Ghanaian-born drummer Paa Kow has to be one of the most exciting artists that the majority of Americans have never heard of. He started playing at age five, touring at age nine, and has developed his own invigorating blend of jazz, pop, and West African highlife music that continues to thrill audiences around the world.
I spoke with him recently in advance of his upcoming appearance at Buffalo Iron Works, and, instead of always complaining that Buffalo doesn’t get any good shows, you should expand your mind and come bear witness to what promises to be a musical experience you won’t soon forget.
MNOD: Who were your musical influences growing up?
PK: My family band in Ghana were the biggest influence on me. My mother played with bands in our hometown and my uncle started a concert band. I was probably five-years-old when I started playing percussion. When I grew to ages 6 and 7, the band started playing shows regularly and I got into percussion even though I was too young to put a lot of strength behind my playing. I fell in love with it and started playing congas. Audiences in my hometown of Enyan Denkyira were happy watching me play, so I wanted to continue generating that kind of excitement.
MNOD: How did you come develop such a unique style?
PK: It’s a constant learning process. I develop through listening to other people play and learning everything I can from them before incorporating that into my own thing. I also grow a lot from playing shows with my band, because we’re always keeping the music fresh and trying new things. That’s the way I develop, really. Just from playing and trying things as they come to me. By the time I was 9 or 10, I was already a professional musician going on tour for three months with my uncle’s band.
MNOD: Was that the moment when you knew for sure that music was what you wanted to do with your life?
PK: Yes. There was so much excitement and I loved seeing the reaction of the people every night. I knew that music was going to be the right path for me.
MNOD: Where did the idea for your one-of-a-kind drum kit come from?
PK: I started as a kid building my own drum set out of cans, wire, and a bag of fertilizer, which was what I had available at the time. My first pedal was made from a door hinge, string, and an old sandal. My kit now is inspired by Ghanaian culture and I’ve pretty much assembled it on my own through the years. The concept for it has been there a long time, but the quality has improved as I’ve grown up as a player. It fits my style and represents the one-of-a-kind experience we bring to the people each night.
MNOD: When did you decide to bring your music to America?
PK: Well, I had been playing a lot and my manager Peyton was visiting Ghana as a student with a professor who lived in Denver. The professor’s name was Kwasi Ampene and he brought students from the University of Colorado-Boulder to Ghana to learn about highlife music. Peyton wanted to find the best drummer in Ghana and everybody said “Paa Kow.” So, they brought me to the university to teach and it was a great experience. I performed with the West African Highlife Ensemble before going back to Ghana, but I ended up returning to America shortly after.
MNOD: Are there any differences between Ghanaian and American audiences that you’ve noticed?
PK: For me, they’ve always stayed the same. They give off the same energy every night and people just move with the music. There’s a happiness and an energy that has become a worldwide thing wherever we play.
MNOD: What can people expect if they come see your show at Buffalo Iron Works?
PK: They can expect a great show. My band is tight and ready for them. We’re bringing the power of Afro-Fusion to the people and they better get ready.
Paa Kow w/ Slyboots Circus will be at Buffalo Iron Works on Sunday, June 23.
Show time is 8:00 p.m.