Isaac Birituro and The Rail Abandon – Kalba (Wah Wah 45s, 2019)
Kalba brings together Ghanaian gyil (xylophone) maestro Isaac Birituro and British producer, sound engineer and singer-songwriter The Rail Abandon (Sonny Johns). The remarkable collaboration highlights the mesmerizing, resonating sound of the gyil and the warm, soft vocals of Sonny Johns.
The album is a beautifully-constructed set of songs that masterfully interweave Ghanaian music, jazz, world music, and English folk. The finely-crafted arrangements include African and Afro-Cuban drums, captivating flutes, a jazz horn section, tasteful synthesizer; and virtuosic chamber strings.
The lineup includes Isaac Birituro on gyil and vocals; Sonny Johns on vocals, guitar, bass and drum machine; David Sorrah on congas; Godfred Sernyor on congas; Sebastian Rochford on drum set; Casablanca on gome and maracas; Kasim Kada on palago; Vincent Lapitey on gongas; Aminu Amadou on talking drums; Liran Donin on electric bass; Elliot Galvin on synthesizers; Raph Clarkson on trombone; Laura Jurd on trumpet; Mark Lockheart on tenor sax; Josienne Clarke on tenor saxophone; Leafcutter John on overtone flute; Dela Botri on flutes; Garance Lewis on accordion; Zosia Jagodcinska on cello; Sophie Cameron on violin; Alison D’Souza on viola; Queen Aisha, lead vocals on “So Ma”; Helen Dompkier, lead vocals on “La Cocina”; and the Kaiba Birifore Choir.
Ebo Taylor – Palaver (Tabansi Records/ BBE Music, 2019)
Palaver contains five tracks recorded in Nigeria in 1980 by famed Ghanaian guitarist and composer Ebo Taylor. The material consists of irresistible songs that mix highlife, Afrobeat, funk and jazz. The EP showcases Taylor’s characteristic electric guitar style, along with a superb set of musicians, comprising George Amissah. Mat Hammond, George Kennedy and George Abunuah.
Ghanaian guitarist Ebo Taylor was one of the leading highlife musicians in the 1950s with ensembles such as Broadway Dance Band and Stargazers and continued during the following decades making remarkable highlife and Afrobeat recordings in Ghana and Nigeria.
This video sums up the historical context of the recordings:
Songs of Lake Volta is a fascinating project by Pittsburgh-based pianist, composer, and educator Joseph Sheehan. He recorded the album together with his superb contemporary jazz ensemble Kinetic and the all-female chamber music ensemble Kassia.
The material on Songs of Lake Volta consists of Ghanaian songs with original music by Sheehan. The result is a remarkable mix of Ghanaian melodies, contemporary jazz and classical music.
Kinetic features Joseph Sheehan on piano, the extraordinary vocalist Anqwenique Wingfield who sings in a variety of indigenous languages and incorporates classical, jazz, Ghanaian and soul elements in her vocal style. Another essential Kinetic member is guitarist Anthony Ambroso, who delivers an exquisite set of electric guitar parts influenced by jazz, blues and West African music. The rest of the band is an excellent rhythm section with Jason Rafalak on bass and Ryan Socrates on drums.
The Kassia Ensemble adds delightful classical music elements throughout the album. The members of the group include Dawn Posey on violin; Ashley Freeburn on violin; Maureen Conlon on violin; Si Yu on viola; and Katya Janpoladyan on cello.
Songs of Lake Volta is a beautifully-crafted album that illustrates a different side of African music through the prism of contemporary jazz and chamber music.
Obo Addy was born January 15, 1936. He was a prominent member of the first generation of African musicians to bring their traditional and popular music to Europe and the United States of America. This versatile magician of the drums embodied the past, present and future of Ghana’s musical culture. He celebrated past traditions while embracing new ideas and foreign influences. Internationally, Obo Addy’s contribution can be measured by the fact that he was one of the key originators of the seminal musical movement now known as “Worldbeat.”
His musical background was a combination of the rigorous standards of ritual music he learned from his father, a Wonche Priest (A Wonche Priest of the Ga culture is a traditional spiritual healer, herbalist, community adviser and conflict mediator. His skills include complete mastery of music and dance as used in rituals he performs for the community.), with the flashy international pop music he performed as a young professional with big bands in Accra, Ghana. After moving away from performing Western standards on the nightclub circuit, Obo Addy joined the National Arts Council of Ghana, becoming a master in the traditional music and dance of the many cultures in Ghana. He later moved to the United States where he created two colorful performing ensembles, each expressing one of the two closely-related sides of his musical personality: traditional and popular.
Okropong, meaning “eagle” in Obo Addy’s native Ga language, performed traditional Ghanaian music using a variety of hand and stick drums, talking drums, bells and shakers. While the musicians built layers of driving rhythms and singing, the dancers, clad in colorful West African garments, engaged in an energetic physical “conversation” with the drummers and the audience. Occasionally, Obo Addy complemented the drummers by playing the Dzili or Giri (a marimba-type instrument) in a manner which demonstrated the strong connection between traditional African music and jazz improvisation.
