In 2015, JD Twitch's Autonomous Africa label released Youth Stand Up!, bringing together young musicians from Belize, Ghana and Glasgow for ten tracks of cross-cultural collaboration.
Recorded at Glasgow’s Green Door Studio, the result was an irresistable blend of traditional Caribbean and West African rhythms, hip hop, highlife and Glaswegian post-punk, featuring Optimo Music regulars Golden Teacher and Whilst, among others. The proceeds from that project went directly back to the youth groups in Ghana and Belize, helping the musicians from Ghana’s Tafi Cultural Institute build a recording studio and performance space in their village.
Fast-forward two years and Youth Stand Up! are awarded a grant from Creative Scotland’s Open Fund to create the sequel, Youth Stand United, recorded between Green Door and TCI’s new studio in Ghana. The release features backing tracks contributed by members of Golden Teacher, Pu$$y Mothers, Whilst, Kaputt, and Sordid Sound System, with vocals provided by the musicians from TCI. The six tracks range from the left-field disco of Diloeshutubui to the Juju-electro odyssey of Gidi to the Joe-Meek-meets-William Onyeabor space age gospel pop of Nobody Knows.
Now available on vinyl and digital via Above Board Distribution, all proceeds will go towards a scholarship fund for musicians from Tafi Atome, Ghana.
To mark the release, Optimo boss JD Twitch sits down with Emily Evans who's behind the YSU to chat about the project...
Where was it recorded and where are the proceeds going to?
The backing tracks were recorded at The Green Door Studio in Glasgow, Scotland by members of Whilst, Pu$$y Mothers, Golden Teacher, Kaputt, and Sordid Sound System and at Green Door Studio West in Los Angeles, California by Stuart and Emily Evans. The vocals were recorded by local musicians at the Tafi Cultural Institute’s new recording studio in Tafi Atome, Ghana. Proceeds from Youth Stand United! will go towards a scholarship fund for musicians from Tafi Atome, Ghana, to help them access higher education courses.
Was it hard to co-ordinate a recording across 3 continents?
We have been collaborating with the musicians in Tafi Atome since 2012, when we first visited the village and saw the cultural group perform a mind-blowing 4-hour Borborbor marathon. Since that time, we have recorded 3 albums (Youth Stand Up!, Outside Rhythm, and Youth Stand United!), in addition to sending 60 musicians from the UK to study drumming, voice and dance during TCI’s Music of the Volta Region Study Tours. So, even though we are separated by oceans, the project has spawned so many musical partnerships and friendships (and even a marriage!) that the distance doesn’t seem so great.
We were also very lucky to have Laurie Pitt, from Golden Teacher, involved. He came over with us in 2015 when we recorded Youth Stand Up!, and then came back for a study tour in 2016. In 2018, after TCI’s recording studio was built, he and Sam Smith (from Green Door), went over for 6 weeks to volunteer to train the local musicians how to use the equipment in the studio. So, when Laurie went back in 2019 to record the vocals, he had already built up a rapport with many of the musicians there.
Will there be another album?
We’d love to!
To me this is a great example of mutual aid and cross continental collaboration in action. But, a vinyl record is primarily something that is now not used or consumed in Ghana or Belize. Do you have any idea of what the participants think about their music being on a record.
Its a novel concept for sure, with most music in Ghana being listened to (and shared) on mobile phones now (apart from at parties, where it is blasted through amazingly distorted sound systems). But I think the Ghanaian participants think its cool that the music they have made exists in some kind of eccentric physical format elsewhere in the world. With Youth Stand Up!, we also did a CD release in Ghana so that the musicians could give away or sell their own copies of the record. We’ll probably do the same with this one.
Related to the previous question, do you get any feedback from the participants about how they react to the final versions?
We sent over mixes of all the tracks to let the singers and musicians in Tafi Atome hear the final results. The only criticism we had was regarding some OTT vocal FX we had initially put on the intro to ‘Lets Go!’ - which we then took off. Our friends in Tafi Atome have always been very supportive of the fact that we have produced and interpreted the recorded material through our own ‘Green Door’ musical lenses. The tracks would probably turn out very differently if they were mixed in a Ghanaian studio on a computer, but the participants are all very much behind the ethos of the cross continental musical collaboration and our use of archaic analog equipment in the tracking and mixing process.
There is so much joy in this music; something the world currently needs as much of as possible. I was curious as to whether you exposed any of the musicians in Ghana or Belize to any music they would not have previously encountered?
I don’t know whether us exposing the musicians to, say, Bauhaus or Throbbing Gristle would have necessarily added to the joy in the music! However, when we first started the Youth Stand Up! Project (which included musicians from Belize), we did make a compilation CD of music from all 3 groups from each continent so they could hear what we were working on prior to the project.
So, the folks in Ghana and Belize would’ve listened to some Golden Teacher, Pu$$y Mothers and Whilst, while we were checking out their Garifuna drumming from Belize and Borborbor and Hip-Life from Ghana. The internet has made the world a much smaller musical place. We have a vivid memory of our tearful goodbye in Tafi after the first Ghanaian ‘Youth Stand Up!’recording sessions drew to a close and we had to return to the UK. It was soundtracked by Godwin (from TCI) playing morose country and western ballads on his mobile phone while we waited hours for a bus to come.
Sadly it is unlikely anyone would have the funds to put this on live but I was curious as to whether you think this would even be something that could be realised in a live scenario?
Well, the Counterflows Festival in Glasgow actually managed to arrange for some of the musicians from TCI to come to the UK to perform (and finally meet some of the musicians they had collaborated with over the years!). Sadly, they were stopped from entering the country, and had to perform at the British Council offices in Accra instead. It’s a shame that the prevailing government attitude of hostility towards immigrants and visitors to the UK extends to artists and musicians and thwarts collaborative partnerships that could benefit people from both countries.
You recently relocated from Glasgow to California. Do you still maintain any links with Green Door Studio. Is there anything in particular you miss about the city?
Yes, we are very much still involved in Green Door. We have set up a mixing studio here in California, for which we have painstakingly sourced and reassembled all of the clunky, hissy and temperamental analog gear that we used at Green Door in Scotland--so we now have total sonic parity between the two studios. Glasgow is a magical, musical place, and we will always miss the incredibly diverse and prolific community of musicians who reside there that we had the good fortune to work with over our 11 years at Green Door.
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