I remember having a conversation with Kong George, singer, songwriter, producer and DJ on how he clears some of his samples. He had sampled an old C.K. Mann record, ‘’Fa W’akoma Ma Me’’ for one of his songs. That vintage C.K. Mann record was also covered and made popular among a section of young highlife fans by the legendary Rex Omar. Fortunately for Kong George, he did not endure the rigorous process of negotiating a sample clearance deal. In his efforts at doing the right thing, he placed his request with Rex Omar who magnanimously allowed him to use the sample without a fee.
The conversation also revealed why clearing a sample with some highlife artists is cumbersome. In most cases, the songs are not owned by the artists. A record company or an individual who cut the cheque for the record assumes the rights of ownership, of course depending the terms of the agreement. In some instances, there could be more than one individual owning the recorded works, popularly called ‘’masters or master copies’’.
Some highlife artists of the 60s, 70s and early 80s found themselves making deals to record music for labels and individuals without considering their stake in owning the masters or a percentage in publishing rights. For them, getting paid was of utmost importance since they needed money to cover their many expenses – family, travels, recordings and other shenanigans.
The incredibly talented veteran musician, Ebo Taylor found himself in a similar situation when he was pulled into the studio to work on an album for Chief Tabansi of Tabansi Records in the 1980s during a tour of Nigeria. “Palaver”, a five track album was recorded by Ebo Taylor and his band as the contractual agreement stated. However, the album was never released until Peter Adarkwah of BBE Music signed off on a major multi-album reissue deal with Tabansi and its affiliated labels. Chief Tabansi’s son, Joe informed Peter of the existence of this unreleased album. And like any astute music executive who knows the value of an Ebo Taylor record, the five song album was reissued to the hearing of the world.
The influence of Ebo Taylor on Ghanaian music is not being celebrated enough. At 83 years, he is still touring, recording and producing songs. If he had been an American, Ebo Taylor would have been presented with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and his album, Love and Death added to the music library of Congress.
“Palaver” is a five song album that solidifies the sound that has become associated with Ebo Taylor: a fusion of authentic African rhythms with western, mostly classical music elements to create a contemporary sound that is acclaimed as Afrobeat. Unlike Fela whose music leaned more toward traditional African rhythmic notes, Ebo Taylor strikes a fine balance between the these two musical styles.
‘’Palaver’’, the album title happens to be the opening track. The song encompasses a variety of musical elements ranging from the big band or ballroom highlife sound made popular by E.T. Mensah and his Tempos band in the 50s to the pioneering afrobeat sound of Mr. Ebo Taylor. While the sparkling horns sizzling across the groovy rhythms, a paino sound` which seem to have been borrowed from one of the Orthodox Church hymnals subliminally waltz at the background.
Ebo Taylor’s voice calmly bubbles across the beat, pregnant with questions: ‘’Weytin dey concern you? Na this your business? Na your palaver? These questions expresses the chagrin of Ebo Taylor towards an annoyingly inquisitive blabber. Further into the song, he indicates what his frustrations are with this person: ‘’Anything I go do, you go talk/anything I go wear, you go talk/Anything I go chop, you go talk/Any woman I go follow, you go talk’’. Palaver comes across as a dig at gossips who would rather spend time poking their noses in other peoples’ business than dealing with their own issues.
Human behavior is a central theme in most of his compositions as expressed on albums like his self-titled album Ebo Taylor, Yen Ara, Love and Death, Appia Kwa Brigade, Yen Ara. On ‘’Palaver’’, these themes are explored through the lens of life and hope. The latter is heard on ‘’Nyame Dadaw’’, a gospel styled highlife song that reminds us of the goodness of God, ones circumstance notwithstanding.
The harsh realities of life – the beautiful suffering it present is explored on ‘’Make You No Mind’’, a mid-tempo song that encourages you to face life head on. ‘’Rich man dey look for money/Poor man dey hustle for money/Every one dey search for money/All na suffer’’, he reminds us. ‘’Make You No Mind’’ shares similar missive with Burna Boy’s hit song ‘’Dangote’’, which also bothered on not being comfortable until you make it in life (‘’Dangote still dey search money).
‘’Ab Ebrese’’ is a mirror image of the preceding track. If ‘’Make You No Mind’’ is about embracing the harsh realities of life and the importance of sucess, ‘’Ab Ebrese’’ is about recognizing the unpredictable nature of life. ‘’If all days are the same, the world wouldn’t have been fair’, therefore one deserves to exercise patience in life. On ‘’Help Africa’’, Ebo Taylor speaks on politics and the independence struggles of that era. He calls on other African nations to support the liberation struggles on-going in Namibia and ‘’Azania’’, referring to South Africa by its original name.
The album is an enjoyable listen thanks to the quality of production, song sequencing and songwriting. This is not surprising considering Ebo Taylor is one of the best producers and music arrangers of his generation. “Palaver’’ does not sound like a rushed project (if the narrative about him recording the album while on tour in Nigeria is considered). For lovers of true highlife music, this album is an exciting listen. If crate diggers are also searching for the authentic afrobeat sound to either chop up for future productions, ‘’Palaver’’ has a lot of pockets to offer. The engrossing feeling that the album offers is sustained across the five songs. With the demise of Fela Kuti who incidentally was a classmate of Ebo Taylor in England and the one whose advice contributed to his sound Ebo Taylor continues to be the face of authentic afrobeat.
The discovery and re-issuance of Palaver is a great since it contributes to both advancing the afrobeat genre and also, showcasing the various sub-genres under the broad spectrum that is African music. Despite these advantages, I wonder how many more records he did record that is hidden in unmarked vaults across the world. Only time will tell.