Take a close look at the map of West-Africa and look for the city of Tomé, and try to visualize what the music of this environment sounds like. A hundred miles to the west lies Accra, Ghana, where the highlife movement came to fruition in the fifties. Another 160 kilometres to the east lies Cotonou, the birthplace of the renowned Orchestre Poly Rythmo. And yet another 50 miles further down the road you enter Lagos, where Fela Kuti pioneered his afrobeat.
All these influences come to the forefront in the music of one of Lomé’s most influential bands: Togo All Stars. The group infuses its music with another highly original element: the Togolese sound that’s rooted in voodoo rhythms and afrofunk.
'Spirits', the new Togo All Stars album, is dedicated to the spiritual awakening of the world, and the continent of Africa in particular, in these troubled times we are currently experiencing. Everybody has to wake up, contribute and play their part, that's the message. With a special role for the artist. The legendary Fela Kuti once said:
“Music is spiritual. You don't play with music. If you play with music, you will die young. When the higher powers give you the gift of music, you need to utilize that gift to do good for the world.”
Vocalist Dodji Oshe sees it as a mission: “I hate singing 'Mama Africa', I hate singing 'We Are The World'. We need to go further and deeper, especially for our younger brothers and sisters. We need to make them aware of the urgent matters at play.”
Agueh Cudjoe, an afropunk innovator who made a name for himself in the 70's, also contributes to the record and makes an appeal to artists of all trades to take action. “We need to utilize our talents as artists to make art that, today or tomorrow, can help us, as humanity.” Art as medicine or catalyst. He continues: “We have a rich, cultural history that we have to appreciate. We need to contribute to the cause in our own way and don't copy what's being done elsewhere.”
Since the début in 2018, the band has never stopped developing itself, constantly reworking their craft. Creative leader Energy Federator (Ekue Leopold Messan) recruited players from abroad to play on the new album, which contributed to the refreshing mix of styles, techniques and approaches.
The influence of West-African religion on modern music should not be underestimated, and yet it happens all the time. In actuality, the combination of voodoo and funk is a very logical one, given the fact that voodoo was brought to America along with the slave trade. In ‘The New World’ it was forbidden by plantation owners who were afraid of spirituality and the rhythm of the drum. That is how voodoo undeservedly got its bad reputation. But it survived in the underground, in the music itself. The chants and beats nestled themselves in what we now call jazz, salsa, blues and funk. If you want to hear the original rhythms of the world's funkiest gods, you have to take out that map and travel to Togo. Or you go and look and listen to the Togo All Stars, who honor this musical tradition like no other and keep it alive, even now – especially now.
Because the perilous position we've found ourselves in as humankind, the crossroads we are on now, is an issue that is very close to the heart of the musicians that make up the Togo All Stars. Looking away or keeping quiet is not an option for them. “This album is also for all those young Africans that die everyday in the Mediterranean, with the false hopes of being able to find a better life someplace else.”