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The Ghanaian musician who helped put West African music on the world map

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Written by Ekow Barnes, CNN

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Ebo Taylor turned certainly one of Ghana’s main prolific musicians within the Nineteen Fifties and ’60s, making his signature Ghanaian highlife that influenced the daddy of afrobeat, Fela Kuti.

As highlife and afrobeat music has entered the worldwide stage, Taylor’s work has been sampled by worldwide R&B artist Usher on his 2010 observe “She Do not Know,” that includes rapper Ludacris, and by Canadian hip-hop duo Ghetto Idea on their 1992 observe “Licensed.” His affect can be seen in afrobeat’s clubbier offshoot, afrobeats (with an “s”), which has hit worldwide charts by West African acts like Wizkid, who has collaborated with artists together with Drake and Main Lazer.

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Guitarist and composer Ebo Taylor has been influencing West African music for six a long time. Credit score: Carlos Indun-Tawiah

And Taylor remains to be recording new materials at age 84.

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“Uncle Ebo,” as he is identified by locals in Saltpond, the small Ghanaian fishing city he is referred to as dwelling since start, has spent most of this 12 months in his dwelling studio observing Covid-19 protocols and recording new materials for his third studio album in 10 years.

For the reason that launch of his 2010 album “Love and Demise,” in addition to his collaboration with the Berlin-based Afrobeat Academy in 2011, Taylor’s worldwide profile has been raised. In 2017, the discharge of Ghana funk anthem “Come Alongside,” made DJ playlists globally, based on Taylor. However Taylor’s newfound world fame is the end result of his personal affect on West African music for the reason that early Nineteen Sixties.

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West African roots

Born in 1936, Taylor grew up listening to the highlife music that has at all times been on the coronary heart of his type, which fuses jazz parts with conventional highlife for a groovier sound. “I used to be impressed by the pioneering saxophonist and trumpeter E.T. Mensah and his band The Tempos,” he stated in a latest interview in Saltpond.

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"Fela never understood hy as Africans we like playing jazz; he wanted us to be ourselves, be original and tell our stories," said Taylor.

“Fela by no means understood hy as Africans we like enjoying jazz; he needed us to be ourselves, be unique and inform our tales,” stated Taylor. Credit score: Jordi Vidal/Redferns/Getty Photos

Taylor joined the Stargazers, a highlife band led by saxophonist Teddy Osei and drummer Sol Amarfio (who would each go on to type the legendary British-based Afro rock band, Osibisa) shortly after leaving school. In 1962, Taylor moved to London to review music on the Eric Gilder College of Music with funding from a authorities cultural program instituted by Ghana’s first prime minister and president Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, who secured independence for Ghana from British rule. It was in London that Taylor first met and collaborated with Nigerian saxophonist Peter King and Afrobeat legend Kuti.

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“Fela used to return to my condo in Willesden very often and we would spend hours enjoying information,” Taylor stated. “When he got here to Ghana in ’67, he drove to Cape Coast to see me and we spent the afternoon speaking about African Unity.”

Taylor credit Kuti with pushing him, and others, to compose distinctly African music. “​He (Fela) by no means understood why as Africans we like enjoying jazz; he needed us to be ourselves, be unique and inform our tales,” Taylor stated.

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Taylor has only seen international fame in recent years.

Taylor has solely seen worldwide fame lately. Credit score: Carlos Indun-Tawiah

After shifting again to Ghana in 1965, Taylor turned the in-house guitarist, arranger and producer for the influential Ghanaian document label Essiebons, based by music producer Dick Essilfie-Bondzie. It was throughout this era that Taylor recorded over 10 albums and put his stamp on tasks by West African music legends like Pat Thomas, C.Ok. Mann and Gyedu-Blay Ambolley. The standard of Essiebons’ studio and the genius of Taylor made Essiebons one of many most well-liked recording studios for musicians from throughout West Africa. Sadly, Ghana’s tumultuous political and financial setting all through the Nineteen Seventies and ’80s, marked by a number of coups and authorities reorganizations following the ousting of Nkrumah, stifled the event of its music business and arguably Taylor’s rise to world stardom.

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International influences

But Taylor’s affect could be seen throughout genres in the present day, notably with the emergence of afrobeats within the early 2000s, fusing afrobeat and highlife with EDM, hip-hop and reggae.

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Taylor is fast to focus on the truth that the recognition of afrobeats has coincided with its embrace of authentically African preparations and a departure from heavy hip-hop and R&B sounds which he believes might appear compelled. “​The music we made was actual music, it made you cease and suppose,” he stated. “It isn’t shocking that persons are connecting with afrobeats extra now that it’s embracing parts from the music we made​.”

"I want to be remembered for my music, for my art..." said Taylor.

“I need to be remembered for my music, for my artwork…” stated Taylor. Credit score: Carlos Indun-Tawiah

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Taylor will not say a lot about his extremely anticipated new launch. However it’s uncharted territory for the guitarist and composer. He’s engaged on it with out assist from two of his key collaborators: Essilfie-Bondzie, who turned Taylor’s career-long govt producer; and Tony Allen, the legendary Nigerian drummer with whom he collaborated extensively on his latest tasks. Allen and Essilfie-Bondzie died inside months of one another earlier this 12 months. Taylor fondly remembers each of them and lights up as he remembers his studio periods with Allen. “All the studio would freeze,” he stated.”We simply could not perceive how he was creating these sounds. No one knew what to anticipate subsequent. It was magic.”

Over the previous few years, Taylor has toured extensively all through Europe along with his Saltpond Metropolis band, marshalled by his son Roy, and has been extra more likely to be seen enjoying in Amsterdam or Berlin than in Accra or Lagos.

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Whereas Taylor is more likely to decelerate on touring, he intends to proceed making music. “It is what I like to do, it is who I’m,” he stated. He intends to introduce his music to youthful and extra mainstream audiences and was eager to precise his want to collaborate with Ghanaian rappers M.anifest and Reggie Rockstone.

Like his hero Nkrumah, who Taylor believes is exclusive amongst African leaders previous and current for his concern for the frequent man, Taylor needs to be remembered as a person of the individuals — not as a rockstar. “​I need to be remembered for my music, for my artwork and as Ebo Taylor the person​,” he stated.

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