Recently, Colorado-based drummer Paa Kow released his third album Cookpot, which features his trademark Afro-fusion sound. This is something the Ghanaian drummer has been honing since he arrived at the University of Colorado as a guest artist and teacher in 2007. Not long after that, Paa Kow formed his own band. That was ten years ago, and since then, he’s come a long way.
It’s been a remarkable journey for Paa Kow who was born in the Enyan Denkyira near Cape Coast in Ghana, West Africa. Growing up, there was no electricity in the village until Paa Kow was thirteen. Despite the lack of electricity, Paa Kow and the other children in the village were still able to entertain themselves, and found ways to do this.
Some of the children in the village would sing and make music. The children had no musical instruments, and had to be resourceful. Paa Kow would often make drums out of metal cans, wire, and a fertiliser bag, which he would fashion into makeshift drums. These drums he would play for hours on end. Day in, day out, Paa Kow practised on his makeshift drum kit. Later, he wanted a drum pedal, and made his own using a door hinge, some string, and an old sandal. Remarkably, this worked, and added a new dimension to Paa Kow’s playing. By then, his musical career was well underway.
Paa Kow’s mother was a professional singer who was part of a touring concert band. So was Paa Kow’s uncle, who was also the director of the concert band. It had been sent instruments and a generator from Germany, which allowed the concert band to play in the evenings in nearby villages. One day as the concert band rehearsed, Paa Kow, who was nearly seven, joined in on the cowbell. He wanted to connect to his elders through the music. Straight away, they could hear and feel a very strong connection as the rhythm came over Paa Kow. His mother who was watching knew that day, that her son would forge a career as a musician.
From that day on, Paa Kow’s mother encouraged her son as he practised on his makeshift drum kit. She knew that Paa Kow had the talent to one day, embark upon a musical career. This happened sooner than she thought.
Within a year, Paa Kow was playing both the drums and congas with the concert band. The only problem was that when Paa Kow sat at the drum kit, his feet couldn’t reach the pedals. As a result, Paa Kow had to stand and play the drums. He played with such vigour and enthusiasm that he was drenched in sweat. As dancers left the floor, some came up to the young drummer and stuck paper money to his Paa Kow’s forehead. Even today, Paa Kow remembers that day with fondness: “being a musician in Ghana is exciting because it brings everyone closer to you. After the show they gave me gifts to show their appreciation. Right away, I thought that this was perfect and it was then that I knew being a musician was my path in life.”
Having made his musical debut, Paa Kow and his reputation grew, and he became a local celebrity in the region who was known as the: “small-boy drummer.” Soon, Paa Kow was playing truant so he could practise or travel to a nearby village to play a concert. His parents weren’t happy about this, and certainly weren’t happy when Paa Kow hid in bass drum that was being packed into a van as the band embarked upon a tour. Only when they arrived at the first venue did Paa Kow come out from his hiding place. He was welcomed by his bandmates and that night when they took to the stage there was joyousness as the band played. The only downside was that Paa Kow missed school on the following Monday. He has no regrets: “music was everything, I wanted and I followed my dreams.”
Aged fourteen, Paa Kow had outgrown Enyan Denkyira and decided to head out into the world and follow his dream of making a living as a drummer. Soon, he was touring with some of the top bands in the area. Before long, Paa Kow joined the government-owned dance band New Creation. This was the break he was looking for, and he headed to Accra with New Creation.
In Accra, Paa Kow was discovered by Ghanaian pop star Amakye Dede. He couldn’t believe how talented the young drummer was. Amakye Dede was so impressed by Paa Kow’s drumming skills, and wanted him to stay in Accra. However, first he had to convince Paa Kow’s parents, so Amakye Dede travelled to Enyan Denkyira speak with the young drummer’s parents. When they met, Amakye Dede offered Paa Kow’s parents money if they allowed their son to stay in Accra.
