‘I was having the idea of modernizing the music.’ .-E.K NYAME
E.K Nyame is considered as one of the godfathers of modern Highlife music who developed a kind of highlife music that would not have existed if he did not dare to experiment with sounds and genres. Aside from being considered the godfather of modern highlife music alongside E.T Mensah, E.K Nyame is most popular for creating the guitar band concert party that fit a more local context. By doing so, he would go on to record over 400 songs with his band the Akan Trio and kick start a genre that would eventually find its way onto the stages and TV in Ghanaian theater.
E.K Nyame’s break into the music industry began in 1948 when he joined Appiah Adjekum’s band as a vocalist and guitarist. E.K Nyame is known to be a self-taught guitarist picking up the skill by listening to music and practicing on a guitar he got from his cousin. While in school, he was in the school band and sang in the church choir. He played in Appiah Adjekum’s band while working as a clerk.
During his time with the band, he learnt a lot from Appiah Adjekum who helped him get better on the guitar but soon, E.K got bored with the usual guitar band music and wanted to do more. The sounds that existed when E.K was a young man were the guitar bands and the orchestra bands as well as the new dance bands that had just begun to pop up everywhere in the Gold Coast. Evolving from Palmwine Music guitar bands were doing very well with names like Kwame Asare, Appiah Adjekum and Kwaa Mensah had established musicians in this genre. Guitar bands can be described as an expanded form of the palm wine music performance structure. The new voices in this genre experimented with a few more Ghanaian instruments and percussions. At the time Guitar bands used acoustic instruments that were relatively cheaper and easy to carry around unlike the Orchestra Bands and Dance bands who infused so many sounds into their music and used electronic instruments such as the electronic guitar, bass guitar, synthesizers and keyboards. The guitar bands also provided music for the everyday people who could not afford to pay huge sums of money to see the Orchestra and dance bands perform. Neither did they have access to the places and events that the elite Ghanaians and foreign residents had access to.
Concert party had also established itself in Ghana with many of the performers taking inspiration from the foreign jesters as well as movies that existed. Ghanaian comedians like Bob Johnson who was popularly known as The original BoB made careers being professional jokes and putting up one man shows imitating foreign characters like the black faces, minstrels and Charlie Chaplin. Many of these concert performances were done in English with only a few translations in Akan or other languages. Again, this meant that concert parties only appealed to a certain class of Ghanaians. To a large extent, many of these concert parties targeted the educated, elites and foreigners who could afford it. In THE 1930’s, Bob was a member of the Axim Trio, a group that went around performing these comedies with the accompaniment of songs that they usually sang by themselves. Sometimes, they would get a percussionist or guitarist to play along as they sang. They acted out Western plays and later made their own performances such as Kwame Nkrumah will never Die and Nkrumah is a mighty man etc. etc many of which were performed in English with a little Akan or Ga. Having consumed all this as a young man and finally playing with Appiah Adjekum’s band for about two years, E.K Nyame got bored and decided to leave. His mission was to start his own band with fresh sounds and ways.
In 1950, E. K Nyame set up a guitar band. With inspiration from those who were before him, what Nyame did differently was to give Guitar bands a bit more of variety by introducing instruments like the double bass and other Afro Cuban and Caribbean percussions. This was possible with the help of his good friend Kobinah Okine who would ditch his bus conducting job to learn music from E.K Nyame. The first composition E.K.’s band came out in the year 1951 and was the famous “Small Boy Yamye” followed by Tetteh Quarshie (a song in praise of a man who first brought cocoa to Gold Coast now Ghana).
After successfully fusing new sounds into Guitar band music, E.K Nyames next step was to start the Akan Trio in 1952. His bold step was to merge a concert party and guitar band and with this he learned to play roles of gentlemen. E.K. Nyame’s bold attempt was very successful and this started a new phase of Concert Parties in Ghana till date. What E. K Nyame did this by merging guitar bands and concert parties to make music an integral part of the storytelling process. The music and story were both intertwined as compared to how Concert parties only used musicians when they could. E.K Nyame also found it important that his Akan Trio performed in the Akan language so as to be able to appeal to the masses. This was also a successful move. E.K Nyame and his Akan Trio became a national sensation going on tours in Ghana, Nigeria and Liberia. While enjoying huge success, E.k Nayme also faced major issues with anti-Nkrumahism however, this did not stop him from singing about political issues and praising Nkrumah anytime he felt inspired to through his music. His brand grew so huge that by the 1960s E.K Nyame had two bands, the second which was known as The E.K Number 2 band that also released a number of hit songs.
E. K Nyame continued to do music until he died in 1977.While alive, he continued to expand the Guitar band sounds adding more and more indigenous instruments from South America, the Caribbean and Ghana. He became a West African sensation inspiring several musicians in Ghana and Nigeria such as Fela Kuti, E.T Mensah and Koo Nimo.
Written and Research by Elizabeth Johnson
Barber, K., Collins, J. and Ricard, A., 1997. West african popular theatre. Bloomington Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
Cole, C., 2001. Ghana's concert party theatre. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
JOURNAL OF PERFORMING ARTS (Volume 4, 20009/2010 Number 1) -Highlife and Nkrumah‟s independence ethos( PAPER)