Guy One ‘#1’ (Philophon) 5/5

If it hadn’t been for Max Weissenfeldt’s label, Philophon, the world wouldn’t have heard this album, and this review would never have been written. Let’s not dwell on what if’s, but concentrate on the what’s it all about’s.

And what it’s all about is a man from a small North Ghanaian town called Bolgatanga. That man is Guy One, and his debut album is very good. Now, that’s not very good in the usual sort of way; Guy One isn’t usual.

He had no schooling, and had to build his own instruments, whilst herding cows and goats. He had to teach himself to sing, then plied his trade at funerals and weddings, becoming a North Ghanaian icon. His stature grew to such reverence that it is said that if Guy One was unable to sing at somebody’s funeral, they simply wouldn’t be buried.

The fire spread quickly throughout Ghana, fanned by appearances on Ghanaian TV, reaching the ears of Weissenfeldt, who swept it up and took it to Berlin accompanied by a full orchestra.

It’s a sweet story, their meeting. Weissenfeldt found a Guy One CD, got on a bus, and arrived in Bolgatanga. It took ten minutes to track down the man, soon they were shaking hands. Two hours later they were at a funeral, crowded by villagers who listened as Guy one sang.

Jump to sometime later, to now, and the resulting album. #1. It’s an eclectic record fit for the man. There’s tradition, there’s flutes, there’s fanfare. Guy One harks to the skies, yells to them, all the while playing the lute-like Kologo, named such by the Frafra people from which he comes. The orchestra don’t dominate, they cooperate, picking up the Frafra sound with reverential ease. In N’yella Be Bobere? a vibraphone resonates unexpectedly, an appropriate surprise from a surprising musician.

Guy One left Ghana for the first time in 2013, taking with him a genre of music little known to shores outside Africa. His music is sure to travel the world from now on.

Sam Turnell