Since first visiting the UK in 1996, Kakatsitsi and Indigenous People have sought to build a cultural bridge between the dance cultures of post-industrial Britain and traditional West African society, not only to access a large and potentially lucrative market but also to reach out to educate an already sympathetic and amenable audience.
1996 Return to the Source & Medicine Drum
The first steps towards the creation of a Kakatsitsi club set were taken in July 1996 when Kakatsitsi were invited to perform at Return to the Source at the Fridge in Brixton, the successful trance club that highlighted the role of rhythm and dance in facilitating an inner spiritual, shamanic journey. After seeing them perform on the main stage at the Fridge, Chris Deckker – the main creative inspiration behind RTTS – invited Kakatsitsi to a recording session, promising that they would produce two fusion tracks and that Kakatsitsi would be involved in the post-recording creative process.
During the course of a day and half in the studio, Kakatsitsi recorded a series of collective drum and light percussion patterns onto a backing track of a kick drum and high-hat pattern. Much of what was recorded amazed all those present. Returning to London, Kakatsitsi waited for the call to return to the studio to assist with the arrangement and mixing of the tracks. However, after six weeks, Kakatsitsi’s manager, Steve Peake, called Chris to ask when these sessions would be taking place, only to be informed that only one track was to be made and that it had already been finished. Somewhat surprised and disappointed by this news, Steve asked Chris to send a copy of the track down so that the drummers could listen to what had been made.
When the track arrived, the drummers’ disappointment was increased by the realisation that much of the material they had recorded had not been used. Although the track began with four seconds of collective, acoustic drumming, this was quickly replaced by a fairly mundane trance track with a series of solo djembe riffs laid on top. Meeting Chris Deckker at a RTTS after-party, Steve was shocked to be told that Chris was claiming the solo drum patterns as having been played by him. Returning to the office, Steve sat down with the drummers to give the track a close listen, convinced that the solo patterns were being played by Kakatsitsi lead drummer Adotey Richter. A closer inspection revealed that some of the patterns were using a combination of the Djembe and the much less common Kpanlogo drums, a style only used by Ghanaian drummers.
Now deeply worried about issues of misappropriation of intellectual property and cultural piracy, Steve called a friend who worked as a high-level music industry lawyer to seek advice and support. The friend in turn called up Phil Ross, the business brains behind Return to the Source, asking for an explanation. Before long, a fax was sent giving a precise breakdown of who was playing what and when. After the four seconds intro from Kakatsitsi, it transpired that Medicine Drum had cut and pasted short samples of drumming played alternatively by Chris and Adotey but unless the listener was explicitly told, one would conclude that it was all the same drummer.
Profoundly unhappy with this situation, Kakatsitsi wrote to Medicine Drum asking for clarification as to how the performing and publishing rights of the track were to be divided. Shortly afterwards, the group were sent a copy of the completed track in which all the solo patterns previously recorded by Adotey had been replaced by copies of these patterns played by Chris. Caught in a dilemma about whether to pull the entire track and refuse to have any association with it and simply letting the issue go and chalking it down to experience, Steve chose the latter.
The episode did, however, reveal that the mind-set of the Medicine Drum producers was such that rather than capturing the collective, live sound of the drumming ensemble, they were only able to record individual drums, cut up, tweak and paste back on to the trance track. There was also the suspicion that Chris had been unwilling to allow the Kakatsitsi drummers to share too much of the limelight as they were in a different league to him in terms of drumming talent and experience. Without the involvement of the drummers in the full creative process, the full extent of their rhythmical repertoire would not achieve full exposure and they would remain at the mercy of the egos and shortcomings of their western partners.
