Paa Kow
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Paa Kow

Denver, Colorado, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2014

Denver, Colorado, United States
Established on Jan, 2014
Band World Fusion




"Meet Ghana's Most Artistic Drummer Paa Kow, Making Waves In The USA"

The passion, energy and enthusiasm with which he carries his drum sticks and the pride with which he plays the drums makes him one of the most watched and loved show time drummers.

That is simply the amazing story of Paa Kow, a multi-talented Ghanaian musician currently based in the USA.

ModernGhana Entertainment caught up with him in Accra since he is currently in Ghana with his Manager, Peyton Shuffield, promoting his latest Albums already being played JoyFM and other leading radio stations in Ghana.

He would also be playing for some musicians who have lined up a couple of shows this festive season.

Having played for various top bands and musicians like Kojo Antwi, Tagoe Sisters, Amandzeba, George Darko and Amakye Dede, Paa Kow indeed by all standards shows finesse and a specialty anytime he gets close to the drums.

Paa Kow has an actual drum set to practice with these days. He used to gather and play on old cans at Enyan Denkyira, his hometown and where he grew up, when he realised his interest in drumming at a very early age. He says his mother is still keeping some of the old cans he used to practice with.

He has toured Switzerland, Holland, England, Italy and France with those musicians but the last time an invitation came to travel abroad, it was from the University of Colorado in the United States. He spent ten weeks there working with the university's highlife ensemble and a quintet called By All Means.

The University of Colorado has been inviting accomplished Ghanaian musicians to collaborate with its highlife ensemble since 2000. Previous invited artistes include Agya Koo Nimo, Okyerema Asante, Kakraba Lobi and Mac Tontoh. At 23, Paa Kow is the youngest guest to have taken part in the programme.

Hiplife is definitely not part of what Paa Kow and his friends are planning to record. The drummer finds that style of music monotonous and boring but stated that Ghanaian musicians needed to do more original LIVE BAND at the studios.

"When it comes to Ghana musicians and the style of music they do now which is hiplife, there are too many fusions of beats in the studios which does not show originality and creativity which brings out the hi life in us. Take a look at Osibisa who made it big all over the world, they were doing LIVE BAND and that is why I would advise my fellow Ghanaian musicians to encourage more LIVE BAND recordings even in the studios," Paa Kow emphasized.

According to Paa Kow, if the trend does not change, Ghanaian musicians will only come and perform for only African communities abroad and miss opportunities to perform at high level American and European platforms.

He was emphatic that he does not have a single hiplife song on his ipod and MP3 but has Jewel Ackah, AB Crentsil, other highlife artistes, seasoned jazz drummers as well as popular rhythms from DR Congo, Cameroun and other parts of Africa.

Paa Kow has so far featured on recordings for Yaw Sarpong and a Nigerian musician called Dede. He will soon go into the studio with Amandzeba whom he claims to love playing with because he gets the chance to display his grasp of African grooves when backing him.

Read more at: - Modern Ghana

"Q&A with Paa Kow: Ghana-born, Colorado-based"

In the age where making it big in America is because of who you know, not what you know, it can be difficult to carve out a musical niche for oneself. Paa Kow (pronounced Pah-Koh) is known as a world-renowned percussionist, bandleader, composer and teacher. He didn’t attend Julliard, NYU, or any prestigious fine arts university. He wasn’t born to a music executive or ever rubbing shoulders with any record-producing elite when he was young.

In fact, in the small village Enyan Denkyira near Cape Coast in Ghana, where Paa Kow was raised, he did not even possess access to electricity. Still, the spark of musical talent and willpower inside of him radiated through with such ferocity that is wasn’t long before he was playing alongside some of Africa’s and America’s finest musicians. No one simply handed Paa Kow his dream, he worked tirelessly to earn it.

Paa Kow and his By All Means Band have now put their roots in the Denver scene and have been playing in the Colorado area frequently since the initial release of their first album Hand Go Hand Come in 2012. With lyrics that are a mix of Paa Kow’s native language, Fante, as well as English, and insanely groovy Afro-fusion beats, Paa Kow’s music truly bridges the space between Ghana and America.

This Saturday, May 17th at the Soiled Dove Underground, Paa Kow will be hosting a CD release party where fans can get advance copies of Paa Kow‘s forthcoming album, Ask, coming out August 19th. The event features a set by Paa Kow and the By All Means Band with support from the Greg Harris Vibe Quintet featuring Venus Cruz. Door open at 8 p.m.

303’s Music Desk had the chance to call up Paa Kow and learn more about the man behind the drum set.

303: So to start off, you came to Colorado initially by way of your relationship with Peyton Sheffield. What about this area made you want to stay, base yourself and cultivate your music here in Colorado particularly?

Paa Kow: I came to CU Boulder in 2007 to teach and be a part of that community through my friendship with Peyton. When I arrived it really felt like there was a lot of musicians to meet and opportunity here to work with. I like the people, the city, everyone around.

303: Colorado to Ghana is quite the distance. Are you still able to travel back to Ghana and involve yourself in the community there frequently?

Paa Kow: I just returned from Ghana last weekend. I play with many musicians in Africa and travel there a lot and have played with a lot of people there. I often go back to my community I grew up in.

I’m thinking about making something like a school there to teach at in the future. There is not anything like music schools there, and growing up I did not have anything like that. I was lucky because my mom and uncle were in a band and that is how I got started, but many others are not as lucky, so in the future, when things get a little bit bigger, I want to go in and bring a music school to the children so that they can learn.

303: Your music is described as Afro-fusion. On the ‘fusion’ side of things, what other kind of genres have you focused on incorporating or influencing into your sound?

Paa Kow: I think people know our music style in Ghana called ‘highlife‘ and that is a big part of my sound. But I try to make it sound like something richer. Just like creating my own vision, my own sound, and what that looks like. Because the sound can look like somebody. It can look like anybody I want it to look like. That helps me create, because all music sounds different and I make it sound like its own person. I think my sound has everything – jazz influence, blues influence, Latin, but it is fusion with my own creation of what I want the music to look like.

303: How have you and your ensemble worked to develop and collaborate on the what becomes the final musical product?

Paa Kow: That is a good question, because I knew I had to form a band before I even left Ghana. I tell myself that everywhere I want to be I want to provide music, even if it is alone. Wherever I am I have to survive with my talent. I didn’t get to learn music like a lot of people, so everywhere I am I want to provide music.

I have a relationship with being good friends with my musicians. We are all friends and work together to create good sounds. I have played with a lot of different projects and musicians in Ghana and in America. And you have to know that musicians, they come and go every time. So you have to be there yourself and make sure everything flows and make sure the music plays. Sometimes I play many of the instruments and work hard to put music together, so reflecting that with other musicians is very important. They know what I need and have patience to learn it, and we can come out with something beautiful. It is important to be able to work together well, otherwise the music will suffer.

It is good to have a band that anytime is different. People have different goals cannot always stay around, as much as I want my musicians to stay, people also need to do what they do to be happy. If they have the talent and are around we can make it. Musicians come and go all the time but you need to be a leader to keep your dreams calling.

303: Many of you songs I’ve listened to you talk a lot about friendship, loving one another, and acceptance. Why do you think these themes manifest so frequently in your songs?

Paa Kow: So the same thing as before, loving one another is great and a good thing. It doesn’t have to be your sister or your own brother. The person doesn’t have to be related to you before you can treat them good. You never know what you get with people, the same way I met Peyton. It is just the way to treat human beings and how you want to set up your relationships, because you never know who can help you. You may have to rely on another human being to make it happen.

