23 Sept 2022

Ghana & Togo


'Organ-driven Afro-beat, cosmic Afro-funk and raw, psychedelic boogie… just some of the flavours to be found on this highly danceable compilation by Samy Ben Redjeb, founder of Analog Africa.

No effort has been spared! To document these 15 irresistible tracks and the music scene from the'70s, Samy crisscrossed the lengths of Ghana and Togo in search of the producers and artists – or their relatives. In the process he recorded a dozen interviews, scanned 90 pictures and transferred 120 master tapes. All the evidence can be seen in the 44-page full colour booklet accompanying these 75 minutes of heavy West African sounds. Afro-Beat Airways showcases an amazing diversity of local rhythms spiced with Afro-American funk, soul and jazz.'

The tireless Analog Africa label heads to Ghana and Togo to explore the area's tight-knit 1970s funk scene.

In 2008, Analog Africa owner Samy Ben Redjeb accidentally checked a bag with his passport in it before attempting to get on an Ethiopian Airlines flight to Luanda, Angola. The plane was delayed while they looked for his bag without any luck. The flight left without him, and once he got his passport back they weren't able to get him to Luanda for another few weeks. They did, however offer him some alternatives: would he like to go to Congo, Cameroon, Nigeria, or Ghana? He chose a flight to Accra, Ghana-- he had friends there who'd told him of a big stash of records he might be interested in. And that's how this compilation came about.

Analog Africa was already in the process of digging heavily into the music scenes of Ghana's smaller neighbors, Benin and Togo, for a series of great comps. A meeting with Dick Essilfie-Bonzie, the owner of the long-defunct Essiebons Records, led Redjeb to a trove of old master tapes from the 1970s. The music on those tapes, most of which was originally recorded for PolyGram, comprises the bulk of this set, the latest in Redjeb's incredible run of Afro-funk retrospectives. Anyone who enjoyed Soundway's Ghana Soundz compilations from several years ago will love this as well, as it's filled with the distinctive funk sound of Ghana-- heavy on the bright Vox organ, colored by highlife guitars, and anchored by grooves that are heavier than just about anything else. The few tracks by Togolese artists included here fit right into the sound (the artists all absorbed the Ghana sound during stints there).

There are a lot of ways to organize archival compilations. You can go the Numero route and try to tell the story of a label or a tight-knit group of friends through music; you can focus on a particular style, year, or scene; you can cherry-pick and make what amounts to a mixtape; or try to provide an overview for beginners. Analog Africa is really the only label I can think of that uses the travelogue as an organizing principle for these kinds of sets. Redjeb's adventure isn't just the catalyst for the compilation-- it's the backbone as well. Listening to it and checking the extensive book of notes that comes with it, you follow an arc of discovery that parallels Redjeb's own listening experience in Ghana. There's excitement in the way it's put together, and everyone he interviews for the booklet is happy to be talking about this music again.

If you're already collecting Afro-funk comps, you'll probably know names like K. Frimpong, Ebo Taylor, and African Brothers Band. They and others here have all featured on other compilations, but this disc digs deep to bring us stuff we've never heard before. And if you're just getting into this music, pretty much everything will be revelatory. Taylor's two tracks under his own name here both have his signature big sound, underpinned by the knocking Afrobeat rhythm that he built into a trademark. It wasn't easy to have a massive sound like Taylor's in 70s Ghana. Successive military governments in the 60s had imposed curfews that made life difficult for musicians, breaking up a lot of bands and sending their members abroad-- the large horn sections of the big old-style highlife bands were the hardest-hit, and as a result highlife in Ghana became more focused on the guitar. Taylor's big, pummeling horn fanfares are a thread tying his funked-up 70s output back to the society bands he got his start in.