Later that night, Paa Kow was packaging his belongings, as he prepared to journey to country’s capital. This he knew was the opportunity of a lifetime, as he was going to be playing alongside Ghana’s best musicians.
Having made a new home Accra, Paa Kow’s skills were soon coming to the attention of some of the biggest names in Ghanaian music. Soon, Paa Kow was playing alongside George Darko, Kojo Antwi and Nat Brew, in Ghana and when they played in Belgium, Holland, Scotland and Switzerland, and also in Egypt, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria and Togo. Soon, though, Paa Kow would off on his travels again.
Whilst Paa Kow was living in Accra, he came across Peyton Shuffield, an American student from Boulder, Colorado, who was looking for a highlife drummer to study with. Peyton Shuffield didn’t want any highlife drummer, he wanted the best Accra had to offer. After speaking with many local musicians, Peyton Shuffield came to the conclusion that the best local musician was Paa Kow. That was how Peyton Shuffield and Paa Kow met one day in Accra.
Straight away, the Paa Kow and Peyton Shuffield hit it off, the pair became firm friends. Peyton Shuffield had found the drummer he had been looking for. Before long, Peyton Shuffield realised that Paa Kow was special talented and wanted to help the Ghanaian drummer share his talent with the rest of the world.
With the support and help of Dr. Kwasi Ampenea, a professor at the University of Colorado, Peyton Shuffield’s dream of bringing Paa Kow to America soon, became reality. Paa Kow was invited to the University of Colorado as a guest artist and teacher. This was the start of a new chapter in Paa Kow’s career and musical journey.
Paa Kow’s musical and cultural exchange with American musicians resulted in the drummer’s new, Afro-fusion sound. This came about after Paa Kow formed a new group in America, and they started to combine elements of West African pop with jazz. The new sound would feature on Hand Go Hand Come, Paa Kow’s debut album.
When Paa Kow was writing and recording Hand Go Hand Come, he soon realised that had too much music for just one CD. Try as he may, Paa Kow found it impossible to whittle the songs down to just his favourites. That was when he decided that his debut album would be a double album, which he named Hand Go Hand Come, after a Ghanaian proverb which essentially embodies the idea of give-and-take. A reminder of this was found inside the CD booklet to Hand Go Hand Come, which said: “the right hand washes the left and the left washes the right.”
On April the ‘11th’ 2012, Paa Kow released his debut album Hand Go Hand Come. This was a reason to celebrate, as the former “small-boy drummer” from Enyan Denkyira was now a professional musician, as his mother had forecast all these years ago.
To coincide with the release of Hand Go Hand Come, Paa Kow embarked upon a gruelling tour that crisscrossed America. In towns and cities, Paa Kow introduced audiences to the Afro-fusion sound on his debut album Hand Go Hand Come. During the tour, Paa Kow’s music found a wider audience and his career was underway.
Just over two years later, and Paa Kow who was an internationally renowned artist, composer and producer, returned in August 2014 with his eagerly awaited sophomore album Ask. It featured enchanting, dance-floor friendly music that features lyrics written in Paa Kow’s native language, Fante, and also in English. Ask also features Paa Kow’s trademark deep groove and showcases a truly talented drummer at the peak of his powers. His drums speak to listeners as they take part in intense and emotive spiritual conversation that is powerful and poignant. For Paa Kow, Ask was an important album, and one that resulted in him travelling far and wide.
Following the release of Ask, Paa Kow and his Afro-Fusion orchestra have toured America and Africa, and are a popular draw. Paa Kow has also shared the stage with some of the biggest names in music over the last few years, including a number of the legends of African music, including Hugh Masekela, and Vusi Mahlasela, plus many top American musicians Victor Wooten, Brad Goode, John Gunther and Michael Kang. It’s a far cry from when Paa Kow had to build a makeshift drum kit back home in Enyan Denkyira.
Paa Kow has a come a long way since these days, and recently, has been working on his third album Cookpot which was released in October 2017. It’s the latest offering from Denver-based drummer, who claims that he speaks a dozen musical languages.
