Jan 26, 2010

Ebo Taylor


The exceptional guitar player is considered as one of the most distinguished Highlife, Afro beat and jazz composers of Ghana. Between 1962 and 1965 he studied together with his friend Fela Kuti at the renowned Eric Guilder School of Music in London. As early as the 50th and 60th he caused quite a sensation as the head of the Stargazers Dance Band as well as the Broadway Band. In the early 70th he headed the best known Big Band of Ghana, the “Uhuru Band” (later called Uhurus) and so formed the Highlife.Since the 70th Taylor produced different albums as solo artist and developed more and more his own, innovative and distinctive style – recognisable for instance on his albums “Ebo Taylor and the Pelicans” or “Twer Nyame”. Ebo has been very active in numerous projects as session musician. Besides his solo works, he contributed significantly to the development of music in Ghana, as arranger and producer to the big labels in Ghana, like Essiebons and Gapophone. For these labels, being their musical director, he produced i.e. well known musicians such as C.K. Mann as well as the Apagya Show Band, a legendary All-Star-Highlife-Funk-Band, or artists like Pat Thomas, Jewel Ackah and Papa Yankson.



On December 11 2009, ace guitarist Ebo Taylor will launch his new, thirteen piece band "Bonze Konkoma" and their first 10-track CD.

The launching will take place at the G.B.C. Club House at 7 pm. Admission is free. Guest artists will include Ray Allen, saxophone, Osei Tutu, trumpet, and C.K. Mann, vocal.

Taylor was on a six week recording project in Germany recently (supported by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Center for World Music, University of Hildesheim/Germany) where he recorded a CD of his Highlife and Afrobeat compositions with the German band "Poets of Rhythm". He also played two concerts, in Paris and Frankfurt.

Taylor's career as an outstanding Ghanaian guitarist, composer and arranger spans over 50 years. His music and style have shaped Ghanaian popular music over the last five decades substantially.

He has recorded twelve albums, once led several well-known bands, among them the Uhuru Dance Band, was the musical director for Essiebons, Gapophone and Polygram, and composed and arranged numerous songs, also for other great musicians like C.K. Mann, Pat Thomas, Jewel Ackah, Papa Yankson and others. His classic Highlife and Afrobeat compositions include "Sika Enyiber", "Odo Ye Wu", "Ghana Be Ye Yie", "Dofo", "Twer Nyame", "Heaven", and "Come Along".

Two years ago, with the support of Essiebons Music in Accra, Taylor started a new band called "Bonze Konkoma". The band features talented young musicians from around the area of Saltpond in the Central Region where Taylor lives, as well as music graduates from the University of Ghana, where he has been teaching Highlife and Jazz Guitar for the last seven years.

Having researched into Fante Akan music extensively with Bonze Konkoma Taylor draws on musical traditions like Adowa, Asafo, Osode, and Adzewa (a Fante dance music form traditionally mainly played by women) which he creatively reinterprets into a new Ghanaian musical form strongly shaped by Taylors own musical style: a unique blend of Highlife, Jazz, and Afrobeat.

The use of a Konkoma drum ensemble alongside guitars, bass, keyboard, brass section, and a prime emphasis on vocal music, to transpose Taylor's compositions and arrangements into a modern band idiom presents the Bonze Konkoma as a highly interesting and unique project in contemporary Ghanaian music.


Jan 8, 2010

Baba Is Dead - But Long Live Baba

Article written by Iwedi Ojinmah
for the Times of Nigeria and The Village Square


I remember seeing him for the first time just as if it was yesterday. Through the clouds of smoke and altered by the “come hither” glow of red and blue bulbs that ordained the club, he stood with relative ease…. an omnipotent symbol of a bold and angry new Africa.

I was instantly mesmerized and would be for life.

No Teacher Could Teach This Guy Nonsense

He was bare chested and seemed oblivious to the thin film of sweat that defied the cool wind being dispersed by huge ceiling fans above and that covered his sinewy ebony frame. One circle - in what must be some type of traditional Yoruba chalk - encircled one eye making him look more like a winking raccoon than arguably Africa’s most vibrant singer slash activist. He has now evolved into a far cry from the trumpeter of the Cool Cats aka Koola Lobitos that had once played highlife and modeled evening gear for fashion magazines.

