Taking inspiration from Borga Highlife — a genre which several talented Ghanaian musicians used as a means to reaffirm their African identity after moving to Europe and the USA — the first element of the project comes in the form of a compilation, which brings together producers and artists who share dual heritage from the African continent to the West.
Sonically showcasing pioneering genres like Highlife and Afrobeat to newer sonic reinterpretations like Afrobeats, Afrofusion, Amapiano and UK Funky, the release features artists like Accra's T'Neeya, Ghana's next big rapper Kofi Mole and Lagos-based artist Dapo Tuburna, as well as London Afro and tribal house producer KG and LA producer DJ Blaq pages.
Another two artists who contribute to the release are Tema-based singer and producer KaySo and Gobstopper Records affiliate HAGAN. KaySo has become widely recognised for his work in production, helping to share his knowledge and support the next generation of artists, while his own musical pursuits have seen him pick up accolades at Ghana’s Music Awards and be lauded as a representative of the new sound of Africa.
London-based producer HAGAN is also crafting his own progressive take on African polyrhythms, taking inspiration from both his Ghanaian roots and his UK upbringing, to create something altogether fresh. His mix of energetic bass and percussion draws from a wide sound palette and has found homes on labels like Future Bounce, Enchufada and Dengue Dengue Dengue.
Here the pair talk about their pathway into production, musical inspirations from childhood to the present day and the importance of collaboration...
Hagan: Do you have any childhood memories which encouraged you to make music?
KaySo: When I was 8 my Dad had a studio and sometimes I used to go there with my little brother watching him make music. Looking ahead at how he brought some songs to life was so inspirational for me.
Hagan: For me it was the same in the sense that I saw people who were older than me making music. I saw people in church making music. I saw my uncle who was a DJ as well so all of these things around me made me think how I can make music and make something I am thinking of come to life.
KaySo: I want to know what your working style and process is when you want to make music.
Hagan: When I first started there wasn't much of a process. Maybe I had an idea in my head and instead of going into the finer details I would lay down that rough idea quickly. The instrument I love are drums and percussion.
KaySo: Yeah most of your beats have percussions.
Hagan: So for me that’s what I would pay attention to when making a track. Those were the early days but I think now because I’ve been making music for so long I’ve had to draw for inspiration from other things. So maybe I’ve seen something that’s happened in my area or there is a certain topic which is going on on social media or I may have gone to club and there was a certain mood or sound that was grabbing the attention of the people who were dancing. So from there I would use that as inspiration and so on. At the moment in this Covid 2020 it’s difficult... At the moment I am watching a lot of videos of people playing out, DJing and people who are musicians and trying to draw inspiration from those clips.
KaySo: My process? I remember one time I was getting a haircut and he was cutting close to my ear and I could hear the vibration of the clipper and it sounded like some bass to me. I was just tuned into that sound and I came up with a bass idea so when I go behind the computer the first idea I get that’s how I start. Sometimes I get the drum idea, some melodies or I write also. I can be inspired by conversations and anything around me. How long have you been producing for?
Hagan: Almost eight years but seriously I would say five years. I started when I went to university. I had a friend who was a DJ…
KaySo: That was eight years ago?
Hagan: I went to uni ten years ago but it took me two years to get into the habit of producing. I had a friend who was a DJ and he was asking me for new music he could play. He asked 'HAGAN can you produce something that no one has heard in the club yet and give it to me, like a personal dubplate?" So from there it managed to get good reception and it encouraged me. He encouraged me to continue and as time went on I found my own style and found my own genre I wanted to continue this producing life. Before that I was playing instruments in the church.
KaySo: Okay. What instruments were you playing?
Hagan: Drums. Basic knowledge of keys. I still love drums and it’s the main thing in my music.
KaySo: Your drums are always heavy you know.
Hagan: I feel like they could be heavier!
KaySo: You are one of the only Ghanaian producers that I’ve heard do Azonto, our style of music with drums of that weight.
Hagan: That’s interesting because I’ve always wanted to ask other Ghanaian producers whether the sound I am producing resonates with Ghanaians?
KaySo: Yes we appreciate it. It’s a blend of our sound and club music with the type of bass that you use in your music like electronic. It’s fresh and it’s not what we are used to. Also it’s good so we accept it.