This ranges from the deep rhythmic traditions of his native Ghana to the patois honed and perfected by the two Georges, Clinton and Benson. All this has influenced Paa Kow’s music. He explains: “My music isn’t traditional, but it has deep roots. I want to invent my own style. The highlife music is there, but when you listen, it’s kind of jazz, too. It’s funk. It’s the way the music comes to me.”
This genre-melting style is truly irresistible. Paa Kow is a mixture of a compelling groove and a complexity that musicians everywhere will appreciate. Especially as the bass line shifts and seamlessly lock in the groove with Paa Kow’s drums. They provide the heartbeat for the rest of Paa Kow’s Afro-fusion as they seamlessly switch between and sometimes combine disparate musical genres.
For Paa Kow, these musical genres are just like ingredients for a recipe, that the bandleader puts these in his ‘pot:’ “I feel like music is all about the ingredients. You have different backgrounds, someone from the US, from Europe, from Ghana. Then the pot part, that’s the container, the way the groove set. It’s like something’s boiling on the fire. The whole album brings together all these different energies and inspirations together.” However, this wouldn’t be possible without a top class band and the right equipment.
Two years ago, Paa Kow was needing a new drum kit, but be couldn’t find this type of drum in America. Instead, he had to make the journey home to rural Ghana, where he started his search for his traditional journey. All he had to do, was find a drum maker capable of making this bespoke drum kit.
Eventually, he found drum maker who was capable of making a drum kit to Paa Kow’s exact specifications. “We had talk a lot about it. It was hard to find a bass drum that big. The makers told me ‘We don’t think we can get this for you.’ One day, I woke up and they told me they had found a tree. The bass drum is made from a single tree. It gives me a really nice sound that I love. It’s the same drum kit I used on the album.”
With the new drum kit complete, Paa Kow left his former home on rural Ghana behind, and journeyed to his adopted home city of Denver. This was where Cookpot was recorded, and where Paa Kow’s Afro-fusion orchestra is based. “I had lived in Ghana my whole life. I’d played with successful bands and toured Europe. But I trusted this was what I wanted to do. I wanted to spread my music. I love Colorado, and there’s lots of opportunity if you want to take advantage of it. I’ve played with a lot of different musicians, and some of them come and go. But I write my own songs, and gradually it’s leading me where I want to be.”
In Colorado, Paa Kow has found many like-minded musicians who have joined him on a journey that began in his home town of Enyan Denkyira, just before his seventh birthday. Just like Paa Kow, these like-minded musicians are linguists and speak the same language as their bandleader. “I believe that music is a language. But it’s not universal, you have to learn it. You learn, oh, you don’t say that in our language. It’s a conversation. You don’t have to be from Ghana, say to learn my language. When the musical skills are there, I have been able to get American musicians to speak the same language I speak. They love what I do, and what they do. It makes it a lot easier.”
Just like Paa Kow, the musicians in his Afro-fusion orchestra love music. They’ve also dedicated their lives to music. This dedication to music Paa Kow says: “is like breathing,” it comes natural to him and this is the case with the rest of the orchestra. He also adds: I didn’t go to music school to start playing. The more I learn, the more it comes to me. I love every minute of it.” This includes writing and recording his third album Cookpot.
Just like his two previous albums, Cookpot which features thirteen new songs penned by Paa Kow, showcases a tight, talented and versatile band, who have been honing their trademark Afro-fusion style for ten years. They come of age on Cookpot, where they incorporate elements of funk, Highlife, jazz and jazz funk. There’s also several smoking jazz jams as Paa Kow showcase their musical skills. The result is potent and heady musical brew. Especially as Paa Kow seamlessly switch between different genres on the one track. On other tracks, Paa Kow and his Afro-fusion orchestra combine disparate genres, which became part of the his genre-melting sound on Cookpot.