His nostrils flare a little and his eyes sparkle with obvious intelligence as he takes one last monster drag of his cannabis cigar and turns to the crowd with his now patented call to arms of “make I yab them”? The emphatic reply is a resounding “Yab them” !!!”

Ladies and Gentlemen... the place is Ikeja. It is the late 1970s and the location is The Shrine, and Fela Anikulakpo Kuti’s famous “Yab them Night” has just kicked off.

I had picked a good night. Well, make that "we." Stowed away from High School thousands of miles away in the East, my friends and I had travelled all the way to Lagos by “Air - Chi Di Ebere” just to see “Baba” live. We, as well as the rest of Nigeria, had just been hypnotized by that first killer LP that featured both “Shakara” and “Lady” and rather than buy another pair of platform shoes, or Brutus jeans had saved our pocket money to make this hajj possible.

For the first hour it was a non stop jam session of some of his greatest work. Looking back now we can only “Thank God” that he had yet to release such great master pieces as “Water No Get Enemy” or “Africa Center of The World” because as we know Fela was not just a great performer, but a shrewd businessman and refused to play any song you could buy for yourself on wax, tape or 8 track. In as much as they were still being worked on then they were already timeless classics even in the pupa stage and “Fela” delivered them with unparalleled showmanship.

In between sets his tongue wagged like a hyperactive “bulala” as he called out everyone from President, to the Pope, flogging even his own Brother Beko who was the then equivalent of the nations Surgeon General with it, as well as a gaggle of other “useless” “Madams and Ogas”. Not in fear of the jack booted thugs in uniform that had repeatedly suffocated arguably Africa’s most vibrant Press in the past, that night Music was his Weapon as we remained in stunned silence - soaking everything in. By nights end most of us had made a conscious decision to remain either part of the disease or become part of a cure. I say this because out of the four of us that witnessed sheer magic that night 2 would end up being journalists and the other 2 lawyers.

Fela would rewrite that art of confrontation using both satire and an in your face type of challenge virtually new to Africa. This would catapult him to instant super status especially in Ghana, his old stomping ground, and in South Africa where Hugh Masekela would virtually change his new band's format and style even dedicating his maiden album entitled The Boy's Doing It to Fela himself. 60 years later his respect has not diminished one iota as we hear in his ode to Fela on the album Sixty which not just brings tears to your eyes but also tugs at your heart.

He would be the first to actually name names in his songs starting with the fabled "I.T.T." in which he questioned not just then-chairman Abiola’s dubious “modus operandi” but actually mentioned then-President Obasanjo by name. As we know this would set into motion a hateful relationship with the Nigerian Army that would not only span decades and play an unfortunate role in his Mother’s death, but also lead to his incarceration in Nigeria’s coldest and dampest prison located in Jos. In as much as his body was already being ravaged by the HIV virus, it was here that he would catch the actual pneumonia that would cause the heart failure which killed him on August the 2nd, 1997. This is made even more unfortunate when we look at the likes of, say, a Magic Johnson today, who has shown us that having AIDS does not necessarily translate into an instant death and that Fela despite being infected then could have easily lived on with today’s new drugs and given us 20 or 30 years more of sheer ecstasy.

Years later while working at The National Public Radio in Washington I would hear a nightingale-like voice emit from one of the studios and carry through the myriad of its hallways. It wasn’t so much that it was beautiful but it was what it was singing that galvanized me into an almost trot – seeking its source. Stunned I peeped in and looked at the bald head of Sinead O’Connor (then arguably the epitome of controversy and female activism) “blowing” Fela’s “Lady” in perfect pidgin. Later on I would learn that she was preparing for the Manu Dibango’s "Wakafrika" tour and all I could do was just shake my head and smile. I mean here was one of the ultimate feminists of her time singing a Fela song that without a doubt if not encourages sexism certainly winks at it, and she didn’t even know. Rather, with eyes closed, she attacked each line with such energy and passion that one despite her pigmentation, could have easily mistaken her for one of the Kalakuta Queens. Fela himself must have been proud and smiling at the fact that not only does his music continue to live on with efforts put forth by his sons, but also in projects like Red Hot + Riot and by bands like The Roots and singers like O’Connor. Bearing this in mind, he can really Rest in Peace knowing that (and I quote the NY Times) "Afro beat offers plenty of room for allies and kindred spirits, without ever surrendering its own stubborn identity."

