RIM AND KASA-TOO TOUGH.

RIM AND KASA-TOO TOUGH.

Music was in Rim Kwaku Obeng’s blood. Both his father and uncle were master drummers. So it was no surprise when he followed in their footsteps. He started life as Samuel K. Mfojo, in Begoro, Ghana. However, when his career in music began, he adopted the name Rim Kwaku Obeng.

He released his debut album Rim Arrives in 1980. A fusion of disco and funk, Rim Arrives failed to find an audience. That’s until later, when DJs spinning Afro-disco discovered the album. By then, Rim Arrives was a real rarity. However, it wasn’t Rim’s only release.

In 1982 Rim and Kasa released a three track E.P. Too Tough. Then the following year, 1983, Rim and The Believers released I’m Not Going To Let You Go as a 12” single. Both releases can be found on the Too Tough mini-album, which will be reissued by BBE Africa on 30th October 2015. Too Tough is the next chapter in the story of Samukel K, Mfojo.

Samukel K, Mfojo proved a quick learner. By the time he was eighteen, he was a master drummer. There was no higher position. Or so it seemed,

Soon, Samy became the personal drummer to the Ashanti chief in his community. This was a position Rim held for the next eight years. He held this position until he was twenty-six, Then he heard the comedy group the Accra Trio.

They were playing a type of music that was new to Rim. It excited and inspired him. So much so, that Rim asked if he could tour with them. Given Rim’s position in the community, they agreed. It was to everybody’s benefit. He was after all, the Ashanti chief’s personal drummer.

This was the start of Rim’s professional career. It began with Rim touring with the Accra Trio. Then he was approached by Duke Oketa, the leader of one of the top Highlife bands in Ghana, the Uluru Dance Band.

Over the next five years, Rim toured Britain, America and even Russia with the Uluru Dance Band. During that period, he honed and perfected his playing style, Rim also became firm friends with Duke Oketa as the Uluru Dance Band toured, All the time, their music continued to evolve. That was the case for five years, until Rim was called up and had to spend time in the armed forces.

Once Rim’s time in the armed forces was over, he was reunited with his old friend, Duke Oketa. He told Rim he was going to Los Angeles for a recording session. What’s more, he wanted Rim to accompany him. This was no surprise.

Rim and Duke travelled far and wide for five years. By then  they had become firm friends. So when Duke Oketa headed to Los Angeles for a session, Rim went too.

By then, the Uhuru Dance Band could do no wrong. Every song they recorded, had the potential to be a hit. So, for their next session, Duke Oketa decided to head to Los Angeles, and one of the city’s top studios.

Once there, Duke booked a studio for a new recording. Duke, however, didn’t do things by halves. He booked one of L.A.’s top studios, A&M Studios. However, Duke wasn’t done yet. For his session, he hired a huge string section. They made their way to the A&M Studios expecting everything to be ready. It wasn’t. 

There were no charts awaiting the string section. Duke had no option but to postpone the session for a week. Luckily, Duke knew a man who could have the charts ready within a week. That was his drummer and friend, Rim Kwaku Obeng. He got to work preparing the charts. Within a week they were completed. Duke was so pleased that he paid Rim $700. While all this was playing out, one Quincy Jones was watching on.

He just happened to be spending some time at A&M Studios. When Quincy Jones saw how Rim handled the situation with the charts, he was impressed, Preparing the charts within a week was a big ask. However, Rim managed it. So, Quincy Jones asked Rim to join him. Unfortunately for Rim. Duke got involved, and threatened to sue Quincy Jones if Rim left his employ. Despite ruining the opportunity of a lifetime, Rim stayed loyal to Duke. That was a big mistake.

After the L.A. escapade, Duke invited Rim to accompany him to London. Duke told Rim they were going to record with “a band called Traffic” and Joan Armatrading, who was then, an up-and-coming singer-songwriter. For Rim, this must have seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

When Duke and Rim arrived in London, they booked into a hotel. Everything it seemed, was going well. However, that was until Rim’s second morning in London. Rim discovered that Duke had checked out of the hotel taking with him Rim’s passport, documents, money and luggage. While the hotel staff were sympathetic at his plight, this left Rim with a huge problem, how did he get home? The answer was, he couldn’t. 

With no money, passport or documents, Rim was stranded. What’s more, he had nowhere to live. In the space of little over twenty-four hours, Rim found himself homeless. For the next six long and lonely months. Rim spent them sleeping rough. He was down, out and destitute. It was as if his world had ended. Over the next six months, Rim experienced hell on earth. It was only after a chance meeting with Joan Armatrading that Rim turned his life around. 

One day, Rim saw that Joan Armatrading was playing in Ronnie Scott’s jazz club. He recognised and remembered the name. Here was the young singer-songwriter that he was meant to work with when he arrived in London. So, he returned to Ronnie Scott’s the night Joan was playing. He couldn’t get in, given his dishevelled state. So, Rim tried plan B.