You can be alone and do your own performance but I still feel like it is bigger than that, if you can be the man to help put things together and help everyone connect. Being a musician you have to treat everyone as your own brothers and they will treat you as their own brother, and can share the music you want to do. It is everything, not just music, but everything that we live in this life.

I think being respectful is as important as talent because without respect the talent will get you nowhere. If you have the talent and not the respect, musicians will not want to play with you and everyone will say “Oh yes, he is good but I can not work with him”. And you go nowhere. You have to have respect to get around in business and in being a good person. If you don’t, you won’t go forward.

303: Tell me a little bit more about your new album Ask, and what its message is all about.

Paa Kow: The reason why Ask is the name of the album is because I was writing a song and the idea came in my head: always stuff comes to you. When you have it, stuff comes to you in a way you don’t even expect. You accept it and make it what is it supposed to be. In Ghana and in Africa and everywhere, there is a lot of problems and that was inspiration for some of the album.

But help doesn’t have to be just somebody that is a part the government. We can all support to make things better in this country. We can have faith to ask our artists and our people how we can solve the problems. All it takes is the ability to ask our friends for the help we need. So that is what the name came from. When you can, ask them, so that people don’t have to suffer. We can all ask for help.

303: How indicative is the already-released single, Black and White, of the sound of the rest of the album?

Paa Kow: I try to have everything, so every song has its own message and they are all very different. Each song on the album is it’s own thing. They each have their own stage but make one album. If I’m singing the message its different, if I play the drums, the message is different, but it has the same idea because it is me trying to bring my home music out to the world.

I believe that music doesn’t have to be one thing. You don’t have to know anything about African music to enjoy it, and that is because all the music is related. Classical, jazz, Latin, African, everything is related.

303: So you have a party coming up Saturday at the Soiled Dove for your new album, what can the attendees expect?

Paa Kow: I think my friends always know that anytime they see me playing it is going to be fun and we will share the energy together. They know what they are going to get from the night because they are going to hear something that is unique and different and fun. I give it to them and they give it to me. I want people to expect that is going to be a great night of music. - 303 Magazine

"Paa Kow "Ask""

Paa Kow



4 out of 5 stars

Percussionist Paa Kow (pronounced Pah-Ko) has taken the world music of his native Ghana, and tossed it into a basket with heaps of American influences to create an album that the great purveyors of world music — the Paul Simon’s and the Béla Fleck’s of the world —would envy.

In addition to being on the drum kit, Paa Kow, who calls Boulder home, plays a legion of percussive instruments backed by massive amounts of horns on these upbeat tracks which drip with history and culture.

Much the way Ry Cooder presented the Cuban music of the Buena Vista Social Club in an approachable, exciting, and ultimately danceable recording, so too has Paa Kow taken his West African roots and found a way to directly inject it into American consciousness, without having to dumb down his compositions. It’s a difficult feat, done well. - Marquee Magazine

"Paa Kow presents Modern Afro-Fusion from Ghana"

Take the beat of Ghana’s traditional sound, add some American flavor, and mix it with Paa Kow’s stellar drumming chops. That is the musical recipe for a flavoursome sound, a “new” sound as Paa Kow (pronounced Pah – Ko) describes it. Whatever you call it, Paa Kow’s blend of traditional West African styles with American and Caribbean music surely is a highly danceable sound driven by intricate rhythms. After all, the man is known as a world-renowned percussionist, bandleader, composer and teacher born and raised in Ghana.

Due to its cosmopolitan geographic position on the African continent Ghana has always been a melting pot of many styles of traditional and modern music. The best known modern genre is Highlife until the introduction of Hiplife in the late 1990s. The originator of this style is Reggie Rockstone, a Ghanaian musician who dabbled with hip-hop in the United States before finding his unique style. Hiplife basically was hiphop in the Ghanaian local dialect backed by elements of the traditional High-life.

While living in Accra, Paa Kow had a chance meeting with a traveling student from CU Boulder (CO, USA) named Peyton Shuffield. He was looking for a highlife drummer to study with and, after talking with various Accra musicians, all roads led to Ghana’s best and youngest talent. The friendship was instantaneous and Paa Kow was invited to the University of Colorado as a guest artist and teacher.

His musical and cultural exchange with musicians in the U.S. gave rise to his Afro-Fusion sound. With his group, Paa Kow put together materials for his debut album “Hand Go Hand Come.” The material was an early masterpiece of rhythmic precision, talented lyricism, and original fusion of West African Pop with Jazz impressions.

Paa Kow is currently touring across America and will release his second studio album ´Ask’ in August of 2014. - Soul Safari

"Talking Drums"

"It's true," admits Ghanaian drummer Paa Kow (pronounced like Paco, with a stop in the middle) about playing with musicians from the U.S. "Somebody from home would actually understand what I'm doing more because we are speaking the same language. But music is huge enough for everybody. You get a band and make sure the sound is what is needed. You find better musicians who can feel it, and you get what you want, which is what I'm doing right now."

Paa Kow will play at the Hi-Tone on Tuesday, August 19th. Opening act, Mister Adams, is led by Memphian Adam Holton, who is one of Paa Kow's former sidemen and students. Holton studied at the University of Colorado Boulder, which is home to the West-African Highlife Ensemble. Holton met percussionist-producer Peyton Shuffield in that program, based on highlife, the national sound of Ghana.

"The professor who led that group would take a group [to Ghana]," Holton says. "On Peyton's trip there, Paa Kow happened to be in town. Peyton was like, 'We've got to get this guy to the U.S. People would freak out if they saw him playing drums.'"

Paa Kow came to Boulder and later returned to Ghana with Holton, Shuffield, and others in tow.

"We got to play with a lot of Paa Kow's old buddies in Accra, the capital," Holton says. "A lot of the elder statesmen of highlife, like George Darko. It was eye-opening to go to his home country and see how he was treated there. Just from knowing him over here, you had no idea that at any music spot in Ghana, they all know him and are looking up to him. He's an idol to all the young musicians. They were carrying his drum bags for him. He's treated like royalty over there."

Highlife is a 20th-century hybrid of traditional music of the Akan people from the Gold Coast of Africa and popular music influences from colonial sources. It was music for the elites, hence the name and Paa Kow's stature in his native Ghana. Paa Kow's playing reflects an African approach to drumming that is as much tonal as it is rhythmic. The clave beat that underlies most of what we consider Latin music came to this hemisphere through Ghana and Cuba. Rather than the tick-tock/on-off of western drummers, Paa Kow develops polyphonic, tonal rhythms that bubble like lively conversation. Each drum seems to have 10 voices.

"I think it's part of the tradition in Ghana and growing up in that village," Paa Kow says. "I started making my own drums from cans. Making something and playing and make sound out of it, it helps. That's what everyone does. You can see them making their drums, putting a calf-skin on it. But the sound that would come out of that drum, you won't believe. It was just the tradition. That helps me make sound out of any drum. You can see a drum that is busted. You get a head on top. It all is going to come from you. You can buy the most expensive drum you could ever buy or drums that are just old. But the way you make the drums to sound, that's what's important. That's what it is. And if you can make sound out of even a can, you can make sound to make a better rhythm out of it. That's what I've been believing since I've been growing up."

Paa Kow's parents were well-respected musicians in Ghana during his childhood. He's been a serious musician since he was a child.