This poignantly illustrated the imbalance of power and control of the western technology and studio over the organic African music that informs many world-fusion projects, creating both a process and an end-product with which the drummers were profoundly unhappy. As a result, most of the material recorded in the session was not used, but the experience left a lasting impact on the musicians and their management concerning the possibility of developing more balanced fusion projects in the future
1996 Slo-Fuse @ The Dogstar
Later in 1996, Kakatsitsi were able to make further progress through a collaboration with Slo-Fuse, a deep-house DJ duo based at the Dogstar in Brixton. The collaborative set began with the DJs laying down a simple, minimalist house beat. After a while, one member of Kakatsitsi introduced a complementary rhythm, whether on light-percussion or drum. Gradually, other members of Kakatsitsi brought in other instruments before introducing solo patterns, which in turn developed in to call and response interplays. As the DJs raised and lowered the tempo and electronic musical input, Kakatsitsi mirrored the changes and a process of ebb and flow developed as the drummers and the DJs took it in turns to lead the music, reflecting the dialogue underway between the two dance cultures. At the end of the set the DJs cut out, allowing Kakatsitsi to play alone, ending with a final drum fanfare. The sets went down a storm, reminding the group of the potential of such fusion projects.
1999 Return to the Source and DJ Baraka
Upon their return to the UK in 1999, Kakatsitsi resurrected the club-set project, culminating in a performance at Return to the Source on September 25th. Playing with DJ Baraka, after only two hours’ rehearsal, they pulled together a half-hour set of traditional drumming on top of a selection of full-on trance tracks. The nature of the tracks played was such that there was not very much space left in the mix for the drums and therefore many of the instruments played by the group on stage were left un-amplified. However, at the end of the set the audience went wild, mobbing the drummers with their enthusiasm and respect. While the Return to the Source gig offered an encouraging opportunity to restart the project, it left the group with the overriding impression that to create the right sound and to allow enough scope to explore many of the creative ideas underpinning the project, it will be necessary to work with dance music producers rather than by playing with existing tracks laid down by the DJ.
After the set in the main room, Kakatsitsi hosted a drumming room in partnership with Survival – the NGO concerned with safeguarding the interests of tribal peoples. Kakatsitsi performed a traditional set and then led a communal jam of up to 30 western drummers. In addition to holding an information stall, Survival arranged for a slide show of images of tribal peoples, demonstrating the impact of creative media in raising awareness of social-political issues, albeit in a limited way. The night served to establish a relationship between Indigenous People and Survival and raise the possibilities of similar collaborations in the future.
1999 The Warp Experience
A further step towards introducing Kakatsitsi and traditional drumming into club culture was taken in November 1999 when the group were invited to perform at the now legendary Warp Experience at the Drome in South-East London. Playing in the Chill-Out room, hosted by Dominik Schnell of ID Spiral, the group played while images of tribal people were projected on to the walls. This paved the way for future collaborations between Dom and Steve, Manager of Kakatsitsi, who collaborated in the creation of the highly acclaimed ‘Liquid Spiral’ Conscious Parties, held at a series of underground venues in London that attracted in excess of 2,000 to each event. Building on the success of the now defunct Warp Experience, the parties sought to create a more aware and informative environment rather than the increasingly standardised and formulaic nature of most parties on the London trance scene, where escapist hedonism has become the dominant vibe. The popularity of the parties merely served to confirm the organisers’ belief in the commercial appeal that the added value of the ‘Conscious’ component of the parties provides, yet also demonstrated the challenges associated with organising such parties, with their relatively high production costs, in underground venues.
2000 Music in the Sun
Returning to the UK in 2000, Kakatsitsi once again confirmed their belief in the potential of the dance-fusion project with their appearance at the Music in the Sun festival in Sheffield in June, where they played a cross-over set in the tent co-organised by the JuJu Club, the popular Sheffield world-dance cross-over night. A wider variety of different beats were laid down, including Latin, Reggae and Breakbeats while Kakatsitsi added improvised rhythms on top, after which the DJ cut out leaving Kakatsitsi to play alone. Once again, the innovative quality of the project was confirmed, and the day served to connect Kakatsitsi with Alan Deadman of the JuJu club and pave the way for future collaborations.
2002 The Ancestral Voices Project
In 2002, Indigenous People were successful in raising £28k from the Arts Council and £15k from North West Arts for a project involving Kakatsitsi, Red Centre Dreaming – an Aboriginal dance group from Australia – and a number of dance music producers.