And to that we can only add an "Amen" and a "Thank God."

Chicago Afrobeat Project - An Article from Dec. 2007

Sometimes the hardest part of holding together a band as large as Chicago Afrobeat Project is finding people to play with. The Chicago-based seven- to 14-piece ensemble isn't near making Phish money, and each member's paycheck from gigs gets smaller with each additional member.

It's a problem guitarist David Glines worries about, but only from a musician's standpoint. When the Afrobeat veterans are able to add more members for a show – he guessed that between seven and 10 would make the trip for the Dec. 13 show at Bell's Brewery in Kalamazoo – the strength of the performance grows inversely with the size of their paychecks.

"Sometimes it's a little bit difficult to find people that are interested in Afrobeat and understand world music but are also capable of traveling," he told Recoil.

"It's kind of hard; if you know anybody, we're looking for brass players."

Wikipedia defines Afrobeat as "a combination of Yoruba music, jazz, highlife, and funk rhythms fused with African percussion and vocal styles, popularized in Africa in the 1970s."

Modern day Afrobeat musicians use one word: "Fela."

"The first time I heard Fela I was kind of mesmerized by the sound," Glines said. "It was kind of what I was looking for in a lot of music, and you know, I had come from a blues/rock background... and it was everything I liked about that music plus a little bit more."

"Fela" is Fela Kuti, the genre's best-known artist and (most would agree) father. The Nigerian bandleader weaved American styles of jazz and James Brown-influenced funk with his native music, and then added politically charged lyrics aimed directly at the country's dictator. The music was popularized in the 1970s, but still thrives in many ways today, with American and European artists taking to the genre. Glines said he first heard Fela about 10 years ago.

"It was pretty captivating; it was just the funkiest music I've ever heard, and it's kind of hard not to dance to it," he said. "You'd have to be a corpse not to dance to it."

The core of Chicago Afrobeat Project are well versed in Fela, and many of the horn players and previous CABP musicians have played with Fela's band or his son's band. But for guys like Glines who hail from the Midwest, it takes a little bit more effort to make Afrobeat work.

"As much as it definitely takes double duty to learn another style and a genre, and you have to be interested in it and have a feeling for the music, there are also roots in America," he said, pointing to the influence American styles had on Fela. "Music is not standing still, and it's always going to be influencing different cultures. And I think that's really the coolest part about music is to watch it hop from culture to culture."

Glines recently lunched with Tony Allen (Fela's drummer of many years) and Ghariokwu Lemi, the man who designed 26 original Fela album covers and also the cover of (A) Move To Silent Unrest, CABP's latest release. Allen explained how easy it was for Fela to find musicians because Nigeria was such a poor country.

"Cheap labor in Nigeria was all over the place – you could pay someone a couple of dollars... for an entire night. Where in the United States, the labor just doesn't work like that," Glines said, remembering the conversation. Fela was able to pay his band "well," but it was only a small percentage of what a musician expects to be paid today.

Lyrically, CABP doesn't follow the politically controversial stylings the genre was known for either. Only one song on (A) Move to Silent Unrest has lyrics. Glines said they can't force it, because people know phony when they hear it.

"I think that everyone in our group leans to the left, and that everyone in varying degrees is socially active and wants to push things forward. I don't think that I necessarily would be true to myself to come out there on an album and make a bunch of political statements like 'Impeach Bush' and things that I don't think would necessarily convey what I personally believe. I don't like Bush at all, and I clearly didn't vote for this guy, and he's a buffoon, but it's just with our music...," Glines said before stopping to collect his thoughts.

"Our version of Afrobeat is not necessarily the shock value of some of what Fela's Afrobeat was. And I think... growing up in the seventies and some of the guys in the eighties, we didn't grow up under a political dictator – a corrupt dictator at that – who is jailing our parents and throwing our mothers out of three-story buildings." This is what happened to Fela's own mother after he had clashed with the dictator for some time.

