WORT world music programmer Jeff Spitzer-Resnick (co-host of PanAfrica and Diaspora) joined three other hosts: Gloria Hays, Ankur Malhotra and Dan Talmo at WOMEX-the Worldwide Music Expo, which was conducted virtually due to COVID. All four hosts are bringing music they discovered at WOMEX to WORT listeners, and they have also arranged for a number of exclusive interview.
Jeff’s interview of the Ghanaian/European band the FOKN BOIS originally aired on the PanAfrica radio show on October 31st. You can listen to the audio here, and an edited (for easier reading) transcript is below covering Ghanaian history, COVID’s impact on WOMEX and these musicians, colonialism, and the great blend of influences on the FOKN BOIS’ music, ranging from Bugs Bunny to Reggae to Highlife to Hip Hop with many stops in between. Check out the FOKN BOIS here (link to their YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7KJlUsW45Kp-5bmVFbKD-Q )
JSR: Hi, this is your host, Jeff Spitzer-Resnick here on WORT 89.9 FM Madison. I’m really thrilled to have the band known as, and I’m going to spell it out, F-O-K-N BOIS. You can figure out why I can’t say that. Thank you FCC. I’ve got the band members, two men who are living in Europe right now. Let them tell you more, Mensa and Wanlov. Hey Mensa, why don’t you introduce yourself? Tell us where you’re living right now.
Mensa: Well, my name is Mensa Ansah. I’m currently in the UK in Kent, Grays End to be precise.
JSR: Wanlov, where are you living right now?
Mensa: This question, this mountain of a question.
Wanlov: I live in Accra, Ghana, but I’m stuck. I’m stuck in Zandborg, Denmark at the moment because of Corona.
JSR: I see. Actually, that’s interesting and of course, challenging, given the world we’re living in. Do you want to tell us a little bit about how you got stuck?
Wanlov: Yeah, I also live here. I came to take my toothbrush and I couldn’t go back to Ghana.
JSR: Oh my goodness. We don’t have to get too personal. Tell us a little bit about how your band got together.
Wanlov: Through colonialism, Mensa and I attended a colonial Anglican boys boarding school called Adisadel College, which was a high school. We met there. By that time I was a senior and Mensa was a junior. By the time he arrived there, I’d figured out that the teachers were more interested like the colonial masters of before was to impart fear and obedience instead of knowledge. So I would go to his classroom and lie to his teacher that he’s been sought after, by a different teacher for punishment. And they will readily send him with me out of the class to be punished. And we would just run off into the village and rap together. And this is how the band FOKN BOIS started.
We didn’t have the name at the time and we didn’t know we will become a band, but that was the beginning. This was in Cape Coast, Ghana, really known us Oguaa.
JSR: Got it. So you guys were both born in Ghana?
Mensa: Born in Ghana and Wanlov moved to–
Wanlov: You have a British passport. How did you get that?
Mensa: —Wanlov moved to Ghana at a young tender age.
Wanlov: One and a half.
Mensa: After a few years in Ghana, decided to return to Europe as a whole. And I would like to explain this, this story very quickly and clearly that, he moved to Ghana at a young age, experienced Ghana beautifully.
And sometimes as a tourist also, you know, by proxy of his father being Ghanaian and then moved back to Europe and he lives in Europe and kind of juggles between Europe and Ghana and not, I say Europe because he has a home in Copenhagen, in Romania, in Belgium, Amsterdam, and also Japan, which is not in Europe.
JSR: Wow, I had no idea that what I would have thought were basic questions would elicit so much laughter. But that’s cool. I’m glad we’re having fun here.
Mensa: Sorry, Jeff it’s because we’re always fighting about who is in Ghana at the most.
JSR: Got it. So is it when you were in high school, when you first got together?
Mensa: We met in 1997.
JSR: So you’ve been together for quite a while.
Mensa: We were both teenagers at that time.
JSR: So, now let’s talk more about your music. Mensa, before we started recording, you told me that the, F O K N stands for something, but that could change depending on the day. So tell me what it stands for today.
Mensa: Usually on Wednesdays, we go for, fear of knowing nothing.
JSR: I like that.
Mensa: If you asked us yesterday, maybe Wanlov would have given you another.
JSR: What do you think Wanlov?
Wanlov: Force of Kwame Nkrumah.
JSR: Does that have a special meaning? Because I’m not sure I follow it.
Wanlov: Yeah. Well, if you knew a bit about Ghanaian history and you find it well, that Kwame Nkrumah, the first prime minister and president of Ghana was outed by Ghanaians and forced into exile by Ghanaians and Kwame Nkrumah was a visionary who had Ghana, at least what we believe that he had Ghana at heart and was fighting for.
