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Appia Kwa Bridge
The Living Legend You Haven't Heard
It’s not a big deal if you’ve never heard of Ghanaian guitarist and songwriter Ebo Taylor. Though he has been a professional musician since the ’50s, he didn’t have an international release until 2010′s delightfully intricate Love and Death. Still, you might want to get on that. Just saying.
Leading his own highlife band in the ’70s, he forged his own path, assimilating Afrobeat, jazz, and funk. Now in his ’70s, Taylor can still bring the simmering, steamy funk and proves it on his second internationally released album Appia Kwa Bridge. On this outing, he even kicks things up a notch, by his own admission. This one is tighter and more muscular, evoking the height of the party, when the crush of the dance floor gets a little intimidating.
It can’t hurt that he recorded this with Berlin’s Afrobeat Academy. Love and Death features the band as well, but here we are treated to the fruits of a year of touring and playing together for Ebo and band. Appia Kwa Bridge is a hardy piece of work but fortunately it’s not a solid chunk of dense, undifferentiated grooves. There’s plenty of breathing room and the album finds many levels.
Taylor considers it a very personal album. Drawing on his home town of Salt Pond, Ghana and traditional Fante songs and chants for inspiration, he is deliberately returning to his cultural roots with a preservationist eye. Don’t worry if you aren’t into anything too traditional though, Taylor and company put their own stamp on everything. “Yaa Amponsah,” a highlife standard, becomes a tenderly sentimental ballad arranged sparingly. It allows room to enjoy Taylor’s weathered voice sounding both dulcet and pleasingly gruff. “Assomdwee” has a bold, salsa-esque attitude. The guitarist’s music often takes on a Latin mood, abetted on this album by conga player Addo Nettey.
There’s a lot to appreciate on this release, but “Barrima” is the album’s still, plaintive jewel. Recorded in one take, it remembers Taylor’s beloved first wife who passed away last year. The eye of the storm, it appears at the very end, a somber coda to the festival atmosphere of the rest of Appia Kwa Bridge. His voice is unexpectedly hollow, and the melody is desolate and wistful enough to wring out a few tears, even if you don’t understand the lyrics. Funny, even when this artist is changing course, he still leaves us with love and death in the end.
Start getting to know this musical master with “Ayesama” from Appia Kwa Bridge: