Akwaaba Sound System

"Hey, Music Lover..."

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Akwaaba is Welcome in Ghana

Welcome to the Akwaaba Sound System. We're a few music lovers who have enjoyed hearing new sounds posted on MP3 blogs around the net and who wanted to give a little bit back. We're also a group of friends who have DJ'd on the radio, on the internet, and on occasion, at parties.

Akwaaba is a greeting in Ghana. It's also the title of a 1984 album by Francis Bebey. Emailing about the album with Matt, who has a great MP3 blog, made me decide to go ahead and get this thing rolling.

Bebey's album is a kind of mysterious thing. He's better known for a mellow classical-style guitar approach, but this album is electric, funky, and dense. It sounds as though the level meters on the mixing board were blown, or no one could be bothered to watch them.

The album was the fifth release on John Storm Roberts' Original Music label. It's not really clear whether it was recorded for Roberts or reissued, although there is a re-mastering credit.

According to the liner notes:

The instruments used on this album are: two sanzas; string bass; metal bell; talking drum and various other drums and percussion; bottle struck with a fork handle; pygmy pipe of the type called Ndehou; and claves. The vocal techniques include head and chest voice, head voice alternating in and out breaths, double voice, hocketing yodel.
I'd like to post the whole album -- and who knows, maybe I will, track by track, over time. For now, let's enjoy the title track, a hypnotic, densely layered instrumental, and "Bissau," featuring a ripping ndehou part and an example of the double voice technique. This one grooves too, but it's quite a bit wierder.

Francis Bebey: Akwaaba (MP3)
Francis Bebey: Bissau (MP3)

Order Akwaaba "used" from Amazon
AllMusic Entry on Francis Bebey
Spotlight on Francis Bebey (WPRB) (Thanks, Chris R.!)


At 8:29 AM, Blogger Mark said...

This is great stuff! I have really been enjoying Benn loxo..., so it's great to see another African music blog.

At 9:12 AM, Blogger Colin said...

One suggestion on posting -- add target="_blank" to the HTML for all MP3 files so they open in a new window -- frequently, I click, realize it opened in the the same window and if i want to go back to see what I am viewing/listening to, I have to click back, which basically trashes the entire load process.

Or better yet, Joe da Wizard, should come up with a special page that puts up the song contents along with the file.

At 9:20 AM, Blogger Joe said...

Mark: fair warning, Akwaaba will probably not fit the "African" music blog description for long. Expect a pretty eclectic mix. Pieter will probably mine his incredible collection of african 45s, but then again, he's about to become a father any day now, so patience may be called for...

Colin: your wish is granted, with a base target tag. All links will open in new windows.

At 11:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a vote to see all the Bebey Akwaaba tracks posted when you get a chance- thanks a ton!

At 8:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


It is good to see this blog, just wanted to welcome you.
I love that overdriven sound, but what were they thinking?! Regardless, great tunes, I too vote for the rest of the album... in time, that is. Til then, let's hope that your eclectic tastes are as interesting -- and jamming! -- as your blog's namesake. I'm sure we won't be disappointed.

btw - I don't know Twi at all, just looked it up; I was responding to your "Akwaaba", and I *think* I said something like, "that's right, welcome to you too"; at least that was my sentiment.


At 11:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am VERY aware that this music is copyrighted by Francis Bebey's estate. It appears that you are not... By posting these MP3s, you are stealing royalties from Bebey's family. Please, please remove these files from your site, or else get in touch with his estate and post legally!!

Illegal filesharing HURTS ARTISTS.

At 8:38 AM, Blogger Joe said...

Anonymous: We are well aware of copyright. Here's our position:

1) We are music lovers and music buyers who want to share awareness of less mainstream music.

2) We post files for a limited time with the intention of promoting the music. We encourage those who enjoy the music to purchase it.

3) In cases where we post music which is out of print (as is Akwaaba), we hope to encourage awareness and enthusiasm which might lead to seeing the music reissued.

4) If any rightsholder approaches us with a request to remove music from the site, we will do so immediately.

At 1:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"In cases where we post music which is out of print (as is Akwaaba), we hope to encourage awareness and enthusiasm which might lead to seeing the music reissued."

I suggest you put up some capital to pay Francis Bebey's estate for your theft, also for licenseing African copyrights, and for issuing the CD, then. This is all far more complex than you realize, and saying that you might post the entire album (given the fact that Bebey's heirs are alive and well, as is the owner of Original Music - who DID hassle with all the legalities) is reprehensible.

