Accra/London based Sakora Records producer and founder Sewor Okudzeto talked to us about making beats, his inspirations and creative process
Who/What inspired you to get into music production and at what age did you start producing?
Music has always been there. I started playing guitar at age 12, was in a band by 16, and touring by 17. I was playing in France, Spain, The UK and Australia till I was 24. I would say I only started producing after then. Prior to that I had a very good grounding in being a songwriter, instrumentalist and band member. My main inspiration has always been the people around me, other musicians, and the relationship and communication that comes. I’m inspired by many producers, from Hip-Hop to Funk Afrobeat, Jazz, Rock and Soul. People like Prince, Sly Stone, Lee Scratch Perry, Eddie Kramer, Dr Dre, Beck, Tony Allen, Miles Davis, Rick Rubin, Neptune’s and more.
I was a Funk fiend who was into Rock music and Classic Soul, lots of Led Zeppelin, and Funkadelic, James Brown and Al Green as well as Rare groove. Being in London, people like ltj Bukem, Ashley Beedle and Goldie turned me onto electronic music and Drum n Bass and House music.
How long did it take for you to get confident enough with your production ability to put your work out?
I’ve always been my own biggest critic and whilst I have learned lots from many producers and musicians over time, I have enough confidence now, to be quite sure of what I hear in my head. I am always impressed by so many different people that I take what I take and add what I feel. It took me a long time to put myself out there as just a producer as I was always in bands, which greatly satisfied my need to play live. Playing live shows and releasing music in a band where I was the lead songwriter, is a great basis for preparing for a move into production. You need strong compositional knowledge as well as a decent knowledge base on the science of music. It’s all maths and physics. Add that to groove and pure feeling and it’s a good basis. But you always need to find that special something. Often that comes from artists and the people around you or the ambiance that can be created.
With such a diverse background as you have, what genre of music do you absolutely love to make?
I love making everything. I don’t limit myself to any genre. Being in Ghana has taught me about Afro-beat and hip-life etc but I do love very chilled smooth Funk and Funky House music with jazz influences. I’m currently in London and looking forward to working with Funsho Ogundipe from Ayetoro on an Electronic Future Jazz thing. As long as I’m pushing myself mentally, I’m happy. Whether it’s Soul, Funk, Hip-hop, Jazz, Pop or Afrobeat.
In your opinion, what makes a great producer?
A great producer is someone who can create an atmosphere of conducive creativity and get the best out of artists, wether that’s an instrumentalist or vocalist. Or sometimes someone to listen and be a sounding board, but often it’s someone who can recognise when an artist has hit upon something cool. and points out the relevance of a good hook or melody idea. It all depends on the relationship that can be built and wether there is trust in each others opinions. But I would say that most great Producers are great listeners.
Can you name your top 10 producers both globally and in Ghana?
Oh wow, well worldwide people like Danger mouse, LTJ Bukem, Rick Rubin and the Neptunes. In Ghana I love what EL is up to and what Panji Anoff has previously done with Pidgin music. I’ve also been doing some bits with M3nsa who surprises me every time. I dig Beat Menace and what Guilty Beatz has been up to, as well as some younger beat makers like Kuvie.
I’m into an organic sound so anyone fusing live and electronic with a traditional favour. And homespun rhythms. I am constantly surprised by what is coming out of West Africa and the continent as a whole. There’s lots of good music. I’m looking forward to hearing the next generation of producers in GH who are influenced by local flavours with futurism.
Every beat maker has their creative process. Could you take us through yours?
That’s a long answer. It depends on what the track is about. I don’t classify myself as a beat maker because that’s part of the process. As a composer I start from a number of different places, sometimes guitar or piano, sometimes beat and a rhythm. It all depends. Often I will have dozens of ideas constantly on the go and when one of them clicks with an artist I go further into it.
What’s your current DAW setup like?
I’m a mac person so I’m all about Logic really. But I also love Propellerheads Reason and have been amazed by Ableton. For me it’s more about having instruments around as well as a lot of percussion, some great mics and cool outboard gear. DAW’s are all pretty similar in terms of capabilities. Its all about how they feel to the individual with regards to editing. In my mind, production is about more than computers. Music has only been produced electronically for the last 15 to 20 years commercially.
What’s the most challenging part of the production process for you?
That changes every time. Sometimes it can be the composition or maybe the EQ’ing of certain instruments. Often its getting the vocals right and mixing things till they sit right in the mix. But every track has its challenges. If you’re blessed to be working with a great vocalist, sometimes its easy. I recently wrote a track with Ofie. She had written lyrics the night before and I wrote the music in literally 2 minutes! It just came really easily. We recorded it at Kwame Yeboah’s studio in 2 takes. Panji and I edited in an hour and the track came together really easily. It’s called “Little Girl” and it is beautiful! The challenge with production, I find is finding the correct people to work with. If everyone is serious, things happen!
