Gyedu Blay-Ambolley was born in Sekondi, Takoradi in the late 1940s but also hails from Nzema (or Nzima) in western Ghana, the birthplace of the former President Kwame Nkrumah. Growing up Ambolley was influenced musically from the military music he was exposed to by his father during WW2. Alongside the local dance-bands, where he played instruments like the flute, drums & guitar.
Ambolley formed his own band called Zantoda, the name according to John Collins was “ the initials of his birth-place... ‘Z’ stands for Nzema, ‘ant’ for the town of Antoa and ‘oda’ for the town of Oda.” - John Collins, 2018. Zantoda became successful expanding into a ten-man band and went to the UK to release a Disco 45 on the Orbitone label in the early 80s.
Alongside the UK, Ambolley continued on musically to the USA where he formed his African Hi-Life band, along with many other Highlife musicians appreciated in the UK/USA. Afro-Colombians also started to grow an appreciation for Highlife music, you hear their appreciation of Highlife in Champeta. This is a genre of music from Colombia that fuses several styles from Central and West Africa with Latin beats.
Overall Ambolley is exceptional when it comes to experimenting with Highlife music, not only is he a Charismatic singer and tenor sax player but also has notably been recognised as an Highlife Rap Pioneer. His infamous ‘Simigwa Do’ or ‘Simi Rap’ recorded in the late 1970s and re-released since then, has inspired many current hiplife and Afrobeats artists.
Making him an exceptional asset to Highlife music whilst crossing boundaries between the classic highlife style and younger hiplife style. We salute you Ambolley!
Collins, J., 2018. Highlife Time 3. 3rd ed. Accra: DAkpabli & Associates.
Oti, S., 2009. Highlife music in West Africa. Lagos, Nigeria: Malthouse Press.
Owusu, K. and Mazzoleni, F., 2012. Ghana Highlife music. [Pantin]: Le Castor Astral.
Researched and Written by Paulina Nkansah