At 2:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Copyright fanatic-

You seem to have a lot of interest in the financial well-being of the Bebey family as well as Original Music. Don't you think your energy would be better spent contacting them to convey the interest shown here in the record and trying to get it reissued rather that hassling a few guys who are trying to bring some music that has been criminally underheard for far too long?

To paraphrase Bogie, of all the MP3 blogs in all the world, you wander into this one.

At 5:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too bad for you!

I checked. Bebey's family owns all his copyrights. he3 wasn't exactly a millionaire, you know...

As for Original Music, I KNOW how hard they worked to obtain permission to issue material. Dealing with African copyrights is a very wearing procedure, but they did it, SO THE MUSICIANS WOULD BE PAID FOR THEIR WORK. It is (literaly) criminal for you to ignore this.

You seem not to care about that...

At 10:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My apologies for being sarcastic in my previous post, but this is no joking matter.

Music, and making music, is a marginal occupation (financially) at very best. Unauthorized copying and illegal filesharing can ultimately make the difference between a musician's next project and NO project at all, ever. Don't believe me? Please check out the forums on www.allaboutjazz.com (All About Jazz) -- a lot of musicians post there. Most of them have very strong feelings about illegal filesharing - understandably so. It directly affects their ability to pay the bills and put food on the table.

Now, down to brass tacks:

1. What if your boss suddenly announced, "This week I'm giving your paycheck to someone else." How would you feel? That he'd stolen the money he owed you in compensation for the time you'd put in, and -- quite possibly -- what you had made/produced? (As in, with your own hands, sweat and brainpower.)

2. What would you do if you found out that someone had copied your posts (i.e., yor writing) without your knowledge or consent, reposting them on another site and passing them off as their own work? You, after all, own the copyright on your original work.... It's theft.

3. Do you expect to go to live gigs and hear artists without paying a cover charge or the price of a ticket? (Free concerts excluded, of course.) I'm sure your answer would be "no."

Here's a bit of a post from Brad Powell's site, www.calabashmusic.com (Calabash Music), a Fair Trade world music site where musicians are paid for the music that people download. He just got back from the South Pacific, where he recorded a number of artists. Please think long and hard about the final paragraph - it's the reality for most musicians around the word, including here in the US and other "first world" countries.

CD Title: Somai Serenaders 'Mereula'

At the end of November we traveled to Fiji to record the South Pacific World Music Festival. Over a period of ten days we lived and worked alongside a Fijian camera crew and all of the artists.

This recording, of a local Fijian string band, was absolutely the most exciting moment of our time in Savu Savu. The Somai Serenaders were not an official part of the program -- they are just part of the prolific local Fijian music scene. Every village has a string band and this group has earned the reputation of being one of the very best.

Exclusive Fair Trade Music: These musicians will earn 50% of the revenue from the sale of their recordings. This group has never been recorded before. The group members all work as day laborers at a local resort. The minimum wage in Fiji is $1.05/hour. Lead guitarist, Apenisa Waqa, is a mason and carpenter who is currently building his own house -- typical local style with corrugated metal walls and roof. Apenisa's most telling comment was "We didn't know we were good, we just do this to make the kava taste better". Want to change their lives? They don't own the guitars they play on... Imagine if just 500 of you decided to buy ten of their songs this week -- that's more than a year's salary in Savu Savu.

BTW, I am a musician, and I worked for Original Music in the mid-1990s.

At 8:08 AM, Blogger Joe said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 9:12 AM, Blogger Joe said...

This blog no longer allows anonymous comments. I'm a very low-key kind of person, but it's making my blood boil to have lengthy rants posted on my site by people who won't even sign their name.

I'm quite familiar with the debates about music sharing, and I'm well aware that musicians themselves are divided about it. I see no point in debating the fundamental premise of whether this blog should exist in the comments of its very first post.

We can turn off commenting completely, and we can delete comments from people we feel are abusing or disrespecting our site. I hope we don't have to do that: I prefer the idea of a wide open discussion. I think this has gotten out of line.

At 9:24 PM, Blogger Erewhon said...

If you really care about this music, why not devote some time to trying to get this CD reissued?