"I think percussion is the same as a drum kit," he says. "The reason why I say that is you've got to pick up the percussion and make sound out of it. Making sure that the sound that's making out of it is ready. Playing a cowbell in a band, if it's a clave, I have to keep it. I see the same attitude on the drums. I think that being a percussion player helps you play a drum kit or any instrument. Keyboards, bass, everything; it's all based on the percussion. So I saw that and I was like, Wow, I want to do more. I'm playing a cowbell or only two congas. I want to play the pedals, put my foot on the high-hat stand and make a lot of sounds. I decided from that time, I would play the drum kit, at the age of seven."

Asked if there are any recordings of his parents, he says, "I wish. Back in those days, it's hard to get recordings of stuff. My uncle has an album. He did it with some producer. The guy brought the instruments in from Germany. He was playing shows and everything. But I didn't think of that at that time. I need to check. I bet it's great stuff. My mom was part of the band. She was a singer. But I didn't do any recording with them. I was too young."

After making a name for himself in his homeland, Paa Kow set his sights on the U.S. Meeting Shuffield turned out to be the opportunity that worked for both of them. Shuffield produced Paa Kow's latest album, Ask.

"Peyton came to Ghana in 2006," Paa Kow says. "He came with the students from Boulder, Colorado, and was looking for someone to study with. He asked everyone to come and meet with him. So he gave me a call and he came over. He actually saw what I have. That's the reason why we met in Ghana. I was touring around. I was like 22 and already playing with some big bands in Ghana. That same month, I was supposed to come to the U.S. It didn't happen."

Shuffield arranged a guest position at the Highlife Ensemble and Paa Kow came to the U.S. in 2007. He appreciates all the musicians who have worked with him here as much as they appreciate him.

"In Ghana, we have a traditional music, and we have some called highlife," Paa Kow says. "There is deep traditional music. Coming here changed my vision of it. I'm kind of doing my own thing, which is one sound from home — I still get all the tradition stuff. And being in the States, the musicians I play with are all educated musicians from the music school. It's good with the fusion and the jazz and stuff. But I don't think I'm doing a pure highlife. I have my own vision going on with my music right now. But those are influences, the jazz, blues. I call it Afro-fusion." - Memphis Flyer

"Di Asem Pa by Paa Kow – new afro-beats single from Ghana bandleader and drummer"

Fela Kuti has been very much in the news of late with the soon to be released documentary about his life and the upcoming re-release of six of his best albums on vinyl (see our article about these here.) As fans of Afrobeat in general we’re always on the look out for new artists carrying on the work of the great man and to that end we’d like to introduce you today to new bandleader and drummer Paa Kow by premiering a track off his new album, due out next week.

Before we go any further let us point out the obvious - Paa Kow knows how to drum. As everyone who knows anything about African music knows, the drumming, more so than most other forms of music, forms the backbone and beating heart of it. It’s this that makes the music such a captivating and bewitching listen - and that’ll make you want to dance along to the infectious rhythms. Not that the brass and guitar work on show here aren’t great too – they are, and this is definitely more than a “sum of it’s parts” package.

Paa Kow’s music isn’t all about Africa though, he manages to blend those tradition African beats with American and Caribbean music to0, not to mention jazz of course. This is proper fusion music, as you’ll find out when you click play on the track below.

About Paa Kow:

“Having toured internationally, sharing stages with both African and American luminaries including Kojo Antwi, Hugh Masekela and Victor Wooten, Ghana-born drummer / bandleader Paa Kow (pronounced Pah – Ko) came to America in 2007 when he was invited to be a guest professor / performer at the University of Colorado. Inspired by his musical and cultural exchange with artists in the U.S., Paa Kow and his orchestra fuse traditional rhythms, time signatures, and the Fante language from Ghana with funk and jazz to create an Afro-Fusion sound set apart by its “flexibility and finesse” (Modern Ghana).”

The album’s titled Ask and is due out on the 19th August.

- See more at: - Louder than War

"8 Questions with Paa Kow"

There are countless reasons to be awed by the musical phenomenon of Paa Kow. His seamless meld of American funk with African percussive expression. His tight, in-the-pocket drum set style. His fairy tale rise from banging on scrap metal as a boy in Ghana to touring America’s biggest musical cities. Following the acclaimed 2012 debut album, “Hand Go, Hand Come,” Paa Kow is releasing his sophomore project, entitled “Ask,” on August 19th. The rising star of Afro-Fusion took time from tour preparation to chat with Yellow Scene about genre-blending, his evolving style and playing “happy music.”

You just had the pre-release party for “Ask”—how was it received?

Paa Kow: It was a good CD release party. The place was very classy. People showed up, they brought the love, and it was great—it was great. The room had good energy.

And now you’re going on tour. How is it to travel with such a large band?

Paa Kow: I tour with eight musicians. I have a tuba too, so nine musicians sometimes. When I play with more people, it’s because they were on the album. But that is my dream, if I can play for all of them, you know? But going on tour I take less.

How did this album turn out? And how is it different from your first, “Hand Go, Hand Come”?

Paa Kow: It came out good. We musicians, most of the time we’re not satisfied. We always criticize ourselves: ‘Oh man, I wish this could be like that. I wish this could be like that.’ Then there comes a point where you’re like, ‘Let me just let it be.’ For me, my first album was great. ‘Hand Go, Hand Come’ was a great album but then I learned more about it, how to make it more interesting. I think the new album, sound-wise, what I want to hear, it’s better. I think the musicians I chose to record with are great.

Has your music adapted or changed at all since you’ve come to the United States?

Paa Kow: My music career has gone up because I’ve been here. It has become easier for me to understand jazz and fall in quickly to fusing with my traditional rhythm from Ghana. So I kind of have the same ideas, but you can still hear the jazz influence.

Do you ever return to Ghana to play?

Paa Kow: I just came from Ghana last week. I got a call from a guy that lives there, I used to play with him, one of the top musicians there—he called me for a session. So I went, and back home it seems like they are all proud of me, they see me doing good, playing good shows. My name back home it became larger, it became big. They are like, ‘Man I want you to bring your band!’ But usually I go to play sessions. If I get a sponsorship or something like that, I can get it together to bring the band to Ghana and perform at the national theater. My goals, my vision? I want the band to go all over the world. I feel like the stuff I have is unique enough to get to every stage, whether jazz festival or, well, really any festival. Africa, Europe, Canada, everywhere. Play and share the music, you know?

I know that you used to be a guest teacher and artist at CU Boulder. Do you still teach?

Paa Kow: That’s what brought me here the first time, to perform with the school. But now, I feel like I spend my whole time with the music on the tour. I do teach sometimes, some private teachings, and I have a studio in my house.

When people hear your music for the first time, what do you hope they feel?

Paa Kow: When people come to see me, I want them to remember. I want people to be healed by my music. I want them to be healed out of the music I’m playing. It’s happy music. I always get good feedback, they’ll say, ‘Wow man, I didn’t expect to see something like that tonight.’

Looking forward, what’s on tap?

Paa Kow: For this album I used a producer. But I’m trying to do it on my own, if I could. It’s going to come. - yellowscene Magazine

"Paa Kow "Ask""

Something different is often so refreshing, it is hard to put into words. Such was my reaction at hearing Paa Kow’s new record Ask. Simply put, this guys can drum. Like no one I’ve ever heard. Add on top of it an eclectic mix of West-African music (Paa Kow is a native of Ghana) and island flavor and the album is nearly impossible not to like, no matter your musical preference.

