At the heart of Jembaa Groove is the Ghanaian highlife style of music. This is underscored by its second album “Ye Ankasa | We Ourselves”, which embodies a new perception of African, jazz and soul music.

The core of Jembaa Groove consists of vocalist and percussionist Eric Owusu and bassist and producer Yannick Nolting. The two met in 2020 in a playground in Berlin thanks to their children and later decided to form a band, which two years later earned international recognition for their debut album “Susuma”.

Unlike their previous, London based multi-instrumentalist and producer Kwame Yeboah (Kwashibu Area Band) provides much inspiration and features on all but two tracks which sees him reviving a masterful partnership with Eric – the pair grew up in Accra together, honing a specific style of highlife called Sikyi highlife popularised in Ghana during the 1970s. Eric & Kwame both with whom he recorded and performed in the Kwashibu Area Band, and with legends like Pat Thomas, Ebo Taylor and the much-revered and never-forgotten drummer Tony Allen.

The other musicians from Jembaa Groove hail from different corners of the planet, a mix of African, European and Latin American with new recruit Daniel Allen Oberto (Aloe Blacc and Tony Allen), from Cuba, on trumpet. This internationalism that filters through Ghana via London and Berlin moulds their sound, which if asked to categorise Yannick calls “a contemporary take on highlife, jazz and soul”.

Creative Difference

Their evolution, their creative distinction he relates to “their eyes and ears being open to everything happening around them…we listen to a lot of music, past and present”. And it’s clear the band have a soft spot for USA derived retro-aesthetics, as found on recent soul productions on labels like Daptone Records and Big Crown Records both of which have had a significant impact on sonic decisions and how the record was produced.

“Jembaa Groove is all about positive vibes. We try to promote positivity, togetherness and respect. But also try to remind others as well as ourselves that destiny lies in our hands, and that you can’t take things for granted. If you want something, go for it, but respect the people!”

Sound diversity

The bulk of the album was conceived and recorded in Berlin – all tracks except Sweet My Ear, which was recorded in Ghana. Yannick points out, “It was about going back to the source and catching the original vibe to help us inform what Jembaa Groove are renewing and reframing”. 

It features the inimitable vocals and harmonies of K.O.G, a Ghanaian singer based out of Sheffield in the UK, and rolls along a seriously phat groove with a typically and dazzling horn section. Indeed, the band’s evolution has seen them grow their brass section giving the sound an even greater uplift, a wall-of-brass that still retains a mellow vibe throughout this new chapter.

Master highlife and jazz practitioner Gyedu-Blay Anbolley provides lead vocals on Agya, a life affirming salute to the fathers of the world, which lends to a classic Jembaa Groove wig-out with Eric’s vocal harmonies particularly warming. The final official single from the album is Makoma, which begins with a solemn announcement from Kwame Nkrumah, Ghanaian President and independence fighter of the 1960s, denouncing colonialism in Africa – an important topic and part of the band’s DNA. Combining with the sweet guitars of co-creator Kwame Yeboah, is Daniel “El Congo” Allen’s delightful trumpet solo.

Confidently sidestepping the sometimes ‘difficult second album’, Jembaa Groove’s sophomore effort is a Ghanaian stamped, deep & soulful take on the jazz genre, on one hand paying respect to their roots, while the other is forever reinventing.

For the last 2 years Jembaa Groove have been burning brightly, entertaining discerning dancefloors worldwide. They continue to ratchet up a solid and loyal fanbase buoyed by breakout performances on BBC 6 Music, at SXSW (USA), ESNS and Supersonic Jazz Festival (Netherlands). And now looking through the keyhole of 2024, with live headline and album launching dates in April confirmed in London, Paris, Madrid and Berlin and an exciting touring schedule ahead, the future of contemporary, soulfully touched and highlife inspired Afro-Jazz is in motion and spreading like gospel. The album “Ye Ankasa | We Ourselves” will therefore also be featured in our “Album of the Week” section.

NMR (photo: press Jembaa Groove)