Rather than adopt the ‘ultra-traditionalist’ aesthetic, which is preferred by many traditional cultural practitioners and groups in Ghana, we have adopted a neo-traditional approach, which sees culture and tradition as dynamic and progressive. This applies both to the arrangement and composition of the music, the dances we perform, the collaborations we create and the costumes we wear. Our preferences in this regard are informed by those of the largely western audiences we reach, the professional backgrounds of our musicians and the professional background of our managing / artistic director, Steve Peake, who has experience as a promoter / programmer on the London club scene.
When African drumming is performed as an accompaniment to an African dance performance, the rhythms and solo calls of the master drummer are not very accessible to a western audience if that audience is keen to dance, as they will not be familiar with the specific dance moves that accompany the drumming calls. As we perform in many settings where the western audience is keen to dance, we therefore arrange our music in a way that westerners will find easy to dance to, repeating solo drum calls sufficiently for them to sit comfortably on top of the backing drumming group, giving time for the dancing audience to pick the solo rhythm and dance to it. We have called this trancey, groovy style of playing ‘Injoly style’, after the nickname of our lead drummer, who has been in the group since 1999, Samuel Tetteh Addo, known popularly as ‘Injoly’.
Injoly is known to be a very humble, cool person and his drumming style is a reflection of his personality, in stark contrast to that of many other master drummers who often have big egos and a brash, showy style to match.
While superficially impressive, for those that think that faster and louder is always better, the more showy style of playing can often disrupt the groove and spoil the experience for the dancer. Our aesthetic prioritises the group above the individual and the enjoyment of the audience above the ego of the master drummer.
In contrast to many other neo-traditional groups in Ghana, Kakatsitsi choose to play only indigenous instruments and work with other indigenous musicians who do the same. Kakatsitsi’s drums are selected from the wide variety of traditional drums used by the many tribal drumming and dance cultures across Ghana, including the Ga, the Ewe and the Ashanti, as well as those of other West
African cultures. While an informed observer will know that Kakatsitsi do not perform a 100% authentic representation of just one tribal tradition, by fusing different influences from a variety of cultures, whether from Ghana or beyond through collaborations with other indigenous musicians, we strike a healthy and progressive balance between authenticity and creativity.
Kakatsitsi’s vocal style is heavily influenced by the pioneering Ghanaian neo-traditional cultural group, ‘Wulomei’, from whom we have recruited many of our leading members. They sing both traditional folk songs as well as new compositions, arranging the vocals in 4-5 part harmony. This contrasts with the singing of many Ghanaian ‘drumming and dancing groups’ where the dance is the lead art form, the drumming is an accompaniment to the dance and the singing is often an afterthought.
Historically, dance has been the weakest component of our performance, as we have preferred to recruit people based on their musical ability so as to increase the quality of our music.When we have developed a more prominent dance component, such as on the 2013 and 2014 tours, the dance has been arranged in a similar manner to the music – adapting traditional folk dances to fit with the neo-traditional musical arrangements. It has, however, proven difficult to sustain a strong dance component, as our artistic director does not have experience or expertise in this sector, in contrast to his strong musical education and background. Furthermore we have been unable to maintain relationships with the young female dancers we have successfully recruited when they started families or prioritised working / running businesses over dancing, on the grounds that it makes more money.
Finally, when it comes to costume, we are adamant that we will not succumb to the ‘grass skirt’ aesthetic favoured by many Ghanaian traditional drumming and dance groups, as we fear that to do so would reinforce western stereotypes of African people living in mud huts and wearing such attire. We therefore have two costumes, one made of mudcloth from Mali, worn either with black jeans (for schools’ work) or tie&dye trousers (for performances).
An alternative is the all-white costume worn by the traditional priesthood of the Ga people of Southern Ghana, the Wulomei.
Sometimes, for less formal performances, it has been known for the drummers to perform in the kind of everyday clothes they would wear at home, resulting in a fully authentic representation.