Danceable and ambient, the album maintains a steady upbeat manor throughout. Hints of jazz and reggae are tossed in by way of well-placed horn lines. The record is a solid listen from start to finish, even without understanding a word he says. - Colorado Music Buzz

"A Conversation with Paa Kow, Afro-Fusion Drum Maestro"

Drummer Paa Kow (pronounced Pah-Ko) grew up in a musical family in a small town near the coast of Ghana. His artistic energy and creativity was clear from a very young age, when he joined his family’s traveling concert band playing drums. From there, his journey brought him to play for the biggest pop musicians in Accra and, in a twist of fate, onwards to Colorado, where he lives now, playing with his excellent band and helping instruct the Highlife Ensemble at University of Colorado . He plays a deeply unique, technically demanding style of what he calls Afro-fusion, incorporating Ghanaian highlife with the international sounds of jazz and funk. Paa Kow’s drum chops are outstanding, laying down rock-solid, ornate beats, and occasionally bringing out a five-minute drum solo that you wish was twice as long. His innovation and passion puts him in a realm of his own, where people ranging from American jazz bassist Victor Wooten, jam band mandolin player Michael Kang, and Ghanaian highlife stars Amakye Dede and George Darko are calling for his talent. Be sure to keep up with PK’s show schedule: While his studio music is undoubtedly excellent, his live performance is really a remarkable thing. Staff writer Sebastian Bouknight caught up with Paa Kow on Sept. 21 amid the bustle of midtown Manhattan for a long conversation: Sebastian Bouknight: Can you introduce yourself? Paa Kow: My name is Paa Kow. Usually they ask me, what’s your middle name, what’s your last name, but I started like that. Paa Kow means Thursday-born in my tradition. In Ghana, they name you after the day you're born. So that’s where I get the name Paa Kow. Everybody in the whole world knows me as Paa Kow. I’m from Ghana originally, you know. I grew up in a village called Enyan Denkyira, and at the age of maybe 14, I moved to Accra, I start playing with all them big guys in Accra. Yeah, so tell me a bit more about your beginnings. How did you start playing music, how did you end up in Accra, playing with them? It’s interesting. I start playing music the age of 5, that’s what I think. Or maybe I started even before then but I don't know! My mom is a musician; she played with some bands in the hometown. My uncle got a chance to get equipment from a guy who lives in Germany, so he started a band. It’s a concert band. They've been playing around and I get inspired from them, from my mom and uncle. And I start making my own drums out of cans and stuff, anything that it can sound good for me to bang on it. I start making my own band in my mom's house. Everybody went, Hey hey hey! because I bring friends and make a mess cause I have to set up and do my concert and all that. My uncle's concert band started really playing when I was grown up, the age of like 6, 7, I fall in love with it…so I said, Man, I love this. And I started playing percussion, which is you know, making my own drums. I didn't have much strength to play with them… Because you were too young? I was too young! I could not even kick the bass drum, I was too young. But they were like, Hey, Paa Kow can play! So, there's a gig, they were playing a gig in my hometown and I say I feel like I want to play congas, so they put me on the chair at the congas because I could not reach, and I started playing, and everybody's happy, like he can play good, and put money on my forehead. And I was like, Wow man! This is good! Playing music, people can give you money and all that excitement. I want to do it! So, I start playing congas. They know that I can play congas, but then, one day they were rehearsing and I went there after school and I said, I can play. So they gave me a tune to play and I played drums. That was what made me a professional drummer. Now, it become like something like, oh, the band leader's nephew, he can play drums and he's really young and we want the fans to go crazy. So it kept going and going and I start playing a lot of songs by the age of 10. Soon the drummer was gone, so I take over. We went on tour [for] like three months, just me playing drums. [In] a concert band, man, you play for long time. Like we played from 8 o'clock to 11 o'clock singing highlife music, and after they start a concert. So after I have to play the staging drums. They're doing a concert, they have to act. During the act they have a comedian come. Overtime they raise their hand, you have to put a hit there–BAM. Ah, so it's like a full-spectrum kind of performance, like a musical variety show almost? Yeah, it’s serious! And I think that makes me who I am, it makes me a good drummer, because when the comedian raise their hand, he wants you to hit with him, and that stuff makes me be a smart drummer. Because you have to pay attention. Yeah, pay attention, bam bam, like that. So that’s what makes me a better drummer. I don't call myself [the best] drummer because I think there's a lot a lot to learn, being a musician. Like education, you never have an end. But it makes me who I am now, that at least I can stand in front of thousands of people and perform for them and for them to know that I have something good in me. That’s where I started. When time goes on, I realize, to play drums in Ghana…now I have to play in a dance band. So the concert band--is that highlife? It's highlife and they do staging, acting. And a dance band? All highlife, no staging. And the concert band they go from village to village to village. They show up in the village, they turn on the generator and that’s all the lights in the town, and everybody gets excited. It was good man! Like you play every night, except when the van broke down. And we have to get stuck somewhere in the village for two weeks. My uncle has to travel from there to Accra to get a part, has to drive there, and we get stuck for two weeks. But that’s what makes me who I am. I feel like I can go everywhere. I can tour all over the world, everywhere, even if you get there and there’s no place to stay, I made it happen. You're adaptable. Yes, yes, you know. So, it makes me strong. Everybody started hitting up me: Oh, Paa Kow, Paa Kow, youngest drummer in Ghana. And then I leave my uncle's band, and I go play with [another concert band] for a few months. And I was in school that time, so like, [during] school vacation I do it, but it got to a point when I was like, Oh, music is taking away from the school. But I love the music! I finish middle school…and I say man, I love music and I want to follow my dream. I could spend all the energy for school and not be here right now. I love the music I want to do it. So then I left that band and everyone wants to play with me! There's a guy in Accra, his name is Abrantie Amakye Dede, he's one of the biggest highlife artists in Accra. And he, Amakye Dede, took me from my family--the way he took me was great, 'cause…I heard that he traveled to the U.K. and some of his musicians didn't return back to Ghana so I was like, Oh, I wish I get that chance to go play with him! So somebody took me [to Dede] and said, This small boy, he can play. At first he didn't believe it, and said go home and come back. Friday night they were performing in this club, and I show up and I was saying, Hey I’m the one, I can play. And he was like, really? You have skinny legs! You couldn't play! [Laughs] He was shocked…I know the reason why he was shocked, 'cause I was young and skinny. So he was like, What songs of mine can you play? You know my tunes? And I was like, Yeah, I can play this, I can play this. The show start, and they say, This boy, he can play, and the whole room went "Wow!" And from there, it changes my life. I become a really big musician, professional musician in Accra, touring with all those famous musicians. And I play with [Dede] from like, 14, 15 to like, 18. Then I left and everybody wants to play with me. So I went to play with Megastar Band, Western Diamond Band… you know, doing my thing, living the dream with the music. It’s not easy to just go get a chance to travel abroad, being even a band manager or somebody, but being a musician was good, and they see my talent and they all travel with me, everywhere. So when you were young, at that time, you were thinking about going to the U.S. or the U.K., to live there or just to visit? Sometimes you know, you look up in the sky and see an airplane and wonder where it is going. I didn't think about moving here, but I see an airplane and say, Where is this plane going? I wish I could be able to know where the airplane is going. So like a little kid in my hometown, we see the airplane in the sky with the lights—that’s part of the dream. But I moved to Accra, I was set enough that I’m a successful musician because everybody wants to play with me, they tour with me, give me the foreign money, it’s worth it, you know. I play with some of the churches too. But some of my dreams, I dream that I am somewhere and I see foreigners, you know. I mean I dream about it, but I didn't know that’s what it would be like. So how did you end up in Colorado? So I end up in Colorado—my manager Peyton, he was visiting Ghana as a student with a professor who lived in Denver, his name's Kwasi Ampene. He brought students from C.U. [University of Colorado] to Ghana because he had a program he called Highlife Ensemble, [where] they