Bridget Kearney (Lake Street Dive) and Benjamin Lazar Davis (Cuddle Magic) have announced the release of their debut EP, Bawa, a collection of original songs written and recorded in Accra, Ghana, and based on the Bawa music native to the Ghana's Northwest region.
Longtime collaborators in many different settings, the two first met in 2004 when both were students at The New England Conservatory and Davis was in the habit of knocking on practice room doors at random to meet potential musical partners. As Kearney sees it, this strange ritual was actually a great way for Davis to find like-minded musicians, "Ben is so creative and intuitive that the musicians that work best with him are the type that will see that about him, drop everything and go on whatever adventure he has in store."
Since then, Kearney and Davis have been on many adventures together, touring the US as band mates in Cuddle Magic, playing their own duo shows around the East Coast and as showcasing artists at SXSW, running the Philadelphia Marathon together and most recently traveling to Ghana together to study West African drumming and the gyl (African xylophone) music of the Dagaaba. "We are both life-long lovers of music and students of music," says Kearney, "so nothing was more exciting for us than going to the source of a music we really loved and learning about it from the masters." Translating the traditional gyl and drum parts to their two acoustic guitars and singing their own, original, indie-folk infused melodies and words over them, the music sounds, like most music you'll hear from Bridget and Ben, like nothing you've heard before.
Bawa, was written, produced and recorded in a two-week flurry of manic creativity inspired by the physical and musical environment of Accra. Kearney and Davis set out from Brooklyn in January 2014 with little more than two guitars and a couple of phone numbers to call upon arrival. The series of happy accidents that led to them finding a teacher, an engineer, and a studio to make this music together was nothing short of miraculous.
In January 2014, the duo set out for Accra to pursue studies there with Ghanaian musicians. Through friends in the states, they had heard of Ghanaian multi-instrumentalist Aaron Bebe. Upon arrival in Accra, they began studies with Bebe on the gyil (a Ghanaian pentatonic xylophone, with gourd resonators) and through his influence became especially enamored with Bawa music, a tradition from the Northwest region of Ghana where Bebe originally hails from. Davis explains, "There are so many different badass styles of music from Ghana, and going in we didn't know exactly which we wanted to focus on. We weren't even sure where we were gonna stay and thought we might leave Accra and check out other parts of the country. But as soon as we heard Aaron playing the Bawa stuff we were hooked and knew that we wanted to stay in Accra and study with him."
The Bawa E.P. captures a unique cross-cultural collaboration, and a combination of sounds never heard together before. There is a tangible feeling of freshness and inspiration in these songs, which were composed and recorded directly in the wake of an intense period of learning music that, however foreign, resonated deeply with both musicians. In the words of Kearney, "The whole experience of making this record was so positive and affirming of our belief in music and humanity. We went out into the world as empty-handed strangers and came back in three weeks with a wealth of new ideas and friendships that will last a lifetime.
Why? Music. It's powerful stuff."