Island Time #39 with Modrums: Simpa Special

This episode of Island Time brings us a special mix from Modrums (Morgan Greenstreet), a musician, DJ, and journalist based in New York. Here he gives us a deep dive into a style of music called simpa – in his words:

Simpa is a style of neo-traditional popular music of the Dagbani people of the north of Ghana. It exists in two overlapping forms: the live, acoustic session of drumming, singing and dancing – for example the group Kakpag-Yili Wait and See – and the highly produced electro-simpa versions created for sale in the local DVD market. These hard-driving tracks are produced by DJ/producers like Ebony and DJ Chare/Charlie with star singers like Dickson Gawan and Yaa Naraa.

For the traditional version, the drummers build their own drums from metal barrels, even making their own kick drum pedals. Some groups use a trumpet live and these answering melodic lines are represented by synths for the electro versions. The dancers are almost exclusively young women, and the dance is all about rapid, suggestive waist shaking.

I first heard simpa when I was in Tamale in the Northern region of Ghana in 2015. As my friend Saeed Alhassan Dawuni and I were running around town recording traditional music events for an Afropop Worldwide program, I kept hearing incredible local pop music blasting from car stereos and shops. Saeed and I visited a few music shops but they didn’t have anything like the stuff I’d been hearing. Eventually we visited a friend of Saeed’s who filled up a thumb drive with assorted low bitrate mp3s which I combed through for months after the trip, resulting in a Dagbani pop mix for Afropop (https://soundcloud.com/afropop-worldwide/dagbani-pop). One track on that mix really stood out for me, a twenty minute, fast-paced percussion-driven tune (mis)labeled “ebony hiphop.” Saeed identified the artist as Dickson Gawan and the style as simpa, and from there my interest deepened. We’ve been in touch in the years since then and Saeed keeps feeding my need for simpa with regular batches of new tracks. Through Saeed, I’m in touch with Dickson Gawan and plan to visit Tamale when feasible to work on a compilation of simpa for international release. Special thanks as well to Dave Ewenson who recorded “Kakpag-Yili Wait and See” and shared some insights into neo-traditional simpa with me.

Listen to more from Modrums here: https://soundcloud.com/morgan-greenstreet
Photo used in artwork from video still by Dave Ewenson

Air date: 09/09/2021 17:30 - 09/09/2021 18:30

Language: English

Show: Island Time Radio

Tags: DJ-Set Music African / Middle Eastern Electronica Folk sun amused amazed curious Dancing red yellow cleaning dance sweating working

Tracklist: Tracks from Dickson Gawan, Bala Zaaku, Alhassan Kukoo Naa, Sala Takoro and Sumaya Yaanara and all of these tracks are produced by either Ebony or Dj Chare/Charlie. Many of these can be found with accompanying videos on youtube