Know Your Legends, The Veteran Ebo Taylor
Born in 1936, Ghanaian guitarist, composer, arranger, bandleader, and producer Ebo Taylor has been a vital presence in African music for more than half-a-century. During the early ’60s, he was active in the influential highlife bands the Stargazers and the Broadway Dance Band.
In 1962, he left Ghana for London to study at the London Eric Gilder School of Music. He explored jazz, funk, and soul alongside fellow student Fela Kuti and future Osibisa band members Teddy Osei and Sol Amarfio. They had jam sessions in jazz clubs off Oxford Street, after which Fela would often join Taylor in his Willesden Junction flat. They would listen to jazz records for hours, analyzing the structure and chord progressions of Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. During this time, Taylor founded the Black Star Highlife Band, which showcased one of his greatest contributions to highlife: His jazz-inspired horn arrangements.
After returning to Ghana, Taylor became an in-house arranger and producer for labels like Essiebons, working with other leading Ghanaian stars including C. K. Mann and Pat Thomas. He wrote for them, played guitar on sessions, and supervised recordings. From the ’70s through the ’80s, Taylor cut a host of his own solo albums that offered idiosyncratic but very popular fusions of traditional Ghanaian sounds, Afrobeat, jazz, soul, and funk on albums such as My Love and Music, Twer Nyame, and Me Kra Tsie.
His single “Heaven” from this period stands among the most revered Ghanaian Afrobeat tunes of the era. Taylor formed Uhuru-Yenzu in 1980 and released the albums Conflict Nkru! After the album “Pat Thomas & Ebo Taylor” in 1984, the guitarist stopped recording and touring and focused instead on producing, arranging, and composing for dozens of other artists.
In 2008, Taylor met the Berlin-based Afrobeat Academy. A year later, Usher sampled “Heaven” for his hit “She Don’t Know” (feat. Ludacris). In 2010, Taylor teamed with the Afrobeat Academy for Love and Death on Strut Records, his first internationally distributed album.
Its success prompted Strut to issue the stellar retrospective Life Stories: Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1973-1980 in the spring of 2011. In 2012, a third Strut album, the deeply personal Appia Kwa Bridge, appeared and showed that at 76, Taylor was still intensely creative and forceful, mixing traditional Fante songs and chants with children’s rhymes and personal matters into his own sharp vision of highlife.
That record marked the beginning of a popular renaissance for Taylor around the world. Early singles and other tracks appeared on several compilations over the next few years, and in 2015, his rarest album, Ebo Taylor & the Pelikans, got the grand reissue treatment. His early hit, the Ghana funk anthem “Come Along,” made DJ playlists globally.
In February 2016, at age 80, he opened the MOGO Festival’s Nights with Music Greats. The gig proved to be a precursor for the deluxe reissue of his 1975 album, My Love and Music, on Mr. Bongo. In 2018, Taylor issued the album Yen Ara with his Saltpond City Band that saw him translating various strains of Fante music through contemporary Ghanaian highlife and experimenting with new rhythmic forms through horn-dominated compositions. At age 82, he and the Saltpond City Band, now led by his son Henry Taylor, supported it with a world tour. The following year, Mr. Bongo reissued Hitsville Re-Visited in May.
BBE Music has just released the Palaver album in all formats that contains five unissued tracks from a (previously unknown) lost 1980 session in Nigeria.
Best Arranger, Ghana Music Awards, 1997
Meritorious Award, The Navarro Jazz Festival (Italy), 2012.
Life Time Achievement Award at VGMA Industry Awards, 2014
Kwame Nkrumah African Genius Award, 2014
MOGO Lifetime Achievement Award, 2016
Lifetime Achievement Award, Highlife Music Awards, 2019
Music Legend of the Year, Ghana Business Awards, 2019
Honorary Award, Osagyefo’s Night By Trigmatic, 2019
Music In Africa Honorary Awards, 2019