BTW, I noticed your links. Rootsworld and All About Jazz are very scrupulous about copyright. Cliff (owner of Rootsworld) has always sought artist' permission before posting any sound files. (Which are very low-quality, for obvious reasons - they want people to buy, not download illegally.) As for All About Jazz, they can't host MP3s submitted by independent musicians any longer (bandwidth/server problems), but there are plenty of links in the forums to content that musicians have made available - as streams or as free downloads.

The point is this: the musicians made that choice.

At 9:11 AM, Blogger Joe said...

Erewhon wrote: "If you really care about this music, why not devote some time to trying to get this CD reissued?"

Actually, I am.

At 2:29 PM, Blogger Erewhon said...

If you're serious about reissuing this album, you'll have to approach Bebey's heirs. He owned all his copyrights, whihc have now reverted to his estate.

At 11:24 PM, Blogger Erewhon said...

It would be wonderful to have this CD available again, and I do hope you're able to persuade someone to do it.

At 10:12 PM, Blogger Dennis said...

To Mr. Copyright - music among friends should be free.

A reminder: Music on this blog is not for sale. If anything, it is quoted in the way a book with typewritten footnotes would be, simply because the written word only succeeds so far by itself to emphasize the music writer's point.

The social networks established or reinforced by the Internet allow for the fair play of interests with others in further established via entropy, further spreading the music by sharing an example.

Music is good.

1 song or 2 samples by any artist is not enough to stop someone who is truly interested in wanting more from finding it, here or elsewhere. If nothing else, a return to the first memories one hears of Bebey's "Akwaaba," in all of it's over-equalized glory, will do nothing but empower the listener of this African classic to again find relevance in it's authors. After dozens of listens, the moans and thumbs only grow stronger and more appealing.

Surely money is a part of this life, but word of mouth moves interest, an even more powerful force for music, faster. Thanks to music enthusiasts like "Akwaaba Sound System" may the word spread like fire. Keep it UP>>>

At 4:23 AM, Blogger andy said...


i see you´ve threatened to turn off commenting completely, or "delete comments from people we feel are abusing or disrespecting our site". i really hope that it doesn´t come to that. while you might feel our friend´s comments are not in the spirit of things here, i´d disagree - he´s always been courteous and polite, he hasn´t clogged up all your posts with the same argument, he´s obviously concerned with music and/or the welfare of musicians and the people who make our hearing marginal music possible, and i have to admit that hinting at the possibility of putting out all the album started alarm bells ringing for me too.

that said, i hadn´t (and probably wouldn´t have) heard of francis bebey were it not for your posting these tunes and will always be very glad you did. i hope these tunes don´t constitute "highlights" of the album - justing putting up the best so we don´t need the album is morally dodgy, and there´s nothing worse than hearing a track or two on the radio/tape from a friend/cover cd from a magazine/etc and then finding out the rest isn´t much cop (from the more sincere, i´m not just building an mp3 music collection and stopping buying point of view).

just out of interest, you say you are doing something towards getting a reissue. what? does anyone reading this know who the copyright holders are or how to contact them? does anyone reading this have a label that might be prepared to take a dive on this? how do we (those reading, as a community i presume is interested in seeing this album available) go about this???

andy/morally confused from england

ps. i don´t like posting my full name on the internet. don´t know why, but i don´t. i´m andy and that´s as much as you need (and it IS my name, although i can´t prove it). if i wanted to be anonymous, or change my identity (or ahve a silly name) i could, so why bother turning off anonymous posting. that said, i suppose every little helps. mr anonymous, is erewhon your real name??

At 6:18 AM, Blogger Joe said...

Hi, Andy:

We're not the first MP3 blog. There are many predecessors (who inspired us) who share our vision: expose people to great music. As with those, our intention is not to save you a few coins by posting "only the best tracks."

Given that we're not the first folks to do this, our main frustration with Erewhon was that he or she chose our blog to make a moral stand, and on our first posting, nonetheless. It didn't seem like a very polite welcome, and to be honest, it ruined the party for a while -- hence the month lapse in postings.

As for posting your whole name, the nice thing about how this works is that you can use just your first name, or a pseudonym (as demonstrated earlier in these comments.) But if nothing else, it's nice to see that multiple comments posted by the same person are the same person. (If someone has the energy to make a raft of aliases for commenting on our blog, I'd be surprised.)

