The most painful part of Nana Tufour’s passing is not much about the event- death is an inescapable trip. The ache comes from knowing we won’t be hearing any new songs from the highlife great.
1991. Chairman J.J. Rawlings was still the head of state of Ghana. Justice Philip Edward Archer was the Chief Justice of the country. The leadership of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) military junta had announced its decision to accept multi-party democracy. Ghana celebrated its 34th Independence anniversary that year.
That same year, highlife great, Nana Tuffour released ‘’Hilife- Storm’’, a 5-track album under then Black M Studio label. My introduction to Nana Tuffour came by way of this album as it was on heavy rotation in my auntie’s house. Its lead single, “Me Yere Dada” was the most played.
“Me Yere Dada” or My Old Love, as the song title revealed, was a tale about missed chances. On the song, the hazel voiced Nana Tuffour muses dishearteningly about making a bad choice- leaving his wife for a new lover. The soulful highlife record, heavily punctuated by piano chord, electro synths and spaced out drums allowed Nana Tuffour’s voice to recount his tale. He detailed the physical and emotional abuse he was enduring in his new relationship; a situation he conceded were self-inflicted. He’d also point out how men tend to choose the “bad bitch” over the “good bitch”.
The shock that came with the news of his passing soon gave way to glorious tributes from his colleagues, music executives and fans on various media platforms. For many, Nana Tuffor’s name would always be associated with his 2010 hit song “Abeiku”- a song about the cockblocking antics of his stepson. Like most of his songs, the life mirroring anecdote of “Abeiku”, its subtle humor and strong composition made it one of his most commercially successful records.
As I read the news of his passing, “Owuo Sei Fie” (Death Wrecks Home), a song off the “Hilife -Storm” album immediately came to mind. A quintessential burger highlife tune, the record surprisingly did not carry a broody outlook. Rather, it was funky and up-tempo, handing it a party elixir. The Bodo Steiger produced “Owuo Sei Fie” mirrored the “celebration of life” tag. (Bodo Steiger, a renowned music producer, and engineer and now deceased was responsible for helping craft the burger highlife sound. Almost all the highlife legends either recorded or had their albums engineered and mixed at his Rheinklang studio in Duesseldorf).
The opening lines of ‘’Owuo Sei Fie’’ were chillingly picturesque. Singing in Twi, Nana Tuffour echoed the words: “Beautifully laid/ Dressed like a bride/ You don’t respond to my call/ Is this how you leave me?” His words brimmed with praise and lament. Nana Tuffour would reveal the effect of losing a beloved.
He would eulogize the dead while acknowledging the role and influence of women in the lives of their children, family and society at large. On the hook of the 6 minutes, 20 seconds song, Nana Tuffour would point to death as a rite of passage; an unavoidable journey. “Owuo Sei Fie” has become a staple at most Ghanaian funerals.
Aside “Owuo Sei Fie” and “Me Yere Dada”, the album had another timeless mellow bop, “Aketekyiwa”; a song about the prejudice, stigma, and contempt associated with being poor. It also highlighted how family members and society glorifies wealth, the influence and attention it brings to whoever has it. ” Hilife-Storm” contained other songs like “Odo Beku Me” and the 13-minute long “Sikyi Medley”.
Christened James Kwaku Tuffour, he started out as a keyboardist for the great Alex Konadu, before assuming the role of lead singer for Waza Africo Band. The group released their debut album “Highlife Romance” in 1979. Nana Tuffour would sojourn to Nigeria where he offered keyboard services to the legendary Nigerian great King Sunny Ade.
Nana Tuffour died at the age of 66 years after a short illness, according to reports. He recorded 15 albums during his active years. He was one of the many highlife artists who were signed to the MEGASTAR label in the 90s. Nana Tuffour melted hearts with his love ballads, offered encouragement to grieving families, uplifted and entertained many with his masterpieces.
His death is a sad episode; a case of another brilliant singer snatched by the grim reaper. The most painful part of his passing is the ache that comes with knowing we won’t be hearing any new music from the highlife great.