Volta45: This is Volta45 for the Golden Stool Project and I am with the maestro himself Mr Ebo Taylor in Saltpond, Ghana. I am actually sat in his backyard garden with an incredible view of the ocean and hills of Saltpond behind us.
Mr Ebo Taylor, thank you very much for having me in your lovely back yard. Shall I say it is totally different from the last time I met you when we were in London when you headlined a show for TGSP & Afropalace Live Sessions
Ebo Taylor: That was so business-like but it was a beautiful show, it was absolutely an incredible show and I think people are still talking about it as we speak.
Volta45: Ok – Mr Ebo Taylor – I know people have asked loads of times. Just tell us briefly about yourself and how you got into music.
Ebo Taylor: I will come to that. I was born in 1936 in Cape Coast, my mother was a social worker and my father was a school teacher. My mum was really beautiful lady, my father was very handsome. My mother sung and my father played the organ. He was a choir master for several years so he introduced me to the organ but it was mainly church music. Later on at school a friend introduced me to a guitar. Very soon I was playing in town with a band called the Flower Babies. I used to bolt away from school, go to their rehearsals and play out until the day I came face to face with the authorities and I had an indefinite suspension for breaking bounds. (Laughs)
I joined another band in Kumasi called Star Gazers Band, from there, I moved on and joined the Broadway Dance Band where I arranged and composed a number of hit songs. Between 1962 and 1965 I enrolled at the Eric Gilder School of Music and that was a period. Whilst in London I formed a mainly Ghanaian highlife group called the Black Star Band it included incredible musicians like Teddy Osei on saxophone and Sol Amarfio on drums. This band was the nucleus of Osibisa. At the same time, I was getting interested in jazz so I found myself listening and playing Jazz in the night clubs of London
Volta45: You mentioned your time in London 1962 to 1965, what was the music scene like in London, especially the jazz and African music scene?
Ebo Taylor: Highlife was in vogue, it was very popular among people from West Africa, there was a nightclub in the West End called Abalabi where highlife was vigorously played on Sundays I joined Fela Kuti, Mike Falana they were all there so we used to jam on Sundays. There I got carried away into jazz but then also there was ska music from the Caribbean and there was also rock. It was the swinging 60’s and I hung out musicians like Santana, Jimmy Hendrix The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Fela and I then thought of how we would think of how to develop highlife and jazz into the mainstream.
Volta45: In retrospect I can say Fela and Ebo Taylor = hybrid of highlife, jazz and funk, do you agree with that?
Ebo Taylor: Yes I agree with that description but all the time we were in London we were also thinking of developing highlife. Fela left London in 1965, I left the same year for Ghana. The highlife developmental goals started. I wrote quite a lot of highlife songs with a heavy jazz influence and it came to fruition with the Broadway Dance Band where I wrote wofa nono and beye bu beye ba which had strong jazz introductions. I now had a totally new sound and that led to the composition of songs like peace on earth, kweku ananse heaven, apia kwah bridge. This was in 1972 when my son Henry who plays keyboard in my current band was not even born (laughs).
Volta45: So going forward, I know you had worked on lots of side projects which was a very rare thing to do in 70s Ghana, the one I am most interested in is Apagya Show band. I know it comprised of “who is who” of the Essibons label. Saying that, I met Gyedu Blay Ambolley yesterday in East Legon last night. What made this project so special?
Ebo Taylor: Its speciality arises from the fact that they were a group of artists, stars who had already made names for themselves that got together to develop highlife to another level. I was the arranger, composer, producer, and guitarist. All the musicians brought their songs and I would add my touch to it. There was Bob Pinodo a great singer song writer. Gyedu Blay Ambolley’s simigwa do/ simigwa dance emerged during this project. We all drew strong inspiration from all corners of Ghana – from the Dagomba’s in the north, the Gas and Fantes from the south.
Volta45: We all know tradition has influenced you a lot musically. Can you give me a brief state of traditional music in Ghana at the moment, what is the current state of it, do people really patronise traditional music.
Ebo Taylor: They scarcely do, what Ghanaians/Africans are now in for is the American rap music and they are trying to fuse it with highlife. There is also the influence of Nigerian pop music. Nobody talks about traditional music anymore and highlife itself is being neutralized and its direction is really unknown. If you talk about traditional music like adowa, adenkum, asafo music you can only hear them in villages when there are festivals and the Chiefs come out of their palaces. It is not popular music that people will pay money to go and see. We rather look at the pot and extract what we can like ayesama, yaa amponsah and barima these are all extractions from traditional music but most modern day musicians in Ghana are looking into American pop music for inspiration.
Volta45: So from your point of view you can say this is quite detrimental to Ghanaian culture because the influence of the American music is suppressing our own tradition.
Ebo Taylor: Actually it’s surprising that the authorities who are there to preserve our culture like the Ministry of Culture and the Commission of Culture sit by and watch our music deteriorate into American music and nobody seems to care much about it. I will personally say that it’s detrimental and it’s going to involve our future generation totally be absent on our entertainment scene and we will not see much of it. What they have to do is to really revive traditional music into our educational system. Bring it back to the surface otherwise we will lose everything.
Volta45: Mentioning American music it’s known that Ludacris, an American hip hop star sampled the opening notes for “Heaven”. How did you feel when you got that phone call from the record company?
Ebo Taylor: (laughs out loud) obviously I thought of the money first before I thought of how they became interested in my music (hums out the opening notes) it’s like erm…..I had a lot of African rock feeling and I felt also that the American are looking at our music whilst we on the other hand, are looking into American music, so where are we going?
Volta45: So you had a busy year last year, even trying to book you to play in London was an uphill task at one point I thought it was not going to happen. How are you coping – you are a 77 year old man and you have an itinerary of a 24 year old rock star. How do you do it?
Ebo Taylor: Well I think its part of the excitement and I am getting younger in my approach to music because you can see that mostly when we play there is a youthful generation listening to the music so I get younger every day, trying to meet their demands and requests. I always think young and sometimes behave like a 20 year old kid and erm….sing and dance like a 20 year old.
Volta45: Still talking about the younger generation I know you have worked with Kwame Yeboah whose father was your contemporary, what do you think can be done as a teacher because you used to teach at the University of Ghana to get the younger generation to get more interested in proper music.
Ebo Taylor: I think the whole music policy of the country has to change. Simple.
Volta45: I can’t agree more. Are you looking forward to next year’s tour?
Ebo Taylor: Yes I am looking forward to it because after WOMEX we have got new energy, new techniques and new styles and we hope to make more money (laughs out loud).
Volta45: Of course money is not everything but everything makes you want money.
Volta45: So my last question, you told me you are working on your next album as well, what are the immediate plans for the future in terms of collaborations?
Ebo Taylor: Well anyone who comes along and wants to play my style of music is welcome and I think for collaboration I tried with the band Fools Gold the American group and then we also had groups from Europe who play our kind of music even a brass band in France was playing Ayesama. Anybody whose music is on the same wave length will have my collaboration.