Various Artists: Ghana Soundz (2003)
The subtitle of this compilation tells the story in a nutshell: Afro-Beat, Funk and Fusion in 70's Ghana. Producer Miles Cleret, who promises that this is only Volume 1, took it upon himself to comb the country known as The Gold Coast before its 1957 independence from Britain, seeking out lost treasures from the golden age of Ghanaian music. (Where the hell did he find the guy with the hat?)
The '60s and '70s were indeed a happening time in West Africa, following the advent of jazz-based highlife bands and the surging influx of funk. What drove the whole scene was the fact that all this music was dance music, which made it popular and thus encouraged a whole generation of musicians to take part.
And so that brings us to Cleret's discoveries, combed from releases by independents like Essiebons Music and Agoro Music. (Ghana, unlike Nigeria, did not receive much industry attention during this period.) Each one is lovingly documented with date and source (where available) and generous background information about the artist.
One highlight: "Eyi Su Ngaangaa" by the Sweet Talks (1976), a deeply funky excursion into simple harmonies, slyly decorated with an extended trumpet solo by Arthur Kennedy. What makes this tune so special is not its hip groove or catchy melody, but the level of depth and detail that develops in the percussion department. Of all the countries in West Africa, Ghana has perhaps the most complex drumming traditionand while funk and fusion tended to distill rhythms down to the backbeat, the Sweet Talks draw upon the country's greatest traditional strength.
K. Frimpong and his Cubanos Fiestas make an appearance with "Hwehwe Mu Na Yi Wo Mpena" from 1977which draws, not surprisingly, from the congas and the bright Cuban horn tradition. But it's also very jazzy, with improvised solos on sax (George Amissah) and trumpet (Arthur Kennedy). The mix of styles here works very well.
"Self Reliance" by the African Brothers International Band is essentially all rhythm section, except for the vocals. The guitars, drums, and organ beat as one supercharged entity along time signatures that twist and turn, traveling through complex territory. Remarkable more for the tightness of the band than any sort of deep musical statement, the extreme is still breathtaking.
Like any culture in transition, Ghanaian music during the '70s had a difficult time asserting its own identity. So many influences were pouring in and out of the region that there wasn't time or opportunity to form a nucleus. As a result, many of these tunes sound a bit derivative; or maybe that's the point. Deriving ideas from Afrobeat, funk, psychedelia, or fusion is hardly a crime. It's what made West African music strong during this fertile period.
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Track Listing: Because of Money; Bukom Mashie; Mother Africa; Heaven; Simigwado; Eyi Su Ngaangaa; Ageisheka; Psychedelic Woman; Hwehwe Mu Na Yi Wo Mpena; Kwaku Ananse; Self Reliance; Make It Fast, Make It Slow; W'awu Do Ho No; Nite Safarie.
Personnel: The Third Generation Band; Oscar Sulley & The Uhuru Dance Band; Marijata; Ebo Taylor; Gyedu Blay Ambolley & The Steneboofs; The Sweet Talks; The Ogyatanaa Show Band; Honny & The Bees Band; K. Frimpong & his Cubano Fiestas; The Apagya Show Band; The African Brothers; Rob; Alex Konadu; The Black Star Sound.