In 2002, Kakatsitsi explored relationships with a number of dance music producers, both within and outside the context of the Arts Council funded Ancestral Voices project. However, the relationship with the producers from Zion Train, a prominent techno-dub act, once again proved somewhat frustrating for Kakatsitsi, as the western producers seemed disinclined to include them in any other capacity than as session musicians, resulting in an arrangement that was heavily dominated by western influences. More encouraging avenues were explored with Ranvir Verma of the Sonic Gurus, who recorded and arranged a track built around a ‘Agoo’ – a composition by Alle Owoo, the lead singer of Kakatsitsi. A subsequent meeting, at which the senior members of Kakatsitsi contributed a number of ideas that shaped the arrangement of the music resulted in an unusually innovative end-product. However the track was subsequently wiped from Ranvir’s hard-disk during a system update and subsequent efforts to re-create the vibe on the original track were frustrated by Ranvir’s preference for going for a more westernized, commercial arrangement that failed to inspire Kakatsitsi.
2003-2006 The Synergy Project
In 2003, Kakatsitsi’s manager, Steve Peake, was instrumental in the foundation of the Synergy Project – a large indoor festival combining a dance floor playing psy-trance dance music, surrounded by a fringe of other rooms hosting live music, chill-out, a healing area, an art gallery, widespread use of video projections, spoken word and dance performances and a wide array of information stalls from non-governmental organisations from the environmental, development and social justice campaigns movement. The aims of the Project were to harness the appeal and power of creative media to communicate social messages to a highly amenable audience. Between 2003 and 2006, Steve acted as co-director of the Project, taking responsible for financial management and strategic development of events that attracted in excess of 2,000 people a time, gaining widespread critical acclaim in the process for the combination of top-end production values and progressive cultural, social and spiritual messages. On occasion, Steve also hosted Indigenous People rooms, featuring performances by Kakatsitsi and DJs from London’s world-dance scene.
2004 Recording & Filming, Ghana
In August 2004, with the support of a grant from the Arts Council of England, Kakatsitsi conducted a recording and filming project in Ghana in partnership with producer Greg Hunter and film-maker Chris de Selincourt. The recording process adopted in the studio showed considerable initial promise, beginning with Greg laying down a few loops from the digital domain, both rhythmical and melodic, on top of which Kakatsitsi in turn added layer upon layer of light percussion, drums, acoustic instruments such as Sepelewa (African Harp), Balafon, Gonge (one stringed violin), flute and chants. A total of seven tracks were recorded, many of which showed considerable promise. However, upon returning to the UK, the process by which Greg was to remix the material was delayed by Greg’s personal circumstances and an apparent inability to finish the job. After almost 18 months waiting, Greg finally produced a track – a less than pleasant ‘psychedelic dub’ mix that, after some deliberation, Steve deemed not to be worthy of release. Shortly thereafter, a second track was produced, earmarked for a compilation on the Interchill record label based in Vancouver, Canada. The track, again a psychedelic dub/ drumming fusion mix, showed more promise than its predecessor, but the balance between the drums and the electronic sounds was such that much of the call and response interplay between the drums was almost inaudible. Wary of vetoing the track and putting the working relationship in jeopardy, Steve offered to assist with the remixing of the track to make the drums more audible. After a day spent in the studio, a second version was produced in which the drums were considerably more audible and both versions of the track were submitted to the compiler for consideration. He duly chose the original version in which the drums were less audible.
In September 2006, Indigenous People joined forces with Tribal Vibrations to host a club night to raise funds to support the San people of Botswana who had been evicted from their ancestral lands to make way for the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The First People of the Kalahari, supported by Survival International, were pursuing a court case to enforce their land rights as guaranteed by the Botswanan constitution. The night, which was held at the London School of Economics Students Union, featured Banco De Gaia, Gaudi and DJ Monkey Pilot in the main room and Youth (Dragonfly records) and a fusion performance by Kakatsitsi and Greg Hunter with visuals, entitled ‘images of Jamestown’ by Chris de Selincourt in the Chillout Room. In addition to raising £500 for Survival / FPK, the night was heralded as a creative success, paving the way for further Kalahari collaborations between indigenous people and Tribal Vibrations, most notably at Mass in Brixton in February 2006 and at the Synergy Centre (with performances by the !Gubi Family of San musicians and dancers from Namibia) in 2008.