The ultimate Ghanaian guitar highlife band was undoubtedly the African Brothers, led by guitarist Nana Ampadu. Their "Ngyegye No So" borrows an Afrobeat backbeat (it's the insistent syncopated tick-tock-a-tick pattern played on the non-trap percussion) and tugs on it with a fractured bass line. After the psychedelic organ solo, Ampadu delivers an English monologue that goes like this: "It is me they call Nana Ampadu, the music king. I be composer, I be singer, I be arranger, I be master guitarist"-- the joke being that the song's title means "Don't Brag". Orchestre Abass, a Togolese band that relocated to Accra and later had a residency at Fela Kuti's Shrine in Lagos, Nigeria, picked up the choppy rhythms and immense organ sound of their adopted country, and they flash it brilliantly on "Awula Bo Fee Ene".

One of the reasons these songs all sound so unified is that Ghana's music scene was small enough that many musicians knew each other, played with each other, and developed alongside one another or in competition. If there are more than a couple degrees of separation between any two musicians, I'd be shocked. They also shared a constant scramble for scarce resources, and it seems to have forged a rock-solid professionalism in the players that you can hear in the recordings. Dick Essilfie-Bonzie had established a few labels and the country's first vinyl pressing plant, and he brought in an engineer called E.B. Brown to run his studio-- Brown's depth of knowledge and skill gives these recordings an amazing presence and clarity that modern mastering has only made bolder. Here's hoping Samy Ben-Redjeb winds up on a few more flights he didn't intend to take. -Joe Tangari

'The element of surprise is gone. Listeners who were pleasantly startled nine years ago by Nigeria 70’s (Strut) revelation of the breadth of styles beyond Fela Kuti’s Afro-beat and King Sunny Adé’s Juju on offer from just one nation, or blown away by the riches proffered by the heaps of Ghanaian, Nigerian and Beninese sets supplied by the Soundway and Analog Africa labels since 2005, are by now totally spoiled. But if it’s hard to muster quite the thrill of anticipation for Afro-Beat Airways that one might have felt for Ghana Soundz 2 or African Scream Contest, that’s not the record’s fault. Give it some time and it’ll reward you with just as an experience just as rich and immersive as those sets.

And even more personal. Samy Ben Redjeb, the man behind Analog Africa, is not satisfied to simply dig up region after region’s complete vinyl-era history of groove music; he has to interview the surviving artists, pay them for their troubles, dig up vintage photographs, and tell the whole story in a booklet far fatter than you need to sell with a CD. He doesn’t just tell you about the bands and the labels, he also tells you what he was smoking when he first found a record, or what sort of travel mishap landed him in Togo (the source of roughly a quarter of this set’s tracks) in the first place.

So what do you get if you place yourself in his charge?: 15 (16 on vinyl) superlative examples of 35-year-old Afrobeat from Ghana and Togo, all sourced from the Phonogram label’s archives. Fela Kuti’s influence looms hugely over Ebo Taylor’s “Odofo Nyi Akyiri Biara,” with its stuttering cowbell beat and triumphant horns, or Orchestre Abass’s “Awula Bo Fee Ene,” with its insistent hi-hat tattoo, scratchy guitar, and gutteral singing. But Fela sure never delivered an organ solo like the tripped-out, churchy turn that bubbles up halfway through the latter tune. And while Rob’s maniacally precise “More” is full of moves lifted from James Brown and Isaac Hayes, its aggressive synth and breathless delivery is harder to place; this album is full of creation, not re-creation. It’s also splendidly paced, varying the tempo and intensity so that it’s no chore at all to play the thing all the way through even though it lasts nearly and hour and a quarter.

In a way, it’s better to be past the excitement that comes from novelty; there’s something just as satisfying about settling deeper into this music through the years.' -Bill Meyer

Professor John Collins


By John Collins

Ghanaian popular music or ‘highlife’ began as early as the Fanti ‘adaha’ brass bands of the 1880s that were inspired by the regimental bands of the 6000 or so West Indian soldiers stationed at El Mina and Cape Coast Castle from the 1870s. (PHOTO WEST INDIAN REGIMENTAL BAND CAPE COAST 1870S) This was followed in the early 1900’s with low-class ‘palmwine’ guitar/accordion groups made up of Ghanaian and Liberian Kru seamen and the big dance orchestras of the local Ghanaian elites music that played ballroom, ragtime music and local tunes – the high-class context in which the word ‘highlife’ was coined in the 1920s.

