Album Review: DJ Katapila – Trotro [Awesome Tapes from Africa, 19th February 2016]

DJ Katapila is a popular Ghanaian DJ and producer. In the context of Ghana’s pop music landscape, Katapila’s music is singular. His unique works would otherwise be unrecognised and under-celebrated, both in the west and his native Ghana, if it wasn’t for the diligent work of Brian Shimkovitz of Awesome Tapes from Africa.

The genesis of the Trotro release comes after Shimkovitz found and approached Katapila with two pirated tapes. Katapila was surprised; he claims to have never pressed them to cassette or distributed any copies. However, Katapila tracks can be found on bootleg, dance music compilations across West Africa. Unfortunately for these artists, piracy and bootlegging is the driving force behind the majority of music across Africa.

Katapila’s minimal, sparce sound is derived from traditional Ga music. Instead of live percussion he uses electronic sounds to create a raw mix of Detroit house and Chicago acid with intermittent hiplife percussive references. Katapila’s, sometimes warped, vocal chants are also in keeping with this traditional style. An approach he developed whilst Mceeing over his DJ sets.

For electronic music lovers, this record is an unexpected insight into how, in isolation, this Ghanaian DJ could create a sound that would not be out of place in back to back sets with old school Chicago luminaries like Jeff Mills and Frankie Knuckles. Tracks like ‘Lalokat‘ are similar in feel to early acid house and minimal techno played in warehouse parties in London and Berlin.

His popularity in Ghana is a little shocking, considering other popular music offerings. Perhaps it’s the vocals, chanted in his local dialect, cow bells and traditional music inferences in tracks like ‘Zoomlion‘ that resonate at home. In keeping with the western hemisphere’s resurgence in minimal electronic music, it’s not surprising that taste makers such as Vice’s Thump, the 405 and Vinyl Factory, are lauding Trotro and describing it as “elastic dance music at its most raw”.

Saying this, Trotro is not a record to be over analysed. Unlike so much western electro, is exudes humour in the form of weird vocal tuning combined with a socca or South American party atmosphere. It’s a fun record created by a maverick producer.