"There really is only one Fela, and we're not interested in imitating Fela at all."

written by Nick Stephenson (Source)

Jan 7, 2010

The Afrobeat Diaries ... by allaboutjazz.com (Pt.VI)

Akoya Afrobeat- P.D.P. President Dey Pass


Among the spin-off benefits which are following the success of the hit Broadway musical Fela!, and the attendant media interest in Afrobeat, is the revitalization of the Brooklyn band Akoya Afrobeat. Formed in 2002, Akoya was off radar for much of 2009, while its members were involved in other projects, but it is once again performing regularly in the New York area. Which makes this an appropriate moment to remind readers of the band's outstanding P.D.P. President Dey Pass, its second and most recent album, released during the final death throes of the Bush presidency.

Two years later, P.D.P. still stands as the most credible and exciting set of Afrobeat to be recorded in the USA since Kuti's death in 1997. The music is authentic in every detail—from the crucial (but these days often neglected) tenor guitars, twin baritone saxophone-anchored horn section, call and response vocals, retro-modern keyboards, Tony Allen-inspired drums and percussion, and politically focused lyrics. In this respect, the band is fortunate to have in its lead vocalist, Kaleta, a veteran of Kuti's Egypt 80 band.

But the album is much more than a revivalist exercise. For a start, it's put together by a group of musicians all of whom, it is obvious, feel Afrobeat deeply: the band inhabits the music rather than simply assembling its constituent parts in a historically accurate fashion. On top of that, the musicians are secure enough in themselves to stretch the envelope from time to time; the album is full of little twists to the basic Afrobeat paradigm which, although Kuti never played them, are nonetheless true to his founding vision. Electric bassist Felix Chen, for instance, plays an ostinato on "Fela Dey" which is a very close relative of the one played by Boris Gardiner on the Congos' "Congoman" from their Lee Perry-produced, roots reggae classic Heart Of The Congos (Black Ark, 1977). The Jamaican connection is continued with the inclusion of Gardiner's contemporary and fellow legend, the tenor saxophonist Cedric Im Brooks, who guests on "Je Je L'Aiye." The horn section, though as at home with the basic Afrobeat riffs structure as the sections in Kuti's Afrika 70 or Egypt 80 lineups, sounds Ethiopian going on late period Sun Ra on "B.F.B.F." and Lalo Schifrin in noir mode on "Wahala."

The cover art of P.D.P. was created by Gharlokwu Lemi, from the 1970s an associate of Kuti's, who designed the original sleeves for such Kuti albums as Zombie (Phonogram Nigeria) and Ikoyi Blindness (African Music International), both released in 1976 and reviewed in Part 2 of this series. Lemi's evocative artwork provides the seal of authenticity.

Hopefully, Akoya Afrobeat will get around to making another album soon. A live set would be very welcome. Meanwhile, P.D.P. is not to be missed.


01. Awa L'Akoya
02. Fela Dey
03. Je Je L'Aiye
04. B.F.B.F. Panama
05. Oluya
06. Wahala

Source and thanx!

Another review

Ever avoid a whole genre of music because the seeming vastness was very intimidating? I used to feel that way about classical music. So many composers/orchestras/conductors to choose from. To the uninitiated, it's tough to take that first step. Once I got over that fear of making a mistake (which now makes no sense to me), I just dove right in. Sure, I picked up a few clunkers where the music did almost nothing for me. Those were balanced by the records that blew me away. Mozart's Requiem comes to mind.

I felt the same way about pop music from Africa. Like the continent itself, there was just so much to investigate. For a long time I bought nothing, fearing the "wrong" selection.

All of that changed when I heard King Sunny Ade on the radio. Ade and his infectious brand of Nigerian "JuJu" music just bowled me over. After that, I was hooked. Enter Ali Farka Tourè and Fela Kuti. Man, my walls just pulsed with this stuff. It felt like I'd just discovered a whole new musical world (I had!), one where infectious grooves and sophisticated rhythms played a much more prominent role in support of the structure and melody — at least when compared to most modern Western pop music.

On P.D.P. (President Dey Pass), Akoya Afrobeat combines the rhythms of the best James Brown with a lot of down & dirty Afro-centric funk and soul. With longtime Fela Kuti Egypt 80 singer Kaleta, drums and percussion, a small army of guitars, and a huge horn section, this is an Afro-pop dance machine to be reckoned with.

