Max, how did you manage to convince Alfred ('Kari' Bannerman, red.) and Emmanuel (Rentzos, red.) to join Konkoma?
Max Grunhard (saxophone): "Well, we all kind of knew each other from playing together in different situations and Ben (Lamdin, producer, red.) and myself always felt Alfred and Emmanuel deserved greater recognition. The project quickly developed into more than what we set out for and right now we've got a great set of musicians working with us and the band is like one big democracy where everyone has something to contribute."
What's the meaning behind the Konkoma band name?
Reginald 'JoJo' Yates (vocals, mbira, sepriwa, percussion): "Konkoma is an old game our ancestors from the Fante region in Ghana (The Mfantsefo or Fante are an Akan people. This ethnic group is mainly gathered in the south-western coastal region of Ghana, with some also in Ivory Coast, red.) already used to play. Whenever there was a full moon, people used to play this game which is a sort of wrestling dance competition in which you have to try to make your opponent fall down. In the north of Ghana there's also a tribe called Konkomba (Some 500,000 Konkomba live in the north of Ghana and many are Muslims. Having religious leaders rather than paramount chiefs, they have limited political power, red.)."
Most of the songs on your debut album are in African dialects or Pidgin English, a conscious choice?
Alfred 'Kari' Bannerman (vocals & guitar): "I think if you're going to do genres like highlife and afrobeat, you'll automatically end up singing in Pidgin or an African dialect as it immediately sets the right vibe. Proper Queen's English just won't do! (laughs)"
JoJo you play a traditional Ghanaian harp called the sepriwa, can you tell us a little bit more about that instrument?
Reginald 'JoJo' Yates: "The sepriwa was traditionally played for the traditional kings and chiefs. I guess you could call it a classical Ghanaian instrument. I make my own sepriwa's using a gourd, mahogany wood for the neck and ordinary nylon fishing lines for the strings. The sound of the sepriwa is different from instrument to instrument and mainly depends on the size and shape of the gourd and the way it's tuned."
How did you guys end up working with Mike Pelanconi, whom reggae fans might know as Prince Fatty?
Max Grunhard: "Ben and Mike are old friends and as you say, he's known for his work in the reggae scene."
Alfred 'Kari' Bannerman: "Mike has his own experimental way of doing things. He's not afraid to think out of the box and I think his work has definitely contributed in how the album turned out in the end."
Would you agree the album has a bit of a vintage feel to it?
Derrick McIntyre (bass): "Yeah there's definitely a vintage feel to this music, reminiscent of funk and afrobeat bands from the nineteen seventies."
Alfred 'Kari' Bannerman: "Both Emmanuel and myself were members of Osibisa (Osibisa is a Ghanaian Afro-pop band, founded in London in 1969 by four expatriate African and three Caribbean musicians. Osibisa were one of the first African heritage bands to become widely popular and linked with the world music description. The Ghanaian founding members of Osibisa, Teddy Osei, Sol Amarfio and Mac Tontoh, were already seasoned members of the Accra highlife scene before they moved to the UK, red.), so we were already part of that scene back then and that is always going to echo in the music we play."
With Osibisa you were already touring the world when the term "world music" hadn't been invented yet. How did western audiences reacted to West-African music back in those days?
Alfred 'Kari' Bannerman: "The music of Osibisa was also heavily jazz and rock influenced and I think that helped people relate to what we were doing. If we'd been playing something that was exclusively African, I think we would have had a much harder time doing that."
Do you guys have any plans to take this project to Ghana or Africa in general?
Emmanuel Rentzos (vocals & keyboards): "Oh yes, why not! The world is our oyster. The album has been very well received, so anywhere they'll have us we will play! Konkoma maya nice! ("Konkoma, feeling nice!", red.)"