2005-8 The Synergy Centre
In July 2005, using the funds raised by the Synergy Project events, Steve took a step sideways to focus on the launch of the Synergy Centre – a community arts centre seeking to build on the success of the Project at the grass-roots level in the deprived local community of West Camberwell, South London. An integral feature of the Centre’s activities has been a series of events developing the relationship between indigenous music and dance, film, spoken word and a western club audience.
In June 2007, the Centre hosted a fundraiser for the Native Spirit Festival – a film and video festival of the indigenous people of the three Americas, featuring DJ sets by world dance legends Banco De Gaia and Monkey Pilot (Whirl-y-Gig), a live performance by Kakatsitsi and three indigenous American dance and music groups, spoken word performances, workshops in indigenous crafts, screenings of documentary films on indigenous issues and spoken word performances of indigenous poetry.
The success of the Native Spirit Festival night was followed up in October 2007 with a party to raise money for Tiris, a group of Saharawi musicians and dancers from the Western Sahara who have had their land annexed by the Morocco which once again featured a DJ set by Banco de Gaia, performances by Kakatsitsi and Sarahawi group Tiris rounded off by a fusion performance between the two African groups.
March 2008 – The Coming of the !Gubis
In March 2008, the !Gubi Family from Namibia returned to the UK, after an absence of 7 years. During their 2 week long stay, they rehearsed a fusion track with Banco de Gaia (aka Toby Marks) which was then performed at a party at the end of their stay. The Kakatsitsi drummers were also involved, lending two drummers to support the family on a few tracks of their traditional set and also developing a fusion track with Toby. The process was once again an interesting one. Perhaps differing from other producers Kakatsitsi had worked with over the years, Toby was keen to avoid having the traditional African sounds and styles swamped or dominated by the western digital beats. As a result, he was somewhat loath to begin the fusion process, preferring the traditional musicians to start and for him to then insert sounds. However, two problems quickly emerged with this line of approach. Firstly, most of the !Gubi Family’s music is in 6/8 time, whereas virtually all of western dance music is arranged in 4/4. Secondly, the computer based equipment Toby was using was much less flexible and adaptable than a live African musician, or any other live musician for that matter, and it became apparent that if the Africans were to lead, Toby would require more programming time than was available during the few days set aside for the rehearsals.
As a result, a different approach was tried, one in which Toby began the process, laying down a simple rhythmic or melodic pattern on top of which the African musicians then layered their sounds. While Kakatsitsi were able to adapt to this process easily, the !Gubis, particularly the elders in the group, found it harder, accustomed to their traditional 6/8 patterns. While the sound of a traditional 6/8 pattern layered onto a 4/4 western beat was certainly interesting, doubts were expressed as to whether or not this ‘worked’ in an artistic sense. Furthermore while the younger members of the group were able to adapt to playing 4/4 rhythms, the elders felt uncomfortable being replaced by the youngsters and this arrangement was therefore abandoned. In the end, a track with the elders on the acoustic instruments and the young members drumming or dancing in accompaniment, with some percussion backing from Kakatsitsi, was devised, while Kakatsitsi progressed quickly to a completed fusion track in very good time.
At the final performance at an ‘Indigenous People’ night held at the Centre, the two fusion tracks were performed. The !Gubi Family track was beset by technical difficulties when an entire side of the sound system mysteriously went down as Toby joined the group on stage. After waiting for the technicians to try to fix the problem, the family and group performed the track but the technical problems prevented the work that had been done in the rehearsals from achieving full expression. By the end of the Kakatsitsi traditional set, however, all the technical problems had been sorted, leaving the stage clear for the Kakatsitsi / Banco de Gaia fusion set, which was performed to great acclaim.
Perhaps the highlight of the event, however, was the sight of the !Gubi Family, off stage and half out of their traditional costume but still adorned with their traditional jewellery, dancing to Toby’s DJ set and the one from Whirl-Y-Gig veteran Monkey Pilot.