Bringing the jazz connection into the fore was Obo Addy’s second ensemble Kukrudu (Ga for earthquake’). This eight piece ensemble of African and American musicians performed a rich synthesis of musical styles on Ghanaian percussion and Western instruments including saxophone, trombone, guitar, electric bass and drum kit.
Not only was he a percussionist of consummate skill, but Obo Addy was a singer and vocal arranger of unique character whose harmonic ideas and expressive vocal tone demonstrate for audiences the very real connections between West African and African-American singing styles. The musical compositions performed by both Okropong and Kukrudu were are frequently preceded by stirring polyphonic vocal introductions which displayed these characteristics.
In addition to his performing activities, Obo Addy gave instrumental and dance residencies at academic institutions and was the founder and artistic director of the annual Homowo Festival of African Arts in Portland, Oregon. This festival showed American audiences how the music and dance performed by Okropong fits into its broader cultural context. Obo created a strong residency program titled “Rhythm Explosion” aimed at high school age students and not only showed the evolution of traditional to contemporary music but builts in several lecture-demonstrations for music students.
Since his international debut at the 1972 Munich Olympic games, Obo Addy toured extensively in Europe, the United States, the Middle East and Australia, throughout the seventies with his brothers in Oboade, and since 1980 with Kukrudu and Okropong.
In 1992 Obo Addy was commissioned by the innovative classical music ensemble, the Kronos Quartet, to compose “Wawshishijay” for their chart-topping album Pieces of Africa.
In 1996, Obo Addy was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship Award by the National Endowment for the Arts. This is the highest honor a traditional artist can receive in the United States. Obo was the first African born artist to ever receive the award.
The Kusun Ensemble is an extraordinary group of musicians and dancers based in Ghana, West Africa. Founded by Nii Tettey Tetteh, the group includes past members of The National Ballet and The Pan African Orchestra.
Although rooted in traditional music, the ensemble has developed a new brand of music and dance they have dubbed “Nokoko.” They have created innovative rhythms and dances by fusing bass and lead guitar, electrifying jazz and African rhythms, and traditional Ghanaian instruments.
The band is now considered one of Ghana’s most innovative and powerful music and dance ensembles. By blending the authentic sounds of traditional instruments with the exuberance of highlife music and the complexity of African jazz, they are developing a unique Ga sound and bringing the tropical passion of West African music and dance to the world stage.
The Kusun Ensemble toured the U.S.A in 2002, packing theaters and wowing festival audiences in the Eastern United States. They have performed throughout Ghana and toured Australia in 2000. Many of the members have also been teaching drumming and dance at the Kusun Study Center in Nungua, Accra. This center was built by Nii Tettey Tetteh to promote the traditional arts of Ghana, to teach both local people and international students about Ghanaian music and culture.
Mustapha Tettey Addy was born in 1942 in a small village near Ghana’s capital Accra. The Addy family was known for their impressive ritual drummers and so Mustapha learned to play the drum from early childhood. He first performed outside of Ghana in 1964, when he toured several eastern European countries. Since then he has been a frequent traveler to Western Europe, specially to Germany. He also toured in the UK and the United States with various groups (e.g. Ehimomo) and led many workshops, especially at Die Werkstatt in Dusseldorf.
In 1982 Addy started to collect and arrange the Obonu drum music which has its main roots in the Ashanti region. He became a student of the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana and also traveled through all regions of Ghana where he researched the music and the language of the different tribes. In 1986 Addy started a new group called The Drummers which later became the Obonu Drummers.
In 1988 Mustapha Tettey Addy opened a cultural center in Kokrobitey near Accra. At the same time he founded the Academy of African Music and Arts LTD (AAMAL). This center tries to retain traditional forms of music, arts, dance and craftsmanship. The AAMAL is a school for artists, musicians and teachers, but it also promotes young talents and supports the Pan-African cultural exchange.
Gyedu-Blay Ambolley, affectionately known as the “Simigwa Do Man,” was born in 1947 in the port city of Sekondi-Takoradi, in the Western Region of Ghana. This versatile multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, and producer exploded on the music scene in 1964 with a jazzy highlife sound called Simigwa-do.
Ambolley’s early years of musical interest date back to the age of eight, when he began playing with his father’s flute until he was able to teach himself how to play. His formal musical training came at the age of fourteen under the apprenticeship of “Uncle Bonku,” who taught him how to play the guitar. The young music enthusiast continued to learn the rudiments of music from the late Sammy Lartey and Ebo Taylor.
Ambolley spent a great part of his day listening to records of musicians living in the United States. He contributes his free style of singing to mentors such as James Brown, Ray Charles and Sam Cook. During the 1960s, the young aspiring musician was excitingly impressed with the music he heard on the popular radio show, “Voice of America Jazz Hour.” The sixties show featured jazz giants Jimmy Smith, Max Roach, the late Wes Montgomery, Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Eckstine… all became a part of Ambolley’s early music experience.
