Osibisa Anthology Sleeve note
Gerry Ranson – August 2015
Several years before world music became a recognised genre, one band had already taken diverse ethnic sounds, circled the globe with them and brought them to the upper reaches of the charts. Osibisa drew its influences from West Africa and the Caribbean roots, tossed them into melting pot along with jazz, soul, funk and rock and cooked up something enticing, exciting and original, its vibrant and colourful live shows making them into a global world music institution over more than forty years. As the band themselves explain the meaning of their name, “Osibisa: criss-cross rhythms that explode with happiness.” For a marketing slogan, that sure takes some beating!
The first black British group to successfully cross over to a predominantly white mainstream audience, with a string of classic albums to their credit, this collection casts a spotlight on the band through its many singles; some big hits, others less so, but all providing an intriguing glimpse into the history of this unique band.
Osibisa first came to life in the Finsbury Park area of North London in 1969. But their story truly begins before that in Ghana in West Africa. Founder member, saxophonist and flautist Teddy Osei was a self-taught musician in love with the sounds of the jazz greats – “Coleman Hawkins, Yusef Lateef, Cannonball [Adderley]… All the American jazz musicians,” he says. “After I’d been to college, that’s when I started learning to play the saxophone. I just listened to the sound and played by myself.”
Before long Teddy, together with his trumpet-playing younger brother Mac Tontoh and drummer Sol Amarfio, formed The Comets, playing the infectious highlife music native to Ghana and distinguished by its jazzy brass and rhythmic complexity. The band scored a 1958 regional hit with ‘Pete Pete’, but in 1962, Osei headed for London on a music scholarship awarded by the Ghanaian government. It wasn’t long, though, before he became engaged in all his new home had to offer to a young musician.
“First I had African musicians, playing highlife at functions and, in the summertime, for students from Africa,” he recalls. “Then later on I formed Cat’s Paw. We were just playing soul music. Then after a while, I took the band to Tunisia, to perform at hotels and things like that. That’s where the idea came from – why don’t we do something for a different scene?”
So, rather than spending their days at the beach, the guys – who by this time had been joined by Mac and Sol – used their downtime back at the hotel in the afternoons, working up a new sound, bringing together their highlife discipline, soul chops and the adventurousness of modern jazz, blues and rock.
“That took us about three months, just trying to find our way for the next step. Cat’s Paw were very popular in Tunisia. But when we came back it was very difficult, ‘cos we’d left England for a long time, so coming back… Everybody had forgotten us!”
With an empty gig sheet and Cat’s Paw apparently yesterday’s news, the band splintered, its various members heading off in search of gainful employment. Meanwhile, Teddy, Mac and Sol hunkered down in a basement flat in Finsbury Park and kept hard at it.
“I had tunes in my head, but what to do, you know?” says Teddy. “At that time we were really struggling, we didn’t have any money at all. But we kept on with the rehearsing.”
During this period, the Ghanaians were joined by three Caribbean musicians: guitarist Wendell Richardson from Antigua; organist Robert Bailey from Trinidad, and bassist Spartacus R (aka Roy Bedeau) from Grenada. Nigerian conga-player Loughty Lasisi Amao would complete the line-up, and although many musicians would come and go over the years, this was where Cat’s Paw effectively became Osibisa.
The new band set about hitting the clubs over the following months, but rewards didn’t come quickly. Let’s not forget this was an all-black band trying break into an essentially all-white music scene, and despite the headway made by the likes of Jimi Hendrix and The Equals in recent years, doors continued to remain closed.
“We had done some good shows, especially London clubs like the Speakeasy, but it was difficult. At that time there weren’t any all-black bands, it was difficult to even find a manager or agent, because they said we were political! But our aim was just to play happy music!”
However, a massive break would come their way in August 1970. By that time the band had upgraded to a cramped rehearsal space in Denmark Street, London’s Tin Pan Alley. Efforts to court the music media eventually resulted in the then dominant weekly, Melody Maker sending one of their star writers, Richard Williams, to check out the band in practice. His ebullient piece in the following week’s issue, stating that “their music… needs only to get in front of an audience to be a killer,” really started the ball rolling.
Says Teddy, humbly: “We had a good set of songs that we could play. So when he came and heard the sounds that we were playing, it was blown up! And the next minute it was, ‘There’s a new sound coming called Osibisa!’ So that’s when we actually got known.”
As the rest of the music press followed suit, doors began to be flung open and, following a gig at The Torrington in Finchley, North London, the band signed on with big-hitting management couple Gerry and Lillian Bron, who set about finding them a record deal.
The year would end on another high when the boys got wind that Stevie Wonder was in town. They paid a visit to his hotel and he was only too happy to meet with them. The next night he and his entourage came to see the band play a show at Imperial College. Having previously spoken with one of Stevie’s minders, near the end of the set, Teddy gave a sign and Stevie got onstage and sat in on drums, playing three of the band’s own numbers completely unrehearsed. Stevie returned to the US to spread the word about this astounding new British band, and paved the way for their first visit. He would join them onstage again in 1977 at the World Black and African Festival of Art and Culture in Lagos.
