Atongo Zimba is a master musician, singer and a griot from the north of Ghana whose time as a child was divided between the family farm and the regional capital of Bolgatanga.
He was very young when his grandfather taught him to play and build the Kologo, a two stringed lute which has its variations throughout the savannahs and deserts of West Africa.
“A talented singer and performer that creates music as easily as one breathes.“
Matthew Forss – Inside World Music
During holidays and weekends Atongo would run the cows through farmland and forests with the other boys, looking for feed and water for the cows.
There was a strong musical tradition amongst the cowboys and they would play instruments such as flutes and percussion, as well as using their voices to make different sounds, many of which mimicked birds and animals.
Atongo learnt traditional songs and started to compose his own where he would use the kologo for more complex melodies than the usual strumming.
The instrument is used for many traditional events and to motivate farm workers, but Atongo was more interested in using the kologo for art and entertainment.
He decided to travel in order to explore the possibilities of music making as a career and found his way to the compound of Fela Kuti in Lagos where Atongo stayed for two years in his late adolescence, opening weekend shows at the Afrika Shrine with his solo performances.
On returning to Ghana, this time to Accra, he joined a very active and creative music scene in the 80’s and 90’s playing with Osibisa and the Pan African Orchestra amongst others.
At the same time he continued to develop his own solo style, picking up ideas from highlife, jazz and funk. Atongo released four albums in Ghana during this time, following which he made several visits to Europe and recorded with Swiss drummer Gabriel Schiltnec in Switzerland.
His first international release was called Allah Mongode and they performed with the cultural group Adisa.
“Indispensable, perhaps legendary, a top 10 definite.”
The Beat, USA, reviewing Barefoot in the Sand
Settling in the UK by 2003, Atongo’s next project was Savannah Breeze (Hippo Records, 2005 ) with a band he put together of Dutch based Ghanaian and Caribbean musicians for the Afro-Funk sound.
It was produced by Dave Youeli who was also responsible for the production of kologo legend Captain Yaba.
Keeping strong links to his own country throughout this time abroad, his recording of “No Beer in Heaven” was a major hit in Ghana in 2004. Atongo’s third collaboration was a jazz influenced Barefoot In The Sand (Hippo Records, 2007) which went on to be awarded “African CD of the Year” in Holland.
This lead to tours across Europe, South America and Africa, including a benefit for the 2010 Haiti earthquake, at the Alliance Française in Accra.
A decade of touring the world with his music and then the pandemic hit, leading Atongo to come full circle and head back to Ghana. In this time, he formed a band with some of the finest musicians in Accra to record his latest album A to Z.
Atongo composes and sings in his native Fra Fra, Hausa, Ga, English and Twi. The themes of his songs include power and respect in personal and ethnic relationships, everyday life and development for Ghana and Africa in general, as well as romantic love and spirituality.
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