EBO TAYLOR-EBO TAYLOR.
EBO TAYLOR-EBO TAYLOR.
In the history of Ghanian music, Ebo Taylor is a pivotal figure. Best described as an innovator, Ebo Taylor’s music would influence the further generations of Ghanian musicians. However, Ebo was much more than a musician. He was also a songwriter, arranger, producer and bandleader. Ebo Taylor has done it all, and that includes creating a new genre of music.
Born in Ghana in 1936, Ebo Taylor’s career started in the fifties, when he was the leader of two highlife bands in Ghana, The Stargazers and The Broadway Dance Band. These weren’t just any highlife bands. No. They were two of the best and most important highlife bands. This allowed Ebo Taylor to establish a reputation, before he decided to spread the gospel of Ghanian music in London.
By 1962, Ebo had moved to London, where he founded The Blackstar Highlife Band. Having founded his own band, Ebo could dictate musical policy. What he wanted to do, was create a fusion of musical genres and influences. This included traditional Ghanian music and other West African musical genres. To this, Ebo combined funk and jazz. What The Blackstar Highlife Band created, was a musical melting pot. Afrobeat, highlife, jazz and funk came together to form a hypnotic and enthralling fusion of African and Western music. So, it’s no surprise that The Blackstar Highlife Band became a popular group not just in London, but further afield. The effect this had on Ebo’s career was considerable. On his return to Ghana, his services as a producer were greatly in demand.
Having returned to Ghana, Ebo was like the all-conquering hero. Word had spread of the genre melting music he’d created in London with The Blackstar Highlife Band. Job offers came thick and fast. Musician, songwriter, arranger and producer, Ebo could turn his hand to anything.
Ebo was a member of the short-lived The Apagya Show Band, who released one single, Tamfo Nyi Ekyir in 1973. They also released one album, which lay unreleased for thirty-nine years. From playing, Ebo decided to move onto arranging and production.
Then in 1975, Ebo arranged C.K. Mann and His Carousel 7’s 1975 album Funky Highlife. Later that year, Ebo produced Gyedu-Blay Ambolley’s album Simigwa. It was through production that allowed Ebo to put his new ideas about music into practice. Ebo it seemed, had done just about everything in music. Two things remained, songwriting and releasing a solo album.
Two years later, in 1977, Ebo wrote several songs for Pat Thomas and Marijata’s eponymous album. Ebo was also called upon to arrange the album. This was good practice for what was about to happen. The one thing Ebo Taylor had still to do, was release a solo album. This would be rectified in 1977, when Ebo Taylor released his eponymous album Ebo Taylor on Ghanian label Essiebons. Now thirty-six years later, Brighton-based label Mr. Bongo rereleased a remastered version of Ebo Taylor, which I’ll tell you about.
The six songs on Ebo Taylor were written by Ebo, who arranged and produced the album. He was joined by some of Ghana’s top musicians, who fused everything from highlife, Afrobeat, jazz, funk and other genres of Western African music on six tracks that became Ebo Taylor.
Saana, a slice of uplifting and irresistible musical sunshine opens Ebo Taylor. A myriad of percussion, stabs of organ and blazing horns accompany Ebo’s trademark guitar playing. Delicate and deliberate describes his playing. The space between the notes is as important as what he plays. As for his vocal, it’s heartfelt, needy and full of longing. He sings call and response with his backing vocalists. They reflect the emotion in Ebo’s voice. Even though he’s the bandleader, he’s content to be a team player. While he could easily unleash a mesmeric guitar solo, he resists the temptation to steal the show with some uber funky guitar licks. Resisting the temptation to showboat, Ebo and his band unite, fusing highlife, Afrobeat, funk and jazz seamlessly and joyously, on this slice of musical sunshine.
There’s an almost Latin influence to the horns that open Ntsir A. Slow and sensual describes the fusion of rasping horns, percussion, washes of Hammond organ and impassioned, pleading vocal. Soon, highlight, jazz and Afrobeats are combining. Horns add to the drama, while Ebo’s guitar playing is subtle and understated. Pensive and thoughtful, again, side before self seems to be Ebo’s musical philosophy. Ebo doesn’t need to be at the centre of the “action.” As an experienced bandleader, he’s confident enough to allow other musicians to take centre-stage. Here, it’s the horns, then Ebo’s guitar. Again, they provide musical contrasts. Delicate and jazz-tinged describes Ebo’s guitar playing, while the saxophone solo is powerful and dramatic. Both play their part in the song’s success and its sensual, sultry sound.
Bursts of braying horns open Bra, before washes of Hammond organ accompany Ebo’s guitar. They weave their way across the arrangement. Meanwhile Ebo’s vocal is variously emotive, impassioned, wistful and carefree. Harmonies respond to Ebo’s call, as Ebo’s jazzy guitar, percussion and Hammond organ provide a meandering backdrop for the saxophone. One of the best saxophone solos on Ebo Taylor is unleashed. Played with power, passion and control, it’s a fitting replacement for the vocal, which then replaces it, as Ebo Taylor and his band play their part in another hip-swaying, genre-melting mini-musical masterpiece.
Ohye Atar Gyan sees stabs of grizzled horns, wah-wah guitars and a proliferation of percussion join forces. They provide the backdrop for harmonies. Delivered with power and emotion, rasping, braying horns pick up the baton. From there, they take turns in the spotlight, as this infectious and irresistible musical melting pot threatens to spill over. It’s player with care, power and passion. Horns melt your emotions, while the rest of the band add to the drama and theatre of this
Heaven. That’s the perfect title for a track that’s very different. The production isn’t as lo-fi as previous tracks. Instead, it’s a rounder, fuller sound. Here, the full width of the arrangement is used, whilst panning plays an important part in the success of this angelic fusion of funk, jazz, Blaxploitation, Afrobeat and highlife. Ebo’s jazzy guitar is panned right, the Hammond organ panned left. As for the horns, they’re slap, bang in the middle where they’re at their most effective. They’re in your face, grabbing your attention and forcing you listen. What follows is the highlight of Ebo Taylor and a track that sounds as if it belongs on a classic seventies Blaxploitation soundtrack.
Closing Ebo Taylor is Amponsah, which is the perfect track to close the album. It sounds as if Ebo and his band are saying farewell. Stabs of horns, percussion, atmospheric waves of Hammond organ and Ebo’s delicate guitar accompany the vocal. It’s joyous and soulful, with harmonies accompanying it. Together, Latin, jazz, funk and highlight are combined by Ebo Taylor and his multitalented band on what is, another musical slice of sunshine, which bookends the album perfectly.
Just six songs and thirty-four minutes long, Ebo Taylor’s 1977 debut album Ebo Taylor is a real musical melting pot. From the opening bars of Saana to the closing notes of Amponsah, it’s quality all the way. Written, arranged and produced by Ebo, Ebo Taylor features his trademark, jazz-tinged guitar playing. Delicate and deliberate, to subtle and understated describes his guitar playing. Then there’s Ebo’s vocals, which cover a gambit of emotions. Ranging from heartfelt, heartbroken, impassioned and pleading, the vocals become one with his band. As for the band, they play their part in a genre-melting album.
Ebo Taylor is one of these albums where countless musical genres and influences play their part in the album’s sound and success. Afrobeat, highlife and other types of Western African music are joined by jazz, funk, soul and Latin music. Dense rhythms, a proliferation of percussion, waves of Hammond organ and Ebo’s jazz-tinged guitar are joined by growling horns. Together, they provide the backdrop for the vocals on Ebo Taylor, Ebo’s debut album, which was recently released by Mr. Bongo Records.
Best described as an innovative, genre-melting album, Ebo Taylor may have been released in 1977, but Ebo’s career had been building up to the release of his debut album. Twenty years experience went into the making of Ebo Taylor. This fusion of African and Western music may not have been unique, but it was a potent and irresistible combination. One minute it’s heartfelt and heartbreaking, the next minute Ebo Taylor is infectiously catchy, joyous and uplifting. Ebo Taylor, this genre-melting album, has certainly stood the test of time, and thirty-six years after its release in 1977, is a musical reminder of one of Ghana’s greatest musicians at the peak of his powers. Standout Tracks: Saana, Ntsir A, Heaven and Amponsah.
EBO TAYLOR-EBO TAYLOR.