While the Brons managed to set Osibisa up with a deal with MCA, the band’s first single ‘Black Ant’ b/w ‘Kotoko’ sneaked out via CBS subsidiary Smoke Records. For the album, producer Tony Visconti – already having success with David Bowie and T Rex – was sought. The Brons invited him along to a show at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho, where the band had begun to play regularly.
“He came, and we knew he was there,” recalls Teddy. “But after we’d finished, we wanted to get some feedback from him, but he’d gone. Then the next day the boss said, ‘Yeah, Tony likes the sound very much!” Visconti thankfully agreed to produce and he and the band decamped to the recently opened Air Studios on London’s Oxford Street for the sessions.
Spring ’71 saw the release of the band’s eponymous first album. The combination of Osibisa and Visconti (not to mention the engineers, John Punter and future award-winning producer Martin Rushent) resulted in one of the greatest British debuts of the 70s, its fusion of jazz, soul, rock and world music – with its biting lead guitar, driving organ and infectiously groovy percussion – the equal of what Santana were doing on the other side of the pond. Quickly rising to No.11 on the UK album charts, another key ingredient in the album’s success was the elaborate sleeve design by a young artist called Roger Dean. Then just starting out, Dean’s now better known for the artwork for progressive and heavy rock bands like Yes, Gentle Giant, Uriah Heep and Budgie, something that has enabled Osibisa to reach out to a wider potential audience.
Dean asked Teddy to suggest an image for the band, and when he suggested an elephant, Dean returned with the now famous winged elephant design and the distinct logo still used by the band to this day. Moreover, he’s continued to provide sleeve designs for them, including The Very Best Of Osibisa and the collection you’re now holding, while his daughter Freyja reprised the flying elephant theme for 2009’s Osee Yee.
“He’s been a good partnership for Osibisa for a long time,” agrees Teddy. “People go to the record shop when they don’t know anything about us, and they see the elephant, they like it, and they buy it. So he’s been a really good influence on us.”
A single from the album, ‘Music For Gong Gong’, wasn’t a hit, but it brought the band their first Top Of The Pops appearance, most people’s first sight of Osibisa in all their finery. “After that, a lot of white people who’d been to Africa came to see us wearing African gear, and that meant something.”
In those days, US labels would wait a few months to see how a British band’s release shifted before taking up the option. However, so impressed was MCA president Mike Maitland (and possibly swayed by Steve Wonder’s reports) that he sanctioned the release of Osibisa’s debut within weeks and insisted they tour the States as soon as possible. This would be the start of an industrious global touring schedule that would continue for decades.
“That’s when we started to travel,” remembers Teddy. “Because at that time we were so new, everybody wanted to see Osibisa, because our stage act was quite different to everybody.” It’s true that the Osibisa live show was something to behold, with their colourful robes, elaborate headdresses, dancers and mesmeric percussion breaks. As well as the US, Osibisa would in the coming years make successful visits to Europe, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, India and Japan.
Despite all that touring, though, the band quickly returned with a second album Woyaya, again produced by Visconti, again designed by Dean, again peaking at No.11. With the tunes in Teddy’s head deployed on the first album, songwriting duties this time around were distributed more evenly amongst the band. An edited version of ‘Survival’ was issued as a single, while the album’s title track would be covered two years later by Art Garfunkel.
The following year’s Heads was, like its predecessors, recorded at Air Studios, but this time the band chose to produce themselves, assisted by John Punter. Dispensing with Dean for the time being but retaining the elephant motif, the sleeve was painted by German artist Mati Klarwein, noted at that time for his work on Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and Santana’s Abraxas sleeves. Wendell Richardson’s super-funky ‘Wango Wango (Makin’ Everybody Happy)’ was released as a single from what was their last album for MCA.
In 1973, Osibisa were invited to provide the soundtrack for the movie Super Fly TNT, thanks to producer Sig Shore’s daughter being a huge fan of the band. Teddy remembers being flown out to Italy, the film’s location, to get a feel for the project. The original 1972 film Super Fly, featuring Ron O’Neal as drug dealer Youngblood Priest, was a landmark Blaxploitation release, although more for its huge-selling soundtrack album by Curtis Mayfield. Its lesser-known sequel, directed and co-written by and starring O’Neal, was ultimately less successful. Teddy remembers: “They actually wanted Osibisa to do their own music, not music to go with the film.” The resultant album, produced by Peter Gallen, previously engineer on a number of Gerry Bron productions, stands up incredibly well as both a Blaxploitation soundtrack and an Osibisa album, and the tracks ‘Super Fly Man’, ‘La Ila La La’ and ‘Prophets’ are featured here.
By this time, there’d been a major line-up upheaval, with only the three Ghanaians remaining from the original group, and bassist Jean-Karl Dikoto Mendengue, conga-player Kofi Ayivor and keyboardist Kiki Gyan joining the band. A new deal was struck with Warner Brothers, and two albums, both produced by Gallen, followed: Happy Children, whose outrageously funky title track opens this collection; and Osibirock, with its uncharacteristically poppy single ‘Who’s Got The Paper’ and an ornate sleeve featuring the Henri Rousseau painting ‘Negro Attacked By A Jaguar’.