Gyedu-Blay Ambolley’s professional performances started in the 1960s in Ghana with Tricky Johnson Sextet in 1964. He participated in many other bands, such as Railway Dance Band (1965-67), Houghas Extro-Ordinaire (1968), The Meridians (1970), Uhuru Dance Band (1972-73), and Ghana Broadcasting Band (1974). In 1974 he became band leader of several bands, including Apagya Show Band (1974), Super Complex Sounds (1975-78), Zantoda Mark III (1959-80), The Steneboofs (1987-88), and Gyedu-Blay Ambolley and His Afrikan Hi-Life Band (1994).
Ambolley’s name has become synonymous with Simigwa music and dance since his first hit single released in 1972. The band leader’s talent was not limited to Ghana, Ambolley was invited to London where he performed to standing room only crowds. Having experienced success in his own country, as well as London, it was time for the ambitious musician to test his musical abilities elsewhere. In 1988, Ambolley left Ghana and arrived in New York (USA). Since his arrival, Ambolley was able to prove his worth by performing from the East to the West Coast, at places like the historical Apollo Theatre in Harlem (New York), The House of Blues in Los Angeles (California), and popular night clubs and festivals across the country.
Returning to Ghana in 1997, Ambolley was honored with a standing ovation from President JJ. Rawlings and the First Lady, at Ghana’s Awards Nile 1997. Ambolley has numerous albums to his credit and has received numerous musical awards. His stage works and music have embraced audiences around the world. According to Ambolley, there is but “One People, One Nation, One Destiny.”
Simigwa (Essiebons, 1975)
Ambolley (Warner, 1982)
Apple (Sunrise Records, 1986)
Gyedu-Blay Ambolley (Simigwa Records, 1989)
Bend Down Low Party Time! (Simigwa Records, 1989)
Son Of Ghana (Simigwa Records, 1996)
The Sekondi Man (Simigwa Records, 1997) Afrikan Jaazz: A New Sound In Town (Simigwa Records, 2001) Sekunde (Hippo Records, 2015) Ketan (Agogo Records, 2017)
Bernard Woma plays the xylophone from northern Ghana called the gyil. Like the bala from Guinea and Mali, the gyil has gourd resonators that have a buzzing sound achieved with spider web sacks covering small holes. The group consists of two gyile, a small lizard-skin drum and often a dancer.
The Bernard Woma Trio plays at blistering speed on the gyil. Yet Bernard always keeps the energy positive, and he’s got a welcoming presence.
The music is primarily the traditional repertoire of the Dagara people, as well as original compositions by Bernard. The repertory includes Bewaa, recreational music which literally translates “you come.” Bewaa music is played at social events where community members come together. Such events can include but are not limited to: the installment of a chief, harvest festivals, marriage ceremonies, and naming ceremonies. Bewaa is also commonly played at pito bars where family and friends gather together to share in the local brew (pito), song, and dance.
Aja Addy was born 1948 in Accra, Ghana. He was an acclaimed Ghanaian master drummer and percussionist. Influenced by his work as a tigari priest, the nephew of Mustapha Tettey Addy combined the power of the Kpanlogo drum with the more relaxed highlife rhythms of Ghana. Aja toured extensively with Reinhard Flatischler’s MegaDrums ensemble.
“My father was a drummer“, explained Aja Addy, “so I learned how to drum and to dance from him. He has taught me the songs we play in our concerts. They are from the villages in the Greater Accra region and you’ll hear them at any occasions, when a baby is born, at parties, weddings and funerals All my musicians are Ga, a people of fishermen, hunters, carpenters or masons like me. My family taught me how to work with cement. What kind of job you get depends on the region where you live. For example I lived near the river so I learned how to swim and fish, but when the river carried no water, we had to hunt, so I learned all this, but in different seasons. Once every year we go to Ghana to say hello to my family and to have the ceremonies. I also teach my students there.”
After two successful solo releases, Aja Addy recorded a live album titled Live Refreshment with his band Tsui Anaa (Patience). It was recorded in Bremen, Germany and covered traditional songs and rhythms of the Ga people in Ghana. They are played at ceremonies as well as parties and dance festivities.
Ghanaian musician Guy One built up a fervent following in local villages amongst the Frafra people in northern Ghana, in which no funeral or wedding would take place without his soaring voice and deeply rhythmic playing. He plays the kologo, a plucked lute.
While traveling through Ghana, Max Weissenfeldt, owner of the German Philophon label bought a copy of a CD by Guy One. Weissenfeldt loved the music and was determined to locate the artist. Weissenfeldt took a bus to Bolgatanga and asked where he could find Guy One. Ten minutes later they were shaking hands. Hours later, the pair drove to a funeral. The village members gathered between the mud huts as Guy One quietly picked up his Kologo. As he started with his eulogizing voice, the village members immediately formed a huge circle around him. Witnessing this intense and potent interaction between music and community and life and death, Weissenfeldt knew he needed to get Guy One to Berlin and into a studio.
In 2013, Guy One left Ghana for the first ever time and made it to Berlin where he participated in various recording sessions.Several other sessions followed until One completed an album titled #1.