Ephraim Amu: Ghanaian patriot and father of Ghanaian art music

Undoubtedly Ghana’s greatest exponent of the religious choral music (singing band) and nationalistic anthems was Ephraim Amu. He was born in Peki in the Volta Region in 1899 and is consideredto be the father of the country’s ‘art-music tradition’ .Amu composed an
enormous number of hymns and patriotic songs in Ewe and Akan from the 1920s on. One, entitled “Yen Ara Asase Ni’ (This Land is Ours) has become, in effect, Ghana’s second national anthem. In 1933 he published his book, 25African Songs (Sheldon Press).
In 1927 he joined the staff of the Akropong Presbyterian Training College and his endeavor to “Africanize” the Church (by wearing traditional cloth on the pulpit) led to his dismissal from the Teachers Training College in 1932. This actually opened the way to a long academic career. He taught music at Achimota College for many years, where he introduced the idea of so-called Tribal Nights at the end-of-term, when students had to get out of their school uniforms and wear their indigenous clothes and play indegenous
music and dance.
In the 1950s Amu went on to teach at the university music departments in Kumasi, Winneba and Legon. At Legon he was a member of the African Music Society that promoted both traditional music and that of the guitar highlife bands of E.K. Nyame and Kwabena Onyina. From 1962 Amu became a Research Fellow at the Institute of African Studies at Legon and made many field trips, recording traditional music on reel-to-reel tape. He, along with Professor Nketia, AUa Annan Mensah and others, contributed to the important collection of 600 hours of recordings of Ghanaian ethnic and popular music, folk-tales and dramas, now housed at the Institute of African Studies- Legon.
From 1965 Dr. Amu became the Head of the School of Performing Arts.
He retired in 1971 and continued, in Peki, to compose piano pieces, run a choral group and give advice to those entering the music field. He died in 1995. His daughter, Misonu, continues his university work and is based atthe Institute of African Studies.Amu is  remembered as a composer, nationalist, a ‘creative musicologist’ and an avid collector and developer oftraditional Ghanaian instruments, such as the atenteben bamboo flutes. This remarkable legacy is reflected in the fact that Dr. Amu was given a State
Burial and his picture is the first of a contemporary musician ever to appear
on a Ghanaian currency note.

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.’

Local Dimension: Acoustic highlife

Local Dimension was started in 1997 by students and faculty members from the Music and Dance Departments of the University of Ghana. The group is led by Aaron Bebe Sukura on seprewa harp-lute, xylophone, and mbira thumb-piano,and John Collins on guitar and harmonica. For several years the band also featured the late great T.O. Jazz (of  Ampoumah’s Guitar Band); his place is now taken by T.O. Jazz’s longtime percussionist and principal singer, Kojo Menu. The seven-piece acoustic group plays a range of West African
popular music styles such as guitar-band highlife, palmwine music, Afrobeat, Congo Jazz, Dagari-highlife Fusions and songs in the traditional Adowa and Agbadza styles. In 2002 the band toured Germany, Switzerland and France and in 2003 Local Dimension released a CD (recorded at Pidgen Studios, Accra) entitled N’Yong on the French Disques Arion label.

Aaron Bebe Sukura: Teacher of the Northern Xylophone

Aaron Bebe Sukura was born in 1970 in the village ofTanchara in Ghana’s Upper

West Region and has been playing the local gyil (wooden xylophone), which he
learned from his father. Later, he moved to Accra where he began teaching music
at the University of Ghana.
Bebe Sukura is also an accomplished player of the mbira (Zimbabwean handpiano)
and seprewa harp-lute, the traditional Akan instrument whose’ odonson’ style was incorporated into highlife in the1920s and 30s.
He has played with the Novisi Dance Group, Ghana Dance Ensemble, Pan African Orchestra, Local Dimension Highlife Band, Abibigromma Theater Company of the University School for the Performing Arts and Hewale Sounds.

Kakraba Lobi

Kakraba Lobi was born in Kalba Suru in the LobilBrifo and Dagara area of Upper West Region of Ghana. As a child Kakraba was taught how to play the pentatonic wooden gyil xylophone by his father.
The gyil xylophone occupies a central place in community life and is played at weddings, funerals and festival dances. The instruments are played alone, in pairs, or in ensembles
with singers and drummers. In the 1950s Kakraba went to Accra, where he performed in programs for Radio Ghana and in 1957 he met Professor Nketia, who offered him a teaching position at the Institute of African Studies where he was a full-time teacher until 1987. Over the years, he has been a guest lecturer in Germany, Japan, Scandinavia, the U.S. and Africa, which has resulted in creating hundreds of gyil disciples worldwide, especially in Japan.
In 2000 Kakraba released the ‘Song of Legaa’ CD followed in 2004 by the ‘Song of Niira’. In both he was accompanied and produced by Valery Naranjo and Barry Olsen and the CD was released on the Kaleidoscope Sound label in the United States. Kakraba’s son,S.K., has also become an excellent gyil player and is a member of Hewale Sounds.

