Saturday, November 19, 2016

Ghanaian great Pat Thomas finally gets a proper retrospective

Pat Thomas's Coming Home: Original Ghanaian Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1967-81 is out now on Strut.

The U.K.-based Strut label has just released the first early career retrospective for Ghanaian highlife master Pat Thomas, covering the Golden Voice Of Africa's late ‘60s big band highlife recordings, funky '70s Afrobeat jams through to the disco hi-life movement of the early ‘80s. With the 65 year-old Thomas now dazzling audiences on the road in support of last year’s album with Kwishibu Area Band, the well-chosen Coming Home 2CD / 3LP collection offers an enlightening glimpse of Thomas’ exceptionally productive and incredibly influential career in Ghana prior to his arrival in Toronto during the 80s and inevitable resurgence.

Growing up with music around him (“my uncle, King Onyina, was an important highlife musician”), Thomas was inspired to become a singer after hearing vocalist Joss Aikins: “He sang with Broadway Dance Band and Decca in Ghana chose him to sing with any group that came into their studios.”

When a new incarnation of Broadway Dance Band was created in ‘67, led by Ebo Taylor, Thomas received his first big break. “Ebo started to write new songs. I added the lyrics and sang them and it worked very well. Ebo and I agreed on things at a very early stage. I understood him and where he was coming from with his music.”

The partnership with Taylor would become one of the enduring forces in Ghanaian music during the ‘70s, creating a fresh, progressive new highlife sound. They played together as The Blue Monks – regularly appearing Accra's popular Tip Toe Gardens nightclub – before forming Sweet Beans in '74 with the backing of Ghana’s Cocoa Marketing Board. Listen to "Merebre" off the False Lover album by Pat Thomas & The Sweet Beans.

The False Lover album for the Gapophone label established Thomas across Ghana. His backing band, The Sweet Beans – featuring bassist Anim Addo, drummer Kofi Addison, guitarist Bannerman Wood, keyboardist Bob Fician, percussionist J.N.K. Asiedu, trumpeter Lovis Hammond, saxophonists J.R. Arhin, Atta Kennedy, Korle Patrick and Conacov –  eventually disbanded but the musicians stayed together as Marijata. “The guys initially used Jewel Ackah as their vocalist but they involved me and I re-vocalled the album. This became the ‘Pat Thomas Introduces Marijata’ LP. At that time, I would go to George Prah at Gapophone to ask for money and he would say, ‘if you want me to pay you, go and write a song!’ So, tracks like ‘Coming Home’ came about that way, written on the spot.”

A second Marijata album followed before a damaging coup in Ghana in 1979. “Jerry Rawlings’ 'house-cleaning' was designed to stop corruption but it seriously damaged our country’s music culture. That's when the music died. Before that, there was so much music everywhere. It was so important and then the coup destroyed it all. Bars and venues closed everywhere because of the strict curfews.” Check out the scorching "I Need More" from 1977's Pat Thomas & Marijata album on Gapophone.

Thomas left for Berlin and stayed true to his highlife roots, becoming the first Ghanaian to record highlife there. “Guitarist George Darko was already there playing clubs with his band and I then began to work with some great Ghanaian highlife players who eventually became the Roots Anabo Band. There was Ekow Brown, Sammy Quist on guitar and a guy called Willie. We were put in a big studio, Audio-Tonstudio, where many big artists had recorded. We simply called the album 1980. George Darko played on it, Bob Fician came in on keyboards, Kologbo on rhythm guitar, Nat Osmasu on bass." Listen to the synth-tweaked dancefloor destroyer Yamona from the 1980 album below.

Thomas then travelled to Togo and London before heading to Canada where he spent much of the rest of the 80s living, teaching and performing in Toronto as part of the vibrant Queen West music scene. “A professor/doctor friend arranged for me to come over to Toronto. There was a band there who took me on. While I was flying in, looking at Toronto from the sky, I thought it looked so heavy! I had a sense that I was going to live in this city and I end up there on and off for 10 years.  I taught percussion privately there, played for universities, Ghanaian societies and a WOMAD Festival. The band and I also landed a one-year contract at The BamBoo nightclub in the city.”

Pat is now back in Ghana, recording and touring worldwide with Kwashibu Area Band, a project put together by talented young musicians Kwame Yeboah and Ben Abarbanel Wolff. Explains Thomas, “Highlife is part of Ghana's musical DNA but, what people like Ebo Taylor and I did was to make it fresh and modernize it, make it more relevant to our day and more funky. We took the great Kwa music of Kumasi and other local styles and added Western elements with new horn arrangements, vocals, guitar and other developments. Since then, highlife has become the world's music and I am proud to still bring it to audiences wherever we play." Check out the horn-hyped "We Are Coming Home" from 1976's Stage Two album on Gapophone.

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