Ebo Taylor may be 76 years old, but age hasn’t slowed him down. He continues to write and play brilliant music, and people outside of the core audience of West African funk, highlife and afrobeat are taking notice. In fact, many people who might not be familiar with Ebo Taylor have unknowingly heard his music. Heaven, one of Taylor’s hits from 1977, was sampled by Usher in 2010 on She Don’t Know (featuring Ludacris).
Taylor has long been a highly respected and popular musician in Ghana and other parts of West Africa, particularly Nigeria, Benin and Togo. Lovers of highlife and afrobeat are quite aware of his melodic guitar playing, and charismatic vocal prowess. He is a powerhouse, and a living legend of Ghanaian music. The BBC doesn’t engage in hyperbole, so they aren’t overdoing the praise when they write that he is “one of the great under-acknowledged heroes of West African music.”
Listen to Taylor talk about his musical education (foxtrot, quickstep, jazz, etc.), and enjoy some of his music on this “fireside chat” with Red Bull Music Academy Radio. It’s quite an education.
The interest in West African music in the US and Europe within the last decade brought his music to a new, younger audience. His music from the 60s and 70s appeared on several Ghanaian compilation albums a few years ago, and people who heard those wanted to hear more. However, this isn’t a tale of just remembering the glory days of yore. Taylor is still writing and playing music with unbridled passion, and the newfound interest in his work led him back into the studio a couple of years ago, resulting in release of Love and Death in 2010 for Strut records. It was his first international release, and it met with widespread critical acclaim.
APPIA KWA BRIDGE
Taylor now returns with his new album, Appia Kwa Bridge. This is his third on Strut Records, the other two being the previously mentioned Love and Death, and a compilation LP titled Life Stories released last year.
For Appia Kwa Bridge, Taylor said “I wanted to go back to a highlife feeling with this album… 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."
Part of the nexus for Taylor maintaining the highlife feel and incorporating personal aspects in the music was coming up with a proper name for the album. The album and title track are named after a small bridge in Taylor’s hometown of Saltpond, in the Central Region of Ghana. Talking about the bridge, Taylor muses “It is a tiny bridge but a place known in the town where people meet, where lovers get together.” Personal effects like this, and the aforementioned Fante songs, war chants and children’s rhymes are what the album is about.
In a poignant and fitting tribute, Taylor closes the album with the song Barrima. The song is dedicated to Taylor’s first wife and one true love who sadly passed away this past summer. Reflecting on Taylor during this time period, saxophonist Ben Abarbanel-Wolff states “Ebo wrote the song following her passing and recorded this in one take during our last day in the studio. He was very emotional.”
We expect artists to bare their heart and soul in their music, but many hold back. Yet the end result of this kind of raw honesty usually speaks for itself. We yearn for authenticity, and it doesn’t get more authentic than Ebo Taylor.
Appia Kwa Bridge features guest appearances by Tony Allen, guitar legend Oghene Kologbo and conga maestro Addo Nettey a.k.a. Pax Nicholas, and will be released on Strut Records on CD and LP, and digitally, on April 17th.
Ebo Taylor will also be touring worldwide from May 2012. Until then, listen to 5 songs from the album below.