Original Content on Arts and Entertainment

Nii Tei Ashitey And Wulomei- May We Not Forget

In a country where the legacies of some of her citizens are not often celebrated, it is incumbent on the gatekeepers to begin documenting the deeds of our hue for posterity.

Until about a month ago when some media publication covered the burial of Nii Tei Ashitey, little did I know the founder of the legendary music group, Wulomei had been alive all this while. The octogenarian passed on in December, 2018.

His burial and final internment was held on March 30. I held the thought that, Nii Tei Ashitey might have passed on to glory decades ago like legendary contemporaries such as E.T Mensah, Nat King Cole and Bob Cole. It was, therefore, a revelation when I read that this outstanding veteran lived to be 84 years.

The folk music group was founded some 47 years ago by Nii Tei Ashitey. Prior to forming the group, he had played with E.T Mensah’s Tempos Band. He later moved to Liberia where he joined the Tubman Stars Dance Band. Upon his return to Ghana, Nii Tei Ashitey played with the Police Dance Band, GBC Orchestra and Brigade Dance Band before branching out to begin Wulomei in 1972.

Nii Tei Ashitey, Founder of Wulomei

The instruments used in crafting these songs are as basic and traditional as it comes: atenteben (bamboo flutes) and a lot of traditional, local percussion that includes the giant gome frame drums which provide a deep percussive “bass-line”. (The bassline from the gome is one of the most riveting sounds you would ever hear in your life.)

Wulomei’s musical appeal lies in how they tap into the heritage of the Ga people- projecting their traditional folk musical compositions to a larger populace thus exposing the beautiful, rhythmic and sagacious lyrics of Ga songs to a global audience. Not only did Wulomei project the traditional values of the Ga people through the medium of music, they also exhibited it through their costumes.

The performers usually wear the white or yellow cloth and frilly hats worn by Wulomei- traditional priests and priestesses of the Ga people.

“Walatu Walasa” album was released in 1975

The music made are mostly a combination of various influences across a wider spectrum. When one listens to songs by Wulomei, you would note a speck of highlife, kolomashie, kpanlogo neatly woven to endear to the listening public. This ‘aggregation’ of sounds was in line with the vision of Nii Tei Ashitey, who wanted to “bring something out for the youth to progress and to forget foreign music and do their own thing”.

Do not forget that, the mid 70s and the 80s were the periods Ghanaian music authority, Prof John Collins described as a period of military interregnum.  ‘’This interregnum in the music industry between the mid/late 1970’ and 1984 was immediately followed by the imposition of huge import duties (160%) on band equipment, and then, a little later, (1988) music education was demoted in the school curriculum’’, he noted in his book ‘’Contemporary Ghanaian Popular Music Since The 1980’s’’.

These disruptions in the politics of Ghana had a negative effect on nightlife and by extension, outdoor performances by major bands. The wobbling Ghanaian economy, the disruption in social life coupled with military rule led to many artists leaving Ghana for Europe or neighboring Nigeria. The result was a gap in the music market which (un)fortunately got filled by foreign music. Nii Tei Ashitey’s decision to help reverse the situation was therefore laudable.

Wulomei released their debut album ‘’Wulatu Walasa’’ in 1975.  (The album name, I believe was a corrupted version of the Akan phrase ‘Woara Tu, Woara Sa’ which means ‘He who digs, carts away the debris’). The expression is used to describe how each one has to face their own perils.

The album shot the group to fame, thanks to songs like Meridian, Akrowa, Wala Tu Wala Sa, Kaafo, Gyae Nsa Nom, Woo Wee Loo. The cassette contained twelve (12) songs, with each side consisting of six (6) songs. The songs and album were composed and arranged by Nii Tei Ashitey. He also played drums and gong on the album. Vocals were by Naa Amanuah Amoo (lead vocals), with Naa Fenuah, Nii Laalai and Nii Nortey provided additional vocals. 