Hagan: One thing I really respect about you as a producer is that you’ve been able to produce for artists and I’ve seen recently that you were No. 15 in the Official UK Afrobeats Chart with Kidi’s 'Say Cheese'.
KaySo: Thank you.
Hagan: For me I haven't been able to produce with artists in the studio and I feel like that’s one of the challenges for me. I am now moving into stage so I wanted to ask you how does it first feel when you are producing in the studio with an artist and how did you overcome any nerves that you had?
KaySo: When I started making beats and producing at first I just wanted the opportunity to play the beat for somebody, like collaborate with someone and that's what I wanted. When I was able to master that part all I wanted to do was know how to mix vocals with the beat. So I was looking for artists just to record with and I would start playing around with their voices. That was how it started but I didn't know I was preparing myself to know how to collaborate with different people from different backgrounds musically or in general. I have always loved to work with people in the studio and create with their voices. It’s a learning experience and I have learned a lot which has helped me in my singing too.
Hagan: I know you feature as an artist on some of your tracks and I even saw the video for “Take It”. Where was that video shot by the way?
KaySo: There is this place around Jamestown.
Hagan: I knew it was around Jamestown as it was near Chalewote Festival! I like the video. I was going to ask whether working with artists made your transition to singing on your tracks a little bit easier.
KaySo: 100% it did as that was the point when I decided to do my own song. I had learned a lot and seen a lot of processes from all the artists I had collaborated with and picked the best bits for me. Before I started making beats, I always loved to sing but I was just doing small small singing in the bathroom! I met someone back in 2013 he used to go by the name Cheddar but he is now Freedom Jacob.
Hagan: What the big boy Cheddar... The rich boy Cheddar?
Hagan: Heh! Oh Wow!
KaySo: I met him through a mutual friend in 2013 and you know. He told me he started a label before and he had artists on a label called Wonderworld. We had a chat and he told me if I am good at producing and good at singing I have to start producing and work with an artist that nobody knows and make them big. If I do that I will get respect as a producer and then I can go ahead and do my own music. As for the music, he knows it’s dope so I listened to that and it resonated and made a lot of sense to me. Fast forward to 2015 and I met this kid called Kwesi Arthur. Nobody knew him and I took him into the studio and showed him some of the few things that I learned and next thing you know he applied it and then boom. We have a hit song which goes global.
Hagan: He’s a big star now.
KaySo: So I got that and I have been able to do that for a couple more artists that I’ve worked with. I feel like now it is time for me to focus on my music too.
Hagan: It’s almost like you’ve managed to do it with those artists and managed to build some formula that you can hopefully use for yourself.
KaySo: Yes that was indirect. I didn't know that was going to happen, I was just trying to help people’s career. That was all I wanted to do and that’s been a blessing.
Hagan: It’s always good to hear what’s going on in the streets of Ghana because there are new producers coming up. When I was growing up the producers from Ghana I would listen to were Appietus, Jay Q…
KaySo: Yeah. (Says producer tag) “Appietus In The Mix”!
Hagan: Appietus In The Mix of course! I was just thinking these producers should have way more exposure than they currently do and they are responsible for so many hits. Did you ever used to listen to Ofori Amponsah, Kwabena Kwabena, Kojo Antwi?
KaySo: Oh yeah chale! I grew up in Ghana and that was all I listened to and you don't have any choice. Back then there was no iPod,no cassette or CD players. It was just radio when I was growing up so you can’t really control what you want to listen to. It’s what’s on the radio and growing in Ghana around that time you are going to be inspired. Did you grow up in Ghana?
Hagan: No I didn't. I’ve been to Ghana many times because my grandma is in Ghana and my uncles and aunties are all based there but my mum she moved to London and had myself and my sister. In terms of how we live our lives, the Ghanaian culture is very much integrated within our household.
KaySo: I hope you are going to do that for the next generation.
Hagan: God Willing. When it comes to music, food and we even hear about the Ghanaian politics so it’s very much installed in how we live our lives here.
KaySo: What would you call the music produce?
