, so we’ll be playing London, Leeds, Nottingham, Sheffield and hopefully Bristol. And yeah, we’ll be keeping ourselves busy basically!
Words: Joseph Food
Photography: Marc Barker