Originally from Benin, Ignace De Souza absorbed, adapted, blended and developed multiple musical styles – from his much-loved twist hit “Asaw Fofor”; through cha cha, afrobeat, but particularly Ghanaian highlife. De Souza not only introduced Ghana to what eventually became known as Soukous, it is said he also wrote the first afro-beat song.
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Born in 1937 in Cotonou, Ignace got involved in music at a young age, playing during the 1950's in the country's first professional dance band, Alfa Jazz. Zeal Onyia, a Nigerian trumpeter, encouraged him to drop the saxophone and play the trumpet instead.
In 1955 he moved to Accra and joined Spike Anyankor's Rhythm Aces, one of the major bands playing the at exploding highlife scene. Some local businessmen of Lebanese origin decided to sponsor him as a band leader in 1956, so he went on and founded the Shambros Band, a name culled from the sponsors' name, the Shahim brothers. 1961 saw them recording "Paulina" in the Decca West Africa studio under the name of the Melody Aces. It was enough of a hit to pay for their own set of instruments - it was common at that time for the band "sponsors" to own all equipment which the musicians then could use, rarely did they own their own set. This finally allowed Ignace to be more independent and after a few more sides recorded with te Shambros, he quit and formed the Black Santiagos in 1964.
Congolese music was firmly on the rise in Accra at the time, but only very few local bands were adept at it. Ignace, realizing his francophone background was quite useful for tapping into Congo, hired a pair Togolese singers to take care of the distinctive Congolese vocal sound and a Dahomeian bassist. They quickly gained fame singing in several Ghanaian languages but also Yoruba, a language widely spoken in Dahomey and neighbouring Nigeria. This was crucial in establishing a "Nigerian connection" that proved to be quite important in the development of Afrobeat.
Fela Ransome Kuti was in the first stages of developing the whole concept when De Souza hired his band, the Koola Lobitos, to play the Ringwood Hotel in 1968. Whether the Black Santiagos were also playing Afrobeat when they played Lagos in 1968 isn't clear, but they cut at least two of the very earliest Afrobeat sides recorded, in 1968 or 1969.
Unfortunately, the Aliens Act of 1970 which expelled thousands of non-Ghanaians forced Ignace to move back to Dahomey were he reformed the Black Santiagos again.
His home country proved too small to support much basis for a flourishing musical career, but the band kept up its contacts touring West Africa in the mid 1970's and recording quite a few sides, mostly backing visiting vocalists.
In the mid 1980's they moved their base to Lagos, where a few years later, in 1988, Ignace De Souza passed on.