Addy Elders in America: Yacub Addy and Obo Addy

Contributed by Amina Addy

Two elder Ga drummers of repute have made their homes in the United States of America for many years, Yacub
on the East Coast and Obo
on the West Coast.  Both are members of the Addy family of
drummers, dancers and singers from the village of Avenor, Accra, Ghana. Yacub is
the second born and Obo is the fourth born from the same father and mother. 
Their father, Okonfo Akoto, had 10 wives over the course of his life (1860-70’s?
to 1960), so there were 10 mothers and over 50 children born over a very long
period of time.

Mustapha Tettey Addy is their younger stepbrother from the last marriage of their father. Adja Addy, now deceased, was their nephew. Basically, their father, a renowned medicine person, got tired of the politics of dealing with drummers, who were essential to his practice, so he had his eldest sons trained as drummers.  They taught the middle generation (Yacub and Obo’s generation) and the Addy’s became a famous family in Ga drumming. 

The best of these elder brothers were Mankatta Addy (Adja’s father, who played the leading obrenten drum) and Tettey Aku Addy (who played the difficult supporting pretia drum).  Both are long deceased. I had the pleasure of witnessing Tettey Aku Addy playing obrenten in a family gathering in 1990, a few years before his death, and his tone and technique, as well as the subtlety and complexity of his rhythm was superb.

Yacub and Obo’s mother, Akua Hagan, was during her marriage to their father, his lead singer, and each of her four musical sons inherited her ability, although different voices.  Tettey Addy (ak.k.a. E.T.), the eldest, passed in 2000, having been a member of Yacub’s group Odadaa! for 15 years. The youngest, Okoe Thompson, from their mother’s second marriage, was a member of Odadaa! for 8 years and now works from time to time with both Yacub and Obo’s groups.  He’s a gifted and creative artist.

Today Yacub is the oldest practicing traditional drummer in the family at 73.  He was the first, both in the family and in Ghana, to stage traditional drumming and dance.  Yacub is known for his traditional integrity as an artist, organizer and as a person, for the excellence of his performance ensembles, and for the clarity of his hand technique.

Obo started out as a pop artist with very fast hands and his mother’s voice, and later returned to learn more about the traditional culture of other tribes at the Arts Council of Ghana. Obo’s creative music is based in the best of his jazz/pop experience and his traditional experience. It is quite uniquely different than typical Ghanaian highlife, to me far superior because of the inclusion of more tradition than usual, the sophistication of the arrangements and the standard of Addy artistry of his generation.

Yacub concentrated on and sacrificed much to maintain and create tradition, again with the high artistic standard of Addy artistry of his generation. At the time highlife began, there was prejudice against traditional music. Yacub spent much of his life fighting this mentality, so it is natural that his creative music is more directly traditionally based. His work has been aptly termed “classic.” His performance ensembles have maintained a standard for traditional artistry. 

Over the last 22 years of its life in America, Odadaa! has included in its personnel some of the greats among Ga drummers and dancers of this period.  Yacub also has a lifelong love of jazz and is currently working on projects combining traditional music with jazz, as usual trying to keep traditionalism strong in the process.

Author: World Music Central News Department

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