ATA KAK-OBAA SIMA.
ATA KAK-OBAA SIMA.
Twenty-one years ago, back in 1994, Ata Kak originally released his debut album Obaa Sima. It was no ordinary album. Obaa Sima was released with the help of his college professor and Ata’s twin brother. His brother designed the artwork for the cassette, and Professor O.A. DeGraft Johnson, helped release Obaa Sima through the university’s publishing department. Eventually, the release date arrived, and fifty cassette copies of Obaa Sima were made and released.
Ata and his brother decided fifty copies of Obaa Sima was enough to be going on with. They were essentially testing the market in in Ghana and Canada, to see how DJs and record buyers would react to Ata’s lo-fi fusion of highlife, Twi-language rap, funk and disco. Delivered with the energy and enthusiasm heard on early Prince albums, surely Obaa Sima would capture the imagination and hearts of critics, DJs and music lovers?
Sadly, that wasn’t to be the case. DJs wanted paid to play Obaa Sima. With Ata unable to afford to promote Obaa Sima, he was between a rock and a hard place. So, Obaa Sima passed Canadian and Ghanian music lovers by. Only three of the fifty copies of Obaa Sima were sold. So, with a heavy heart, and his dreams in tatters Ata’s nascent music career was all but over.
Later, with Ata living in Toronto, he played some friends Obaa Sima. They loved his music. That must have proved ironic for Ata. After all, he’d poured his heart, hopes and dreams into Obaa Sima. It could’ve been the start of a career in music. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Then in 2002, a copy of Obaa Sima fell into the hands of the owner and founder of a record company.
This was Brian Shimkovitz, founder Awesome Tapes From Africa. In 2002, he was travelling through Ghana, when he came across someone selling cassettes at the roadside. As a lover of African music, Brian bought a copy. However, he never got round to playing what just so happened to be, Obaa Sima. A few years passed, and eventually, Brian decided to listen to Obaa Sima. Straight away, Brian was blown away with Obaa Sima. So, much so, that Brian founded the Awesome Tapes From Africa blog.
Having founded the Awesome Tapes From Africa blog, Brian posted the songs from Obaa Sima on the Awesome Tapes From Africa blog. Soon, the floodgates opened. There were literally hundreds of thousands of downloads, YouTube views, music video homages and remixes. There was a problem though. Nobody knew where Ata Kak was.
For years, nobody knew of Ata Kak’s whereabouts. Brian asked his contacts within the music industry if they knew anything about Ata Kak. The answer was always the same, no. Ata Kak, even in the internet age, was a mysterious and enigmatic musician. Eventually, the search was over and Brian made contact with Ata Kak. This resulted in the recent reissue of Obaa Sima by Awesome Tapes From Africa on 2nd March 2015. At last, the story behind the much traveled Ata Kak can be told.
Ata Kak was born Yaw Atta-Owusu, on 29th September 1960, in Kumsai, Ghana. He attended Mfantisipim Senior High School. When Ata left school, his first job was managing the bar at the Kumsai Golf Club. Living at home with his father, and working at the golf club, this was Ata’s life for several years. However, in 1985, when Ata was twenty-five, he moved to Germany, to join his wife.
For the first nine months Ata spent in Germany, he took German lessons. Ata planned to go to university. However, his plans changed when Mary became pregnant. This resulted in a change in plan for Ata.
By the time Kevin, Ata and Mary’s first son was born, Ata was worked as a labourer and farmhand during the day. At night, Ata taught English. In his spare time, Ata listened to music.
His favourite genres were disco, soul, funk and R&B. Ata was soon immersing himself in the music of Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, The Staple Singer and K.C. and The Sunshine Band. Soon, Ata went from listening to music, to making music.
Moving to Germany had opened doors for Ata and his wife. He worked in Dortmund and Dusseldorf, made friends, and through these friends, got the opportunity to join a band.
The opportunity arose when Ata was standing in line in the Post Office. An acquaintance approached Ata, and asked if he could play the drums? Ata for some reason, decided to say yes. That’s despite having never played the drums before. Despite this, Ata joined the band, and within five weeks, he was playing proficiently. Not long after this, Ata was singing lead vocals, in the reggae cover’s band. This was the start of Ata’s musical career.
Throughout the rest of Ata’s stay in Germany, he played in bands. Then in 1989, Ata moved to Canada, and Ata settled in Toronto, and was asked if he’d like to join a highlife band?