The outcome of the rehearsals and performances was that while the Kakatsitsi & !Gubi Family management were sufficiently encouraged to pursue the collaboration, a number of factors prevented this from occurring. The task of approaching festivals and venues to secure gigs for the proposed set was next on the agenda and a number of festivals were expressing interest in booking. However, Toby was unwilling to give permission for this to occur until a full set, with which he was artistically happy, was completed. This approach, however, suffered from the problem that without more resources, or the prospect of more being made available, arranging more rehearsal time would be difficult. As a result, the Indigenous People management began approaching festivals to see if, in principle, they would be interested in booking the sets, which some were indeed interested in doing. However, one of the festivals concerned was also considering booking Banco de Gaia as a separate act, while preferring to book the fusion sets as well. When, upon being told that the fusion sets would most likely not be ready in time as Toby was unwilling to commit to more rehearsal time, the festival decided not only to not book the fusion sets but also, for reasons best known to the festival, not to book the Banco de Gaia set. Toby was sufficiently unimpressed to decide to pull out of the entire fusion process altogether, thinking his participation was leading him to lose work. While this seemed to some like an over-reaction based on a misunderstanding, the choice had to be respected. The search for a lasting fusion partner would continue.
In September 2008, Kakatsitsi were invited to perform at the London venue Cargo for a last-minute gig at which Japanese DJs Koichi Sakai and Kay Suzuki were also appearing. Having seen Kakatsitsi perform their traditional set, Koichi and Kay approached the group, asking if they would like to have any of their recorded material remixed. When they were given the Logic files of the sessions recorded in Ghana in 2004, Kay began work on a remix of the traditional song Ogbame. When the first draft of the mix was produced for consultation, representatives of Kakatsits thought that the drums were low in the mix and were not properly audible. A discussion insued about how loud the drums should be, with Kakatsitsi arguing that as it was a remix of traditional drummers, it might be appropriate to turn the drums up sufficiently so that people could hear them. Reluctantly, Kay turned the drums up and the meeting was brought to a close. However when the second draft was sent across to Kakatsitsi, the drummers were shocked to hear that the drums had been turned back down again. When asked why, Kay explained that as he was the producer the final call was his and Kakatsitsi would just have to live with it. Despite this perhaps dubious approach, the resulting mix represents by far the best fusion mix produced of Kakatsitsi’s music and the track has received excellent feedback. It was released as a 12” vinyl and a download on Kay’s own micro-label Round in Motion and can be heard here. A dub version (considered by many to be better than the main mix), can be heard here.
As part of the deal with Kay governing the track, Kakatsitsi were able to obtain the Logic files for the Ogbame remix and over the course of a few months, Kakatsitsi’s manager Steve Peake was able to produce an ‘Indigenous remix’ of the dub mix track in which the drums were completely remixed and brought up in the mix and additional vocals were sampled from the main mix. The latest version of the Indigenous mix can he heard here.
2013 The Orb @ Glastonbury
The fusion set between legendary dance music producers The Orb and the Kakatsitsi Master Drummers from Ghana was premiered on the West Holts Stage at Glastonbury Festival in 2013 to great acclaim.
Programmer of the West Holts Stage, Steve Symons, said of the set :
“One of our 2013 highlights was the Afro trance fusion of The Orb and the Katatsitsi Master Drummers from Ghana. Deep, hypnotic and really rather thrilling.”
The set was also described by BBC Radio 6 DJ and television presenter Lauren Laverne as one of the best at Glastonbury.
Whilst being a very high profile showcase performance that brought the drummers to a level of exposure not previously achieved, the Orb collaboration proved frustrating for a number of reasons. Firstly, for reasons about which we can only speculate, the BBC decided to turn the traditional drums down in their broadcast mix, in contrast to the live mix at Glastonbury which was engineered by Steve Peake, who insured the drums were loud and clear. Perhaps the BBC thought that The Orb was the main attraction and turned the drums down accordingly. But despite being visually spectacular, in part a reflection of the fantastic weather that day as well as Kakatsitsi looking stunning, the BBC footage lacks the energy and punch of the live set and as a result does not do the set justice. Secondly, The Orb – being perhaps a little set in their ways and unaccustomed to being subjected to creative criticism or even constructive suggestions – proved reluctant to adopt the kind of balanced, mutually respectful creative partnership that we envisaged. A post-Glastonbury recording and subsequent Orb mix of Little Fluffy Clouds, featuring the powerful Fontonfrom drums played by Kakatsitsi proved to be very disappointing, in large part because The Orb were not familiar with the de rigeur traditional arrangements. After quite a lot of tooing and froing and indecision on their part, The Orb finally decided not to continue with the fusion project.