It’s not every album where the squeal of a taxi brake in Burkina Faso is a recurring motif. Leftfield real-life samplers Oy (composed of Swiss-Ghanaian Joy Frempong and co-conspirator Lleluja-Ha) are not your typical popsters however… Their upcoming opus No Problem Saloon was based on a trip that Joy made to West and South Africa in late 2010 to early 2011 with the aim of sampling the most inspiring sounds (some of the other samples come from knife grinders, washing machines and South African pop mavericks BLK JKS) and cataloguing the most intriguing proverbs.
There is a firm emphasis on the playful – but through this the philosophical. For example, the owner of said taxi brake, Ismael Sawadogo, has a friend called Destin de Dieu (God’s Destiny), with whom he debates the concept of death. “I think death is a very good thing,” he says, “the only part I don’t like about it is that it lasts. If you could go, come back, spend some time, leave again… hell yeah!”
Strangely enough, death is a bit of a theme on such a generally happy, upbeat album. No Problems Saloon? Hmm – maybe death is no problem saloon. The general vibe of the album could be summed up by one of Ghana’s legendary coffins – carved and painted as red peppers, limousines, and fish. “You should bury me in a coffin shaped like an aeroplane,” it says on Carry Me Home, a track in which a couple who have moved to Europe desperately desire to come home to Africa. Joy also loves the proverb “You shouldn’t run to the funeral of a man who stumbled and died.”
There’s also a love affair with African names – Joy jokes that she’s not too badly off with her name, but has also met a Happy in South Africa and a Wonderful in Ghana. Meanwhile, names such as ‘We Don’t Want You’ and ‘Rubbish Heap’ were often given to children whose parents had lost children previously – the idea being to stop the ancestors claiming these new ones. The importance, sometimes poignant, of these monikers inspired the track My Name is Happy.
The album is actually a revised, remastered version of a previous one – Kokokyinaka – that had a small distribution, but now on Crammed Discs, Oy will see the new version get worldwide circulation. Oy’s masked man Lleluja-Ha (without mask for our Skype interview – there are no terrible secrets to report!) says: “We also got rid of some of the more serious stuff – there were more serious tracks around that maybe didn’t fit that well or felt too melancholy.”
Joy adds “I do other kinds of music too and sometimes I have the inclination to go more heavy, but with Oy it’s all about the playfulness – playful melodies, and I love stories with a sense of humour. You can often say something deep by putting it in a funny way. Double layers.”
As a child of Ghana who’s lived abroad for a long time, what does she make of her country now? “I’ve been going back and forth all my life. I can see slow changes happening, especially in the north of Ghana where I was actually born, in the last ten years it just completely changed with having electricity, people from the south building houses and having big cars, there used to be none of that around. In the south the trouble is that there are more and more cars, it’s almost impossible to move in Accra.”
“Sometimes I’m worried about the fact that African countries are considered developing countries and so told ‘you should be like the West’, but it’s imitating the same problems and that’s so stupid. At least we should have the advantage of checking what hasn’t worked and maybe analysing and doing a detour around these problems and sometimes I feel that isn’t happening enough.”
“In Ghana specifically there is the oil thing which is a big hope and a big fear. It seems it has been approached in a good way, taking the role model of the Norwegians, we hope it will serve the people finally. Africa’s biggest problems often seem to come from its richness. If there wasn’t so much around there wouldn’t the need for people to suffer. It’s greed that causes the problem.”
Oy and Lleluja-Ha
The band tends not to be overtly political, but there are messages in the album for the picking. One of the key lines, also drawn from a traditional African proverb is from the track that is both Joy and Lleluja-Ha’s current favourite on the album, The Tortoise and the Hunter.
The track is based on a West African story and goes:
“A hunter goes into the bush.
He finds a tortoise that’s playing the accordion and singing.
Hunter takes the tortoise and runs to his chief to show his discovery.
Chief yells: “Prove your story,
If this is a lie you’ll meet God’s glory!”
So hunter begs tortoise to sing and play but tortoise remains silent.
Tortoise remains silent.
Hunter is killed on chief’s command.
Tortoise starts to sing:
“IT ISN’T TROUBLE WHO IS SEEKING HUMAN BEING
IT IS HUMAN BEING WHO IS SEEKING TROUBLE!”ica
source: This Is Africa