Living legend of Ghanaian music, guitarist and songwriter Ebo Taylor has a new album out, well this one is not exactly new as it dates from 1980. It is however new to the wider world as it has been lying dormant in the vaults of Nigeria’s Tabansi records since recorded by Taylor all those years ago. It’s a bit of a mystery to Taylor himself how this recording evaded release at the time though he thinks it got overlooked while he was touring Nigeria after the recording took place. It’s fortunate for fans of Ghanaian highlife music that this time capsule finally sees the light of day. We can thank Peter Adarkwah of BBE Music for his detective work in discovering this and other gems buried in those Tabansi vaults.
Ebo Taylor, born 1936 became an active musician in the late ’50s. He later took his own Black Star Highlife Band to London in the ’60s where he met and collaborated with the likes of Fela Kuti. Still working today it’s interesting to note his music has been sampled by contemporary artists like Usher who sampled Taylor’s song ‘Heaven’ for his track ‘She Don’t Know’. Taylor explains his blend of highlife and Afro-beat was a way to develop African music and gain a global audience.
The title track of the album, ‘Palaver’ or talk as the Portuguese slang translates, apparently documents the habit of a friend or acquaintance of poking his nose into the singer’s business, much to his annoyance. Where he goes and the women he follows it’s all “talk talk talk”. Delivered in a mellow style with a gentle but persistently undulating beat the song has a funky horn riff and sonorous bass tone. Following a jazzy flute solo the song’s little twist reveals the identity of the Palaver, once you know who it is you may think perhaps the attention was justified after all.
‘Make You No Mind’ offers the listener some words of advice, “rich man he hustle for money, poor man he hustle for money, everyone he hustle for money, make you no mind” which I take to mean don’t worry about it as that’s the way it is. Words of resignation sung in a low key voice with a fragility and world weariness about them, Taylor sounded quite old even back in 1980.
‘Help Africa’ is a plea to free Africa but at the same time a lament at the state of warring nations. It begins with Taylor yelping “help!” with great urgency. The influence of Fela Kuti is present in the trance-like rhythms that keep the song rooted in the groove. There’s a real focus on the interplay between the horn riffs and guitar part which is easy on the ears thanks to the paired down directness of the mix, congas and sax add more flavour and keep up the intensity.
The album is pretty short in duration by today’s standards, or even by yesterday’s for that matter, it feels incomplete as a consequence. With five tracks and at just under half an hour running time it makes me wonder if the rest of the session is still lurking in the Tabansi basement somewhere. But never mind the length, it’s the quality that counts and these finely recorded Afro-beats certainly have that.