Seprewa Kasa: Seprewa Kasa

This album is all soothe and salve, looking back to the heyday of highlife.

Seprewa Kasa

Seprewa Kasa

Label: Riverboat
US Release Date: 2008-09-23
UK Release Date: 2008-09-22

The seprewa is usually described in English as a 'harp-lute,' which, I don't know about you, says nothing to me at all. I struggle to imagine a 'harp-lute.' I picture something like an orchestral Joanna Newsom harp stuck awkwardly on top of an oud, or a little bardic harp strung across a lute's pear-shaped body like a comb across a turtleshell.

Most English translations of foreign musical terms are vague like that. Take 'throat-singing.' "But doesn't everybody use their throat when they sing?" asks the newcomer, staring at you as if you're stupid. "How special do these Tuvans think they are?" The seprewa becomes easier for me to understand when someone explains that it's related to the kora -- that it's similar to a small kora. That's better. I can see a small kora. Yes, the person says: a small kora with a box-shaped body instead of gourd-shaped, and it comes from the Akan people of present-day Ghana, not from Mali, as the kora does. You hold it in your lap. It lies on its back, strings upward. It would be lying on its spine, if it had a spine. You play it like that.

When, as on this album, the seprewa shares a song with a guitar, its relationship to the kora becomes more clearly defined. Those blunt guitar strums set off the harp-lute's rippling flow. The kora ripples too, but it's not quite the same ripple. The small harp has a soothing sound, simpler than the kora, less layered, a straightforward stream in place of a full-bodied river.

In fact, soothing could describe the whole album. Seprewa Kasa's music looks back to the heyday of highlife, decades before the sound was replaced by pop. People like ET Mensah were doing their thing with a delectable, sometimes Caribbean lilt, old but not staid, capable of sounding fresh the way the swing of the Andrews Sisters can still sound fresh. Seprewa Kasa's songs trickle and curl in on themselves, coiling and uncoiling, and the musicians sing with affable voices. Relax, they say, relax. Their voices are not the best, but would voices that were too polished seem out of place here? The old highlife musicians often sounded like this too, somewhat wavering, with burrs along their tongues. These aren't high-powered singers, they're instrumental musicians who make do with their own singing because it's what they can afford and it fits the songs well enough. Besides their voices aren't that bad. They're not Salif Keita, but the hell with it. Keita would overwhelm these modest instruments, and overwhelmed instruments is not what we're here for.

By the end of the album, you're dozing -- not through boredom, but because you've been so thoroughly lulled. Seprewa Kasa doesn't rely on a percussive beat to keep your attention ticking over. It works through a kind of aural hypnotism. Three minutes into "Agyese Wobre" and you wake and wonder what just happened. The men are still singing. Whether you enjoy this laid-backness or not depends on you. By the end of the album, laid-back sound might seem lazy. Too much drifting around in circles! Too much repetition! You might long for bite and grip and action. Don't look for it here. Seprewa Kasa is all soothe and salve.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.