Again, Ata agreed. However, there was a problem. Ata had never played highlife. He preferred reggae. Despite this, Ata became a member of Marijata, who played all over Canada and recorded three albums. By then, Ata had immersed himself in highlife, pop, soul, R&B and funk. This would stand Ata in good stead when in 1991, he embarked upon a solo career.
Having decided to embark upon a solo career, Ata realised his bandmates, couldn’t, or wouldn’t, be able to play the music he wanted to make. So, he had to play all the parts himself. To do this, Ata whose budget was restricted, set about buying some musical equipment. He bought a second hand computer and Atari Notator music software. He bought a new synth with built in drum sounds, a reel-to-reel tape recorder and a twelve channel mixing desk. Now Ata was ready to record his own music.
Writing songs, Ata found, came naturally. Recording them, however, took time. Without money to hire a recording studio, Ata’s Toronto apartment became a makeshift studio. Helping Ata to record his own music was his friend, Yanson Nyantakyi, who took on the role of assistant enegineer. Slowly, Ata laid down the various parts. He added raps and vocals. Ata even added backing vocals. Then he realised his friend Lucy Quansah was better suited. She complimented Ata perfectly. As the tracks that would become Obba Sima came together, Ata’s baby son Jeffrey watched on. Little did Jeffrey realise that by the time he’d grown up, Obba Sima would’ve become an internet sensation.
Once Obba Sima was completed, Ata wanted to release his lo-fi fusion of highlife, Twi-language rap, funk and disco. So, Ata sent Obba Sima to Ghana to be mastered. It was much cheaper to send his tapes from Canada to Ghana, than have the mastering done locally. This was also the case with having the tapes duplicated. Fifty tapes were duplicated in Ghana, and sent to Ata in Toronto. With Ata’s brother providing the artwork for the cassette, Obba Sima was ready for release in 1994.
Unfortunately, when Obba Sima was released in Canada and Ghana in 1994. Ata approached DJs, asking them if they would play Obba Sima. The DJs wanted paid to play Obaa Sima. Ata couldn’t afford to do so. Nor could he afford to promote Obaa Sima, he was between a rock and a hard place. So, Obaa Sima passed Canadian and Ghanian music lovers by. Only three of the fifty copies of Obaa Sima were sold. So, with a heavy heart, and his dreams in tatters Ata’s nascent music career was all but over. That’s until a copy fell into the hands of Brian Shimkovitz, founder Awesome Tapes From Africa.
In 2002, Brian Shimkovitz was travelling through Ghana, when he came across someone selling cassettes at the roadside. As a lover of African music, Brian bought a copy. A few years passed, and eventually, Brian decided to listen to Obaa Sima. However, a few years passed before Brian played Obaa Sima. When he did, Brian was blown away with the music on Obaa Sima. So, much so, that Brian founded the Awesome Tapes From Africa blog.
After founding the Awesome Tapes From Africa blog, Brian posted the songs from Obaa Sima on the Awesome Tapes From Africa blog. Soon, the floodgates opened, and Obaa Sima became an internet sensation. So, Brian set about tracing Ata.
This proved problematic. Nobody knew of Ata Kak’s whereabouts. Brian asked his contacts within the music industry if they knew anything about Ata Kak. The answer was always the same, no. Ata Kak, even in the internet age, was a mysterious and enigmatic musician. Eventually, though, the search was over and Brian made contact with Ata Kak. This resulted in the recent reissue of Obaa Sima which I’ll tell you about.
Opening Obaa Sima is the title-track. Thunderous, pounding, drums and washes of synths bathed in filters add hypnotic, dance-floor friendly backdrop. Then a roll of drums sets the scene for the vocal. It sits in the midst of an arrangement where elements of disco, funk, highlife, hip hop and soul combine. The occasional holler or whoop is added. Mostly, though it’s just a soulful, heartfelt vocal. Later, the vocal’s augmented by backing vocal. They’re the perfect addition to this irresistible, lo-fi, dance-floor friendly track.
The tempo drops on Moma Yendodo. Occasional bursts of pitched up backing vocals, thunderous drums and a bounding bass join Ata’s Twi-language rap. Just like the previous tracks, genres melt into one. Elements of hip hop, soul, funk and Twi-language rap become one. At breakneck speed, Ata delivers a strutting, swaggering rap. All the time, backing vocals accompany him, as he shows another side Ata Kak, musical chameleon and showman.