teach drumming and dancing and highlife music…He actually saw me playing with one of the biggest musician in Ghana at the national theater—Kojo Antwi—a reggae artist, pop star…and thought oh, this guy's good! So he brought the students in Ghana, and Peyton said, "Oh I’m looking for the best drummer in Ghana," and everybody say, "Oh, Paa Kow, Paa Kow." And he got my number and he called me…so we met up somewhere, and he said, "Wow, man, the talent you have! You need to come to America. I think America will appreciate you a lot, because I’m a drummer myself, and the things you do—man, its crazy." So he brought you to C.U.? Yeah, so he studied with me and all that and…so they talked to me with a professor and he said, "Hey, Paa Kow's great, I would love him to come to C.U. and teach and teach you more." So they invited me to be a part of [their annual concert] and teach, so I was a guest artist in 2007. They brought my here and I started a band—my dream band. I found a couple of guys in the C.U. music school and, man, they can play. But the time comes and I have to go back to Ghana. They were all sad; Man, Paa Kow had to go back to Ghana…because they love what I brought. Let’s bring Paa Kow back! So the bass player wrote me a letter to come back here to keep doing what I’m doing…so I keep going back and forth, back and forth, and I decided to stay, in Memphis, where Peyton was a percussion player. We had a [band with a] bass player and trumpet player in Memphis, but it didn't work out. I want to have my highlife fusion, and I feel like I didn’t get what I need to do my band, because its just bass, conga drums, trumpets… So you wanted a bigger band? I wanted a bigger band. I was like, man, this is not working. They know that it was hard for them, because they know that I’m looking for something I don't get. So we're like O.K., lets break up. You go do your thing. Peyton drove me to Colorado, I start my band there, I get out, find musician from the school, people that know their instruments, and start showing them the language that I want to speak. It’s been a journey, but that’s the way I end up in Colorado. That’s a long, long journey, man. Yeah, I have to be here for a couple more years before I become a citizen. And you know, I’ve been here a long time, not seeing my family, my mom. But you know, I been doing that in Ghana, I’ve been touring for months, so she's used to that, you know? So she has the patience for me… So the band was going well, musicians come and go, the people I start with, they are not the same. I’m also a bass player myself…That's the way I write my music. So when you write music, you’re thinking in drums and bass? Yeah…so when I’m writing music, I get my bass part first, and I write a conga part that will make sense with the bass part, to have a good conversation. But me, being a drum set player, I know what I’m going to play when I write the bass part. So I get a strong foundation—congas, good percussion, good bass part and drum set, and then I start putting all the melodies on top of it. Usually I get the bass part [first], so I write the melody part [while] doing the bass. So the melody comes out of the bass. Yeah, I mean I don't share that with people, but I feel like every musician—drum player, percussion player—you have to know how to play electric bass, keys, etc. So I play every instrument, man, I play keys, bass, all that. Some of your music is sung in English and some of it is in Fante and sounds very like highlife style. What decides what the sound and language of the vocals are? My goal is [that] I want to have everybody's taste. That’s why my new album is going to be called Cookpot, you know? 'Cause I have like, all the ingredients—you need tomatoes, peppers, onions to fuse together so when you actually give it to somebody to taste it, they find something, you know? So that’s the way I thought about my music. And I don't want…get stuck with the highlife music. It’s going to be boring! ‘Cause highlife music its all singing, and guitar, you know? Which is cool! But, if you’re singing about something people don't understand, it’s hard for them to listen to. Which is O.K., because…you actually don't have to understand to hear what is going on. But, I want to be heard all over the world. So if I find a way to speak English, then I can at least write lyrics that can be heard. So it’s kind of about accessibility? Yeah, and I want to create my own thing that’s not based on highlife, its not based on jazz, its not based on Latin music or blues, but I want to create my own thing…They say Michael Jackson is the king of pop--I want to be the king of my creation. What do you call your creation? I call it Afro-fusion. It means pop, jazz, or whatever, blues, or whatever. Cool. What are the ingredients of your cookpot? What influences do you bring into your music? I feel like the new Cookpot, its totally different album from [my two other albums]…but always want to just create, because when I’m growing, the music… it takes life! You get smarter when you're growing. So I feel like with Cookpot—I feel like I get to a point that the idea is more jazzy, I get my influence from Ghana, the traditional stuff, and I have fusion. I still have some singing, and some instrumental. This is all from the new album? Yeah, I started already, and then [went on] the tour, and I have to go back and do all of my checks and all that. So who are you listening to right now? Who did you listen to today? It's hard to go for a day and not listen to music, but sometime you need it to just think of yourself, if you have like a show coming up and things like that. I like to listen to Jaco Pastorius. He's a really, really good musician. I know he started playing drums before bass, ‘cause when I listen to his groove, it touches my heart, because I can tell he is a drum set player…The bass part he wrote matches the drum part. When I listen to his music, I’m like, Oh that’s me! I listen to Weather Report a lot. Joe Zawinul, all those guys who put that Weather Report music together. Amazing man. They get me inspired. And I like Buddy Rich—Buddy Rich is a great drummer–great energy! The way he hits the drum…That’s what I do, you got to know how to hit. You're not going to hit it hard [enough] to break the head, but you just bounce so people can see that you're playing with your heart. Today, I listened to Jaco. Peyton was saying that you also like Richard Bona. I like Richard Bona. Richard Bona is a good player… we both kind of have different backgrounds, but I like him ‘cause he's a bass player and I like the way he plays. Richard Bona is a really, really good player. It’s cool that you're playing at his club [Club Bonafide]. Yeah, I wish he could be around to just figure out what I’m doing. But I mean, he's from Cameroon and I’m from Ghana. Its all West Africa, but its different backgrounds, our music is totally different from Cameroon. But I like him because he was smart enough to not get stuck with the traditional stuff. I mean he's still playing the traditional stuff but also being part of the jazz scene, he can play with all those guys, Joe Zawinul… How about George Benson? Man, I love George Benson! I love George Benson. Even from Ghana, back, I love George Benson. Chick Corea too! What did you listen to growing up, as a kid? Highlife music, all those guys, you know…I grow up listening to Dave Walker, one of the best drummers in the states, a white guy. Dave Walker inspired me. Earth Wind and Fire, back in Ghana. And when it comes to jazz, George Benson, Chick Corea…I grow up listening to those guys. Before I come to America, I hear these guys, Charlie Parker, Buddy Rich, Steve Smith, all those guys. Did you get into to any of the more Afrobeat side of highlife, like Ebo Taylor or Gyedu Blay Ambolley? Yeah!! Ambolley! I grew up with his music. Ebo Taylor is a little old, he's old. I’m 33 now, I was born in '83, so I was growing up with like Nat Brew, Ambolley, Pat Thomas, George Darko, all those musicians. And I ended up playing with them! So, I grow up with those musicians. But, I still hear all the highlife music, I didn’t know who is Ebo Taylor, but now…I can [hear him and] figure it out, like, Oh that was Ebo Taylor! But I grow up with all those guys. I was watching one of your videos, “Realize,” I think, that sounded very much like Afrobeat. Yeah, like Fela Kuti? Yeah, like Fela. Yeah, “Realize.” Everybody knows that song. I play a gig, and people are like “Realize,” “Realize,” you know? But I find a way that it sounds like Afrobeat, but when you listen to the bass part, its jazzy, you know? Interesting. Before, you were saying you didn't want to get stuck in the traditional stuff. Do you feel like musicians that play more traditional music are stuck in something? Well, there's a lot out there, boss, when it comes to music, a lot to research. So, it’s good to be like, Oh, this is the tradition. You're born with it, you have it. But you have to give yourself a chance if you want to leave to the States or the whole world. You have to be open to work with everything that's going on in the world. I’m not thinking they get stuck, but I know a lot of highlife musicians that they don't even get heard in America. Because the highlife musicians they don't even write their own songs, they all play “pon-sa-pon-sa-pon-sa”…in Accra, you know? And [across] the ocean, you don't hear them here! It’s a great music, but you can hear it’s all now going to hiplife. And hiplife—its not like I hate it, I can’t say I hate it, but the hiplife music, the way they try