One of the great under-acknowledged heroes of West African music.
Robin Denselow 2011-01-12
Ebo Taylor may be 74-years-old, but he’s one of the great under-acknowledged heroes of West African music, and has at last secured his first solo international album release.
Ebo’s early work was featured on the excellent Soundway compilation Ghana Special, which included his sturdy, brass-backed Twer Nyame, from back in 1977. He certainly played an important role in Ghana’s musical history, with a style that’s ranged from jazz and highlife to Afrobeat (he was massively influenced by Fela Kuti). But he should still be considered as a major and influential musical force. After all, Usher used a sample from Taylor’s Heaven on his She Don’t Know track, and as this rousing new set proves, the singer, composer, arranger and guitarist is still in excellent form.
This new set was recorded with members of Berlin’s Afrobeat Academy, and includes re-workings of old favourites (now treated to crackle-free recording) as well as new material that ranges across all his styles. As always with Taylor, brass plays an important role, and the set starts with Nga Nga, a gently driving new composition based around a traditional Ghanaian nursery rhyme; it begins with a sturdy, loping saxophone riff and develops into an easy-going, rhythmic work involving brass, a slinky bass riff and some still-powerful vocals from Taylor himself. Next, he eases into Afrobeat with the lengthy, Fela-influenced African Woman (and no, it’s not the Fela song Lady, which has some similarities), mixing chanting vocals and more excellent brass.
Then comes the outstanding title-track, which Taylor first recorded on his Conflict album back in the 1980s. It starts with an insistent instrumental shuffle, over which he half-speaks his theatrical lyrics, in English: “Brothers and sisters, lend me your ears / Listen to my story of love and death / On our wedding day she gave me a kiss / It was the kiss of death / Love and death walk hand in hand”. It’s a gripping opening that eases into a lengthy jazz-funk instrumental work-out, though when he gets back to singing it’s no longer in English.
The rest of the album continues in the same refreshingly enthusiastic, driving style, with another oldie, the jazzy instrumental Victory followed by Mizin, an upbeat dance piece dealing with backbiting, that allows Taylor an excellent extended guitar solo. There’s more good guitar work on Kwame, a tribute to Ghana’s first President, Dr Kwame Nkrumah; it again features intricate arrangements and slick punctuation from the brass section. The finale Obra is another vehicle for good brass work and a breezy Taylor guitar solo. If he still sounds this good playing live, the septuagenarian could at last win the following he deserves. It’s never too late.