Students Shouldn’t Always Surpass Their Teachers: a Requiem for K3V

Man down

2011.

It was our first day at Ashesi: his as a student and mine as a lecturer. Kevin was the kind who sat at the back and barely hid his laughter. I feel sorry for any lecturer who thought this a front for an idle mind. Kevin would effortlessly answer most questions you threw at him, throwing two back at you for free. Good ones too. The kind to make you come to your next class better prepared.

Raised in South Africa by Ghanaian parents, he skipped that unfortunate part of our education where we are taught the lie that respecting elders and authority figures means never, ever challenging them. Kevin would ‘touch the anointed‘ with abandon. He was the kind to whom respect was exactly what it should be: earned. There are many reasons why he and I got on just fine. My favourite is that I had a unique skillset with obvious appeal to someone I would soon discover bore the nickname ‘DJ K3v’.

A year (or less) later, Kevin and I were setting up to play at one of the first editions of the Chalewote Street Art Festival. It was a lonely time for alternative artists and DJs. He complained to me of how much he missed playing the kwaito and house he had learned to love in South Africa. Kevin was all about that asokpo sound championed by the likes of Gafacci. But Accra’s clubs only really had appetites for hip-hop, R&B, dancehall and hiplife at the time. I learned to DJ as part of a crew in early 2000s London. The lone DJ gets all the glory but it is so much more fun playing with other DJs. The collaboration and competition elevates everybody’s game to the benefit of every foot and waist in the room. I told K3v to come to Chalewote where I was one of a handful of local DJs who pushed past the popular towards the alternative and underground sounds and artists the festival was trying to create space for. I ended up dancing as much to his set as he did to mine. It is something he would never let me forget.

A day student, his house was on my route and as one of the few students with a car, he started picking me up on his way to school after my car chose death over one more ride on the infamous road up to Ashesi. At first, Kevin would drop me at Tetteh Quarshie where I would wait for the staff and faculty bus. But we conversed and laughed so long and so often that he would end up driving us straight to Ashesi. We became friends in that way that teachers and students sometimes do. Unfortunately for Kevin, this did not buy him instant good grades but he learned to care enough to try to excel. I got a feel for his level of ability and learned when and how to push him, both in and out of the classroom. Our conversations helped me to see the world through his eyes. It was a hard place on account of chronic illness. But it seemed hopeful at the time.

One of our best ever collaborations was Beatclub: a showcase for the many arts-inclined Ashesi students who felt stifled on account of the school’s emphasis on tech and entrepreneurship. We came up with a syllabus to teach students to DJ, including guest lectures by the likes of DJ Black and BBrave, helping to train the likes of Eff the DJ with whom Kevin would later form the Ghanaian EDM group #IFKR and drop collaborations with the likes of Adomaa and Odunsi. The group would go on to co-host FutureFest – a showcase of Ghanaian electronic music at Alliance Francaise – and members of our DJ class hosted a night at The Republic Bar in Osu where Eff and Kevin began showing me the extent to which students can surpass teachers.

Lord.

My favourite event though was the Cafeteria Takeover: a once-a-semester jam where Kev and I would join other DJs to play sets and help ease campus stress before exams kicked off. Kevin – ever the party monster – would insist on these events and was the force behind them. The last campus party I participated in was one that he helped organize somewhere in the forests between Ashesi and Pokuase with drinks from Republic and guest performances too. You wouldn’t think it looking at him – he had this smart, nondescript style of dressing as though he had a job waiting for him after school – but Kevin was the literal life of the party. If he wasn’t DJing at that party, he was probably the one to make it happen.

If I am good at transitions, Kev’s gift as a DJ was to make full use of the software and create the most imaginative loops. Alongside the likes of Eff and Keyzus, he was one of the first DJs to make me feel ready to retire. And I am proud of that: that’s the way things are supposed to be. Life has its circle and so does art. By the time Accra caught up with the joys of South African house, few could touch Kevin. He walked so that anyone playing gqom or amapiano today could run, almost a decade later.

Kevin and I drifted somewhat a few years back. I had booked him to DJ at my wedding and he didn’t show – something to do with Repo Night in Kumasi – leaving me to come up with playlists at the last minute and supervise the technician who brought the sound equipment to play instead. I laugh about it now but I was disappointed at the time and our friendship was never really the same after that. But he was my brother regardless and siblings always argue. I called him after hearing gqom in Black Panther and I was excited when he said he was already on it and dropped a brilliant little mix that he appropriately called ‘Shuri’s Lab‘ after the scene where Agent Ross wakes up in Wakanda and Babes Wodumo’s Wololo plays, introducing many to South Africa’s newest genre back then. I quickly went onto Canva, designed a certificate awarding K3V for DJ excellence and sent it to him on Whatsapp. We had a good laugh about it.

One of the best ways to remember DJ K3v is by his voice and his music.

This is a segment from a set he invited me to play on the Friday Frisco show he co-hosted on 95.1 with Steelo, Yaw P and Eff back in 2013. I’m always honoured to be asked to play by younger DJs and I enjoyed the complete freedom they gave me to play beyond the usual palate of radio-friendly chart hits. I was never that kind of DJ and – though he was far better than me at playing for the crowd – neither was Kevin. My mixing here is pretty bad: Kevin never returned the (genuinely-ancient-but-reliable-AF) Hercules MK2 mixer he used to tease me for still owning, randomly giving me a Numark Mixtrack Pro with broken pitch control instead. Translation into regular English? I could only regulate the speed of one song instead of both. Ever the joker, his commentary here is the first thing to have made me smile since I learned of his passing. Listen to the 5.44 mark where he accuses me of trying to get back at him for the extent to which he wiped the floor with me at Republic. At the 12.14 mark is Kevin at full tilt: “it’s serious out here, n*ggas! It’s serious…” He’s back at 22.59 to berate Steelo for interrupting the mix to chat up a crush. Kevin was a radio natural and it was a really fun session.

This second mix is by the boy wonder himself; recorded from when he was in turn a guest on my YFM radio show (also in 2013). Before afrobeats slowed everything down to sexy, there was azonto: a highlife subgenre that moved at the same beats per minute as all of Kevin’s favourite music: Major Lazer and Electronic Dance Music (EDM) as a whole; kwaito; house (particularly of the South African variety), American R&B (which was imitating European house music back then) and trap, which played at half the speed of all the above, making it ripe for some very interesting mixing. All are on full display here. There’s this stretch from the 9.51 mark where Kevin takes us from Bob Sinclair’s take on Nina Simone’s ‘See-Line Woman’ to Black Motion’s Thriller edit (‘Thrills’) to EL’s Wawolo:

Range.

Honestly, if you’re not bouncing in your seat by the 12.51 mark, you’re probably in some kind of personal hell for people who lack or dislike rhythm. Or maybe you’re dead, in which case please pass this message to Kevin for me:

It’s not always okay to surpass your teachers.

I hate this record: the one where I learn yet again that life can be cut short; that existence is never guaranteed. The one where I outlive people who should have things to say at my funeral. I know life wasn’t always easy on you, little brother. And that you weren’t always easy on people. But you really made a mark and we will miss you.

Sleep well, King K3V.

9 Comments

  1. Beautiful tribute. I’m so sorry to hear about K3v. Seems like he left a mark on everyone he touched. My condolences!

    Warmly, Paapa ________________________________

    Like

  2. Beautiful. I would like to reproduce an excerpt of your tribute on Kevin’s memorial website (kevinbanful.com). May I proceed (with attribution + a link back of course)?

    Liked by 1 person

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