DJ Katapila, Cult Ghanaian Producer, Dies at 50

DJ Katapila, the Ghanaian producer who started out DJing funeral parties before amassing a cult behind his innovative albums and marathon sets, died Sunday, January 28, after a brief illness. Awesome Tapes From Africa, the label that helped break Katapila internationally, reported the news. The label’s post described Katapila as an “inimitable producer, disc jockey, and mobile party-starter,” noting that “he leaves behind a loving family including his young daughter and son and his 92-year-old mother.” He was 50 years old.

DJ Katapila, who was born Ishmael Abbey in Accra’s Jamestown neighborhood, moved into production in his mid-30s, using simple FruityLoops software to construct bracing, often high-energy tracks that mixed early house and techno influences with rhythms and vocals from Ghanaian dance music. He often spoke and sang in Twi, English, and Ga over or between tracks, complicating the beats with dextrous live drum pads. He released three records on Awesome Tapes From Africa, starting with Trotro, before his final EP, Techno Africa, came out on Club Yeke in 2022.

In his Instagram tribute, Awesome Tapes founder Brian Shimkovitz wrote, in part:

DJ Katapila launched into my consciousness on a trip to Ghana in 2015, after finding one of his tapes. We ended up releasing a 3 albums together and he traveled to Europe for touring at least four times. Many of those shows we played together so I have vivid memories of our travels together and all the capers that entailed. Ishmael’s friendly and calm nature touched countless people along the way. It wasn’t always easy or stress-free working with him but I greatly value what I learned from him.

We soldiered together with the incredible help of @qujunktions staff to navigate the horrible visa process African artists endure. Ishmael was subjected to numerous indignities and costly bad luck situations along the way but he always held his head high and kept positive and persisted His drive to make a life out of music was as relentless as the music he produced over the years. As a late bloomer in the world of music creation—he started working with Fruity Loops after about 20 years of DJing nonstop—he made up for the simplicity of his studio with the liveliness of his productions.