Born in 1936, guitarist, composer, arranger, bandleader, and producer Ebo Taylor has been a vital figure on the Ghanaian music scene for over six decades. In the late '50s he was active in the influential Highlife bands the Stargazers and the Broadway Dance Band, and in 1962 he took his own group, the Black Star Highlife Band, to London, which led to collaborations with Fela Kuti and other African musicians in Britain at the time. Returning to Ghana, he worked as a producer, crafting recordings for Pat Thomas, C.K. Mann, and others, as well as exploring his own projects, combining traditional Ghanaian material with Afro-beat, jazz, and funk rhythms to create his own recognizable sound in the '70s. "Taylor's work became popular internationally with hip-hop producers in the 21st century, which led to the release of Love and Death on Strut Records in 2010, his first internationally distributed album. N'joy
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Ghanian composer, singer, guitarist, arranger, producer, and bandleader Ebo Taylor came to the attention of DJs in the U.K. and throughout Europe in the early part of the 21st century. His legend spread among hip-hop and dance music producers in the United States as well, resulting in a sample from his slamming track "Heaven" in Usher's hit "She Don’t Know." The seminal Strut imprint issued Taylor's first transglobal offering, Love & Death in 2010: it was a smash in club circles internationally. Strut has gone one better with Life Stories: Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1973-1980, compiling two discs of Taylor's solo work and that of bands he's led, taken part in, or produced. The music here leans most heavily on Taylor's solo albums. It kicks off, of course, with the infectious, groove-laden "Heaven," but this isn't the high point. Tracks like the strangely beautiful "Peace on Earth" and the 15-minute uber-charged, Afro-Latin, jazz-funk orgy, "Aba Yaa" which open the first disc are arguably better. Disc one also features tracks by Taylor's side projects, the Apagya Show Band, and Assase Ase, and closes with "Ene Nyame Nam a Mensuro," a killer collaboration between Taylor and Pat Thomas, a fellow member of another band Taylor played in, the Blue Monks. Disc two focuses on side projects with a few solo tracks thrown in, including the original version of "Love and Death" that clocks in at near eight-and-a-half minutes. There two more excellent, funky tracks by the Apagya Show Band, and "Yes Indeed," a burning stepper by another of his short-lived outfits, Super Sounds Namba. Another highlight is a later production he did of Ghana's legendary C.K. Mann Big Band's "Etuei" (Taylor played in the band in the formative years of his career). The set is closed by the strange, tortured groove that haunts the dark and edgy “Egya Edu,” by Ebo Taylor & the Pelikans. Soundway's Miles Cleret's liner notes are characteristically exhaustive in research annotation and presentation. They provide not only a solid biographical portrait of Taylor, but a cultural one of his region and times, as well. The deluxe booklet in Life Stories: Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1973-1980 includes loads of rare photos to boot, filling out the profile of a true world music legend. Fans of Love & Death will most certainly want this. We might now reasonably hope for proper reissues of Taylor's solo albums, as well.
Ebo Taylor - Life Stories 1 (flac 332mb)
01 Ebo Taylor - Heaven 6:06
02 Ebo Taylor - Atwer Abroba 8:15
03 Ebo Taylor & Uhuru-Yenzu - Victory 4:23
04 Asasse Ase - Ohiani Sua Efir 4:02
05 Apagya Showband - Kwaku Ananse 3:12
06 Ebo Taylor - Peace On Earth 7:48
07 Ebo Taylor - Aba Yaa 15:01
08 Pat Thomas & Ebo Taylor - Ene Nyame Nam 'A' Mensuro 6:20
Ebo Taylor - Life Stories 1 (ogg 131mb)
Ebo Taylor - Life Stories 2 (flac 244mb)
09 Apagya Showband - Tamfo Nyi Ekyir 3:57
10 Ebo Taylor & Uhuru-Yenzu - Love And Death 8:23
11 Ebo Taylor - Ohye Atar Gyan 6:09
12 Super Sounds Namba - Yes Indeed 4:59
13 Apagya Showband - Mumude 3:03
14 Ebo Taylor & Uhuru-Yenzu - What Is Life 4:43
15 CK Mann Big Band - Etuei 6:29
16 Ebo Taylor & The Pelikans - Egya Edu 10:01
Ebo Taylor - Life Stories 2 (ogg 108mb)
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During the 1970s, Ebo Taylor was one of the leading lights of Ghana's guitar highlife and Afrobeat scenes. He had a productive solo career and was one of the stars of the Apagya Show Band supergroup-- his contributions as guitarist and bandleader helped define the sound that we associate with 70s Ghana today. But it wasn't until this past decade that Taylor gained any kind of notoriety outside of West Africa. Soundway Records included his songs, both on his own and with Apagya, on its groundbreaking Ghana Soundz compilations, and he stood out as a guy with his own sound. "Atwer Abroba" and "Heaven", the two solo songs the label compiled, had a distinctive rhythm, a cousin of the Fela Kuti/Tony Allen backbeat that gave the songs a feeling of unstoppable momentum but felt much heavier than its Nigerian counterpart.
One of the best side effects of the surge of interest in West African popular music has been the revival of many careers and groups that had long been idle or working in the margins-- Mulatu Astatke, Bembeya Jazz, Orchestra Baobab, and Poly-Rythmo have all come back, and now Taylor joins them with his first-ever international release. He's joined by musicians from Berlin's Afrobeat Academy, which is comprised of members of Poets of Rhythm, Kabu Kabu, and Marijata, the last of which was active in Ghana around the same time as Taylor in the 70s. The band is important, because it's key to achieving a sound that makes it feel like Taylor never went away-- the material is fresh, but it has a thick, vintage sound that ties back to Taylor's old work nicely.
It must be said that it also generalizes his sound a little bit; many Afrobeat Academy members cut their teeth on Fela, after all, and that's clear especially in the rhythm guitar and bass playing of J. Whitefield and Patrick Frankowski, respectively. That should, however, be taken as an observation of style and not quality, as there's not really anything you could call a wrong note on the whole album. Taylor's songs are mostly newly written for the project, though the phenomenal title track is a new version of a song he originally recorded in 1980 after his first wife left him-- in the song, he compares her kiss at their wedding to a kiss of death as his guitar rolls calmly along beside his vocal. Taylor has made what appears to be a strategic decision to open the album with "Nga Nga", an adaptation of a Ghanaian children's rhyme that many people interested in highlife and Afrobeat will already recognize from a version by the Sweet Talks. Taylor's take is less frantic and takes a sort of slow-burn approach, his guitar slashing ominously against the heavy horns and spacey, snaking sax lead.
That flash of the familiar isn't necessarily a fleeting one-- if you're a fan of Ghana Soundz or, really, funky old West African music in general, you will feel right at home on this album. Taylor hasn't lost a bit of the spark that made his old records good, and the new songs honor the spirit of that music without rehashing it. There's no need for an artist like Taylor to reinvent himself at this stage-- Love and Death gives us exactly what we want and does it exceedingly well.
Ebo Taylor - Love And Death (flac 288mb)
01 Nga Nga 5:24
02 African Woman 7:11
03 Love And Death 6:55
04 Victory (Instrumental) 3:25
05 Mizin 5:12
06 Kwame (Instrumental) 3:42
07 Aborekyair Aba 7:26
08 Obra 5:37
Ebo Taylor - Love And Death (ogg 107mb)
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