Kwabena (King) Onyina (1932) was born in Agona Ashanti, after the loss of his parents in his teen years he went to live with his Uncle Opanin Kofi Obeng in Koforidua. Onyina was an apprentice shoemaker with a great interest in the guitar, which was clear as he used most of his time outside of his apprenticeship to entertain friends and family around town.
Onyina’s first concert party group was the Coolers Band, formed in 1951, in Koforidua. 2 years later he moved to Kumasi to start his Onyina Guitar Band with the assistance of businessman Daniel Kyei. The group successfully recorded hits for Decca such as ‘Odo Ye Owu’, ‘Nanti Yie’, ‘Ohia Asoma Wo’, ‘Lumumba' the ‘Destiny of Africa’.
The success of the band led him to win the National Guitar Band contest in 1961 formed by the then Arts Council and GBC. It's clear that Onyina also won because he truly understood how to merge Jazz chords with guitar highlife, which makes him such a treasure to Highlife music.
Like many Highlife musicians in the mid-60s, he accompanied President Kwame Nkrumah on state visits to Tunisia, Poland and Mali. In 1964 Onyina was invited to the UK by Decca Records and performed at the Battersea Town Hall with the Black Star band which was run by Teddy Osei and Ebo Taylor. Onyina retired in Kumasi after a successful career and passed away on the 27th May 2010 at age 78.
Researched and Written by Paulina Nkansah
Collins, J., 2018. Highlife Time 3. 3rd ed. Accra: DAkpabli & Associates.
Fondation-langlois.org. n.d. Ghana's Highlife Music Collection: Biographies and Interviews. [online] Available at: <https://www.fondation-langlois.org/html/e/selection.php?Selection=HIGB
Oti, S., 2009. Highlife music in West Africa. Lagos, Nigeria: Malthouse Press.