Regarding the reissue front, I have a friend who has curated a number of reissues. I'm having trouble getting in touch with him right now, but I'm hoping either to persuade him to consider this for his series, or at least to get some practical information about how one goes about it.

Anyway, it's about the music. Listen, enjoy.

At 5:07 AM, Blogger andy said...


good luck with the reissue. i hope that a lack of postings here means that you´ve been far too busy progressing on this to continuing posting here, but please don´t give up on us! i hope what i said didn´t contribute to putting you off too - i was just trying to say that it´s nice that people can point out these issues in words of more than one syllable, and that you can respond equally civilly, a debate ensues and everone is informed by it even if they choose to go on regardless. i´m sure as sound-thinking people you spent some time/energy thiking about what you were abotu to do, or something, but i´ve seen suprisingly little about the ethics of these things posted.

here´s hoping you decide to continue - if not it´ll be our loss.



At 10:27 PM, Blogger Erewhon said...

To address Andy's question, as noted above, Francis Bebey owned all of the copyrights on his recorded work. To the best of my knowledge, his heirs are now the owners of those copyrights.


At 10:53 PM, Blogger Erewhon said...

To be truly fair to all the artists, you (and all other MP3 bloggers) should be using Shoutcast or some other type of streaming software only. That way, people could listen, enjoy and buy (or at least try to, and neither they nor you would be involved in illegal filesharing. (The exception is, of course, stuff that's older than 70 years old and therefore out of US copyright and/or in cases where copyright has not been renewed by a musicians' heirs/estate.)

I can understand your enthusiasm for the music, and for waning to share it with other people, but opening up with a statement that you might post *all* of the tracks from an album was not a very good idea. Doing so (with individual files or entire albums) would be prefectly legit *if* you had permission from the artist(s). Unfortunately, there's the rub.

I'm not at all opposed to filesharing as long as the artists OK it. Please understand that what you and most other MP3 bloggers are doing is very similar to plagiarism. I've had a lot of trouble with this happening to my own written work (on the web), as have more people than you could shake a stick at.

As for "crashing [your] party," well... You've put files out here, and you've got commenting turned on. I wasn't talking about censorship, but artist's rights. Those are two entirely different animals.


At 11:10 PM, Blogger Richard said...

Ah, good old Anonymous/Erewhon, I know her well. She posted virtually the same comments using virtually the same stories at my blog a few months ago (I too run a world music mp3 blog).

We had a "spirited" argument to say the least. I know what it feels like getting kicked in the groin when you get those kind of posts.

The problem with the absolutist copyright position is that it makes us all "thieves" with no black or white categories.

Like the site owners here, I post links to the albums whose songs I upload. I do research on my subject so I'm not just doing a simple file share site. I say that if Frances Bebey's estate is benefiting from album sales then he'll benefit from my readers who will use my link to buy his record.

Anonymous is very enamored of using Calabash as an example of a label which legally uses its musical material & benefits the artists directly. What she neglects to mention (& she knows this because I told her so) is that Brad Powell has told me that both radio DJs AND mp3 bloggers are welcome to download free as many as 30 song files a month fr. his site as long as they agree to provide links to purchase at his site.

I say keep on keepin' on. You're doing good work! And come visit my mp3 blogl

At 3:52 PM, Blogger Do not ride the manatee! said...

I'm a big fan of the Storm Roberts' Original Music label & I'm always looking for those LPs. Apparently he was selling them really cheap on Ebay a few years back himself but they're all now long gone.
I once suggested trying to reissue that label's releases and someone said
'that would be a nightmare.' I'm curious what ever happened to the label & why they are apparently so difficult to reissue...

At 9:37 PM, Blogger Richard said...

Please don't be terribly alarmed by Anonymous' moral pronoucements about theft. There seem to be one or possibly 2 people out there who frequent all (or almost all) the world music mp3 blogs telling us we're doing pure evil.

Have fun & don't let these people get you down. You're doing a wonderful job highlighting the music. YOu might want to consider posting links to Amazon so people can buy the recordings (unless you're already doing that--I haven't checked). That way you WILL be benefiting the artist when your readers buy the music.

BTW, come visit my mp3 blog sometime: Tikun Olam. I've also written a post highlighting all the world music mp3 blogs I knew at the time. Didn't include yours unfortunately when I wrote this (over a yr. ago) as I didn't know you existed.

At 9:38 AM, Blogger Richard L. said...

Is that an mbira he's playing on the cover?


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