The first commercial recording of highlife however didn’t occur until 1927/8 when the British Zonophone/HMV company began recording in Britain local Fanti artists such as George William Aingo and Jacob Sam (Kwame Asare) and his Kumasi Trio (the first to record the song Yaa Amponsah). (PHOTO KUMASI TRIO 1928) In the 1930s other artists (mainly guitarists) followed on the HMV and Parlophone labels such as

Kwesi Pepera, Appianing, Kwame, Mireku, Osei Bonsu, Kwesi Menu, Kamkan and Appiah Adjekum. Records were distributed through the Tarkwa Trading Company (Kingsway) and the Swizz Basel Mission/UTC and in the cocoa-rich south of Ghana many cold afford shellac records and wind-up gramophones. Indeed the sales of so-called ‘native artists’ by Zonophone/HMV Parlophone and Odeon was so lucrative that by 1933 almost one million records had been sold in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

The Second World War put a temporary halt on record production – but immediately afterwards the UTC (Union Trading Company) began doing mobile recording in Ghana and released the music of church singing bands (including Ephraim Amu’s group at Akropong ) as well as that of the big band highlife groups such as the Red Spots and Black Beats that was influenced by the American swing music of American and British troops stationed in wartime Ghana . HMV also re-started again and using mobile studios recorded artists such as Kwaa Mensah, Kakaiaku, E.T. Mensah’s Tempos, the Hotshots and the Koforidua Casino Dance Orchestra.

Decca actually opened West Africa’s first recording studio in Accra in 1947 and by 1950’s was pressing a quarter million records a year of Anglophone West African by artists such as E.T. Mensah E. K. Nyame, Otoo Lartey, Onyina, Red Spots, Rhythm Aces, Joe Kelly’s Band, Stargazers, Ray Ellis sextet, King Bruce and Jerry Hansen of the Black Beats (Hansen later formed the Ramblers) Broadway (later renamed Uhuru)

It was also in the 1950’s that the very first Ghanaian or local record labels were createdby the Lebanese H. Teymani (TM label, the first to release E. K. Nyame’s music), the Brazilian-Ghanaian Mr. Chebib (ECB label), the Ghanaian Atakora brothers (Kwahu Wago label), joined in the late1950s by Dick Essilfie-Bondzie (Yeebee label). In the 1960s two record pressing plants were operating in Ghana. First was Ambassador Records built in Kumasi by Mr. A.K Badu in 1965, which by 1975 was producing half a million singles and 1000,000 albums a year and had a record catalogue of 750 songs by 60 bands; mainly guitar bands like Akwaboa’s, Kakaiku’s, Nana Ampadu’s African Brothers, Kofi Sammy’s Okukuseku, Konadu’s and K.K.’s . Second was the Record Manufacturers of Ghana Ltd. record plant (and studio) built in Accra in 1969 and half owned by the Dutch company Phillips (later called Polygram) and half by Dick Essilfie-Bondzie (Essiebons label) By the seventies this joint Ghanaian-Dutch company was manufacturing 800 singles and 200 albums a year and some of the top Essiebons label artists included Dr. K. Gyasi (eg. his ‘Sikyi Highlife’) C.K. Mann and his Carousel Seven (eg. ‘Party Time), Francis Kenya (‘Powerhouse’) Bob Pinado (‘Sonobete’), K. Frempong (‘Kyenkyen Bi Adi M’Awu’), Yamoah and the All Brothers. The Phillips Polygram side of the company released many West African artists - for instance T.O. ‘Jazz’ Ampoumah’s ‘Aware Bone Asu Manim Ase’ for which T.O. was (together with Nigerian ‘Guitar Boy’ Victor Uwaifo) were jointly awarded the first Phillips West African Golden Discs in 1970.