to learn, like, somebody they taking like American pop…it sounds really weird. It’s a good thing, but Americans cannot pay attention. They want something unique! They want something like a highlife. You see? Its good to go to Ghana to find a musician that plays straight-ahead highlife. But me, I want to go all over the world. I learn so much that I love jazz music. But I want to just fuse it—that’s why I want to call it Afro-fusion, so I don't get stuck with just highlife…It’s not boring, but if I want to stick out, I want to have people's favorite, people's taste for my music, I want to create my own thing. That’s interesting what you said about hiplife. I feel like the guys doing hiplife—Reggie Rockstone, Sarkodie… Yeah, yeah! Sarkodie! Oh, you have been in Ghana before? [Laughs] No…I just like the music. [Laughs] Cool, cool, cool. But Sarkodie was in Harlem last year—so he's going all over the world with his type of fusion, a different type of fusion. Yeah, it’s a different type of fusion. But…jazz people are not going to pay attention to that. Sarkodie, he doesn't come to America to play in a jazz venue or perform in front of the American [populace], he just come to play for Ghana [populace], and that’s all they know, they come and play here at some church… He played at the Apollo! Which is cool, a unique experience. Maybe [he’s attaching himself with] American pop musicians so he can get somewhere. But I’m not offended with them, 'cause I know that it’s different music, they way they're doing [things], putting some [Auto-Tune] on their voice, and its all programming music. They don't do the live performance, they come and mime with no musicians, no live performance. So there's no soul in it. I like the music—it’s different. But me, I’m a jazz musician, and that’s what [George] Darko will tell you, that’s what Victor Wooten will tell you – I’ve played with Victor Wooten before—all those heavy musicians, they have the talent…I do what I do, instead of trying to copy somebody…my talent is what I have, you cannot take it from me. But I feel like hiplife, they are taking the foreign pop and attach what they do. I feel like that’s kind of happening everywhere. Yeah, and they're bringing all the highlife music down in Ghana! It’s a big, big problem! Because now, all the highlife musicians are struggling, you know? Because the youngest are brainwashed with this pop…its not a bad thing, its a good thing, but I wish they could still allow the highlife music and the performance of music to keep going instead of miming. Take one mic and one person to come stand there with the DJ, and the real musicians are struggling, you know. I’m not against it, its just too much now, and me, I’m a jazz musician, I wrote my own stuff… At this point the space we were in closed, so we moved across the street to an outdoor plaza. We start talking about Club Bonafide, where he is scheduled to play the next night. Yeah, it’s an interesting venue, very intimate. Yeah! When we get a small, small venue like that, you know, its good to know how to play quiet when you are a jazz band, and its good to know how to play loud when you [have a big crowd] and they need the energy. So, I can play everywhere, I can play in every venue. And that’s why I start playing these shows, because if I can get somewhere that I know is small, we need to just get really jazzy, quiet, you know? I’ve been to Bonafide, I went there to check it out, I saw the way the room is. Last time I was there, it was like a seven-piece band on stage, with a piano, two horns sections, percussion. Wow, must have been a tight fit. Yeah, I think we will fit. So, going back to what we were just talking about, about hiplife and Ghana. How is your music received back home? The youngest like it. The oldest, when they hear my music they're shocked. Wow! Who this Paa Kow? This young guy, wow! You know, they get excitement like, Wow, even a young guy can write these songs, and not what everybody's doing now. So they go, Wow, this reminds me of Osibisa… This is what the old people want to listen to now… they find something that I’m bringing up with my own fusion and the traditional stuff. So everybody likes it, when I go to Ghana now, everybody's like, Paa Kow's here! Do you think it took going to the U.S. to gain that popularity? Yeah, I mean, I was popular, being a younger drummer in Ghana, that’s the way I get my name, but I come to America and didn't stop doing what I’m doing. I keep going and now, [with] Facebook and everything, they see what I’m doing and they bump it up really, really large. [Now] every time…I want to go to Ghana, I even feel like, Oh, I’m going to be going everywhere. You know…everybody wants to listen to good music! I think that's what it is. It’s not like people don't like to listen to good music, but if they get stuck with one thing for a long time because they think, Oh, marketing-wise, rap music [is the best], now let's do that. Sarkodie does that, it’s going well, Samini did it, it’s going well. Shatta Wale, you know? He's one of the biggest in hiplife, he calls his music dancehall. Yeah, and they start singing like Jamaican patois and all that stuff, but I feel like there’s something deep to us too, our Ghanaian music that those kids are not doing. Like they're looking elsewhere? Yeah, I feel like…everybody’s growing up, being a musician, getting that opportunity. Back in the days, even though at that time was Burger-highlife, everything from George Darko…Yo, I was band leader in George Darko's band, and George Darko, he lives in like Germany, but he always call me like, Paa Kow, put the band together, call people who you think you can play, learn the song, I’ll come and play the show, I’ll be in Ghana for a couple months. So…I was his leader for a while. George Darko's a jazz musician—listen to his music, you get all those bridges, you know? And he loves George Benson. So we'll play “Mr. Magic,” “Take Five,” all those jazz tunes…So, people like that, putting that music out there as a Burger-highlife, was a really, really good time, you have the synthesizer, everything. Its solid! But I feel like that thing is losing right now, because, man, it’s like every music in Ghana is radaradarada, you can’t even hear the guitar. Where is the highlife forever? Where is the tradition forever? Everything you hear is like American style, put that [Auto-Tune] on your voice, so if you're not a singer you can sing. But it's not like that, you have to show your natural voice. That’s what African music is based on. If you hear like, Youssou N'dour…Salif Keita is one of the best singers in the world. Yeah, man, heavy! So, what the kids are doing [is] because of the money. I’ve been told…that if you're trying to make a living playing music, you're not going to get there. It has to be [your] heart. This is my passion, this is my career. Its not like, Oh, I’m just trying to go work at the grocery store a little bit and somebody call me for a session, I got to go, this guy call me for this, I’ve got to go…You have to focus. So, sometimes, I question myself if I see people trying to break through in that condition cause they think, Oh, being a musician is great! ‘I saw Sarkodie with a nice car, and me too, I think I can rap a little bit’ and they go into the studio and then what they do is like samples, which is…you know? O.K., what’s your lyrics [then] they put [them on the beat] and that’s it. They don't write the music! I feel both ways about it—I feel like there is maybe not as much unique compositional creativity in international pop music, but then I also think it’s great music. If you see like, Herbie Hancock, he's still playing, playing at all those good jazz venues! Imagine someone like that, he's been doing it and he'll be doing it till God calls him. But that other stuff, it doesn't really last. Trust me, last year I go to Ghana, there's songs there, and if I go back again, where’s that song? Its not there, it’s gone. And they only release one track. Where’s the act, where’s the everything? One track that’s it, no nothing [gestures at a CD]. This year when I go, something new will be there. But I feel like the deep stuff will be there forever. Like Fela Kuti! James Brown. All those musicians, you know? They focus their dreams to do what they are, instead of trying to copy someone, and it doesn't stay. Overtime, I go, I hear new hiplife, three months go by, it’s gone. Osibisa stay now. People like listening to Osibisa. So who else do you think is making that kind of stuff you're talking about? I think I inspired a lot of musicians in Ghana now, all the young musicians now, they're like, Oh, Paa Kow, he's killing it! I inspired a lot of musicians there, but since I don't live there, I haven't heard the guys perform and play my songs. Most of the musicians…they get stuck on the hiplife musicians, ‘cause its really tough to get a band together and write their own stuff. But I hope I inspired them enough so that they all realize to live in the music, instead of being like, Oh I need the money, let me go play with this guy. ‘Cause then you become a musician prostitute! 