High points? It's tough to know where to start. There's the 12-minute ecstatic workout of "B.F.B.F " that begins with interlocked guitar figures and percussion before the horn section explodes to life. "Jè Jè L'Aiyé" sways back and forth between an ongoing guitar/horn conversation (with guest appearance by Jamaican saxophonist Cedric "Im" Brooks) to Keleta's vocals engaging in some beautiful call & response with the backing chorus. The closing "Wahala" features some strutting baritone sax blasts before the funk slow burn takes off.

My absolute favor track from P.D.P is "Fela Dey." At over 13 minutes, it's an Afro-pop/funk/soul raveup that I'd be willing to bet lights a fire on the dance floor. Kicking off with some scratchy, "Sex Machine"-ish guitar and then taken over by that massive horn section, this is exactly the kind of song that turned me on to this (very expansive) genre in the first place. Later on, Keleta and the backing vocalists put the song over the top. This record is so much fun, I'm beginning to think it might not be legal!

If you own no Afro-pop records, P.D.P. is a great place to start. You will not be making a mistake. There's a sweaty joy that flies from each song. Let's face it, what's more fun than sweaty joy?


Jan 4, 2010

Interview with Manu Dibango

Manu Dibango is perhaps one of the world's best jazz saxophonists. A true international super star with a career starting from the 50's. At 15 he was sent to Paris to prepare for a professional career. He is a tireless globe trotting musician. Last year, he played for hundreds of funs at Mano-Mundo Festival in Belgium, and this year he was in Belgium again to play at Gent. He speaks about his passion in music.

The interview

As an African musician you have made such an enormous contribution to African music internationally. How do you feel about this achievement?

I'm glad I'm still in motion. I don't think of my past achievements. The most important thing is what I'm going to do tomorrow. I'm happy I did what I did. Thanks be to God.

In 1972, your hit "Soul Makossa" stormed the world. Since then you are still on the music scene. What keeps you moving all these years?

Passion "La Passion" What I would want African youths to have is passion. Because if you have passion, you can easily accept suffering and when there is no passion, you have to try to cultivate it. If you can do that then you can really bring out the best of your self.

In 1985, you raised funds for famine stricken Ethiopia through your "Tam-tams for Ethiopia project" with Mory Kante and others. What do you feel about the present situation in Ethiopia?

Well, talking about Ethiopia is like talking about the whole continent. A month ago we played against AIDS and famine. We also played in Dakar. It is not only the music which is playing an important role on this issue of problems affecting Africa, but the activities of doctors, sportsmen and journalists are also helping in various ways.

According to an international music magazine I read recently, you and the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti are among the world's best saxophonists. How do you feel about this?

It's nice to hear that. You know that one don't play music just for the hours to pass. But you play music because you are in love with music and luckily if it happens that people like what I'm proposing, then I'm happy. Although music is business, yet you don't start thinking about money from the initial stages when you are in music. First propose to the people what they want and if they like it, then the money comes later.

Last year, I watched you playing at the Mano-Mundo festival, when the frenzy crowd called for more song. What was your experience at that moment?

Well you can see that I'm still in motion. It happens that you share the music with the audience. That is the best happiness an artist can have. I'm not alone on stage but with a group of musicians. So the more the music is successful, the more the audience feel happy about the music. It's the responsiblity of an artist to make his fans happy. That is proposition. I'm always talking about proposition.

This question comes from one of your fans who lives in the United States of America. He said I must ask you the reason you do always play in Africa and Europe but not in the USA.

If they want me there, I will be there. I go to every country that wants Manu. I have management and those who want me to play contact my management. I have played in Canada and some parts of South America. I live in America for two years in the 70's. The most important thing is they love my music.

This another question from one of your fans. He said that when he was young, he heard that you sued Michael Jackson for using "Makossa" in his music without your permission. Is it true?

Yes that is true. It is a long time story in 1986. But the problem has been solved long time.

I believe that you are in your seventies. What is the secrete behind your fitness?

If I have a secrete of what keeps me young, then definitely I'm going to sell it. (He laughed) I told you before, It's passion.

In 1994, you released "The rough guide of Manu Dibango" What do you have in store for your numeous fans worldwide?

Well at the moment I have a big band in France. The name is "Marabuti" We have big projects presently and the future we are going to the studios probably in autumn for recording.

Sir, thank you very much for this interview.

You are welcome.


Interview by Joel Savage at POLE-POLE FESTIVAL, Gent, Belgium, July 21 2005