Review: KOG and Zongo Brigade’s Zone 6 Agege

Released via Heavenly Sweetness and Pura Vida Sounds, the 15-track LP takes its title from a coastal suburb of Ghana’s capital, Accra, where KOG (born Kweku Sackey) grew up. “The atmosphere, culture and social structures of this community have reinforced and developed my creativity and my love for art,” he says, adding that the project is “a tribute to my nature, my culture and my my future”.

Zone 6 Age possesses various elements that have influenced him in his musical journey – from indigenous Ghanaian and West African rhythms to hip hop and mutated jazz.

The album is a spectacular evolution, as much a tribute to the musical roots of the artist from Accra. So you’ll hear heady brewing snippets of rock, ragga, funk, griot hip hop and soul, not to mention Ghana’s palm wine highlife.

The project opens with the quasi-mystical and mysterious ‘Intro’, synth atmospheres, street sounds, a solo voice that sounds like a call to prayer, then an incantation ending with “I am now awake , I am now awake”. It both disturbs and excites its listener.

Such musical experimentation also reflects the album’s co-production credit; British producer and musician Tom Excell of The Nubiyan Twist held alongside longtime Heavenly Sweetness affiliate producer DJ Guts.

Throughout the album, the core aspects of West African music are front and center, buffered with surprising touches. On ‘Mayedeen’, which translates from Twi to I’m quiet,” the thrilling polyrhythms are backed by interlocking horns, bass, and superb contributions from backing vocalists Sunday Lendis and Lizzie Berchie, who also provide lead vocals on “No Way.”.

Another equally moving song is “Gbelemo”, on which KOG implores Ghanaian politicians to avoid selfishness and focus on providing opportunities for the community. Ben Haskins’ psych-prog rock-ish guitar solo is accompanied by a raging choral accompaniment, making it another example of how music upends traditional expectations.

On “Like a Tree”, KOG delivers a moving Afrobeat treatment, calling for “freedom” in a song that’s as much a reminiscence of deceptively naïve childhood as it is an affirmation of the central message of politically conscious black music. The lines “I want to be like a tree planted by the water / oh yeah, give me my freedom!” are backed by the soft horn and a flute solo by Harry Fowler to close.

From its title alone, “Immigration” might conjure up something educational, when the song is, in fact, a tour de force anthem of KOG’s vocal performance whose soulful rendition is brought to a fierce counterpoint by Driss Yamdah (member of the London group Gnawa Boulandrix) on backing vocals. The latter’s sharp, expressive presence allows KOG’s expressive range as a singer to shine – the music welling up and down to suggest movement and stasis, as he soberly sings that “everybody needs to survive “.

On “Shidaa,” Kweku thanks his mother for her upbringing, while “Hewale” sets him on a unique path of the native rhythm of the Ga people, urging his maker to empower him and give him the strength to succeed.

Akadatia’s finds KOG, once again, delves into the roots of Ghanaian palm wine highlife music, urging humility in all that we do. The smooth guitar chords on this track I’m sure will excite Agya Koo Nimo, one of the genre’s torchbearers.

Globally, Zone 6 Age allows the fusion of disparate musical influences. Nothing remains fixed, because the musical sources intersect, even if they are firmly anchored in the musical heritage of KOG.