'Cause you need the money, got to play with Sarkodie, got to play with Tinny. So, I hope that I inspired them enough, but for me now, what I’m doing is more pure, like I go to the studio and play live. Everything you hear on my album is recorded, I don't program anything. I just want to hear that from them. I mean programming and stuff, its cool, its cool, [they’re] good tools, but if you want to do your traditional stuff, then you need to write, you need to play live, so people, musicians can be able to get work and perform in front of people…It makes the soul happy, it makes people happy. When I hear the hiplife, I’m like, Ah, it’s fine, it’s one groove, it’s fine, so I don't pay as much attention. Nothing wrong with the music, but my focus is different, I’m trying to do my thing. Speaking of doing your own thing, when I saw you perform, I was really struck by your drum set [which is made out of traditional atumpan and fontomfrom drums]—The coolest thing I’ve ever seen. Tell me about that, how did that come to be? You know, I told you from the beginning I’ve as always been in my own things, even when I was like 5 years old, making my own drums from cans and strings… I used those strings and the fertilizer sack, the rubber ones, and [demonstrates attaching the rubber sack as a drum head]…So I have had that idea since being a young [kid]. So I come to America and I play this Eco-X drum set from DW – it’s a great, great set, made out of bamboo. I like it! But I was like, man, I love my African stuff, I love the atumpan, the fontomfrom, but I cannot get it in a drum set. I told Peyton, I want to make my own drum set…I want a deep, long fontomfrom, like a 22 [inch] as a normal bass drum, I want to get my first tom like 10 [inches] like a normal tom, the next one 12 [inches] like normal tom, and the floor tom like 14 [inches] like a normal tom…He said, Yeah, O.K. let’s go to Ghana, I’m going to put in an order. Kofi Ghanaba has a drum set like that…but he plays more traditional, he doesn't play the way I do. I want to bang my own drums, 'cause the sound I need…don't get me wrong, I like the regular set—anything I get I’ll make good sound out of it. It could be a can, [and] I’ll still perform right now. With this, I’ll be able to play my songs. So, I go and I tell these guys, I want to get a drum set out of an atumpan. They said "The bass drum will be too big, how are we going to find the wood?" We give them the money…[and after a while,] they're like, We got a tree for the toms, now we're finished with the toms. I’m like, Where's my bass drum? They're like, We can’t find the wood for that. Dude! Are you kidding me? I know this is Africa, we're going to find that thing. It's African teak, the wood. And then my time was getting close to fly back and they were like, Hey Paa Kow, we find the wood, congratulations. I went and they were like, Everything is solid. And that’s the way…that’s me taking Ghana to the top. I don't want my country to be bad music-wise. They did it for me, everything is ready to go, and I bring it to America. I found a guy…who works with metal…So he built a stand so the bass drum can lean on it really nice. And then we need to make the pedal so it can reach the drum…because I want to play it so I can still get that attack, like playing a normal drum kit. I want to make it funky, you know? So we get it and I paint it on my own…I’m an artist, you know, I paint a lot, ‘cause it’s like a music style. Cool! Yeah and it works out! It sounds so good…and that’s going to be something that I created. I’ve had that idea since I was a little kid, you know? It fit in with my sound. Its crazy, if you hit the bass drum…on my kit, its really good but it gives me some vibrations of natural sound. But if I play now on my [DW] kit, it looks small in my face. It’s a really good thing, that normal kit has great sound, 'cause there's a lot of science into that to make it sound good, but I love my [custom] drum ‘cause it’s my dream. Not just that it makes me stick out, ‘cause nobody has that drum set…it helps my performance, it's a different act…and the sound, I love the sound so much. Sometimes when I play, if I want the sound chunkier, I use [traditional curved drumsticks]…it's working good for me. Cool. At C.U. you teach students, right? What do you teach them? Do you teach them your style of Afro-fusion? Well, this year they had me being a guest artist for the Jazz Academy, it’s a camp. And I teach them how I put rhythms together, my own stuff…How to be a separate musician…swing stuff, cause I’m into swing too. When I’m teaching the Highlife Ensemble, they pick up my song, and I'll take my bass and try to teach them: this is the bass part, you play this, you play this, the same way I do with my band. But now I’m busy, I don't teach as much anymore, unless they need my help. Still when they have a big show coming up and they request me and I go in and if I have time and teach for maybe a month…if I go, I teach highlife music. Do you ever find that you need to teach more traditional rhythms, with atumpan and fontomfrom? I don't really teach that stuff. There's a traditional musician for that, that’s all they do. They use the drum to talk…but I’m not too traditional. So I don't teach those things, I just teach highlife music, what it’s based on, clave, how the clave fits in highlife music, how the clave fits in Asante music. But I don't teach really stuff on the atumpan. Cool. I ask because sometimes I hear fills or solos in your music, or sometimes even horn parts, that sound kind of like an atumpan talking. Yeah, it sounds like that, yeah. I grew up with those sounds, so, I do it in my playing. I do it anyway, even though I don't know what I’m saying. Sometimes I know what I’m saying, and I can say it—I love music so much that I wish that I can see it, you know? But that’s the way God created it. But anything that comes to you that you want to say when you're performing, you say it. Like I can say anything out of my language, speaking Fante. I say my language, I bring it out, play my drums, you know? And before, you see [that] I play some crazy stuff, like, what is that, you know? ‘Cause I speak to me, myself and I bring it out. But in the traditional stuff, they have [the same idea], but they have [certain things] that they have to play. But mine, I can play everything…you just bang on the drums and make a beautiful sound out of it. That’s how I feel. Often your lyrics are kind of about feeling good, love and mutual support. What makes you feel like that's a message you need to give to the world? Where do those lyrics come from? I don't think so hard to write the lyrics, ‘cause when that happens, I feel like I’m struggling for the lyrics to come out. I like when the lyrics come out naturally. All those lyrics come to me naturally. Sometimes people ask me, Are you into politics and stuff, cause I love [the song] "Realize" so much. And after the show I get somebody saying, Let’s start a revolution! “Realize!” you know? And I’m like, I’m not a politician, I just see what’s going on out there in the world, and you know, from Africa like that. People in the States always see what is put on the TV, and they believe it, but it’s not like that! It’s not like, if you go to Africa, you see lions and things everywhere, in Accra! So, I see what is going on out there, and what my heart is telling me to say, but I’m not into politics or anything. My music is just real, how it comes to me. How do you hope your music makes people feel? I think that it makes people feel good. ‘Cause when you say the truth, people that are out there—they have open ears, they hear and are like, Wow! This guy's saying a good thing. But I’m not pointing a finger to anyone. We are all human beings and we all need freedom. [I do have songs like] "Realize" or "Black and White,” but most are like love songs, and about [how] we have to communicate and help one another. We all always need each other. So I write about things like that, but not trying to be political. Not like Fela. No, no, Fela, he wanted to be a leader of a country. Me, I’m not trying to be a Ghana president, an American president. I just want to be a musician, what God gave to me. I don't want to get any attention for the things I’m saying or be a leader of a country. I always want to write peaceful things for people to listen to. And people think it’s a positive thing, instead of trying to be a leader, a president. I think it makes people feel happy, feel good. So it’s about the music moving people. Yeah, yeah, even the ones that don't have lyrics, you can listen and be like, Ahh yeah. What would you describe as the most rewarding part of your life as a musician? What has it given you? It’s given me happiness. I’m the most happiest guy, you know. When I hear music, I smile, you know? I feel like I’m a free man when I hear music play. The music I do gives me the freedom to go everywhere, you know? People accept me here because I’m a musician. It’s easy for me to get places. Now I get to talk to you for what I’m doing. So it gives me opportunity to go all over the world to communicate with people, human beings, as me. That’s what I’m happy about. It’s not easy to go travel, but having music–it’s a key, it’s a visa, it’s a green card, it’s a passport to get everywhere to just do what you want to do. And that’s what I feel. I’m a happy person. Where's your favorite place that you’ve been to? It’s hard because we all belong to this earth. Ghana is the same land as here, and America is the same land as Ghana. I just love Earth! Everywhere [where] there's Earth, I like it! I don't think I have my favorite place to be, ‘cause it's a one creation. Same as the sky, it goes and goes. The Earth is one. So I feel like everywhere I'll be, I deserve there. My favorite place is the Earth. [Laughs] [Laughs] Beautiful. Thank you so much for talking with me. Thank you so much for having me here and having a conversation about the music, I appreciate it! - Afropop Worldwide