By the 1970’s the music scene was booming in Ghana with seventy or so highlife guitar bands (most linked to theatrical concert parties), almost the same number of highlife dance bands (King Bruce alone was operating seven), numerous student pop bands and dozens of Ga cultural bands pioneered by the Wulomei group (discovered by Kwadwo Donkor and Saka Acquaye - see separate entries). There were four recording studios operating in the country: the Ambassador eight track studio, the Phillip/ Polyram four-track one, the government Ghana Film (GFIC) Studio that that had been opened in the sixties (with excellent engineers like Kwakye, John Archer, Bossman, etc) and later Faisal Helwani’s Studio One based at his Napoleon Club in Osu, Accra.

Faisal,. A Ghanaian-Lebanese, himself was major player in the music industry. In the late sixties he had organized many student ‘pop chain’ competitions and promoted Ghana tours by the young Nigerian highlife (and later Afro-beat) musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (then Ransome-Kuti). In 1973 Faisal set up the Naploeon Club and its resident band Hedzolleh Sounds. This Afro-fusion band, that included Lash Laryea (who soon left), Stan and Frankie Todd, Okyerema Asante, Jagger Botchway, Nii Ampoumah and Oko Nortey, recorded the album ‘Introducing Hedzolleh’ with Hugh Masekela - and subsequently went on US tour with this South African trumpeter. Faisal subsequently formed other Afro-fusion bands such as Basa-Basa, the Bunzus and Edikanfo (the latter got recording assistance from Brian Eno). Faisal also launched his Bibini Records label that, over the years, released local artists such as Onipa Nua, Abladei, Uhurus, Kobina Okai and Kofi Sammy. Faisal was also instrumental in founding the Ghanaian musicians union MUSIGA 1974 with Jerry Hansen, Stan Plange, King Bruce and Sammy Odoh. (PHOTO MUSIGA EXECUTIVE IN 1979)

However with the corrupt (‘kalabule’) 1970s military regime of Akyeampong/Akuffo the economy and music industry collapsed in the late 1970s. Record production ceased and thousands of Ghanaian musicians left for Germany, Nigeria and elsewhere. This was followed by several years of political instability and then a two-and-half night curfew from 1982-4: followed by massive import duties on musical instruments and band equipment considered as luxury items the Rawlings government. Only a few of the highlife guitar and dance bands survived this interregnum and in the mid-1980’s only two studios were operating in the country: GFIC and Bokoor Studio (Faisal temporarily having moved to Liberia). Furthermore, music production switched to cassettes with all its associated problems of music piracy.

The curfew and high music taxes really created a watershed for the Ghanaian music scene as it practically wiped out the older generation of highlife bands but paved the way for new types of Ghanaian popular music to emerge - these being local gospel-highlife music (as the churches were not taxed) and ‘techno’ or computerized forms of highlife such as burgher highlife (and later hiplife) that cut down on the expenses and personnel needed to run large bands. Furthermore, from the late 1980’s and the liberalization of the economy many new digital studios began to open, beginning with musicians returning from abroad: such as Nat Fedua’s Black Note, Oko Ringo’s Elelphant Walk and Nana Boamah’s ARC Studio in Tema . Others soon followed such as Danny Blues Combined House of Music, Sidiku Buari’s Sid Studio Pidgin Studio, The Jesus Above All Studio, Sammy Helwani’s Studio, Ralph Casely Hayford’s Black City Studio, Panji Anoff’s Pidgin Studio, Campsite Studio, Ebony Studio, Hotnot, Hush-Hush and the literally hundred upon hundreds of current digital studios operating in Ghana at the moment .There are also around two hundred local music labels now operating and releasing mainly local gospel artists (Tagoe Sisters, Daughter of Glorious Jesus, Cindy Thompson, Soul Winners etc) and hip-life rappers (VIP, Tic-Tac, Sidney, Daasabre Gyameneh, Lord Kenya, Nana Quame etc). These record labels include Despite Music, Megastar, Kays Frequency, Agie Coat, Slip Music, Goodies, Number One Records: with the biggest being City Rock. This company was set up in 1986 by Chris Ankrah and which is now the largest in Ghana, duplicating three million cassettes a year and supplying about 70 percent of the local cassettes the are played on the radio. Indeed the music industry has so picked up in Ghana that in 1999 the International Federation of Phonogram Industries estimated that Ghana’s internal music market was the equivalent to 25 million dollars a year and is second only to South Africa on the African continent.

