The melody from the saxophone glides over the soft and mellow percussion drums exquisitely. And for 35 seconds, the only thing one hears is beautiful music: horn sections colliding with riffs from the bass guitar, voices rising in unison on the opening hook. These are some of the enchantments of “Ebei”, a song by highlife legend, Paapa Yankson.
An incredible musician with many years of experience, this gifted baritone voiced, highlife musician released 15 albums during his over three decades of making music. Paapa Yankson was destined to be a singer-his father was a trumpeter for the Apam Brass Band and mum, a singer. He, venturing into professional singer happened by accident. He was snatched by the famous Carousel Seven Band after hearing him sing at his mother’s funeral.
Renowned for his classic ballad, ”Tsena Men Kyen” with the amazing Paulina Oduro, Paapa Yankson’s career went through the musical phases that existed during that era: join a band, rise to become the lead singer, branch out as a solo artiste. After years of playing with the Carousel Seven under the tetulage of legendary C.K. Mann, Paapa Yankson helped form the Western Diamonds Band in the early 90s. After helping grow the band into one of the biggest around, he left after two years. He helped form the Golden Nuggents Band, the resident band for then Ashanti Goldfields. His solo career killed off in the mid-90s and the results were over 15 albums.
I had the pleasure of seeing Paapa Yankson play twice in the mid-90s as a teen in Cape Coast. He headlined two concerts, on two different occasions, at the Coconut Groove Hotel and Elmina Beach Resort respectively. My oldman was a fan so he dragged his kids along to such rendezvous.
His album, “Ewiadze Mu Nsem” (Issues of the World), was one the family owned. Out of the many great songs on the album- Jealousy, Bebia Odo Wo, Nyame N’adom Ntsi, Obiara Na Ne Dofo, Ye Hia Wo Mboa- ‘Ebei’ (Otan huno Ara Kwa) was one of the outstanding songs. The composition, the laid back feel, the voice and the beats added to its beauty. It was the song’s message that resonated with many.
Jealousy, hatred, greed, hypocrisy were the issues addressed by Paapa Yankson on “Ebei”. (The title is an expression of shock or displeasure at an incident or action). Our egregious traits as humans lead us to bond with others outside our immediate family. We develop relationships with others. Like the humans that we are, we tend to also harbour certain traits which, if not curtailed derail our relationships.
One can’t really point to the inspiration behind ”Ebei”- whether it was from personal experience or observation of life. On the song, Paapa Yankson was addressing some of the flawed character traits of humans and how these negativities retard one’s own progress. He was literally throwing shade to all the haters, hypocrites, fake friends. One outstanding thing about the song was the manner the message was conveyed: the calmness in his voice. His tone didn’t carry any spite or condescension.
The soulfulness of the song, its relatable message- mainly anecdotes of life- aggregate to make “Ebei” such a priceless composition. It didn’t gain attention on radio as other songs on ‘Ewiadze Mu Nsem’, which I suspect was down to its ‘insinuatory’ tone. But one thing remains: the song is a work of perfection: beautifully composed and gorgeously executed. It’s one of those songs that steal you right when that sax opened the song. If there’s a producer or artist reading this piece, “Ebei” is the song you should sample or remix for many reasons. Listen to the song and find out. But, make sure you don’t ruin it.
This piece was written two days ago. Just today, news filtered in that Paapa Yankson had passed away. May he rest in peace.