"Paa Kow at the Hi Tone - Echoes of Africa"

Countless scholars write of the African traditions behind the blues, music that defines the Mid-South. Samuel Charters' The Roots of the Blues: An African Search is just the tip of the iceberg, exploring in depth what has become a cliché of music history. While few would dispute the truth of this, it's rare that we in the home of the blues can experience the sounds of Africa. Aside from occasional recording projects that bring the two worlds together, like Otha Turner and the Afrossippi Allstars or Taj Mahal and Toumani Diabate, what can we hear of the continent that is mother to us all?

This is beginning to change, with the Memphis-based African Jazz Ensemble gaining notoriety and the ongoing presence of African drumming and dance in performances by the New Ballet Ensemble. And soon we'll have a chance to hear more of it, with the return of Paa Kow, a trap set master from Ghana who has assembled a unique ensemble appearing next Wednesday at the Hi-Tone.

Kow grew up in a small village in Ghana, making his first drum set from assembled odds and ends, including a drum pedal made with a sandal and a door hinge. "I started when I was, like, 5," Kow says. "I played with my uncles, and was in a band with my mom. From there, it just took off. I moved to the city — all the best artists were in Accra." Under the wing of Ghanaian pop star Amakye Dede, Kow quickly made a name for himself and was touring in other parts of Africa and in Europe.

By 2007, after befriending a traveling student from the University of Colorado, Kow was invited to teach there as a guest artist. Ultimately, he ended up settling in the Denver area, assembling a band of Nigerian and American players to perform his unique hybrid compositions. "I call it Afro Fusion, because I'm not really doing traditional highlife music. I'm an explorer — so it's pretty original, you know?"

Kow is also prolific: His 2012 debut, Hand Go Hand Come, was a double CD. Since then, he's released 2014's Ask, and next Wednesday, he'll be promoting a new album, Cookpot. Over the past 10 years, with these releases under his belt, he's built up a fan base in unexpected places. "I have a good foundation in Lincoln, Nebraksa. Omaha, it's great. Iowa. It keeps getting better and better. I've been here a while, and people start realizing what I do. The fan base is getting better."

His eclecticism may be a key to that. While Ghanaian highlife, with its extended jams over polyrhythmic grooves, underpins much of the music, there are more diverse flavors in the mix. "I like Weather Report; Earth, Wind and Fire; Herbie Hancock; Buddy Rich. So, it's a lot of influences," he notes. Such musical touchstones demand excellent players. "I like the jazz background of the musicians. Because it's very complicated stuff, you know? When they know what they're doing already, it makes it easier."

Kow's band now typically includes organ, multiple percussionists, guitar, bass, and several horn players, but this wasn't always the case. For a time, he and a much smaller ensemble relocated to Memphis. "I moved my band I started in Colorado, and it was only a four-piece then. It was just drum set, trumpet, percussion, and bass. That's what I had at that time. But we made a good thing out of it." The group was a notable presence on the local scene. "We played at the Cooper-Young Festival. I played a night at the Levitt Shell, and at the Hi-Tone, I played a couple times, before I moved back to Colorado. So I know Memphis. Yeah, I lived there before, I love Memphis."

It's notable that the Levitt Shell hosted one of his shows at the time: They have become perhaps the most reliable curator of world music artists in the Mid-South. Many recall an electric (and controversial) show there in 2015 by Seun Kuti, son of the outspoken pioneer of Afrobeat, Fela Kuti. With this in mind, I asked Kow if his songwriting reflected the same combination of politics and jazz as Kuti's music.

"No," he said. "I'm not trying to do political at all. I just wanna be happy. I want everybody to be happy. And it's not really spiritual, no. When the music comes, I give it out. It's a personal thing. The music always comes, and then I give it out, you know?" - Memphis Flyer


Hand Go Hand Come - 2012
Ask - 2014
Cookpot - 2017



Having toured internationally, sharing stages with both African and American luminaries including Kojo Antwi, Amakye Dede and Victor Wooten, Ghana born drummer and composer, Paa Kow, (pronounced Pah-Ko), blends rhythm and artistry from his home with jazz and African roots creating his own Afro-Fusion sound. Dubbed "Ghana's most artistic drummer" (Modern Ghana), he plays a custom, traditionally inspired Ghanaian drum set that is the only one of its kind in the world, guaranteeing concert goers an extraordinary cultural and musical experience. 

Growing up in the small village of Enyan Denkyira near Cape Coast in Ghana, West Africa, Paa Kow began to play music and tour with his family’s concert band at a very early age. He has since grown to be widely recognized as one of the most remarkable drum set players to tour in Africa, Europe, and America. Paa Kow’s deep groove and prodigious talent reveal a unique ability to speak to listeners with his drums, inspiring a profound spiritual conversation and fulfilling his vision to spread the music and culture of his homeland by touring the world with his Afro-Fusion Orchestra.