The afternoon breeze inertly shifts the leaves on the numerous trees at the British Council in Accra as we await a lecture by the acclaimed ethnomusicologist Prof JH Kwabena Nketia.
As the audience builds up for a lecture on the “Transformation of Ghana’s Traditional Music” my mind is focused on the Ghanaian music legend Ebo Taylor, who is scheduled for an hour-long chat with me at the same venue.
Frustrated drivers trapped in a slow moving traffic in front of the British Council angrily toot their horns as Taylor walks in creating in the process some sort of “history” – three living legends under one roof – Egya Koo Nimo, Prof Nketia and Taylor. Our chat begins almost immediately.
“It is my effective use of Afro Beat and Highlife alongside strong jazz elements that rekindled the interest in my music throughout the world – indeed, it has been a live long ambition to develop Highlife”, says Taylor, who has in recent years being a regular feature in major music and arts festivals all over Europe.
Taylor, who is a guitarist, composer, arranger and producer, has been a fundamental influence on the Ghanaian music scene over sixty years. Undeniably, he was a significant force of Highlife bands in the 1960s. In 1962, he took his own group, the Black Star Highlife Band to London (UK), which led to collaborations with the late Afro Beat King, Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
Returning to Ghana, he worked as a producer, crafting recordings for Pat Thomas, C.K. Mann and others. He found time to explore his own projects, combining traditional Ghanaian material with Afro-beat, jazz, and funk rhythms to create his own recognizable sound in the 1970s.
“Taylor’s work became popular internationally with the release of “Love and Death” on Strut Records in 2010, which is without doubt his first globally distributed album. Its apparent success encouraged Strut to release the all-star retrospective Life Stories: “Highlife & Afro Beat Classics” (1973-1980) in 2011.
“Education is the key for young Ghanaian musicians – they need to educate themselves, conduct research, use local material in their compositions and the sky will be their limit because Ghanaian music is in demand all over the world”, adds Taylor, who received a meritorious award from the Navarro Jazz Festival (Italy) in 2012.
Later in 2012, a deeply personal album titled “Appia Kwa Bridge”, appeared and proved the fact that at a “ripe” age of 77 – Taylor is still intensely creative and focused – mixing traditional Fante songs and chants with children’s rhymes and personal matters into his own satirical visualization of highlife.
A graduate of Eric Guilder School of Music (London, United Kingdom), Taylor vigorously advocates the return of music to school curricula in Ghana since its absence has contributed to the gradual but steady decline of the quality of music being produced in the country.
Barely forty-five minutes into our chat – the living legend needs to leave – he is catching a flight at the Accra International Airport for yet another performance tour of Europe. As he settled in a waiting car he gives me a thumps up – I equally raise both thumps in return.
By John Owoo