Unlike pop songs based on the Europe-derived rules of tonal music, Afro-beat doesn’t typically move in a deliberate way from one place to another and then home again in a reasonably prescribed pattern of tension and release. Instead, it generally stays in a single place and dances there until it gets tired – which can take anywhere from eight to 30 minutes. Nigerian legend Fela Kuti was the universally acknowledged Mozart of this approach: he would build a fearsome groove out of highly repetitive and mostly static harmonic materials, and then use it as an extended showcase for instrumental solos, wild dancing, and eye-poppingly bold political rants. Guitarist and songwriter Ebo Taylor, hailing from nearby Ghana, comes from the highlife tradition, which shares with Afro-beat a tendency toward funky, densely arranged, and harmonically static songs, but is also generally a bit lighter in terms of both groove and message. Recording here with the Berlin-based Afrobeat Academy band, Taylor gets deeper into his musical roots than he has on previous releases, creating a powerful set of songs that sound as if they could have been recorded in 1974: on tracks like “Abonsam,” the highlife standard “Yaa Amponsah,” and the effortlessly groovy title track, Taylor revives the old-school sounds with an energy and joy that belie his age. And on the album-closing “Barrima,” he pays sweet tribute to his late wife with a stripped-down vocal-and-guitar composition that will break your heart. It all adds up to an album of unusual emotional depth and resonance….. by Rick Anderson …………..
2012 release. “I wanted to go back to a highlife feeling with this album,” explains Ebo Taylor. “The songs are very personal and it is an important part of my music to keep alive many traditional Fante songs, war chants and children’s rhymes.” ‘Appia Kwa Bridge’, released this April, is a strident return from the Ghanaian highlife guitar legend. Featuring six new compositions, his sound is more dense and tightly locked than ever with Berlin-based musicians Afrobeat Academy, a rock solid unit since regular touring worldwide following his 'Love And Death’ album in 2010………..
Ghana’s Ebo Taylor has been playing and recording music for decades, but his fame in the West has never quite matched that of his Nigerian contemporary, Fela Kuti. Like Kuti, Taylor plays a high-energy brand of polyrhythmic dance music that owes much to James Brown and much to African forms of pop music like highlife. Taylor’s songs are multilayered affairs, built up out of strands of percussion, throbbing basslines, keyboard and guitar flourishes, and horn accents. Vocals tend to be chanted as much as sung, and songs often stretch their hypnotic grooves to the five-minute mark and beyond. It’s all quite mesmerizing. It takes opening track “Ayesama” about fourteen seconds to establish the groove that will carry the listener through the next seven minutes. Utilizing all the elements listed above, “Ayesama” weaves an irresistible spell. Follow-up track “Abonsam” is only slightly less urgent, allowing Taylor’s plaintive vocals to come front and center. The other sounds remain, in particular the off-kilter rhythm and brassy horn punctuation. Not until the record’s midway point does “Yaa Amponsah” break up the all-encompassing vibe of the album. This tune is an uptempo number that feels much slower—and longer—than it really is. Consisting of Taylor’s solo vocal over a pair of guitars, one acoustic and the other plugged in, the song functions as either a pleasant palate-cleanser before the second half of the record, or as an unaccountably out-of-place tune that seems to have wandered in from a different album altogether. I tend toward the latter response: a change of pace it might be, but “Yaa Amponsah” isn’t terribly interesting, and serves mainly to make this listener impatient. The good news is, there’s more fun stuff on the way in the form of “Assondwee”, “Kruman Dey”, and “Appia Kwa Bridge”. The last two songs, in particular, ramp up the funk factor on this album, incorporating such can’t-miss funk staples as farfisa and wah-wah guitar in their four-to-six-minute workouts. There is a pleasant urgency in the vocals, too, that matches the rollicking bounce of the instrumentation. Without a doubt, these two songs form the album’s high-water mark. It’s curious, then, that they are somewhat buried in the back half of the album.
Another drum-free acoustic number, “Barrima”, closes out the album. This one is easier to accept than the first, both because of the tradition of introspective album closers (“A Day in the Life”, “Redemption Song”) and also because this is a better tune than “Yaa Amponsah”. Taylor’s voice wavers huskily throughout, so the non-English vocals ooze emotion even to the ears of this linguistically limited listener.
