Paa Kow has just released his newest album “Cookpot” and it is not to be missed! Paa Kow is a drummer, songwriter, and bandleader from the country of Ghana, and currently based in Denver, Colorado. His music is African High Life, and a mixture of jazz, African Pop music, and funk. Paa Kow’s music is colorful and happy, and is radically different from what people hear on the radio. His music is joyful and he uses his drum playing to evoke everything from bustling cityscapes to everyday conversations. Seeing Paa Kow is an immersive experience. His large jazz band, the By All Means band, has an incredible horn section that often includes two trumpet players, a trombonist, a keyboard player, a bassist, and a guitar player. This artist is very much gaining influence and fame, and in the Fall of 2017, the New York Times recommended going to see him live.
Paa Kow’s website biography says, “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), has recently produced his third studio album entitled Cookpot. The album takes listeners on a journey that boldly explores the music of the African Diaspora by fusing Ghanaian highlife with elements of jazz, funk, and African pop to create his unique Afro-Fusion sound set apart by its “flexibility and finesse” (Modern Ghana).
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. Dubbed “Ghana’s most artistic drummer” (Modern Ghana), 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. His songs are captivating and danceable and incorporate lyrics in his native language, Fante, as well as English. Paa Kow’s vision is to spread the music and culture of his homeland by touring the world with his Afro-Fusion orchestra.”
Paa Kow has roots and lineage in jazz. This is first seen live, and Paa Kow’s drum set is huge, as big as the biggest drummer’s drum set. The bass drum and the toms are made of hand-carved wood, and the bass drum is long and expands toward the audience. Paa Kow’s drumming roots have significance in a particular debate in 20th-century jazz. That is, drums and percussion were seen by Miles Davis to be an essentially African expression because of their historical association with Africa, and putting drums on jazz records, or front and center as they appear in Paa Kow’s shows, is a statement of diaspora because African-Americans left Africa for the United States.
Paa Kow’s songs are always surprising, and the drummer changes beats and styles frequently in his songs. Sometimes songs will race forward and break into a disco-stride, and these accelerando are missing from contemporary radio-listening. One would never hear an accelerando from a Sam Smith or Katy Perry song. In a similar way, Paa Kow uses dynamics of going from quiet to loud, which in today’s Top 40 happen in a stagnant way – everyone on the radio is always looking for the beat to drop on the chorus. So, for example, in the song, “Tonight,” by the band Fun., that band uses its chorus, of “Tonight, we are young,” in order to break out into loud, passionate excitement. Nevertheless, the passion in that song is rote, and tried-and-true, because they’re only able to become loud on the chorus or the bridge. Likewise, the Australian band, “Axis of Awesome,” made a viral video based on how pop songs often use the same chord progression from song to song. John Mayer famously wrote an opinion piece in Esquire Magazine detailing the same phenomenon.
Because of his abilities with improvisation and the extended vamping, Paa Kow has natural allies with the jam band scene. Artists such as the Greatful Dead, Dave Matthews Band, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, and Phish use “soloing over changes,” which means playing chords while a soloist plays improvised melodies. While this originated in jazz and bluegrass, jam bands came to the forefront in the late 1990’s most importantly as a way to introduce audiences to new sonic experiences. At a Dave Matthews Concert, this might mean an extended violin or saxophone digression, such as in the beautiful song, “Lie in Our Graves.” Listeners rewarded jam bands with loyal and dedicated friendship, and rightfully so, because each concert – because of these solos – would therefore be unique.
More recently, Paa Kow’s acclaim comes at a particularly momentous occasion, when American pop music has begun to integrate world music attributes. Artists such as Animal Collective, Tune Yardz and RubbleBucket have been making inroads with Indie music scenes. Alternatively, the rock band Vampire Weekend specifically used African Music for the formation of their sound, whereas St. Vincent and Kendrick Lamar have used African music as a jumping-off point in their critically acclaimed albums. In terms of folk and classic rock, Paul Simon has used African music as an inspiration for decades, and bass player Victor Wooten has personally given his benediction for Paa Kow by playing on stage with him.