Orlando Julius: Nigerian highlife and Afro-beat

Orlando Julius, a Nigerian saxophonist and horn player from Osun State, began his musical career in 1959, when he joinedEddie Okonta’s Top Aces highlife dance band in lbadan. During that time, he played with Louis Armstrong on the great American jazz trumpeter’s second trip to Africa in 1960.
In 1963 Orlando formed his own Modern Aces highlife dance band in lbadan tourism.
and made his first hit record, entitled ‘Jaguar Nana’ and released it on the Phillips label. His music was a fusion of high life andjazz and in 1966, when soul music became popular in Nigeria, he released his album’ Super Afro-Soul’.
As a result of this soul influence, Orlando changed the name of the band to the Afro-Sounders in 1967 and, like fellow Nigerians, F ela Anikulakpo-Kuti and Segun Bucknor, Orlando was a pioneer of what later became called Afro-beat, In 1974 Orlando traveled and lived in the United States for a while where, together with Nigerian and Ghanaian musicians, ~tanley and Frankie Todd, Glen Warren and Okyerema Asante) he formed the Omaja and Ashiko bands. While in the United States, he also worked with Hugh Masekela, Lamont Dozier, The Crusaders, Isaac Hayes, Gil Scott Heron and Gladys Knight. He returned to Nigeria to form theNigerian All Stars band and later moved to Ghana, where he currently resides.

Mustapha Tettey Addy: International Ga Master Drummer

Born in the Ga village of Avenor near Accra in 1942, Mustapha and his brothers, Jacob, Emma and Obo learned traditional music from their father, who was a traditional Wonche
or Akon priest in the early 1960s.
Mustapha and his brothers were involved in the creation of the Ga recreational kpanlogo drum-dance and Mustapha also began working as a master drummer at the School of Performing Arts, University of Ghana. In the late 1960s he began to tour internationally,
and between 1972 and 1981 he released seven albums on the British Tangent, French Arion and German Insel Hombroich labels.
In 1982 Mustapha moved back to Ghana, where he established the Royal Obonu Drummers and in 1988 he founded the Academy of Music and Arts (AAMA) in the beach village of Kokrobite near Accra. This hotel and drum center became a major focus in Ghana for international visitors, musicians and students. AAMA was the first of what has become a large number of private drum and dance centers that are helping to boost Ghanaian Tourism.
Between 1990 and 1999, he released six albums on the German Weltwunder label, including the important “The Royal Drums of Ghana “. In 1992-93 he and his Obonu Drummers played at various WOMAD (World Music and Dance) festivals around the globe. Through his records, international tours and AAMA drum center, Mustapha has become a major player in spreading Ghanaian drum culture internationally.

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.

J. H. Kwabena Nketia: The guru of African ethno-musicology

Professor Nketia was born in Mampong  Ashanti in 1921. He attended the Presbyterian
Training College at Akropong from 1937- 41, and then spent three years in London at
the School for Oriental and African Studies and Trinity College of Music. He did further
studies in the U.S. at the Julliard School of Music, Columbia College and Northwestern
He joined the staff of the University of Ghana in 1952 and made extensive field trips to collect traditional music on a portable recording machine. He was also a member of the African music society that encouraged the music of local highlife guitar bands such as Onyina and E.K. Nyame. He has over 200 publications to his credit including the “Music of Africa” , a pioneering ethno-musicologica1 work that has been translated into numerous
languages. He is, what he calls, a ‘creative ethnomusicologist’ and has composed 80 pieces of Ghanaian art-music for piano, flute piano and atenteben bamboo flute. In 1966 he became Director of the Institute of African Studies until he was awarded an Emeritus Professorship from UCLA, where he taught from 1969-1982. He also was the Andrew Mellon Professor Emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh, where he taught from 1981-1991.
In the mid 1990s he returned to Ghana to establish the International Centre for African Music and Dance in the School of Performing Arts at Legon.
His awards include the Ghana Grand Medal, the International Music Council Prize, the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award and the Dutch Prince Claus Award.

George Darko

George Darko was born 1951 at Akropong, the son of a Paramount Chief. He began learning guitar in 1957 at the Presbyterian School, Akropong.
His father wanted him to become a lawyer so he left home and stayed with his uncle, Nana Boafo. He joined Gaby Nick Valdo ‘s Avengers band in 1969 when he was only 18 years of age, and moved on to become guitarist for the Soul Believers, the Blue Monks, and for the army band, the Fourth Dimension, which entertained troops in the Middle East.
He then formed the Golden Stool Band and they left Ghana for Germany in the late 1970s. In Hamburg he went solo and in 1982 composed the song ‘Akoo Te Brofo ‘ that catapulted him and his Bus Stop Band (singer Lee Duodu, keyboardist Bob Fiscian) to fame. His style of disco-highlife became known as ‘burgher highlife’ since it was created in Hamburg, where
many Ghanaians had resettled. His style became immensely popular in Ghana and was copied by many highlife musicians, such as The Lumba Brothers, Rex Gyamji, and Sloopy Mike Gyamji. In 1988 he returned to settle in his hometown and was made a chief in 1991 with the stool (throne) name of Nana Yaw Ampem Darko.