Longtime fans may complain that Taylor has lost some of his frenetic energy since his 1970s and ‘80s heyday, and it’s true that his earlier albums such as Love & Death and Life Stories were masterpieces of the genre. But Appia Kwa Bridge has plenty of juice in its six danceable tracks to keep most listeners happy. It’s a worthy addition to the oeuvre of Ghanaian Afro-pop, as well as a lively and entertaining album in its own right….pop matters……..
I thoroughly enjoyed “Life Stories, the compilation of Ebo Taylor’s 1970s recordings that was reissued a few years ago, so when I saw this CD languishing in the bin of a local shop recently I snatched it up, hoping it would be as good as his older material. Well, it certainly met my expectations. This is hot stuff! If you had told me that these songs were recorded 30 or 40 years ago, not in 2012, I would have believed you. This album has a pleasingly retro vibe.
Ebo Taylor is quoted as saying that he wanted to get back to his highlife roots on this album, and it really sounds like he accomplished that goal. As as soon as the opening track plays, "Ayesama,” I was hooked by the percolating mix of guitars, horns (saxophone and trumpet") and Kwame Yeboah’s funky Farfisa organ playing. Some truly infectious grooves going down!
If you liked what you heard on “Life Stories” then by all means check out this album too. Ebo Taylor seems to have lost none of his power and energy with the passing of time……ByDonald E. Gilliland………..
Ebo Taylor is a Ghanaian Highlife musician and guitarist, and his latest effort “Appia Kwa Bridge” comprising 8 tracks, will appeal to those that love free-form live sounding music with impeccable instrumentation.
Filled with darting horns, melodic keys, great guitar work, and African polyrhythms (legendary drummer Tony Allen appears on the album), songs like “Ayesama”, “Abonsam” (with a Jazzy guitar solo), and the absolutely gorgeous horn-filled “Assom Dwee” (my favourite) infuse a bit of Afrobeat in the mix. “Yaa Amponsah” is more stripped back, pushing his fine guitar work and vocals to the fore. “Nau Na Kwan” is a nice shuffling piece. The Funky “Kruman Day” is triumphant sounding with a few verses sung in English. The title track is more laid back, while closing is the acoustic “Barrima” with finely plucked guitar and Taylor’s gentle vocals on showcase, a lament for his late wife.
Beautiful music which transcends language barriers……ByNse Ette…….
Despite attending the same London music school as Fela Kuti in the early 1960s, this is only the second international release from Ghanaian highlife guitarist Ebo Taylor. Now in his mid-70s, Taylor has had to wait to spread his name further afield. And so there is a sense of making up for lost time in this follow-up to 2010’s Love And Death. That’s not to say Taylor hasn’t been prolific. Following on from the influence of fellow Ghanaian musical pioneer ET Mensah, Taylor played in and was frontman for several of the country’s best known big bands, including the Stargazers and Broadway Dance Band during the 1950s and 60s highlife explosion. And last year’s anthology compilation, Life Stories, which covered his 70s output, showed Taylor had a vast back catalogue for the compilers of the record to cherry pick from. Showcasing eclectic tastes by distilling a fusion of Afrobeat, jazz, soul and funk with traditional Ghanaian sounds in his music, Taylor was also an in demand in-house arranger and producer for labels, including Essiebons, and artists, like CK Mann and Pat Thomas. And now, thanks to recent appearances on compilations by Soundway Records and Analog Africa, Taylor has been rediscovered with an opportunity to reach a wider audience. On Appia Kwa Bridge Taylor is backed by the Berlin-based Afrobeat Academy, over eight tracks of high energy soul, jazz and funk. The album also features appearances from Afrobeat heavyweights including Fela Kuti/Africa 70 musicians, drummer Tony Allen, guitarist Oghene Kologbo and congo player Addo Nettey, aka Pax Nicholas. Throughout the record Taylor keeps alive ancient storytelling traditions through song, each telling a personal story, or of the plight of the Fante people. On opener 'Ayesama’ he repeats, “What’s your mother’s name?” like a rallying tribal cry, in what is a traditional Fante war song. On the jazz-flavoured second track he preaches against 'Abonsam’ (an evil spirit). The track’s bluesy feel is something that is explored elsewhere, in a more stripped back form. Taylor revisits songs not just from his past, but also musicians around long before he ever picked up a guitar and in doing so makes sure 'Yaa Amponsah’ is set to reach new ears. This was originally recorded in the 1920s by Jacob Sam’s Sam’s Trio, and was covered in the 1970s by Apagya Show Band, another of Ebo’s groups. Here it is just Ebo and his guitar, and it is a refreshing treat to hear this strand of West African blues in such an undiluted form. It is matched by the album closer, this time a Taylor original, 'Barrima,’ which follows a loose structure, improvised around the heartfelt message, and is dedicated to his recently deceased wife. These songs showcase the raw mastery of the guitar in the hands of someone who has been playing their whole life.
