A 1-Listen Review Of Juls’ New EP, ‘PALMWINE DIARIES VOL. 1’

A forward-leaning interpretation of the Highlife-indebted sound

Afropop’s wonderful range would be impossible without the contributions of Juls. For more than a decade, the Ghanaian-born producer has soundtracked its mellower side, adapting the coast-evoking vibe of Highlife into contemporary movements. Dubbed palmwine music, the current popularity of the sound, while championed by Show Dem Camp, however owes a lot to the ingenuity of Juls who created its template on the seminal SDC record, “Feel Alright”, which set-off the veteran rap duo’s iconic ‘Palmwine Music’ series.

Returning now to the well-accepted name, Juls wants to extend the mythos of its sonic. Pioneer aside, as heard on the sprawling ‘Sounds From My World’ the producer’s craft has advanced, thus making the prospects of ‘PALMWINE DIARIES VOL. 1’ very tantalising. The fusion of his eclectic sensibilities, filtered through the classical metre of the palmwine sound, should make for great music. Calling up a feature cast which includes artists like Sarkodie, KiDi, Worlasi, Cina Soul and the great Black Thought of The Roots, it’s a possible game-changer, and you can tell already that I am excited for this one-listen review. So let’s get into it. 


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In usual 1-listen review fashion, all reactions are in real time while the music plays. No pauses, rewinds, fast-forwards or skips.


Languid, chill vibes here. These keys are glistening with fruity promise. I’m loving what this person’s doing with his voice. Sounds like Mugeez; there’s that smokey appeal. The rap is accomplished too; short but poignant. I’d like to groove to this in Ghana with the man dem. Very smooth arrangement here; Sarkodie’s here now. His flow card has never declined through the years, it’s forever pristine. What a packed introduction, man. Everybody’s coming correct; this is KiDi. I’ve been listening to him more this year. That “Likor” song with Stonebwoy is afropop’s best kept secret this year. He was really neat with his songwriting, as he is here. Solid, solid opener. 


A more upbeat production here. I’m loving these rap flows of Pure Akan; there’s a way his voice goes behind the beat, like he’s speaking from far away, calling you to come join him. It’s a really fun affair, this song. Reminds me of the Ghana bar we had close to our house back then. People would merry and dance to the music, clutching their chests like they understood the words. Akan does wonderful here; he sounds like a unique artist. This is surely my cue to check him out. 


Back to the chill palmwine. There’s a serene interlude vibe here. Like everyone’s worked through the whole day and now it’s time to chill. Juls knows how to use these drums, man. The rootsy quality of an ancient period is never lost; he takes you into those experiences. Horns are applied in good measure too. Light but with enough spark to inflect the song’s mood. Black Thought! His flow always gets to me; here he’s reflective but packing the energy he’s famed for. He’s always shone on live-centric beats, considering his roots with The Roots (pun well intended), and here he just coasts over every element of the sweet production. I love this one. 


I love this gruff-toned artist who’s starting out. He sounds very invested in the song. The roll of this rhythm, man—Juls is a master. It’s the most forward-leaning I’ve heard Highlife sound since The Cavemen’s “Stranger”. You can have twenty different artists on this and they’ll find unique ways to flow over the beat; it’s that accommodating. Gruff Voice has the best hook on the project so far; I need to know who he is. Everyone’s coming correct here, though. There’s no clear standout; rather the song is the standout. Very accomplished collaboration; there’s a lot to love about the loyalty of the Ghanaian turn Juls takes on this project. He brings it home. 


Afrobeat-esque drums on this one. The dusty colours of Tony Allen all over. You can tell Juls went deep into his palmwine to get this juice. What are the intersections between Highlife and Afrobeat? Highlife is the older genre, and was the genre of Fela before he switched over. Speaking of Fela, it’s the direction this song takes. Worlasi channels his immortal spirit. The inflections and the language. The way he stretches and cuts into flows. The consistent measure of the production. Cina Soul is given free rein; she’s the spiritual conduit of the record. The queen of Fela’s backup singers; the one who sometimes saunters into the main stage and changes the dynamic of a song. So much detail here. 


I have to say it now. I’ve been hearing The Cavemen on this project; now I’m hearing their voices here. That signature husk of Benjamin. However the background conversation is rooted in the Ghanaian landscape, like a meeting between elders. Even the percussions are striking in their identity. A horn solo; this is a favourite of the Highlife genre. I could never forget the transcendental feeling of hearing the solo on Cardinal Rex Lawson’s “Jolly Papa” for the first time. Anyways, this song is golden. A reflective end to a project that’s expressed more than it considered. I like the touch; there’s a novelistic edge to it. 


Juls has always been a focused musician. Even as he increasingly entered into the mainstream scene over the past few years, the quality of his sound was never compromised, instead he drew artists into the pristine field of his musical understanding. Beyond these collaborations, projects have been the way he’s reflected his standing at every point of his ever-evolving journey, and for the first time, coming into ‘PALMWINE DIARIES VOL. 1’ most people knew what to expect. The phrase has become cultural knowledge, even though not many have situated Juls place in its formation. Going into that roots was always going to be a rewarding experience, but Juls makes it even more rewarding than anyone could have guessed. 

With well-chosen, eclectic features which all tied the project’s narrative centre back to Ghana, the EP shines with destiny and deliberation. There’s no piece that seems overwrought or out of place, rather every artist brings their A-game, tilting ever softly to meet the requirements of Juls. In his role as creator and curator, he is graceful with his position, moving to the ebbs of genres residing outside palmwine while incorporating colourful voices, mostly artists from Ghana who relish standing on the world’s stage. The result is an uproarious body of work whose Ghanaian roots link with diasporic seams.