The Organization of African Unity to make the United States of Africa. And we are the enemies, we ourselves are the saboteurs of our own destiny. So that’s what Force of Kwame Nkrumah means, like the enemies of Kwame Nkrumah.
JSR: So now let’s talk about your music. I played a couple of cuts off, your latest album and we’ll play some more after the interview, but tell us if you have any kind of philosophy or musical thinking when you’re putting your music together?
Wanlov: Mensa, you go on.
Mensa: So one of the reasons why, Wanlov and myself really, formed this friendship was because we found ourselves, almost always, fighting authority or some kind of resistance and always opposing the need for us to be a part of some kind of normalcy.
And so for us, when we approach these things, all the subjects and all the things that we talk about, first of all, we’re making fun of ourselves. It comes from a place of irreverence, a place of resistance also, but mainly being able to laugh to see the funny side of things really
JSR: In terms of a kind of style of music, do you have any things you want to share with our listeners about that?
Wanlov: So we grew up on various kinds of music. I grew up in a house where my father was playing blues and funk records from America and, and my mother was listening to Romanian folk music. And I was hearing classical music and cartoons and Highlife music in the streets and traditional music, arts, traditional festivals, and then hip hop came along and Reggae too. We’ve just been soaking all these genres and energies of music all my life. Even like watching Bugs Bunny, you get to hear Pavarotti and all these kinds of people. Our music is mainly, the foundation is hip hop. But because it was the first energy that really held on tight to us because we didn’t have a youth movement in Ghana where the youth were playing music because we came from a generation where our parents had just been banned from playing music.
So we grew up without like a live youth music scene. And so we had, we basically inherited hip-hop or adopted it. I don’t know what to say. So we basically adopted hip hop and, that’s the basis of our music and everything else is sprinkled on top of it. Be it my Balkanic influences or Mensa’s blues and Highlife influences or just different styles really.
JSR: That sounds great. Let me ask one other question and see if either of you have a response. So we met, virtually through WOMEX and I really appreciate that opportunity. And thank you for giving me the time to interview you guys. WOMEX is virtual this year. What did you guys think about it? .
Mensa: For us, you know, we had been trying for a few years to get into WOMEX. This year seemed quite a special one because it was being held in Hungary. And Wanlov and myself have a lot of history in that country. I lived there for a while and also we’ve made, we’ve really made some really, really interesting projects in, in Hungary, in Budapest.
Our last album Afrobeat LOL was literally recorded in Budapest and some of our early tours as a band happened to Budapest, it was for us, it meant a little bit more. So I was a little bit, heartbroken when the pandemic hit and all these changes had to be made. And so, I was a bit distraught to be honest with you.
So I was a little bit removed and I haven’t been engaging too much with what’s been happening, you know, but, I think Wanlov has had a few conversations, has been on some panels and so on and so forth, and it seems like there’s and interesting things happen,
But I think Wanlov would be more suitable for answering that.
JSR: I appreciate it. It’s difficult. And I know that musicians all over the world are struggling, during this COVID time to make a living and, engage. And that’s why I thought let’s reach out and see if we can at least spread your music, here over on this side of the pond, as they say.
Wanlov, did you want to add in your perspective on WOMEX?
Wanlov: Yeah, thanks, Jeff. Yeah, Mensa said we were excited to perform and when it was announced that it was going to be virtual, the upside to it band is we’re a global band. We’re based in three parts of the world. We have a third member called Andras Vial who lives in Budapest and Mensa is in Kent and I’m between Ghana and Europe. So when WOMEX requests a virtual performance, that was close to impossible logistically for us, because of course the Hungarian borders were closed and there were so many restrictions going on here and there. On top of that, our live performance is an experience you have to be physically in, you know, to, because we feed off the energy of the crowd. We take some, we give it back, we mix it up and we go into different jams and vibes based off what the crowd is shouting at us. And so on, we perform with the crowd. So, we just felt like would be selling ourselves short and our management especially decided like we should try and see if it’s physical next year to do it next year.
JSR: Well, I hope to see you there. Porto. I hear. Let’s hope for the whole world that COVID is over or at least under control by then and that we can do lots of things live. I’ll send out one more wish. We have a lot of music festivals when COVID isn’t happening, here in Madison. And we get a lot of African artists, as well as other world music artists into those festivals. So it is my wish that, whether it’s next year or in a future year, we can hear the FOKN BOIS, here in Madison and believe me, you will feed on the crowd and they will feed on you.
Wanlov: Sounds dope.
JSR: Well, thank you. I appreciate the interview.
FOKN Bois photo by Andras Orsi