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Walk into Yaw Boateng's Grey Lynn home and the first thing you notice is the wall of African drums lining one side of his lounge.

Of them all it's the gabla - the "leader" and "mixer" as Boateng puts it - that dominates. Not only is it the biggest, it's also the most beaten up and well-used of the bunch.

"Drums have a leader who dictates what should be happening - or else everyone would just be fooling round," he smiles describing the role the drum plays in his music.

Boateng, who came to New Zealand in 2003 from Ghana, and his eight-piece band Zoh Zoh play at Splore next weekend alongside headliners Lupe Fiasco, Basement Jaxx, and locals Pitch Black, Sola Rosa, and Minuit.

The band, made up of two Ghanaians, a Rwandan, some Kiwis, and a Pakistani, who play a mix of Afrobeat jazz, African highlife and reggae, embody the spirit of Splore which is about art, culture and community.

The gabla drum Boateng plays is from his mother's Ewe tribe. However, many of the other drums are from neighbouring west African countries. There's the cheeky sounding Talking Drum, an instrument common to most countries in west Africa; the sharp and piercing sound of the djembe from Senegal; and the kpanlogo from the Ga tribe in Ghana, which is similar in shape to a conga drum.

Also in his lounge, where a loping reggae beat plays on the stereo, sits a traditional western drum kit because Boateng's main musical focus is the fusion of African instruments with western sounds. But he's wary of the idea of fusion because he knows, done badly, it can sound contrived.

"That's the problem with fusion. There are three parts to Zoh Zoh, there's the Afrobeat jazz, the African Highlife, which is African funk, and then reggae."

He gets inspiration and guidance from listening to Nigerian Afro-beat star Fela Kuti and Ghanaian Highlife great E.T. Mensah.

It's a tough style of music to describe to people but Boateng says once they see and hear it played live "they get it". He even goes as far to say Zoh Zoh has created a new style of music, which is a bold claim, but there isn't much around that sounds like it, especially in New Zealand.

"I realised I can create my music over here and if I do it well it will be something that I can enjoy and something I can share with people in this country - and hopefully they can learn something about African music."

He initially came here to study in 2003 and apart from a trip back to Ghana for a year during 2007 he is happy to call Auckland home for now.

"I wanted to have an overseas experience, like how you guys do. But I didn't want to just travel around, I wanted to get another qualification and then go back to Ghana. I didn't want to go to Europe or America because there are a lot of Ghanaians there already. I wanted to go somewhere that is different so when I go back home I can tell them new stories, because a story from England is nothing new to them. But something from the Pacific area, they will listen to you."

He grew up in the village of Aveme Beme in the Kpando district of the Volta region of Ghana and says he comes from royal stock since his grandfather and great grandfather were rulers of his tribe.

"You can't come from a royal family without knowing music. So I grew up with music, I knew how to play the drums, but I never really knew the history. And when I came to New Zealand people were asking me things I didn't know the answer," he laughs.

So when he went back to Ghana in 2007 he studied the history and origins of the drums that he plays.

"So now I know what I'm talking about and I know where it's coming from."

Early on when he arrived in Auckland he had a chance meeting with musician Bud Hooper, who saw Boateng in the street holding his gabla drum. "He said to me, 'Hey, you're from the Ewe tribe'. I was like, 'Woah, I'm a long way from home but he knows I am from Ghana'."

It turns out Hooper, also a drummer, had lived in Ghana for six months and learned to play a drum similar to Boateng's.

The pair became friends and he ended up joining Hooper's Afro-beat fusion band Gahu, which he played in until 2007.

His focus now is Zoh Zoh and last year released the album Nomadic African - a seven-track collection of minimal, percussion-driven Afrobeat-meets-reggae songs.

Apart from a few trumpet parts he played all the instruments on it. The song Downtown Pressure is a stand-out, a shivering and excitable mantra.

He wrote it about the frustrations of trying to integrate into New Zealand ("No one understood me," he laughs) and at the same time his family and friends back in Ghana did not understand what he was doing in New Zealand.

"So when I called my mum and I was talking to her I would get frustrated and just leave the phone. You know, the song just talks about the pressure you go through in life and you will never understand it," he laughs again.

But a year on Boateng says the songs sound better now that they have been filled out with a full band.

"The songs have a lot more form, rather than just drum-based, and they are in more of that fusion style that I wanted to create with the whole band."

LOWDOWN
Who: Zoh Zoh, and band leader Yaw Boateng
What: Afrobeat jazz, African Highlife, and reggae
Where & when: Splore, playing 1.30pm-2.30pm, Saturday on the main stage