ONIPA - 'Tapes of Utopia' (Mixtape Review)
Tapes of Utopia
17 September 2021
Album Rating 4.5 / 5
Live Potential 5 / 5
Favourite Songs Play, Tami, Mokole
ONIPA return with another energetic selection of Afrofuturist grooves and dancefloor heat; Tapes of Utopia has the wild spirits of Afrobeat, Highlife and Soukous spun into a scintillating mix of electronic beats. Your body can only bop instinctively to the record.
After ONIPA unleashed their debut album, We No Be Machine on Strut Records in March 2020, they release this mixtape to honour the culture of mixtapes sold in Africa:
"Tapes of Utopia harks back to a time of African cassette tapes sold on street markets, a reimagination of mixtape culture [...] Tapes of Utopia symbolises a time when technology was decentralised, a vision of utopia where humans are liberated by safe technology that benefits the people not the elite."
Born out of a deep collaboration between long-time friends K.O.G. (Kweku of Ghana of KOG and the Zongo Brigade) and Tom Excell (MD, guitarist and writer of acclaimed jazz / soul afrobeat pioneers Nubiyan Twist), the 5-piece live show features KOG on vocals, balafon and percussion, Tom on guitar, percussion and electronics, Dwayne Kilvington (Wonky Logic) on synths and MPC, Joe Henwood (Nubiyan Twist) on barritone sax & electronics and Finn Booth (Nubiyan Twist) on drums.
On the mixtape, the group retain their live show's 'get down' vibe with tracks like 'Mokole' which features the MOBO award nominated Ghanaian rapper M3nsa, flirting between different rhythms that create the momentum for M3nsa to rap fluidly.
The infectious first single 'Chicken No Dey Fly' features the magnificent Tony Allen on drums and Franz Von on vocals. The horns section create a big band sound as the song talks about greed and political power, with the music video bringing to life the colour of the music brilliantly as it has such a classic, booming afrobeat sound to it.
'Tami' is a more psychedelic exploration but is equally as compelling, with Tom's guitar ringing out with effects that create a full, heady mix with the pounding percussion. The arrangement of 'Future' creates a delightful highlife-disco crossover with the lyrics of "we are here to see the future" continuing the politically astute lyricism that follows on from 'Porridge', rallying against those who "lie to the poor people".
Both tracks have a summery feel to them as the rhythm slides into place to create grooves that take you up into the stratosphere. The mood continues on 'Waist' which evokes dancing late into the night on a tropical beach. The guitar phrasings beautifully flow out and the celebratory appeal of ONIPA's music comes out no better than in the homage to Zimbabwean legend Oliver "Tuku" Mtukudzi on 'Gbomo'.
K.O.G. states "ONIPA means ‘human’ in Akan, the ancient language of the Ashanti people of Ghana. It’s a message of connection through collaboration: from Ghana to London, our ancestors to our children". It's through connection and collaboration where the excitement of ONIPA's music comes through, and the final track 'Play' featuring Ghanaian Afro-pop singer Wiyaala represents this.
The house vibe would tear the roof off any venue they play - it's brimming with joy and exemplifies the party atmosphere ONIPA achieve in combining deep afro grooves and electronics to commemorate their Afro-music culture.
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