In the the 1950s, Kofi Ghanaba, who has died aged 85, brought Ghanaian drumming to the west. He developed friendships with many leading US jazz musicians, and, long before African music culture became fashionable, he was combining African rhythms with western harmonies and emphasising the African origins of jazz.
Ghanaba was just seven when he was taught the Charleston by seamen visiting what was then the British colony of the Gold Coast (now Ghana). A decade later, in Accra, he was given a gramophone by a British army captain. With it came a disc of the US clarinettist Artie Shaw's Non-Stop Flight. Ghanaba had embarked on his lifelong love affair with American music.
He won a scholarship to the prestigious Achimota college, where he learned music theory. He taught himself to dance and act in pantomime and variety shows, written by himself. In 1943, he dropped out of teacher-training and made his way, probably as a seaman, to New York via south America. In Greenwich Village, he worked with the trombonist and jazz veteran Miff Mole.
He was forced to return to Accra soon afterwards but with a quartet that included the saxophonist Joe Kelly, he sowed the seeds of a modern music scene, playing for allied servicemen. Postwar, he and Kelly formed the original Tempos Band, joined subsequently by the trumpeter ET Mensah, who re-formed the band under his own name.
By 1950 Von Coffey and Eddie Yebuah, pianist and guitarist with the wartime quartet in Accra, had started a band in London. Ghanaba joined them, creating a sensation playing bongos alongside Kenny Graham, a saxophonist inspired by Dizzy Gillespie's experiments with Afro-Cuban rhythms. Hand-drummers of Ghanaba's dexterity were unknown in British jazz, and he was welcomed by beboppers, including the saxophonists Don Rendell and Johnny Dankworth. He also broadcast a London jazz scene series for BBC radio's Calling West Africa.
Ghanaba returned to Accra bursting with ideas, carrying Latin American instruments and recordings of calypsos he had heard sung by West Indians in London, which he taught to his peers. Thus did new world songs join the local repertoire.
He led his own Cubop Quartet and, as a journalist, espoused the nationalism of his friend Kwame Nkrumah, who would become, in 1957, first president of independent Ghana. Ghanaba rejoined the Tempos for a visit to Lagos, Nigeria, and in 1951 took another band to Liberia, later becoming Liberia's first disc-jockey.
The US still beckoned. He went to Chicago in 1954, appeared on Studs Terkel's radio show and met Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Billie Holiday and Billy Strayhorn. He introduced "talking-drums", playing them with the saxophonist Lester Young.
With the pianist Gene Esposito and drummer Red Saunders, he recorded the legendary 1956 album, Africa Speaks, America Answers. He spent two weeks as the Duke Ellington band's featured percussionist before moving to New York. There, in 1958, he took a trio into the African Room nightclub, cementing his reputation in the US, winning the support of critics such as Nat Hentoff and recording his Themes for African Drums album.
From 1959 until the late 1970s, he performed as Guy Warren of Ghana. He then became Kofi Ghanaba, although his name at birth had been Kpakpo Akwei. To this, his teacher father had added Warren Gamaliel Harding in honour of the then US president. At the 1960 Ghana jazz festival, he premiered his Voices of Africa drum suite.
After a spiritual quest to Benares, India, in the early 1960s, he returned to London and played with the Jamaican saxophonist Joe Harriott before the producer Denis Preston recorded his solo drum suite, based on the drum music of Congo pygmies. After another London album with Rendell, he worked with the quintet co-led by Rendell and the trumpeter Ian Carr.
In 1970, with his friend the former Cream drummer Ginger Baker, he performed his Accra schoolroom concert - the antithesis of stardom. Ghanaba's affection for western concert music re-emerged in 1986. He appeared at the Royal Albert Hall playing his interpretation of the Hallelujah Chorus.
Ghanaba became a Buddhist and retired to Midie, a village near Accra. In 2002, however, he gave a memorable performance in Yaa Asantewaa, Margaret Busby's dramatic tribute to the Ashanti warrior queen. His last public performance was last September at the Goethe Institute in Accra.
Val Wilmer Graeme Ewens writes: When Ghanaba met Parker in 1955, he invited the drummer to play talking drum at an all-star New York concert. Alas, that fusion never occurred. Parker died within a month, but in the last picture ever taken of Parker, at the Beehive Club, he wore Ghanaian kente cloth while Ghanaba sported the great man's overcoat.
Africa Speaks, America Answers was a marker of Ghanaba's talents. It showed his mastery of everything from drumkit to talking "squeeze" drum, and the large, upright fontomfrom drums.
"Ghanaba was so far ahead of what we were all doing," said Max Roach much later, "that none of us understood what he was saying - that in order for African-American music to be stronger, it must cross-fertilise with its African origins. We ignored him. The sound of Ghanaba is now being imitated all over the US."
Kofi Ghanaba (Guy Warren, Kpakpo Kofi Warren Gamaliel Harding Akwei), drummer and journalist, born 4 May 1923; died 22 December 2008.
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