I’m So Fucking Awesome: Ghanaian Rapper Ata Kak Gets Reissued

Laser-synths and geometric raps put Ghana on the map
By    March 2, 2015


Peter Holslin needs more Senegalese rap

You know those “woohs” and “yeahs” in Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two”? The sampled ones that every person who’s ever heard a pop or rap song from the ’80s or ’90s would recognize? Intentionally or not, the Ghanaian musician Yaw Atta-Owuse, aka Ata Kak, creates his very own version of this ubiquitous sonic fixture on his newly-reissued album, Obaa Sima. It’s right there in the track “Moma Yendodo”–bright whoops and shrieks coming in between the bass and synths, landing on the upswing to punctuate the song’s beautifully dusty drum machine beat.

Part of the fun of making music comes from harnessing the language of pop using whatever resources you have at your disposal–and as “Moma Yendodo” shows, Ata Kak eagerly takes to the task on Obaa Sima. The seven-track effort, originally released on cassette tape in 1994, is definitely a homespun affair; as Brian Shimkovitz of Awesome Tapes from Africa writes in Obaa Sima’s liner notes, Ata Kak recorded it with the help of low-budget equipment and a tech-savvy friend. But though the amateur musician didn’t have the budget for a studio or band, his command of rap, techno and highlife let him forge his own intercontinental style.

Yaw Atta-Owuseu, who’s now 54 years old, was born in Ghana and recorded the tape while living in Toronto. According to Shimkovitz’s liner notes, he originally got into music while he was staying in Germany when he was younger, and after relocating to Toronto he played drums in a highlife band while holding down a day job as chief cook at a condiment factory. Obaa Sima didn’t have any impact upon its initial release; in fact, he only put out 50 copies. But the march of history shifted course when Shimkovitz happened across a copy in 2002 while on a trip to Ghana. He bought it and four years later the tape served as his inspiration for Awesome Tapes From Africa, a blog and record label that’s become a key resource for African music lovers.

In a recent interview, Shimkovitz described Obaa Sima as his blog’s “emblematic awesome tape from Africa.” What’s interesting is that the tape actually feels kind of contemporary: the quirky lo-fi aesthetic reminds me of bedroom microgenres like chillwave. Thankfully, though, the quasi-nostalgia and post-irony posturing of this hyper-connected age is absent, and instead the listener is treated to purer sonic joys. “Yemmpa Aba” spans moods with its spooky techno intro and warped female backup harmonies. Meanwhile, “Adagya”relies on bright keyboard vamps and a calorie-burning beat to offer the ultimate bizzaro-world Buns of Steel soundtrack.

Ata Kak raps over most of the tracks and it lends the music a delightful, raw quality. Delivering his rhymes in the Twi dialect of Ghana, he wields a style of hitting sharp and fast as unexpected angles, as though he’s fashioning crazy geometric shapes with his tongue. Though I can’t speak the language and don’t know the lyrics, it sounds like he’s having a blast, and I’m more than happy to glean some positive charm from a guy who appears on the tape’s cover rocking a backwards cap and shades.

Obaa Sima’s closing track, “Bome Nnwom,” is the freshest of the bunch–it’s essentially five and a half minutes of instrumental groove, powered by metallic cymbals, laser synths and a zesty drum machine snare. Like the rest of the tracks, there’s nothing particularly complex here; the loops just ride out into the sunset. African music is often overlooked by the Eurocentric/U.S.-focused music industry. But if this humble tape proves anything, it’s that even low-key guys like Ata Kak have always been ahead of the game.

Ata Kak’s Obaa Sima will be available March 3rd

We rely on your support to keep POW alive. Please take a second to donate on Patreon!