Another song from Taylor ’s back catalogue to get a dusting down is 'Krumen Dey’, which he describes as a 'Deep Purple’ track, as the guitar and bass play the same riff. He played it in the 70s with Apagya Show Band, under a different title, 'Serwa Brakatu’. The lyrics were supposedly written by a mad man, telling the story of Liberian and Ivory Coast workers who arrived in Ghana, taking on menial jobs. Ebo’s son Henry takes on lead vocals on the track, singing in Pidgin English: “Come on little children, we got to play the game,” of counting Krumen people.
Each song has a very different message, although it is the highlife feeling that stays with the listener. In the title track Taylor sings of a place where lovers meet to a backdrop of slinky Farfisa organ lines and uplifting brass. And while up to now his name may not be as well known as his old school pal Fela, with these recordings Ebo Taylor proves his survivor credentials. In 'Nsu Na Kwan’ (water and stone), Taylor sings “The river is older than the footpath, which is man-made. The river was made by God, it is the oldest,” urging the listener to respect their natural surroundings. Like the river, the singer has seen it all…..Richie Troughton …………….
When musicians get to a certain age, it`s tempting to give �em a pass just because they are still standing, or at least sitting upright. It seems kind of rude to point out how far below their best work late albums by Lee Hazlewood or John Lee Hooker really are, but you know which ones you�d play.
So you have to hand it to Ebo Taylor. At age 76, he can still sing affectingly, pick a lyrical guitar melody, and ride the wave of a powerful band. The best moments on Appia Kwa Bridge stand up to anything he�s ever done, and while it purposely breaks no new ground, there�s something to be said for sticking to what you do best. Someone should have said that to Lou Reed before he made Lulu, but that�s a matter for another review.
Taylor, who comes from Ghana, is a contemporary of the Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. In the �60s, they left their respective homelands and attended music school together in swinging London. Each hoed a similar creative row during the next decade by combining the ingratiating sway of highlife with funk�s hardier bump. But while Kuti earned his notoriety and spent his energy naming names, fighting fights and marrying 26 women, Taylor walked a safer and more conventional path. Working as an arranger and writer as well as an occasional bandleader, he�s the hidden MVP making things happen all over other people�s tracks on those Ghana Soundz collections. Economic and aesthetic changes brought his career to a standstill for a while, but he has not only survived to see the ascension of the music he made back in the day, he�s ready to make a bit more.
In 2010, Taylor made Love and Death, his first album aimed at a global market, with Berlin�s Afrobeat Academy. Most of its material is re-recorded oldies, polished but not especially updated, and it�s a respectable effort. The Afrobeat Academy, which is led by American-born saxophonist Ben Abarbenel-Wolff, also back him on Appia Kwa Bridge, but he�s also pulled in drummer Tony Allen, percussionist Pax Nicholas and guitarist/bassist Oghene Kologbo. They are all veterans of Fela�s Africa 70 band; alongside the decision to record with a Farfisa organ rather than a digital keyboard and on tape instead of a computer, their presence clinches the album�s old school authenticity.
If you�re a highlife musician, things don�t get much more old school than �Yaa, Amponsah,� which is one of the music�s ur-grooves. Taylor performs it alone, with just his voice and a couple of guitars. But he isn�t just dusting off oldies here; he�s showing where the music began. As befits a man in his mid-70s, he�s looking back on his life and the world around him, and he has a bit to say about it all. Identity, memory, and the contest between good and evil are the themes here. �Assomdwee� ponders God�s intent for man, while the title song remembers the site of his first date. But since he sings in Akan as well as English, it�s not easy for non-Ghanaians to follow his thinking; what comes through loud and clear is the effortless bonding of fluid guitars and stark, punchy horns over stuttering beats, and the earnest soulfulness of his voice, which is weathered but not at all hollowed out by age. And his picking, while never showy, is just right; the weaving guitar patterns in the intro to �Abonsam,� a song that advises listeners to get on God�s side, gets me every time.
Appia Kwa Bridge ends on a melancholy note. Taylor�s first wife, Selina, died just before the recording session, and on �Barrima� he memorializes her with a quaver in his voice and a lonely acoustic guitar for accompaniment. It�s simple, sad, and as real as it gets…..By Bill Meyer……………..