Straight away, Ata’s love of soul can be heard on Adagya. Stabs of warm synths and a scrabbled bass pay homage to eighties soul. Then it’s all change. The track takes on a lo-fi, electronic sound as Ata urgently, delivers a Twi-language rap. He certainly doesn’t lack confidence. Literally, he swaggers through the track, with the soulful stylings of backing vocalists for company.
Medofo is a track whose roots are in Afro-beat and funk. It’s the dusty sounding Hammond organ and funky rhythm section that leads to this comparison. Then it’s all change. Ata delivers another of trademark raps. However, stealing the show is the sweet, soulful sound of Lucy Quansah. She adds backing vocals, that sometimes, head in the direction of a rap. Later, when the vocals drop out, elements of eighties funk, soul and R&B combine. The arrangement is panned right to left. It’s irresistible sound is the perfect replacement for the vocals, on what’s one of Obaa Sima’s highlights.
Drums pound as Daa Nyinaa gets underway. Soon, a sprinkling of percussion, washes of synths and the bass combine. Again, a drum roll announces the arrival of Ata. It’s as if its saying: “here’s Ata.” He veers between a rap and a vocal. Behind him, the arrangement has a real lo-fi sound. What sounds like an accordion briefly, weeps. later, Lucy Quansah makes a welcome entrance. She’s the perfect foil for Ata. Together, they drive each other to greater heights. Ata becomes a man inspired, his vocal soulful and funky, complete with hollers, whoops and one of his trademark raps.
Yemmpa Aba has a lo-fi, sci-fi and electronic sounding arrangement. Synths, eighties electronic drums combine with an organ that sounds as if it’s come straight of a highlife album. Then there’s the bounding bass. They provide the backdrop for Ata’s as he delivers another vocal cum rap at breakneck speed. Lucy adds backing vocals, as Ata hits his stride. It’s as if he’s been inspired by James Brown and Melle Mel, on this blistering track.
Closing Obaa Sima Bome Nnwom, which straight away, has you hooked. Exploding into life, Ata gets into the groove on this instrumental. Pounding drums drive the arrangement along. They’re joined by a scrabbled bass, washes of relentless synths and the occasional sci-fi sound. Sometimes, the track takes on industrial sound. However, mostly, it’s mesmeric, hypnotic and akin to a call to dance. What a way to close Obaa Sima.
Twelve years after recording and releasing Obaa Sima, Ata Kak became an internet sensation. While the album he recorded in 1994, in his Toronto apartment went viral, Ata Kak never knew. Ata was also unaware that across the world, hundreds of thousands of people were downloading the songs on Obaa Sima. The floodgates had opened. Obaa Sima was an internet sensation.
Soon, Ata Kak’s album Obaa Sima was one of the most viewed items on You Tube. Before long, remixes and edits were being posted. Still, Ata was unaware of this. Nor was he going to become rich.
As is often the case, songs were downloaded illegally. People were making money out of remixing and editing the songs on Obaa Sima. They posted them on their You Tube channels, and soon, these remixes and edits went viral. Still, Ata Kak never knew about this.
Ata Kak was, by now, back in Ghana. He’d returned home in 2006, where he invested in a business that dug wells. Sadly, equipment failure lead to the company’s failure. This meant that Ata could no longer make music. The situation was akin to a Greek tragedy. While Ata struggled to make ends meet financially, reputations were built, and money made thanks to his album Obaa Sima.
Eventually, Brian Shimkovitz, founder of Awesome Tapes From Africa tracked Ata Kak down. The two men agreed to reissue Obaa Sima on 2nd March 2015. Somewhat belatedly, Ata Kak should make some money out of Obaa Sima. That should be the case.
Hopefully, everyone who downloaded either songs from Obaa Sima, or the entire album, will buy a copy. So, should anyone who made money out of remixes and edits. That’s only fair and just. In return, everyone who buys Obaa Sima will discover a true hidden gem of an album, that’s bound to appeal to many people.
There’s elements of everything from Afro-beat, disco, electronica, funk, highlife, hip hop, R&B, soul and Twi-language rap on Obaa Sima’s seven songs. During Obaa Sima, Ata Kak, aided and abetted by backing vocalist Lucy Quansah, created an album of dance-floor friendly, genre-melting music that quite simply, oozes quality, and is guaranteed to get any party started.
ATA KAK-OBAA SIMA.