Wulomei not only gifted music fans vintage sonnets that continue to enchant young listeners, their songs have also found its way into modern rap pantheon through sampling by some Ghanaian rap artists

Nii Adu Ofori Kwei (aka Nii Big Boy) played Bass Drum and Tambourine; Nii Odartei (on claves and percussion), Steve Ampah (Engineer), Nii Acquah (Guitar), Nii Annoh (Percussion). The album was produced by Kwadwo Donkor. The album sleeve was designed by Yaw Safo with Steve Ampah as the engineer.  ‘’Walatu Walasa’’ was released under Agroro Records whose parent label was Abibirem Publishing And Music Company. The recording session was held at the Ghana Film Studios (now TV3 Studios).

In 2000 and 2007, music label, reissued two compilation album: Nii Tei Ashitey and The Sensational Wulomei – Sani Maye Eko (2000), Nii Tei Ashitey and The Sensational Wulomei featuring Naa Amanuah –Anthology, Twenty All Time Favourites (2000). : Nii Tei Ashitey and The Sensational Wulomei-Kpabi (2007).

In 1975, Wulomei would release ‘’Mibe Shi Dinn’’ in 1975. (The album had songs like Takordi, Akosua Serwa, Naa Adu, Mibe Shi Dinn, Tswa Omanye Aba), Kunta Kinte (1978), In Drum Conference (1975),

Legacy:

Nii Tei Ashitey’s vision to form Wulomei was ably supported by the renowned dramatist Saka Acquaye, a former percussionist for E.T Mensah’s Tempos Band. Wulomei not only gifted music fans vintage sonnets that continue to enchant young listeners, their songs have also found its way into modern rap pantheon through sampling by some Ghanaian rap artists.

Kaseem (Babe) would flip Wulomei’s notable track, ‘’Akrowa’’ in 2002 on his album of same title. Credit must be given for featuring the legendary group on the song thereby introducing them to a new generation. Songs like Meridian, Akosua Serwa, Takoradi among other dance evoking tunes.

Today, the influence of Wulomei continues to shine on young, contemporary artist like Cina Soul whose 2018 EP, Ga Mashi borrows from the musical style of Wulomei.

The success story of Wulomei led to the proliferation of Ga music ensembles. Most of these groups were founded by former members of the group. For example, Wulomei’s gome drum player, ‘Big Boy’ Nii Adu, formed the Bukom Ensemble and Wulomei’s lead female singer, Naa Amanua, formed the Suku Troupe. Other cultural groups that emerged included Blemabii, Dzadzeloi, Abladei, Agbafoi, and Ashiedu Keteke. Today, there still exist local music groups in the Ga community who continue to perform folk or traditional Ga songs at various events including national events.

It would not be out of place to have such cultural outlets or art enthusiast who have some semblance of relationship with such veterans- or those closer to them- to take the first step of documenting the life and times of these great personalities and projecting them on their various platforms.

The success story of Wulomei perhaps was the flame that inspired highlife artists like Adane Best, King David, Kla La and by a stretch hiplife acts like Kaseem, Tinny and others to concentrate their attention of making records strictly in Ga since there existed a group that were opened to accepting their brand of music. Today, the influence of Wulomei continues to shine in young, contemporary artist like Cina Soul whose 2018 EP, Ga Mashi borrows from the musical style of Wulomei.

In a space where people do not get to smell their flowers till they are no more, it is incumbent that their legacies are documented and preserved lest their hard work and sacrifices would be interred with them

One disturbing observation I made on social media following Nii Tei Ahsitey’s funeral ceremony was how some art and culture feeds kept lamenting on how such a great man was not being celebrated. Like I indicated in the opening paragraph of this post, I had no clue of who he was and what his works were. But, you cannot fault anyone considering how our veterans are not celebrated enough. You only hear about them when they are either unwell and in the news or are dead.

It would not be out of place to have such cultural outlets or art enthusiasts who have some semblance of relationship with such veterans- or those closer to them- to take the first step of documenting the life and times of these great personalities and projecting them on their various platforms. Unless that is done, works by pioneering figures like Nii Tei Ashitey would become footnotes rather than pages under a chapter. It is disheartening that some media outlet only covered his works during his final burial rites.  

In a space where people do not get to smell their flowers till they are no more, it is incumbent for their legacies to be documented and preserved lest their hard work and sacrifices would be interred with them.

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