When the pandemic forced the world into shutdown in early 2020, priorities were re-examined, live gigs and social events ceased, and musicians figured out alternative ways of reaching audiences, with many of them putting their energies into releasing records that they had not previously intended to make.
As for Analog Africa label head Samy Ben Redjeb, Covid shuttered his plans to travel to Ghana and DJ a party for Dick Essilfle-Bondzie, who had just turned 90. Ssilfie-Bondzie, aka Mr. Essiebons, had founded the Essiebons label and record pressing plant- West Africa’s first- in the late 1960s, and since the pandemic canceled his birthday plans, Redjeb decided to devote his energy to crafting a compilation celebrating the label and its founder and visionary.
The label’s 1970s heyday coincided with changes in Ghanaian popular music, as typical highlife rhythms gave way to edgy, stuttering Afro-funk, mirroring Nigeria’s more well-known but no-more-important developments in this area. Leading the charge were artists the Essiebons label helped shape, with records by Gyedu Blay Ambolley, Ebo Taylor, Cutlass Dance Band, CK Mann, as well as the Apagya Show Band, who were the label’s house musicians. After a few initial releases’ less-than-stellar sales due to a public not quite ready for what Essiebons was offering, by the mid-70s there was an explosion of releases that helped to shape West African music for years to come.
Due to the hard work of labels such as Analog Africa, Soundway, and others, many of the above artists are now well known in the West, and a few, such as Ebo Taylor, have even recorded more recent albums in the style of their earlier work. Yet this compilation shows off some lesser known sides, not only by Mann, but also lots of tracks from keyboard player Ernest Honny, whose “Psychedelic Woman” found its way onto Soundway’s first ever release, Ghana Soundz Vol. 1. Needless to say, the music on Essiebons Special 1973 - 1984 Ghana Music Power House continues to show the relentless consistency Analog Africa is known for.
Tracks hit hard and percolate with fuzz organ, clipped guitar licks and onslaughts of percussion the best 1970s Ghanaian music tended to house. Nyame Bekyere’s “Melody” enters at a furious pace and never relents, forcing bodily surrender. Honny’s “Ernest Special” is an instrumental showcase for his keyboard that focuses on the instrument in a way that suggests the more synthesized experiments still to come from artists such as Cameroon’s Francis Bebey as well as spacier aspects of Cape Verdean pop music. Elsewhere, the Black Masters Band’s “Wonnim A Bisa” derives its heft from a snaky bass undercurrent, claves, and the kind of urgent vocals and guitar riffs K. Frimpong was perfecting in Ghana at the same time.
Ultimately, this collection serves as a tribute to the importance of Mr. Essiebons, his label, and artists, because, as Redjeb was determining the selections for this release, Essilfle-Bondzie passed away a few months after his 90th birthday. This sad event makes the collection an even more necessary release, as well as allowing the rest of us who are enamored by this music to hear even more of it.
Afrobeat Airways 2: Return Flight to Ghana 1974-1983
Fra Fra- Funeral Songs
Petrona Martínez - Ancestras