The collapse of the Ghanaian music industry during the late seventies and eighties also affected visits, tours and collaborations between Ghanaian musicians and those of the African Diaspora in the Americas. From independence up until the late 1970s a number of significant Ghana visits had been made by African American artists. Louis Armstrong made two trips in 1956 (the year before independence) and again in 1960 sponsored by the American Columbia Broadcasting System and Coca-Cola respectively: in fact CBS made a film of the 1956 trip called “Satchmo the Great”. (PHOTO ARMSTRONG IN ACCRA IN 1956 E.T.MENSAH ON LEFT) The Trinidadian Calypsonian Lord Kitcher performed at the independence celebrations, Max Roach made several trips to visit Kofi Ghanaba and in 1971 there was the massive two day “Soul to Soul” concert at Black Star Square (Saka Acquaye was the local organizer) that was released on film and featured the African American artists Ike and Tina Turner, the Voices of East Harlem, Wilson Pickett, the Staple Singers, Roberta Flack, Les McCann and Eddie Harris. 

However, with the political and economic problems that began in the late seventies there was very few visits until around 1990 when a whole host of African American and Caribbean artists began to visit, perform and even settle in Ghana. Some, such as Stevie Wonder, Public Enemy, Dionne Warwick and Isaac Hayes came via the bi-annual PANAFEST that began in 1992. Others include Randy Weston, Greg Isaacs, Kassav, Musical Youth, Misty and Roots, Culture, Caron Wheeler of the Soul 2 Soul band, Jermain Jackson, Shaggy and the Black British (half-Ghanaian) jazz saxophonist player Courtney Pine. Rita Marley actually settled in Ghana and has built a recording studio in the Aburi Hills near Accra.

So today the future looks bright for the Ghanaian music industry. There is an influx of black artists from abroad as well as American, European and Japanese youth interested in ‘World Music’ - the African component of which is now thought to be generating internationally 1.5 billion dollars annually. Indeed this has even triggered an interest by the World Bank in assisting the music industry of six African countries (including Ghana). There is a lively internal music market dominated by local gospel and hiplife, and by an upsurge of cultural, and drum-dance groups that cater for (and even teach) the numerous tourists that now come to Ghana. Furthermore in 2004 the government reduced import duties on musical instruments and passed a new Copyright Bill to control music piracy. Finally, the government has recognized the importance of music in developing the tourist industry, as a potential non-traditional export (for the ‘World Music’ market) and is considering utilizing the local music industry as part of its Poverty Reduction Strategy. 

Various – Afro-Beat Airways - West African Shock Waves - Ghana & Togo 1972-1978

Label: Analog Africa – AACD 068
Format: CD, Compilation, Promo, Cardboard Sleeve
Country: Germany
Released: 2010
Style: Highlife, Afrobeat, Funk

1. Uppers International - Dankasa 3:36
2. Apagya Show Band - Ma Nserew Me 4:03
3. K. Frimpong & His Cubano Fiestas - Me Yee Owu Den 8:52
4. Marijata - Break Through 5:06
5. African Brothers Band - Ngyegye No So 6:17
6. Orchestre Abass - Awula Bo Fee Ene 3:45
7. Ebo Taylor & The Sweet Beans - Odofo Nyi Akyiri Biara 9:54
8. Pegadeja Custom Band - Okpe See 4:09
9. De Frank Professionals - Afe Ato Yen Bio 4:41
10. 3rd Generation Band - Obiye Saa Wui 4:13
11. Apagya Show Band - Mumunde 3:02
12. Rob With Mag-2 - More 5:15
13. Cos-Ber-Zam - Né Noya 4:10
14. Uppers International - Neriba Lanchina 4:04
15a. Ebo Taylor & The Pelicans - Come Along 5:59
15b. No Artist - [Silence] 2:00
15c. Unknown Artist - Unidentified Bonus Track 2:55

Incl. 44-page full colour booklet