Before explaining traditional music, the usage of ‘traditional’ must be first clarified. I do not use to mean something that is old and anything that exists today is just a copy of what the music sounded like in years past. Rather, traditional here means that the music in discussion is made in the spirit of the tradition. Therefore, when discussing a traditional artist, it does not mean that that artist is old, but rather creates music in the spirit of how the music has generally been played and handed down from generation to generation.
The traditional kologo song has many distinguishing features and is generally easy to recognize, at least when compared to the modernization of kologo music. First off, all songs are sung in Frafra, or as they call their language Fare-fare. The line-up is almost always just a singer and a kologo. However, there can also be a calabash drum, a shaker, and rarely other traditional instruments like a xylophone or a dogɔ, a flute-horn of the Frafra. But these are rare. Most music is usually just one singer and his kologo, always playing original songs. As I have mentioned, it is nearly a sin to play what they call a “copyright” or a song of someone else’s.
Another aspect of traditional kologo music is the two styles of the strumming-singing relationship. The ostinado pattern is based on a circular timed rhythm, also known as a riff or a loop (Personal Communication, John Collins, 15 November 2008). The other style is when the instrument actually leads the voice in the melody, each mimicking the other, so that the voice and the instrument are producing the same notes, with the singer singing words. This mimicking pattern is basically the standard for how one plays the instrument. However, both are utilized by a plethora of artists. Initially, I had thought that some artists exclusively use one technique, while others use the other. But as I listened to more kologo music I realized this was untrue, and that, in fact, from the most talented musicians to the unknown, both use both styles between and within different songs. That being said, some artists illustrate one style more than the other. The ostinado style can be more easily identified among Bola Anafo, Suley, and Jacob Abagnagongo, while the mimicking style is best displayed by Sambo, Guy One, and my teacher Steve-O, though I would not categorize him as a traditionalist (which is also why I leave King Ayisoba off this list).
Another distinguishing characteristic of traditional kologo music is the meaning of songs. Though, not being a native speaker of Frafra can make this more difficult to identify, the translations I have researched have shown that all the songs have very strong deep meanings. Perhaps this is so because of the proverbial nature and wisdom of the people. As I demonstrated earlier in the stories told by the village elders, the Frafra utilize proverbs to create a moral system of living. Additionally, life cycle events and festivals are extremely venerated and it is at these functions that a kologo musician traditionally performs at. Therefore, one must sing something wise in order to relate to the celebration of life in a marriage, the tragedy of death at a funeral, or the continuity of the seasons at a harvest festival.
In the song, “Asaala handeri yine te zogine bahe” by kologo musician Suley, he sings “If human being is God, we will finish” (be destroyed) warning humans to stop sinning and be aware of their own mortality. Sambo sings “Atotowatarayelmeh”, a song which suggests that ‘if you hurry, you will lose things, if you don’t hurry you will lose things’. The meaning of this song is advice to the listener on the challenges of life. It is not always easy to plan perfectly what one will do, but rather, no matter what you do, life is difficult and one will face hardships. The song continues, where he names people and then tells them “you cannot dodge it” meaning that no one can escape the hardships of life. In nearly every song, there is also extreme repetition, which illuminates the meaning further, as the listener is forced to hear and understand the message of the song.