The Uhuru Dance Band owes a huge part of their existence to the genesis and resilience of the Broadway Dance Band. In 1964, the Broadway Dance band who was at the time enjoying significant success in Ghana and West Africa, fell into contention with the Zenith Hotel in Takoradi who were managing the band at the time. The disagreement started on percentage sharing and went to court when it progressed to an issue of name ownership after the band cut ties with their previous management. After the court case ended, a few members of the band left while others stayed to form The Uhuru Dance Band also known as The Professional Uhuru Dance Band.
The word Uhuru is a Swahili word that means Freedom. The name of the band was chosen by Nana Kobina Nketsia Essikadohene who wanted to reflect the times the band was in while also using the backdrop of Ghana’s independence.
The Uhuru’s as the band was popularly called was owned by E.K.Dadson who the helped the band buy instruments together with Krobo Edusei when the band left the Zenit Hotel management. paid E.K Dadson later became the sole owner of the band when he payed off K. Edusei. Both Krobo Edusie and E.K Dadson were politicians and businessmen who served under Kwame Nkrumah.
The Uhuru Dance Band was led by Nigerian musician Sammy Obot (founder of the Broadway Dance Band ) until 1965 when he left Ghana for the UK and handed over leadership to Stan Plange.
Under the leadership of Stan Plange the Uhuru Dance Band continued to make waves and be one the most popular and sorted after bands in Ghana, West Africa and Europe performing at State functions, elite parties and weddings as well as gracing the stage of top class hotels in Ghana and around the world. The Uhuru Dance Band was also one of the biggest bands in the 70s having 13 musicians. Their sound was unique because they paid attention to their horns section. At a point in time the band had three trumpets, three trombones and five Sax in the horns section leading the front line of the band. During the 60s it was important to Dance Bands to move away from the foreign sounds introduced by the colonizers. This movement started after an art course by the then president Kwame Nkrumah. The six month course was made compulsory for all musicians to help them learn more on the added values of not forgetting their cultural sounds and instruments. Shortly after this course, several dance bands started to add percussion to their bands. While Dance Bands focused more on jazz music inspired by American music they made sure to incorporate Ghanaian music and styles that carved a unique sound.
Thanks to Stan Plange, the Uhuru’s gained an extra unique sound with the successful blend of sounds from both the Dance Bands and Guitar band musicians. He invited guitarists and vocalists from Guitar bands such as Frempong Manso also known as Osofo Dadzie and S.K Oppong to sing with Uhuru vocalists Ed Ntreh and Charlotte Dada.
The Uhuru Dance is considered as one of the most important bands in Ghana that paved way for several big names in the music industry. In episode two of the series Highlife Music Deconstructed, Bernard Johnson-Tackie describes the Uhuru band as a boiling pot of immense talent that paved the way for international breakthrough acts from Ghana. The band has to its credit huge names like Ebo Taylor who was the bands arranger and guitarist and introduced Jazz Chords to the band thanks to his trip to the UK. Ebo Taylor went on to become the leader of the Apagya Show Band and produce music for C.K Mann, Pat Thomas ad Jewel Ackah just to mention a few. Other members of Uhuru included Gyedu Blay Ambolley who is now known to have created the Simigwa genre as well as infused raps into his Highlife music. Mac Tontoh, also a member of Uhuru played with a smaller group from Uhuru known as the Bogaerte Sounds Sextet with Ebo Taylor and Rim Obeng. Mac would later go on to form Osibisa in the UK and have other Uhuru Band mates such as Daku Adams ‘potato’ and Lasisi Abdul Amao and at a point in time Gyedu Blay Ambolley. Other members of Uhuru like George Amissah would become one of the most in demand saxophonists in Ghana and West Africa in the 1970s.
It is important to mention Charlotte Dada, one of the very few Ghanain women musicians in Highlife music known today. Charlotte joined the Uhuru Band as a lead singer at a time when women singers in the music industry were greatly frowned upon. She would go on to become a highly sorted vocalist. It can be said that the Uhuru Dance Band gave Charlotte the opportunity to express her talent rather than focus on her gender. Another vocalist to make it big was Joe Mensah who was a vocalist with Uhuru.
Some success of the Uhuru Dance Band included going on the West African Tour with American Rock and Roll singer and dancer Chubby Checker in the 1960s. Chubby Checker came to Ghana in 1966 and played with Uhuru in a four day tour before going off to other countries with the band.
Uhuru was also noticed by music promoter Faisal Helwani who took the band for a Five week East African tour playing in Uganda, DR Congo and Kenya. The band also toured the UK in the 70s.
After the overthrow of Nkrumah, the Uhuru’s lost all their official engagements but were able to still keep their heads above water. While there is no accurate year in which the band disbanded or collapsed. It can be said that the sudden political tensions in Ghana caused many musicians to leave the country, finding work in other West Africa countries or in Europe for those who could leave Africa. In 1970, after their UK tour, several of the band members left the band and others did not return.
The Uhuru Dance Band boasts of three albums all created between 1971 and 1979. The albums are as follows:
Stan Plange- Composer, lead.
Charlotte Dada- Vocals
Ebo Taylor- guitarist, arranger, vocals
Ebo Dadson saxophone
Ed Ntreh- Vocals
Rim Obeng ( Real name Samuel K. Mfojo) - drummer
Dokyi Apenteng- vocals ( was blind)
George Amissah- flute & saxophone
George Danquah- Guitar
Gyedu Blay Ambolley- bass guitar, vocals, percursions
Mac Tontoh- Trumpets
Tom Addo- conga(drums)
Joe Mensah- vocals
Kpakpo Addo- lead trumpet
Richard Unegbu- trumpet
Daku Adams ‘potato’-drums
Rim Obeng –drums
Written by Elizabeth Johnson (Writer and Archive Contributor)
Collins, J., 1996. Highlife time. 2nd ed. Accra, Ghana: Anansesem Publications.
Episode 2 (1950s - early 1970s)
Ewens, G., 1992. Africa o-ye!. New York: Da Capo Press.
HighLife Music Deconstructed. [video] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_kRNI-ok8A&t=3523s