By a happy coincidence, Bido Lito! caught up with SANKOFA on the third anniversary of their first-ever gig. If you have yet to experience the joys of Sankofa then you’re missing out on a great meandering squall of psychedelic rock n roll. If you have to pigeonhole them then they’re definitely in the vicinity of the brightly coloured boxes with the ‘psych’ references slapped on them.
So, after sitting down with the band in their rehearsal room and slyly putting them at ease with smiles and small talk, I smoothly sneak in an opening accusation that Sankofa could easily be dismissed as just another retro outfit doing nothing more than rehashing the past. But drummer Josh Perry is more than ready for me: “We do listen to stuff like The Doors and Led Zep but we just take bits from it rather than copying it. The name Sankofa comes from an African myth which basically says that there isn’t any shame in taking elements of your past and bringing that to your future for the greater good. And that’s what we are about.”
Josh is joined in the rehearsal room by Michael Robinson (big hair and big chunky Bass), Joel Whitehead (Lead Guitar), and relative newcomer Adam Daulby (Keyboards). Singer/guitarist Stephen Wall is stuck in traffic and doesn’t manage to make it. But as a rule of thumb singers are generally late, if they show at all, so I wasn’t offended, and the remaining members had plenty to say for themselves.
They’re a good bunch of lads to sit down with. They’ve known each other since they were kids in school and there is a definite gang mentality about them that most of the really special groups have. It quickly becomes clear that they are genuinely passionate about their music, with a genuine sense of a shared vision and a common mission to get out there and make a real mark on the world. They believe in what they do and I expect that in some ways if nobody was interested they would carry on regardless, because they’re so convinced that they are on the right path and everyone else will eventually catch up. And if you don’t, well then it’s your loss.
Although they’ve been around for a few years it only really started to take off for Sankofa from earlier this year when they found a champion for their undoubted talent in Eighties Vinyl Records. In March they released their debut single Siren Song on the label. It’s an epic sprawling beast of a tune that starts slowly, builds, and then somehow builds again to a point where the two sides of the 7-inch single struggle to contain this great big slab of beautiful noise. With the higher profile has come an increased ambition. They want to do more than play the same gigs they were playing a few years ago. So they’re rehearsing more, writing better songs, and the live shows just keep on developing with audiences swept away by the sheer force of their huge sound, which combines melody with a great big blistering swirl of guitars, bass and drums. The recent addition of Adam on keyboards has also helped add a little intricacy and light to their exhilarating sound.
Their second track to make it onto vinyl was on the Eighties Vinyl compilation, the killer song Maker’s Mark, which lures you in with a lolloping bluesy intro (along with an unexpectedly eerie bit of whistling) before clubbing you over the head with vicious guitar lines. There’s so much going on with a Sankofa tune that it is easy to forget the gritty, huge vocals of singer Steven Wall. He could easily dominate everything but has the good sense to know when to use his towering vocal to maximum impact and when to back off and give the music the space it needs.
The next milestone for the band will be the release of a self-titled 10-inch EP, which will be out in early December this year. It’s another step forward and lead track Guttermouth is a real statement of intent. They’ve even managed to add some genuine 60s alumni to the record by having the sleeve designed by John Van Hammersveld who, amongst other things, did the sleeve for The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour and the Stones Exile On Main Street, as well as working with other 60s and 70s legends such as The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.
The band explained how this unlikely collaboration came about. “Dave [Hewitson, Eighties Vinyl] made contact with John Van Hammersveld through his website. We thought he wouldn’t be bothered but he asked to hear a track and he loved it. He has done this great sleeve and he told us that it looks current but also references the 60s. The whole thing is perfect and fits with the Sankofa philosophy of taking something from the past and using it to enhance the future.”
So there you have it. Sankofa are a band who definitely aren’t afraid to look back but who have much more about them than a fixation with the past. They have the confident air of a band who are just on the cusp of something great. They know it and if you’ve seen them lately then you’ll know it, too. Sankofa are doing this because they simply have to; much like yourselves for that matter, who we implore to listen post-haste.
Sankofa’s self-titled EP is out on Eighties Vinyl records