African/ American hybrid band sizzles

John Balchak

Akayaa and her band, Bolga Zohdoomah, played a vibrant set before enthusiastic African music fans at the Adams Avenue Street Fair on Sept. 26. The sundown performance brought the rhythm and harmony of the Highlife music from Ghana to a dancing, chanting audience.

Their bouncing beat and familiar, pop style are the products of a tight international band based in San Diego. Members from Ghana, Cuba, Panama and America blend their influences into friendly verses that invite the listener to join in. Akayaa, with her vocal partner Shoshanna.

Small, sang songs from their CD Masoh including the cheerful “Akusie”, the story of the bush rat that Akayaa said, “tastes just like chicken”. Other numbers like “Afrika” featured the Caribbean feel of guitarist Ignacio Arango, who grew up and studied music in Havana.

Drummer Todd Caschetta (who, along with Akayaa, is an instructor in African music and dance at Southwestern College) said he has a great appreciation for the music.

“I have lived in West Africa and studied music there,” he said. “This style of Highlife music is from the 1960’s in Ghana. It’s easy to jam and goes on forever, with interaction and lots of support (from the musicians).”

Caschetta went on to explain that Bolga Zohdoomah’s style is “definitely a hybrid” of African and American music. He also commented on Akayaa’s expertise with the talking drum, a long drum with exposed binding straps that the player can squeeze to raise its pitch when struck with a curved stick.

Akayaa spoke of her lifelong study and presentation of music and dance. In reference to acquainting Americans with her culture she said, “I love it, sharing and educating. People think Africa is all jungle; they have negative ideas.”

She told the story of recently playing a show in Pittsburgh and watching people get into their groove. “We like to spice it up,” she said.

As for American appreciation of African music she said, “It will come, all in time, and is beautiful to see. You know, all music has African influence.”

Following Bolga Zohdoomah on the Worldbeat Park stage was the frantic funk of Breakestra.

The double-drummer powered band made clear that there is no substitute for the soul of human musicianship. Employing flute, trumpet, baritone sax, guitar, bass, keyboard and both male and female singers, they channeled the inspiration of James Brown, Funkadelic and even Michael Jackson into a seamless grove. The hipster crowd bopped to the relentless beat, the fair’s
amusement ride lights swirling in the background, on a warm evening of good vibes.