Paa Kow’s Afro-fusion orchestra lock into a groove on The Way I Feel, which is a slow, sometimes dramatic, jazz funk jam. The bursts of drama come courtesy of horns and Paa Kow’s drums. With the rest of this talented band, they play their part in the sound and success of a cinematic and dramatic track that sets the bar high for the rest of Cookpot.
Very different are Meetu Ehum and Pete Pete which have a much more traditional sound. They’re a reminder of the music that influenced Paa Kow as he grew up in Ghana. There’s a joyousness to Meetu Ehum where Highlife is combined with elements of jazz and funk. The tempo drops on Pete Pete, with Paa Kow playing drums, congas, bells and adding vocals. He plays a leading role, as horns and briefly a jazz guitar accompany on what’s an irresistible track. Then on Forced Landing, Paa Kow and his Afro-fusion orchestra switch seamlessly between funk to highlife, before returning to the earlier funky sound on this genre-melting track.
Straight away, Paa Kow and his Afro-fusion orchestra lock down the groove on Cookpot. It’s is a genre-melting jam where the unmistakable sound of steel pans play a part in the sound and success of the track. It finds Paa Kow and his Afro-fusion orchestra combining funk, jazz, Highlife and jazz funk.
Lonely is a powerful and emotive marriage of Highlife and jazz, while Details features a virtuoso performance from Paa Kow during this breathtaking solo performance. I Made A Mistake finds Paa Kow and his Afro-fusion orchestra playing this complex piece with speed and fluidity. It bursts into life with stabs of urgent horns joining Pa Kow’s drums, a Fender Rhodes and a guitar that is played with speed and precision. Meanwhile, Paa Caw and his orchestra fuse elements of jazz, funk, Highlife and even it seems, drum ’n’ bass, before the track reaches a memorable crescendo. It’s followed by African Lady a joyous, celebratory track.
Jeff Jenkins’ swirling Hammond organ opens the smoky, jazz-funk jam How Sweet. Later, Paa Kow delivers a heartfelt vocal before Dave Corbus’ derivers a masterclass on guitar. This triumvirate play their part in the sound and success of How Sweet, which is on of Cookpot’s highlights. The tempo drops on Sacrifice, a genre-melting track which floats dreamily along. Paa Kow’s drums play a leading role, and combine with braying horns and chiming guitar. Later, just before the song reaches a crescendo, he sings: “Sacrifice for your brother.”
Go With It the races along with the Paa Kow’s drums matching the piano every step of the way. When horns are added still the drums and piano race along playing with speed, precision and fluidity. The spiritual sound of Praise The Lord closes Cookpot. Against a traditional Highlife backdrop, Paa Kow asks for forgiveness and gives thanks for everything he’s got. This includes the musical talent he’s put to good use on Cookpot.
Three years after the release of his sophomore album Ask, Paa Kow returns with his third album Cookpot, which is a career-defining album from the Colorado-based drummer. Backed by his Afro-fusion orchestra, he reaches new heights on the thirteen genre-melting tracks on Cookpot.
This includes highlife, funk, jazz, jazz-funk and even a hint of drum ’n’ bass on I Made A Mistake. It’s a complex piece of music which is played with speed, fluidity and precision by Paa Kow and his Afro-fusion orchestra. That is the case on several tracks on Cookpot, where Paa Kow and his tight, talented and versatile band can seamlessly switch between and combine musical genres. Whether it’s on the slow or uptempo tracks, they provide the perfect backdrop to Paa Kow whose a drummer’s drummer.
Just like the rest of his Afro-fusion orchestra, Paa Kow can seamlessly flit between musical styles, and is equally comfortable playing Highlife or jazz-funk. He’s equally at home playing complex and intricate pieces of music, as he is with a steady 4/4 beat. Paa Kow is also a talented composer and bandleader, who brings out the best in musicians on Cookpot, which is by far, the best album of his career. Cookpot features a series of musical masterclasses from Paa Kow and Afro-fusion orchestra, who reach new heights on Cookpot, which is a genre-hopping album from the drummer’s drummer.