Alex Kofi Mensah
His hands move swiftly across the assorted percussion instruments in front of him as he beats out frenetic rhythms and then switches tempo at appropriate moments to vary the groove.
That’s the sort of intensity percussionist, singer and composer Alex Kofi Mensah brings to his playing as he continues to advocate for solid African rhythms clothed with Jazz overtones.
He refers to his music simply as Afro-Jazz, an approach that had been rendered with varying shades by some forebears and which he believes must be upheld to reinforce Africa’s uniqueness on the international music market.
The founder and leader of the Tsooboi Ensemble stated his ideas clearly on his debut ‘Sane Eba: Afro-Jazz Music’ 10-track album which is like a rhythmic tour of Ghana. Embracing percussion, strings and horns, the album is a lively blend of intricate drum lines with captivating horn infusions and guitar fills.
“Some of the tracks on the album are reworked Ga-Dangbe folk songs. They are steeped in Jazzy sauces palatable for consumption by a wide section of music lovers. There are many young people now completely oblivious of our rich folk songs used for a variety of social functions. In a way, I’m trying to help them look back to their roots and discover some of those cherished material,” said Mensah.
Apart from the ‘Sane Eba: Afro-Jazz Music’ album, Mensah has two other nearly-finished collections. He says they are going through some fine-tuning in a few aspects and would be ready for public consumption.
The percussionist now lives in Vancouver, Washington State in the United States. He is working towards establishing another Tsooboi Ensemble there but for now, jams regularly with an Afro-centric band called Jujuba.
“Before, I teamed up with them, the only percussionist in Jujuba was a Nigerian who plays the dondo drum. The band has been around for 25 years and I’ve brought a different flavour to their sound with my additional percussion instruments. All the same, I keep working on new material on my Afro-Jazz journey,” Mensah says with confidence.
Notable names Mensah played sessions for in Ghana before going to live in the United States included Kofi Sarpong, Okyerema Asante and AB Crentsil. He adores guitarist Ebo Taylor for staying with music and still attracting attention even in his declining years.
Mensah hails from Keta in the Volta Region but grew up at Teshie in Accra. Music has been his passion since childhood, and knows his big break will eventually come as he keeps marching in the Afro-Jazz lane.
By George Clifford Owusu