Who’s the most inspiring artiste you’ve worked with so far and what makes them exceptional?
I’m working on a project with M3nsa of FOKN BOIS fame, and its been real work. We’re doing some music for a TV show. Our brief was really quite hard and very specific, and he has blown me away with the stuff he has come up with. Plus he’s been in Budapest and I’ve been in between Accra and London, so we’ve had to trust each other and I love what has happened. Sena Dagadu has also been involved in the project and her vocal parts have again blown me away. I will always love Ofie Kodjo for her amazing voice and spirit!
What was your inspiration behind creating Sakora Records and what does the label represent?
Sakora Records is a chance for me to have an outlet for the music that I have written and to provide an outlet for music that I dig. It’s a platform for like-minded artists. For me, now that I have set everything up internationally, it’s a chance for some Ghanaian producers & artistes to get exposure. I want Sakora Records to represent Ghana Worldwide with artists who are not just about making commercial music, but challenging music that pushes the boundaries of what Ghanaian music is about. It’s not just about the dance floor or the rap scene.
Music for me is so much more than a couple of genres. I think we have a lot of talent that can do so much in a variety of ways and by simply having that Ghana flavour, we are already creating something unique and special. The work that I did with Lady Jayis an example of that. We fused some old school soul with Fante lyrics and an honest approach. People love that internationally. However the track that has garnered the biggest reaction has been Kweku Mankind with “Wa Ko Wo Ho”.
What’s been the main challenge for you with regards to making music in Ghana compared to London?
Honestly it’s very different. It’s more about friends and vibes. London has its positives if you have a good network but so does Ghana. And for the same reasons, if you can surround yourself with good people it doesn’t really matter where you are. And as long as you can get the music on iTunes or Spotify or wherever, it can be a major advantage coming from Ghana. Obviously there is no dumsor in London but it’s a very expensive place to live. For me Ghana is a better place to create music as you can be a little more free. It’s cheaper to live in and you can just get on with it.
Is Sakora Records open to working with any upcoming artistes that reach out or there’s some sort of selection process?
I’m interested in talent and honesty. Not everyone can sing or rap, and some musicians are better than others. However, some of the most interesting artists are people that recognise where their talent lies, whether it be as a lyricist or writer, we can’t all be Beyonce but there is a lot of room for interesting artists with personality, like Kweku Mankind.
Finally, any last words or advice for upcoming producers on how to improve their craft?
We’re all hustling, so I’m just as likely to ask the youth of today whats happening online, coz it moves so fast, but with production I think that being very particular about what you do and never compromising ,for anyone. I always say “I’m a bit miserable because I am never happy”. You never finish a track, you just have to sometimes let it be and let go.
My advice is to work with artists & collaborators that will challenge and push you in directions that maybe aren’t so comfortable. Always challenge yourself and never say never. I have often just been quiet and let an artist freestyle for hours in a smokey room then come back the next day and edited it into something beautiful. There are so many different ways to approach production that you should never limit yourself to any one way. If you’re a beat maker, learn an instrument. If you’re a composer, learn the science. If you’re a guitarist, sit at a piano. If you’re a programmer, pick up a Djembe. If you’re a rapper, try singing a hook. Production is a massive subject and different genres require different skills. If i’m writing something Jazzy, I probably will not even turn a computer on till the song is finished on a piece of paper. However if I’m writing a dance beat, I probably won’t write anything down, I’ll just get in the groove and see what happens to me. My advice is to be constantly writing music and pushing yourself in different genres.
I used to sit down everyday and write a track a day in different genres. Monday might be a reggae track,Tuesday could be house, Wednesday could be drum and bass, Thursday could be Jazz and Friday might be Hip-Hop or highlife. Constantly write! I have a vault of about 600 plus ideas that are all viable and another 600 that I would say are crap but I would only say that 50 have the potential to be great. I only put 10 tracks on the last album but u never know! Sometimes an idea that you don’t dig might be someone else’s MAJOR jam!! The clue is having the ideas there and ready to go. The only way you get better at songwriting or production is simply by doing lots of it.
Word! Great advice. Thanks a lot for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us! It’s been alot of fun 🙂
Thanks for having me involved. Its been a blast! Big love to all and I’ll be back in Ghana soon and working on A.R.T. Vol 2!
Check out Sakora Records new release.
Sewor Okudzeto Presents A.R.T. (African Relaxation Techniques) Vol 1. Now available to buy on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and also available to stream on Apple Music, Spotify, Deezer, Google Play, Rdio and more.