Jimmy Becldey: Jazz Combo

Saxophone player Jimmy Beckley began his musical career in the 1970s as a clarinetist in bands with his guitarist brother, Robert Beckley. Between 1983-87 Jimmy ran his Jazz Club in Tesano and out of this came his Jazz and Highlife Combo. In 1989 the Combo released the ‘Twilight of the Volta’ album. Many top artists have played and jammed with Jimmy and his Combo including local jazz singers, Rama Brew and Avalon, traditional artists Captain Yaba and Atongo Simba, highlife musicians, Nat Buckle and Anthony Scorpion, and the famous Cameroonian sax player, Manu Dibango.

Koo Nimo

Koo Nimo (Daniel Amponsah) is a folk guitarist who plays the traditional finger-picking Akan ‘palmwine’ guitar music of the 1920s combined with classical Spanish guitar, a
touch of jazz and Brazilian bossanova. He and his Adadam Agoranuna group have made many recordings and international tours.
Koo Nimo was born in 1934 in Fuase near Kumasi, and his musical career began with a highlife band at his Cape Coast school of Adisadel College.
He then left for the Medical Research Institute in Accra to study laboratory work. When he graduated in 1955, he returned to Kumasi and teamed up with guitarist Fred Akuffo to form the Antobre group and did his first recordings with the concert band of I. E. Mason.
In 1960 Koo Nimo began working as a biochemist at the chemistry department ofK wame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi (KNUST) and in 1966 he  recorded with Dr. Gyasi’s guitar band. In 1968 he translated his own compositions into English, which were subsequently published in 1976 as ‘Ashanti Ballads ‘. That year he also won a scholarship to Salford University in Britain where he made friends  with Kurt Anderson (Duke Ellington’s trumpeter), Freddie Green, (Count Basie’s guitarist),
Charlie Christian and Jack Duarte. He was also influenced by the jazz music of Django Reinhardt; Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis.
Koo Nimo has been on the Executive Committee ofMUSIGA, an advisor to the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation and a member of the Ghana National Folklore Board of Trustees. He taught in the United States for several years at the Universities ofSeattle and Michigan. In the mid 1990s he was awarded an honorary doctorate by KNUST, where he is now teaching at its new Cultural Studies Unit.

Kofi Ghanaba: The Divine Drummer

Kofi Ghanaba (or Guy Warren as he was previously known) was born in 1923, and educated at Achimota College.

In the 1940s he was a journalist, and in 1947, joined the Tempos band with E.T Mensah. Since he had been a member of Kenny Graham’s Afro-Cubists in the UK he introduced many new ideas to the band including use of Afro-Cuban percussion instruments.

After Ghanaba left the Tempos he stayed in Liberia for three years and then went to the US where he worked with such African American jazz musicians as Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis, Max Roach and Billy Stray/writ. It was in Chicago that he changed musical direction ‘Iwould
be the African musician who re-introduced African music to America to get Americans to be aware of this cultural heritage of the black people. When I was young, it was jazz that dominated me. I was naive and thought that that was the thing. But it is the African music that is the mother, not the other way around. I had to find this out the hard way’ . From late 1950s, Ghanaba released a number of important Afro-Jazz LPs such as ‘Africa Speaks, America Answers’, ‘Theme for African Drums’, ‘Soundz of Africa’, and ‘The Third Phase’.
Ghanaba returned home in the 1960s. In 1981 he presented a drum version of Handel’s ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ in the UK when he was given the title Odomankoman Kyerema or Divine Drummer. Ghanaba is known for being a spiritual man and practices Buddhism. He now lives Medie, fifteen miles north of Accra at his African Heritage Library and considers himself , … anonymous. My music is from the masses and I don’t want it to have a commercial appeal. I have been a jazz musician but now I am a folk musician. In other words, I have come home.’

Kwesi Asare: Pan African musician & cultural custodian

Born in Larteh in 1931, Kwesi learned to play percussion at the Akonedi Shrine of his grand-aunt Nana Oparebea, high-priestess of a shrine, which has branches in the United States.
In 1955 Kwesi travelled to the United Kingdom to study mechanics but gravitated back to music. His Manchester house became a spot to visit for touring African American jazz artists, and during the fifties,Kwesi met and played with Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Basie’s guitarist, Freddie Green. In the sixties Kwesi played percussion with The Ionius Monk, Roland Kirk and Sarah Vaughan. In the 1970s Kwesi began to teach African  drumming to unemployed Afro-Caribbean youth in Manchester, and in 1982, with the help ofthe UK /Arts Council he created the Kantamanto Cultural Group, which has played at the
Royal Festival Hall and collaborated with British composerDavidFanshaw.
In 1987 Kwesi gave a series of workshops with jazz drummer Edgar Bateman and poetess Elizabeth Suber Bennett at Coltrane House in Philadelphia. While in the US, he also jammed withAl Grey, the Count Basie Band and the Sun Ra Arkestra. In 1995 Kwesi returned home to retire in Larteh where he established the African CuIrural Research Centre and has become a respected elder.