Rim found a phone box and tried to phone home, call collect. No luck. Eddie Lee who he was phoning wasn’t around. With things going from bad to worse, and Rim exhausted, he fell asleep in the phone box. That was until someone wanted to use the phone. Then Rim was on the move again. He was out of luck. Or was he?

Surrounded by hotels, Rim decided to try and find a hotel where he could either phone home, or spend the night. Then fate intervened, The hotel he decided to try was the one where he spent his first night in London. When the receptionist who had asked him to leave, saw the state of Rim she was worried. Rim told her what had happened, and slowly, she began to realise that he was a well known musician. So she allowed Rim to phone Eddie Lee.

Having got through to Eddie Lee, his old friend paid for a room in the hotel for three weeks. Eddie Lee also got in touch with Joan Armatrading. 

When she heard what had happened to Rim, and what he’d been through, Joan promised to help him. No longer was London the lonely, scary place it had been for the past six months. During that period, Rim had survived by the skin of his teeth. It had been a terrifying time, Now life was looking up, and could only get better for Rim. Joan took Rim home, got him fed and cleaned him, and the next day, bought him new clothes. Soon, he was rehearsing with Joan’s band. Thanks to Joan Armatrading the next chapter in Rim’s life was about to begin.

By 1977, Rim Kwaku Obeng had gone from sleeping rough on the streets of London, to Los Angeles. He had struggled to raise the money to cross the Atlantic. Eventually, he had saved enough, that he could say goodbye to London. 

When he arrived in L.A., Rim was able to stay with a friend while he found his feet. Soon, he was working with a group of expat African musicians. Some weren’t even professional. However, before long, Rim turned them into a crack band who were able to seamlessly, combine Western and African music. This fusion of musical influences, would feature on Rim’s debut album, Rim Arrives.

For his debut album, Rim Arrives. Rim had written seven tracks, He took the band he had honed, and augmented them with some  top L.A. session players and expat African musicians. They recorded what could’ve, and should’ve been an album of dance-floor fillers.

Especially with 1977, being the year disco’s popularity peaked. Everyone and anyone were releasing disco records. This included the biggest names in music, actors and stars whose career had hit the buffers. However, back in 1977 Rim was one of the rising stars of Afro-funk and disco. Rim Arrives, his debut album, many felt would lunch his career. 

That didn’t happen. When Rim Arrives was eventually released in 1980, it wasn’t a commercial success. Very few copies were sold and the album passed record buyers by. That’s despite the disco being at the peak of its popularity. However, Rim wasn’t about to throw in the towel. 

Two years later, Rim returned in 1982, with three new tracks that he had written. He went into the studio and recorded them a small band. This included bassist Baba Tunde, keyboardist MrStro, trumpeter Bill Oritz and lead vocalist Anita Berry. Rim played drums, bells, congas, shaker, timbales, piano and vocals. He also arranged and produced his E.P. Once it was completed, it was released later in 1982.

When Too Tough was released on Sum-Sum Records, it was credited to Rim and Kasa. History repeated itself when the Too Tough E.P. failed commercially. Very few copies of Too Tough were sold. That’s why nowadays, copies of Too Tough can change hands for up to £240, $360 or €312. However, back in 1982, the one-time master drummer’s career looked as if it was at the crossroads. Rim however, wasn’t going to give up that easily.

In 1983, Rim was back, with a new band. Rim and The Believers went into the studio recorded what became the  12” single, I’m Not Going To Let You Go. Just like Too Tough, Rim wrote and produced I’m Not Going To Let You Go and the B-Side Peace Of Mind. Once the two songs were recorded and mixed, Harmony Records agreed to release I’m Not Going To Let You Go.

After the commercial failure of Too Tough, Rim must have been hoping that his luck would change with I’m Not Going To Let You Go. That wasn’t to be. When Harmony Records released Rim and The Believers’ first single later in 1983, it disappeared without trace. It would be another two years before Rim and The Believers returned with their second and final single, International Funk. 

Still, Rim and The Believers’ were out of luck. On International Funk’s release in 1985, it too, failed commercially. Life was hard for the one-time master drummer. His music wasn’t attracting an audience. That would change, but it took a while.

It was only much later, that DJs spinning rare disco came across copies of Rim Arrives. They were the lucky ones. Very few copies of Rim Arrives still exist. Some of the DJs wondered whether Rim had recorded anything else? Some discovered the Too Tough E.P. and the 12” single I’m Not Going To Let You Go. However, just like copies of Rim Arrives, they were real rarities. Unless record collectors had deep pockets or were very lucky, they very little chance of finding any of Rim’s music. So, the newly founded BBE Africa decided to reissue Rim’s back-catalogue.

