By Kouame Koulibaly
(In Accra – Ghana)
Percussionist Richmond Otu Laryea straddles two worlds of music: contemporary popular sounds with the Bessa Band and folk/traditional fare with his own Efee Noko Cultural Group.
He Has been part of keyboardist Bessa Simon’s Bessa Band since its formation in 2011.On stage with the group, he grooves steadily along with the rhythm and takes his solos at the appropriate times whether the music on hand is Highlife, Jazz, Afrobeat, Reggae or Afro-rock.
When he gets behind his kit with his 15-member Efee Noko group of drummers, singers and dancers, it becomes a joyous journey into a sphere of Kpanlogo, Adowa, Bambaya, Kete, Borborbor, Gahu, Kpatsa, Takai and other styles of Ghanaian traditional rhythms.
“It’s not difficult shifting between the two strands of music so long as you love what you do and keep working hard at it. My senses are always are alert to sounds and I’m serious with whatever music I’m involved with at anytime,” says Richmond who also plays the xylophone and an array of other percussion instruments.
His senses have been alert to the sound of drums since childhood as his father, Asafoiatse Nii Laryea Akuaku from Nungua in Accra, is a drum maker. There were all sizes of drums available at home all the time and he took to them early in life.
It was Richmond’s father who originally started the Efee Noko Cultural Group in 1981. It was a well-loved folk band that played gigs across the country. It won competitions and represented Ghana once at at a traditional music festival. After a series of performances at the Aklowa African Village in London, the group disbanded after several of the members got offers to Australia, Germany and other European destinations.
“That happened about 30 years ago. When I had the idea to form my own traditional band, I asked my father if I could use the Efee Noko name again. He agreed. We are based at Nungua and doing quite well. The traditional bands are important to help keep up our own rhythms and dances,” Richmond stated.
The first traditional-oriented band Richmond played with was Indigenafrika, an offshoot of the late Nana Danso Abiam’s Pan-Africa Orchestra and based then at the National Theatre. He has since played with acts such as Kusun Ensemble, Gifty Ose i and Ben Brako. Though a regular part of the Bessa Band, he sits in sometimes with other contemporary popular music bands which need his services.
Richmond says his musical activities keep him extremely busy but he is happy to be contributing his bit to the promotion of different types of music in this country. Another contribution he is keen to make, together with the rest in Efee Noko, is to donate proceeds from their gigs in the lead-up to Christmas, to orphanages and other needy segments of society.