One of the most popular songs from the 1960s was the song Wofa Nono, a danceable tune with humorous lyrics that describes a man who loves to buy without pay amongst other innuendos it may have. In 1961, the song was a huge hit and played several times during the Queen of England’s visit to Ghana 4 years after independence. The title of the song may not be known or even ring a bell to many contemporary folks however, a quick online search and listen to the first few seconds together the unmistakable voice of Joss Aikins will definitely ring a bell or two. This song was by the Broadway Dance Band.
Also known as the Broadway Band or Broadway Stars as is seen on some records, the Broadway Dance Band was one of the most popular and sorted after bands in its time ranking with Black Beats and the Ramblers, the band National and International Success. They enjoyed massive fame between the late 50s and early 60s.
The Broadway band finds its roots in Takoradi in the Western Region of Ghana where there was an equally big music scene with several bands and musicians playing in hotels and pubs to make ends meet. Dance Bands were a particular favorite in Western Region and this is evident till date as the city pulls thousands of people every year to the Takoradi Street Carnival ( Ankos Festival) where different groups of brass bands take to the streets to battle it out with music, art and dance.
The band was started in 1958 by Musician Sammy Obot. During the late 50s to early 60s, many Nigerian creatives moved to Ghana to find opportunities and learn from the creative space that was flourishing in all sectors especially music, theatre or film. Likewise, many Ghanaian creatives who felt the creative space was too chocked and hard to enter made their way to Nigeria where their skills were highly sorted and getting work in the creative sector was much easier. This exchange came in handy as the Nigerian music scene was handicapped with instrumentalists and the Ghanaian music scene also needed exceptional trumpet and horn players.
Sammy Obot was a Nigerian musician known for a few hit songs such as Wai Oh Wai which spoke on the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) in Nigeria in the 1980s. He started his music Career in the 1944 having joined the Nigerian Police Band in Lagos. He later moved to Port Harcourt to set up his own band where he met Erekisoma "Rex" Lawson popularly known as Rex Jim Lawson, aka Cardinal Rex who he trained to . Sammy Obot moved to Ghana a little before the country gained independence and was slowly becoming the hub of West African creativity. He settled in Takoradi in the Western Region and soon established the Broadway Band which was run by the management of the Zenith Hotel in Takoradi.
Due to the popularity of bands at the time, it was not strange to have bands being represented or run by management of big hotels or big business men in the country. What this meant was that Management usually bought instruments for the band as well as sorted out other needs and in turn took a percentage of earnings from performances and music royalties. This was good for many bands because, although they had the skill, they did not have the means to buy needed instruments or afford the cost of movement between towns and cities. Sometimes, as is the case of the Broadway Band, issues with management went south and caused issues for the musicians who really just wanted to play music. By 1959, hotel owned bands as well as bands owned by state workers became so popular and more stable they started to outdo and disadvantage independent bands.
With the experience of Sammy Obot, the Broadway Band quickly shot to fame and became a household band in Ghana performing at State events such as the Independence ball and eventually becoming known as the unofficial state orchestra band of Ghana. At the time, Ghana’s president, Kwame Nkrumah always had bands with him during presidential trips and the Broadway band became a favorite of his with their unique style of Highlife music.
The band did not only enjoy National success but also made their mark across West Africa and Europe. The success and popularity of the band and other bands piqued the interest of many Ghanaian musicians who were in Nigeria to consider coming home.
In an interview with ethnomusicologist John Collins, Ghanaian musician and instrumentalist Stan Plange spoke about how he made the move from Nigeria to Ghana. At the time, Stan was playing in Nigeria as a guitarist and arranger with the Nigerian Broadcasting Orchestra. In 1964, he got an invitation to join the Broadway band which needed a good guitarist and arranger after the departure of Ebo Taylor in 1962 after receiving a scholarship from Kwame Nkrumah to study music in London at the Eric Guilder School of Music. This was how Stan moved back to Ghana and became a crucial member of the Broadway Band. Stan Plange was born to a musician father Robert Plange who at the time played the Trumpets for the Accra Orchestra. In 1958, Stan left the StarGazers band to join his former band, the Down Beats who had relocated to Nigeria.
Shortly after joining the Broadway Band, several issues with management caused a disbanding and forming of a new group. Officially, the Broadway Dance band existed between 1958 to 1964. During their time, they created a new style of Highlife music that gave center stage to horn instruments.
According to Stan Plange, The problem came after the band traveled to Accra to take part in the Arts Centre course in traditional drumming and dancing which was free for musicians. During their free time, the band performed and made money over the three months they were in Accra. After a misunderstanding with management on the percentage they should receive, there was a disbanding and regrouping of members who were still interested in doing music. Maintaining the name Broadway Band led the 13 member band to court after management of Zenith Hotel made claim to the name of the band, suing them 26 thousand pounds. The Zenith Management lost the court case because the band had actually registered the name.
However, after the court case, the band renamed to the Uhuru Dance Band. Uhuru, which translates to Freedom in Swahili. The group moved to settle in Accra. One of the last engagements of the Broadway Band was a 6 week trip to Moscow, Russia where they played at the Lumumba University and the Metropole Hotel before finally transitioning into The Uhuru Dance Band.
The band has three albums to their credit namely Happy Highlife(1963), Broadway Hits Encore ( 1962) and Back to Broadway (1963).
In 1965, Sammy Obot left Ghana and moved to London to Study at the Eric Guilder School of Music. He left the band in the hands of Stan Plange who carried on until 1972, with Dance Band Highlife being one of the newest forms of Highlife music that blended western music style with that of Ghanaian music, The Broadway Band alongside bands like the Tempos are considered pioneers in the Highlife music genre starting a style that would popularize Ghanaian music.
Key members of the Broadway Band included
Sammy Obot- establisher and leader , trumpets, composer-1958-1965
Stan Plange – Guitarist, arranger, composer lead 1964-1972
Ebo Taylor - 1961-1962-arranger, composer , guitarist
Joss Aikins- Vocalist
Joe Mensah – Vocalist
George Emissah –Alto Sax
Duke Duker ( real name Kwerku Baidoo) - Trumpets
Written by Elizabeth Johnson (Writer and Archive Contributor)
Coffie, M., E. A. Ferguson, E. and Nyanteh, S., 2020. Remembering Kwadwo Donkoh and Stan Plange: Ghanaian Dance Band Highlife Music Composer and Arranger. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, 10(1).
Collins, J., 1996. Highlife time. 2nd ed. Accra, Ghana: Anansesem Publications.
Razor, C. and profile, V., 2009. Jake Sollo Is Awesome! Part 3: Sammy Obot. [online] Combandrazor.blogspot.com. Available at: <http://combandrazor.blogspot.com/2009/02/jake-sollo-is-awesome-part-3-sammy-obot.html>
The Guardian Nigeria News - Nigeria and World News. 2022. Stan Plange… Exit Of A Highlife Icon | The Guardian Nigeria News - Nigeria and World News. [online] Available at: <https://guardian.ng/sunday-magazine/stan-plange-exit-of-a-highlife-icon/>