BBE Africa’s first release was Rim Arrives, which was recently released. Now Too Tough has been released as a mini-album. it features the original Too Tough E.P. and the 12” single I’m Not Going To Let You Go. These five tracks become Too Tough, and are the latest chapter in the story of Rim Kwaku Obeng. 

Opening Too Tough is Shine The Ladies, a slice of Afro-disco. The rhythm section lock into a groove, with Baba Tunde’s underpinning the arrangement. Meanwhile, short, sharp, stabs of blazing horns accompany harmonies. Soon, keyboards and chiming guitar join a jazz-tinged rhythm section and disco strings. They build up the arrangement, before Anita Berry’s vocal enters. She sings call and response with the backing vocalists. Anita’s message is equality and respect. This is a rarity, a disco track full of social social comment. Later, a blistering saxophone solo nearly steals the show. That looks like being the case. Then a searing, rocky guitar solo is unleashed. It’s gave set and match. That’s despite the rest of the solos showcasing a tight, talented band. Along with Anita Berry they play their part in a nine minute Afro-disco epic.

From the get-go, the rhythm and horn sections combine with percussion on Love Me For Real. They create an über funky backdrop. Stabs of horns combine with a funky bass before rumbling drums announce the arrival of the dreamy, sing-song female vocal. By now, the arrangement veers between hypnotic to swaggering. It’s very different to the vocal, which is variously tender and sassy. Then as the vocal drops out, strings sweep and horns sound. When the vocal returns, it’s a needy vamp. Later a myriad of percussion joins the horns and rhythm section are unleashed as the cry is: “make it make make it funky.” Then when Rim’s earnest vocal enters, the band have kicked loose. In full flight, they seamlessly combine elements of Afro-beat, disco, funk and jazz, on this long-lost, hidden gem. 

I’m A Songwriter closed the original Too Tough E.P. Previously, comparisons have been drawn to Roy Ayers, when he was inspired by Fela Kuti. Another way to describe the track is genre-melting. The backing vocals realise this, and begin to reel of the influences. They describe it as “funky reggae music.” That’s just part of the story, Later, they ask: “do you hear the jazz feeling, do you hear the African feeling?” The closer you listen, the more influences make their presence felt. There’s a soulful sound, a psychedelic twist and a nod to dub pioneer Lee Scratch Perry. Quite simply, it’s genre-melting, roller coaster ride, which somehow, makes sense.

I’m Not Going To Let You Go was the 12” single released by Rim and The Believers. Thunderous drums, chiming guitar and piano join trippy, dubby synths. They set the scene for Rim’s hopeful, and later, bravado fuelled vocal. Needy harmonies augment his vocal. Meanwhile, squeaky synths, percussion and the rhythm section provide the backdrop to Rim, on this sassy paean.

Closing Too Tough, is Peace Of Mind which was the flip side to I’m Not Going To Let You Go. I much prefer this side. It’s an instrumental, and is another genre-melting, roller coaster. Just the rhythm section and percussion combine with keyboards. Underpinning the arrangement is the bass. The keyboards veer between jazz-tinged and jaunty to a much more lounge sound. Vibes are added, filling up the arrangement. This adds to the feel-good sound, and seems the perfect way to close the Too Tough mini-album. It’s the second chapter in the Rim Kwaku Obeng story.

The first chapter in the story was Rim Arrives. It was rereleased recently by BBE Africa. Now they turn their attention to the music Rim Kwaku Obeng released between 1982 and 1983. 

This includes Rim and Kasa’s three track E.P. Too Tough. It was released in 1982 on Sum Sum Records. Just like Rim Arrives, Too Tough wasn’t a commercial success. Neither was Rim and The Believers’ debut single I’m Not Going To Let You Go. It was released on Harmony Records in 1983. That was the last anyone heard of Rim and The Believers for two years.

They returned in 1986 with International Funk. Just like  I’m Not Going To Let You Go, it was released on Harmony Records. International Funk failed commercially. That was the last single Rim and The Believers released. 

Very little was heard of Rim Kwaku Obeng for many years. Then rare disco DJs started spinning Rim Kwaku Obeng’s music. This resulted in a resurgence in interest in the one-time master drummer’s music. There was a problem though, copies of Rim Kwaku Obeng debut album, E.P. and single were few and far between. Any copies that came to light were changing hands for anything up to £300. This meant only those with the deepest pockets could afford a copy of Rim Arrives, the Too Tough E.P. or the 1983 single I’m Not Going To Let You Go. What was needed, was a record company to reissue Rim Kwaku Obeng’s back-catalogue.

That’s what BBE Africa have been doing recently. They started with Rim Arrives, and the next chapter in the Rim Kwaku Obeng story is Too Tough, which will be released on BBE Africa on 30th October 2015.

RIM AND KASA-TOO TOUGH.

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