Guy Warren 'The Divine Drummer' (RETRO16cd)
|Guy Warren, the Ghanaian drummer also known
as Kofi Ghanaba, is a unique and radical figure in African music. A
leading member of the legendary Tempos highlife band, he is best known as
the first African drummer to play with jazz musicians in America. In the
1950s and 60s he recorded several albums in the States which sold millions
of copies, following which he returned to Ghana and became something of
an artistic recluse.
Warren was born in 1923 in what was then the Gold Coast. At school he took up drums and led the school band. After school, he started a course in teacher training but at the age of 20, during the Second World War, he was recruited by American military intelligence services, which took him on a brief visit to Chicago. There he discovered the thriving jazz community.
Back in Ghana he founded the seminal highlife band, the Tempos, withmulti-instrumentalists Joe Kelly and E.T. Mensah. This career path was interrupted when he was invited to London to play "bongos" with Kenny Graham's Afro-Cubists. He also played with an all-Ghanaian band known as the Afro-Cuban Eight.
He returned home with new influences, including calypso, which became an important ingredient in the emerging dance band highlife. In 1951 Warren quit the Tempos, leaving it under the leadership of trumpeter/saxophonist E.T. Mensah [RETRO1XCD and RETRO3CD], and moved to Liberia where he worked as a journalist and radio presenter, becoming the first African to present a programme on the BBC World Service.
However, he was keen to introduce African drums into jazz and after developing his own drum technique, he made his way back to Chicago, bringing with him a complete armoury of West African percussion, from the large upright fomtomfrom drums to talking 'squeeze' drums and percussion instruments.
In 1955 Warren met the champion of bebop, saxophonist Charlie Parker, who invited him to play talking drum at an all-star concert in New York. But Parker died shortly after their meeting and that gig never happened. One of the final pictures ever taken of Parker showed him robed in Ghanaian kente cloth alongside Warren who was wearing the saxophonist's overcoat.
Warren got to know many great figures of jazz. He rehearsed with John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk but he recalls they could not handle the complications of his playing style and he refused to adapt to their requirements, although Monk remained a friend. Warren played briefly with Lester Young and the Sarah Vaughan Trio in the Birdland All-Stars and he was invited to join the band of pianist Erroll Garner, but by then he was concentrating on recording his first solo record.
His 1956 LP 'Africa Speaks, America Answers', recorded with Gene Esposito and Red Saunders, blended African, American and European elements into a genuinely multicultural 'fusion' music. The album sold more one million copies worldwide.
The master drummer Max Roach later remarked: "Ghanaba was so far ahead of what we were all doing, that none of us understood what he was saying that in order for African-American music to be stronger, it must cross-fertilize with its African origins. . . we ignored him. Seventeen years later the African sound of Ghanaba is now being imitated all over the United States."
In 1958 he recorded 'Themes for African Drums', followed by several more LPs for Columbia, Decca and EMI, including 'African Rhythms', 'Emergent Drums' and 'Afro Jazz'.
By the end of the 1960s, Guy Warren was living in Accra and had changed his name to Kofi Ghanaba, meaning 'son of Ghana'. He embraced Buddhism and began to experiment with new forms of music, which sometimes confounded Ghanaian critics. As ever, he was way ahead of his time.
In 2001, at the age 78, Warren returned to the international limelight as a member of the company performing a stage musical on the life of Yaa Asantewaa.
The tracks on this selection were mastered and/or recorded in London in 1969 and 1970. The opening number from a concert in Accra with The Gourd Drummers of Benin introduces the artist; it sets the scene in Ghana but the accent is American, while the music is timeless and essentially 'African'
In 2001 Guy Warren told his friend the author and
musicologist John Collins: "Khalil Gibran's book The Prophet, is
a book I read as often as possible. It is like a prayer book for me. So
if anyone reads Khalil's book they have a fair chance of knowing what
has shaped the thoughts of the composer of this music that is being published
in this CD.
"Then said a rich man 'speak to us of
giving' and he answered 'you give but little when you give your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give. For what are your
possessions but things you keep and guard for fear that you may need them
tomorrow. And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the prudent dog burying
bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the Holy City.
And what is fear of need but need itself. Is not dread of thirst when
your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable. There are those that
give little of the much they have and they give it for recognition. And
their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome. And there are those
who have little and give it all. These are the believers in life and the
bounty of life and their coffer is never empty".
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