Hagan: Chale that one is a hard one I can’t even describe it myself! I would say that over here in the UK you have a lot of genres which are inspired by some of the Afro sounds you hear in your Afrobeats, South African and West African music especially. So we have a genre called UK Funky which is inspired by Caribbean drum rhythms, Afrobeats and Brazillian rhythms as well. However, it has that dark undertone of gritty sounds in UK music, so for me I saw the connection between UK Funky, Highlife and a lot of the Ghanaian rhythms I am used to listening to in my house. I always thought to myself that this would be a good genre to unpack and find a pocket for myself, where I can draw from some of the Ghanaian influences that I have, and expand this genre into something bigger than what is already out there or something different to what’s already out there.
For me my whole goal, and if I was a company my mission statement, would be to fuse the two elements. So obviously you’re coming from Ghana but also having that UK identity and trying to fuse those two sounds together to bridge and make something completely brand new. As time goes on that sound does evolve as my influences and where I draw inspiration from changes as well. Recently I have been really heavily influenced by the South African sounds and some of their subgenres like Gqom and Amapiano.
KaySo: Yeah Amapiano is doing well.
Hagan: Amapiano is a vibe man. SO for me when I hear these new sounds it also gets fed into what I am producing as well so it’s an ongoing sound and is evolving. The core of it is trying to ensure I bring some of the Ghanaian elements into it but fuse it with some of the African elements and UK sounds.
KaySo: I can definitely feel it in the low ends.
Hagan: Even like some of the Brazillian sounds as well, I love some of the sounds that have come out of Brazil and South America. Just sounds from Black people all around the world and it’s definitely going to evolve as my mood evolves as well.
KaySo: That’s good to know and you are doing well at creating that new sound. I cant wait to see what that evolves in the next five years. It’s not just me you know Blaq Pages as well. There’s a producer called KG who is also on the Free Borga project. You should listen to her music and you’ll understand what I am talking about. She has that natural rhythm and bounce as well.
Hagan: I’ll tune in for sure. You have one track called “Love You” which you produced in 2017. Do you remember the time I was making the documentary and I tried to contact you?
Hagan: I was actually coming to see you but because we were in Ghana for a short time I couldn’t find the time to come and see you. Sorry about that.
KaySo: That’s okay... We Move.
Hagan: That track “Love You” the synthline you put in... I can’t explain it but it’s really nice. How did you create that?
KaySo: I remember usually I select sounds that sound good to me in my ear first and if it doesn't sound good to me in my ear I won't do it. When I made that beat I played that on a piano and I was trying to replace that sound with a synth. I was scrolling for two hours.
Hagan: Wow dedication!
KaySo: Yeah and I found that one because I knew what I was looking for. I knew how I wanted that sound to make me feel because it’s like I am creating a mood and I am not going to select any sounds that dont make me feel like that mood I am trying to create. It took over two hours and I found that one which sounded close to what I was looking for. Chale I tweaked it small. I used it in “Reveal” for La Meme Gang.
*Sings the chorus of Reveal*
Hagan: Oh yeah! Okay.
KaySo: It’s in there as well.
Hagan: That’s nice man.
KaySo: You had this project which you released in 2015 Gold Coast. That was the first project I heard and I was going through my SoundCloud as Gafacci had reposted one of your songs. There was this one song which I had listened to for the whole day and I was so inspired by that song. I made an EP and there was a song on it called Go Gaga and that drop was inspired by HAGAN. The EP is called ‘Your Type No Dey’ and that song was inspired by Gold Coast chale.
Hagan: Thank you chale. That sound I would say is my go to sound, like my secret sound. You know when you have a distinctive sound everyone knows you for I would say it’s that sound. It’s actually a conga which has been tuned.
KaySo: That’s what I was thinking… who thought to play a conga like that.
Hagan: I can hear in your music that you incorporate more than the stock sounds you use on any music programme. Do you enjoy working with a lot of musicians and instrumentalists?
KaySo: Yes. There is one thing about me if I am going to play an instrument on a song and I know we can get the real instrument I’d rather go with the real instrument option. So most of the songs that I produce I actually have sessions where I bring an instrumentalist in to play the thing I have already played or they just bring themselves creatively on the song.
Hagan: Last year when I was in Ghana in December I was working with one guitarist called Bright. You know him?
KaySo: Yes Bright. I have been working with him for like five years now and he is a brilliant guitarist. On that EP, I told you about any guitar you heard on there was played by Bright.
Hagan: So everyone in Ghana knows Bright?
KaySo: I mean there are other guys too like NiiQuaye and there are a lot of people but I like the Saxophone too. There is a saxophonist called EkoSax I work with and he’s on all my productions where I have the Sax. So shout out to EkoSax.
Hagan: So next time I am in Ghana I am going to link up with you and you can show me some of these people, as I am trying to build my network and showcase these people to the UK. The UK music scene as well, as there are so many talented instrumentalists which need their props.
KaySo: Who have you been listening to lately?
Hagan: I would say I have been listening to a lot of UK music and one artist called Nines.
KaySo: Oh yeah Nines. He just released an album right?
Hagan: Okay I like that! What do you think of his new album have you listened to it?
KaySo: I haven't listened to it yet but it’s on my list.
Hagan: There are two tracks I love on it which are N.I.C. and Airplane Mode with NSG. Those two tracks are really nice. Obviously I’ve been listening to Headie One, a Ghanaian rapper in the UK. So he released his new album recently and there is one track on that called ‘Princess Cuts’. I think you will like it.
KaySo: I just downloaded Airplane Mode and N.I.C and…
Hagan: Princess Cuts with a duo Young T and Bugsey.
KaySo: Yeah T and Bugsey… Don't Rush Boys!
Hagan: It’s different to what I produce but it’s good music that the youth will vibe to. What have you been listening to?
KaySo: I’ve been listening to Kumerica... The Kumerica boys. I go out for runs everyday and their music is in my playlist. I listen to that whilst I am running.
Hagan: I have been listening to one Kumerica track. I think it’s Akatafoc and that’s a banger. Serious tune.
KaySo: That’s what I’ve been listening to and you should check out ‘Sore’ by Yaw Tog.
Hagan: I haven't heard that one. Sore as in Wake Up in English?
KaySo: Yes. Arise. That’s the context they use it in as you have a lot of young kids chanting we will arise on a Pop Smoke type beat and that’s enough motivation. So wo ti Twi? (You understand Twi?)
Hagan: Of course. I have seen a lot of hype around Kumerica and the new Drill sound in GH. In the UK, a lot of us are excited at how it will develop and we’ve seen it start to bubble; it’s good to see a new genre birthed from Ghana.
KaySo: It’s always inspiring getting new genres from Ghana and seeing it go into the mainstream. A lot of people are saying when it comes to Drill outside of the UK and the USA, the artists from Ghana are the only ones who have been able to make some kind of impact as that what I hear from the Ghanaians now. Yeah the Drill scene here is real and you can feel the pain on the beat and the way these guys deliver their messages in Twi on the beat. You can feel it. It’s not fake and not for clout. That’s one thing I like about it as I can relate.
Hagan: Is it big in Accra?
KaySo: It’s big everywhere. I remember I was in town and chale every car was just playing this Akatafoc song. You could hear it playing everywhere and it’s big everywhere. Right now we are in the age where everything is Internet based and everybody can choose who they want to listen to which is a blessing and a curse. That’s why I appreciate everyone who listens to my music genuinely because they have the option to not listen to me but they do. To see a lot of people listening to that movement in Kumerica, I am proud of that and I am looking forward to collaborating with the Kumerican artists. I am looking forward to working with them. What are some of the things you are putting in place so that some of the challenges you face won't arise for those coming after you?
Hagan: That’s a really good question. For me one of the challenges is just having access to the equipment to make music and having access to a network of people that can guide me within the music scene and so on. I try to at least communicate with people who reach out on social media rather than brush them off or air them. I always make sure I try to reply and set a good example to other artists because you maybe up there and someone is starting out it doesn't mean you shouldn't reply to their message because those messages could be words of encouragement to them and I try to show them humility in life. Also having access to music equipment and so on. I have been trying to find out how I can purchase new equipment and give to people in Ghana so that’s something I have been working on I guess for me as a human being when I see blessings in my life I try to pass it on to other people because you reap what you sow. I am trying to continue that.
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