In researching kologo music, I had several approaches. First, I planned on learning how to play the instrument. As I have played guitar for nearly a decade, I was able to understand some of the basic principles of the instrument and how it is played. I took lessons in Accra with Atambire Steven Ayuungo (henceforth “Steve-O” as he preferred to be called), a young budding kologo musician. I was put into contact with him through Panji Anoff, Executive Producer of Pidgen Studio and award-winning Ghanaian kologo musician King Ayisoba. I was able to contact Panji Anoff with the help of Osei Korankye, the seprewa master, whom I had met and taken a lesson with in September 2008.
In addition to learning how to play the instrument, I also wanted to research the industry around kologo music. Panji Anoff and King Ayisoba were both instrumental in letting me begin the path towards discovering what the music was all about. Interviewing both of them enabled me to understand how the kologo is being used in new ways to take the music further than it ever has before. Additionally, Steve-O led me around Frafra music sights in Accra, to Moses Adosibe’s music store, which proved to be an invaluable resource in acquiring music of the Frafra artists who base themselves out of Bolgatanga. Additionally, Steve-O led to meet other kologo players, translate interviews I had with them, and learn about the meanings of several songs.
Another aspect was traveling to the Upper East Region, where kologo music is rooted and is populated by the Frafra people. Steve-O and I traveled to Bolgatanga for a few days; interviewing Frafra kologo stars and hearing them play a bit. Additionally, we traveled to his home village of Nayorga in Bongo district along the border of Burkina Faso to learn about Frafra culture, the local Frafra music scene, and village life among the Frafra.
Beyond my interactions with Steve-O, I also was able to interview music expert John Collins for further analysis on the instrument and its musical tradition. This led me to analyze the music from several different perspectives. The first was it being the root of the American Blues, which is the reason I enjoy the music so much. Secondly, I analyzed the music and its relationship to reggae and Rastafarian culture. Thirdly, I analyzed the music against the backdrop of the greater Sahelian music explosion currently occurring on the World Music scene. This path led me to preliminary research on the “sister” instruments of the kologo found across West Africa. Additionally, I looked at the music and how it is being modernized from the traditional style of playing and singing into an electronically digitized age, fundamentally changing the sound of the music.
The process of learning the instrument also allowed me to analyze the music from a perspective beyond just listening or seeing it. Playing and singing kologo music allowed me to see varying styles of playing utilized by different musicians. I also transcribed the music I learned in Tablature format, which allowed me to understand the music in comparison with the Western guitar. For that matter, almost my interactions were recorded on paper, with the few exceptions being voice recordings on cassette tape or on a digital camera’s video recording option.
Another method I utilized was researching previous texts on the instrument. These were few and far between and for the most part not fruitful. I also looked for information on Frafra culture and people, hoping to understand the music and its people more. Interestingly, very little has been written on either and it was exceedingly difficult to find useful information. However, the information I found tended to be about how music from Northern Ghana and the Sahel are now experiencing a boom in popularity.
The difficulties I encountered in my research were numerous. The language barrier between all of my informants, Steve-O included, and I was a constant problem and struggle. Most of the kologo players spoke no English and Steve-O spoke Pidgin English, which I could understand but often had difficult ascertaining meanings, especially whether he was directly translating someone or something or rather paraphrasing what was being said. The lack of Frafra lecturers at Legon also proved to be a challenge because it was difficult to undertake an academic project of this nature without a connection into the community I was studying. Additionally, the minimal amount of written information on kologo music or the Frafra proved to be a difficulty in gaining information. Another issue was funding. In short, due to expectations of the musicians to receive “dash” from me, the interviewer, I had to cut short the trip to Bolgatanga and not do some interviews, as they would have left me with too many expenses.