Osibisa: Afro-rock

Mac Tontoh, together with his saxophonist brother, Teddy Osei, and drummer Sol Amarfio, were founding members of the London-based Isibis3 band, which pioneered
rock in the early 1970s. The band has had a large number of hits in Europe
and the USA, and has toured all over the world.
Mac Tontoh began his career in th 1950s with the Broadway Dance Band and Teddy Osei ‘s highlife band, The Comets. After Teddy decided to go to London in 1962, Mac joined the Uhuru (Swahili for Freedom) highlife big band. In 1969 Mac joined Teddy’s London-based group, Cat’s Paw. Itwas out of this group that Osibisa was created in 1969. The name is derived from the old Fanti name for highlife – osibisaaba. Osibisa released its first single record in 1970 – ‘Music for Gong-Gong’, followed by a string of hit singles and albums like’ Osibisa’, ‘Heads’, ‘Happy Children’, ‘Welcome’, and ‘Black Magic Night’. Many of Osibisa’s singles such as ‘Sunshine Day’, ‘Dance the Body Music’ and ‘The Coffee Song’ made it into the British Top Ten. The band included West Indian, Nigerian and Ghanaian musicians such as Kiki Gyan, Koji Ayivor, Emmanuel Rentzos and Potato.
Besides trumpet for Osibisa, Mac Tontoh also played flugelhorn, traditional percussion and the Lobi xylophone that he learned from musicians who had settled in his village in Ashanti.
In the 1990s Mac Tontoh returned to Ghana, where he became an executive member ofMUSIGA, and in 2001, a Commissioner with the National Commission on Culture. He currently manages and plays trumpetlflugelhorn in a band called Osibisa Kete, which includes a huge battery of local percussion.
They have performed internationally and were featured at a recent Edinburgh Festival. Mac is also carrying out the ‘Mac and His Kids Project’ to teach African music in schools.

Osei Kwame Korankye: Sepwrewa harp-lute player

The seprewa or sankwa harp-lute is an instrument that was widely used in the Ashanti

and Brong Regions. It was first introduced into Ghana in 1740 when the Ashantis defeated
the Gyaman State in what is now Cote d’Ivoire. This Gyaman court instrument and its one-legged player were taken as war booty to Kumasi, where it became a favourite instrument (sika sankwa) of the Asantehene. Use of the instrument later spread  throughout even the smallest villages, where it became associated
with funeral appellations, pa1rnwine drinking, and philosophical/moral commentary.
However, from the 1930s popularity ofthe instrument began to die out so Professor Nketia and Koo Nimo arranged for it to be taught by Osei Koranyke at the University of Ghana, beginning in 1990. Osei is from the western part of Ashanti and was taught the six-stringed seprewa harp-lute by his grandfather when he was eight years old. He is now reviving  interest in the instrument.

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.

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.