For a small country, there’s a lot of good radio from Togo! As always, I used Radio Garden this month to take a listen; here are some stations that really caught my ear.
Obé Web Radio – Online radio out of Lomé – this has been one of my favourites to listen to. It’s a really good mix of pop, rap, dance music – mainly francophone African. It’s a lot of good upbeat music, mixed well with not too many repeats. Listen live here.
Ahouevi – A really good broad selection of music – I’ve tuned in on different days at different times and listened to jazz, R&B, Togolese folk, and Koffi Olomide’s “Coronavirus Assassin” lockdown song about God’s wrath. Ahouevi’s site also has Togolese news and a heavy focus on football. Listen live here.
Radio Nataan – “The Voice of the Savannah” – the northernmost radio station I could find, based out of Dapaong, where coastal Africa starts to transition into the dry Sahel. They have a strong focus on sharing artists from Togo’s north, as well as the region’s history and culture. Listen live here.
Radio Université de Kara – Campus radio from the University of Kara in northern Togo. It’s the second university in Togo and has some of the best computer tech in the region. When I tuned in the campus channel was playing funk-gospel. Listen live here.
I’m going to take a go at Togolese grilled chicken – it’s not a complicated recipe, but the simplicity is what makes it so good. Marinate some drumsticks, throw it on the grill, life’s good. I’m using this recipe from Biscuits and Ladles, a Ghanaian blogger who also showcases other West African recipes.
The marinade has everything needed for good chicken – garlic, ginger, onion, lemon juice, hot peppers, and red palm oil for that real West African flavour. I forgot to get fresh chilies, but the recipe does give you leeway on what pepper to use, as long as it’s nice and hot, so I used a good dose of hot Korean pepper.
I’m also going to use my oven to broil them – I don’t have a BBQ right now, but broiling will get you a similar result as grilling. Just make sure you put some tinfoil on a baking sheet to catch the drippings! Broiling chicken legs on high generally takes 20 minutes, turn halfway, and make sure the internal temperature is ok.
This turned out great – the chicken is crispy and juicy, with a ton of flavour from the marinade. Spicy, lemony, gingery, just all around delicious. This is going to be my BBQ go-to from now on – super easy and super tasty.
King Mensah, “The Golden Voice of Togo”, with a powerful cry for pan-African unity and the fight for democracy over corruption, with lyrics of “We forgot that the real power of Africa is us” and hearkening to African leaders who were killed before their time, like Patrice Lumumba of the DRC, Diallo Telli of Guinea, and Ruben Um Nyobè of Cameroon.
Here’s also a good little interview with King Mensah (subtitles in English) about sharing the roots of culture and the importance of choosing which language to sing in.
Peanut (groundnut) stew is found all over West Africa, and there are a million variations on the recipe – some have meat, some have vegetables, some are spicy, and the vast majority include sweet potato. I’m going to use this Togolese recipe from AfrikCuisine that’s a velouté instead of a stew – it’s blended velvety smooth after cooking.
I picked up some red palm oil to cook with – it’s the cooking oil of choice for West African dishes, and adds a distinct savoury, earthy aroma and extra colour. It’s my first time cooking with it, and while the scent is strong, it’s kind of in the same family as a punchy cheese or dried seafood. Interestingly, the flavour is really mild.
The peanuts are the dominant flavour here, followed by the sweet potato and an aftertaste of palm oil. It’s very smooth, though it feels like you could play around and add some more spices to really make it pop – some ginger or chilies at least. This feels like it’s a more basic version of the other groundnut stews I looked at, but you could really build on it.
Travel filmmaker Indi Casa shares a little love letter to Togo, where he spent the early part of his life, with some absolutely stunning drone footage. Subtitles available in English.
What if Togo had ended up a colony of Czechoslovakia?
While Germany lost control of Togoland to the British and French in the early weeks of World War I, it wasn’t until the end of the war that Germany was formally stripped of its colonies as part of the Treaty of Versailles. At the same time, Czech nationalists held that the brand-new Czechoslovak state needed colonies to “prove itself” as a European power. A few members of the government toyed with the idea of trying to take over some of Germany’s former colonies – particularly Papua New Guinea and Togo.
Part of the argument by the Czechs to justify this idea was that they had many German-speakers who could “seamlessly” take over the colonial administration, and in Togo’s case, there were Czechoslovak troops returning from fighting in Siberia that could have been diverted to station in Togo.
None of these ideas were taken past the step of nationalist fantasies, and it was never formally articulated by the government or humoured by other countries.
Addendum: I had originally written that the flag above was proposed at the time – I was wrong. No flag had been proposed for Czechoslovak Togo, and the one here is a hypothetical flag made recently by an artist. That’s on me for not checking my sources!
In the 70s, there was a huge blossoming of funk music across West Africa – it took the jazz and funk and disco coming out of the West and incorporated African elements, bringing these music styles full circle back to their African roots.
Akofa Akoussah was a Togolese singer active in the mid-70s, and released some fantastic Afro-Funk singles – and while she didn’t have a particularly long music career, she was later very active in nurturing new Togolese music and the fight against AIDS.
I’d be interested in finding more out about the background of this cake – I’ve found several references to kéké, a vanilla and rum cake, but there’s not much on it’s origin. It seems like it’s probably originally an European import – maybe French, maybe German, but now very much a Togolese recipe.
Essentially, it’s a straightforward and simple, but rich, vanilla cake – but what really seals the deal is that you use vanilla bean instead of extract, and you alternate whipping ingredients by machine and by hand to get the right texture. I used this recipe in French from Une cuisine pour Voozenoo.
I had to bump the temp up to 315F (the recipe calls for 150C/305F) and add an extra 15 minutes (I’m not sure if that’s my oven running cold or what). It’s very much like a pound cake, and the vanilla bean really sells this – it’s such a lovely flavour. I may cut down on the eggs next time, however.
Elom 20ce is a Togolese rapper and filmmaker – he’s got some absolutely brilliant and varied stuff that I’m going to dig into more this month. The above short film, “The Burden of my Light” is spoken-word poetry, a deeply powerful meditation on childhood and family. There are subtitles in several languages, including English.