Explaining the line-up changes, Teddy says: “Spartacus started not having the same kind of mindset. While we were trying quite hard to compromise, he was very radical. He didn’t want to have white managers. We decided not to have him because he was not letting the band progress, because we were quite comfortable with our managers and agents. So he left and then the other Caribbeans left.”
In 1975, Bron brought the band in-house to his own label Bronze Records, who at that time also included Uriah Heep and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. The first album under this relationship, Welcome Home, saw the return of Richardson and Bailey, plus a cast of guest musicians descending on London’s Roundhouse Studios, with Bron himself in the producer’s chair. This time around he was determined to have a hit, and while an earlier non-album single ‘The Warrior’ (from the South African musical Ipi Tombi) failed, the New Year brought success.
‘Sunshine Day’, an Osei/Amarfio/Tontoh original with a supremely memorable refrain, rescued listeners from the darkness of winter and put a spring in their step, and they repaid the band (and the label) by taking it to No.17. Not a massive hit, granted, but predicting as it did that year’s long hot summer, it went on to become a ubiquitous international radio staple alongside the likes of Arrow’s ‘Hot Hot Hot’ and The Isley Brothers’ ‘Summer Breeze’ and has been covered numerous times. It remains the song Osibisa is best known for.
Naturally, to keep up momentum, a quick return was called for, so in May ‘76 the single ‘Dance The Body Music’ entered the charts, followed by the album Ojah Awake. Not as big a hit as ‘Sunshine…’, ‘Dance The Body Music’ nevertheless did well and was in keeping with the burgeoning funk and disco scene of the times. But while Osibisa memorably asserted their rock credentials by headlining the closing night of that year’s Reading Festival, some people weren’t happy at their increased presence in the fickle pop charts.
“We thought that we were going a little bit far from where we started from,” considers Teddy, thoughtfully. “But at least with ‘Sunshine Day’ and ‘Dance The Body Music’ we got young people to follow Osibisa. And that’s when people said we were selling out. But we weren’t selling out, we were trying different avenues to keep Osibisa going, so after that we had more following us.”
Two more singles from Ojah Awake followed – an unlikely cover of Frank Sinatra’s forties novelty ‘The Coffee Song’ and a different take of ‘The Warrior’ – but neither was a hit. A show at London’s Royal Festival Hall the following year, however, brought a long-overdue double-live album in Black Magic Night, amply showing that onstage, the band was still an exciting proposition. The relationship with Bronze then came to an end with the excellent single ‘Living, Loving Feeling’.
“We’d had pressure from MCA and Warners, and we didn’t want to have that pressure again,” says Teddy. “After our live album we decided we’d go back to rock music, but it took us some time before we could do that. We couldn’t do any recording because that’s where discos and everything had come in.”
Seeking greater control over their releases, Teddy, Mac and Sol formed their own company, Flying Elephant Productions Ltd, as a means of licencing their material to smaller labels. This resulted in the 1980 album Mystic Energy, featuring ‘Living, Loving Feeling’ as well as the new singles ‘Oreba (Magic People)’, ‘Celebration’ and the Miriam Makeba cover ‘Pata Pata’, for the first time making use of extended mix 12” releases. Mystic Energy was notably the first Osibisa album to feature the playing of Ghanaian guitar legend Kari Bannerman. That year also saw the band travel to Zimbabwe to perform at the country’s independence celebrations.
Osibisa was still highly regarded on the international stage, of course, so following this it was decided to take themselves off on a tour of India, which was a major success and resulted in a hit album in that country. “It was great,” he recalls. “The Indians took to the music really well, because they like a lot of rhythms, drums and things like that. It went very well, all through Delhi, Bombay… All over India. We had a live album that went to No.1. It was one of the best-selling albums of non-Indian, Western-style music.” Two tracks from that tour – ‘Raghupati Raghava Rajaram (The Joy Of Om)’ and ‘Voices Of India’ – are featured here.
Things began to slow down considerably for Osibisa in the early 80s. Disco and other musics were occupying the charts, and despite their emphasis on happiness and infectious rhythms, this didn’t sit well with Teddy and the boys. Indeed, many artists suffered similarly during that period of Fairlights and Syndrums. Always happier in the live environment, the band recorded an excellent performance at London’s Marquee Club for an album and video release, before going on hiatus.
Osibisa relocated to Ghana, where they became involved in setting up a studio and theatre complex, and supporting young musicians. In 1984, Mac Tontoh returned to London leading a band backing three Ghanaian highlife musicians: AB Crentsil, Eric Agyeman and Thomas Frempong. An album Highlife Stars was later released on Osibisa’s Flying Elephant label.
From the late eighties onward, the interest in world music began to build, with particular interest on the summer festival circuit. While Osibisa never formally broke up, playing periodic reunion shows, in 1996 Teddy took the plunge and put together a new line-up, making a triumphant UK return at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention the following year. They’ve since followed this with performances at Glastonbury and WOMAD and numerous other festivals throughout Europe, India and Australia.
Releasing their most recent album Osee Yee in 2009, Osibisa continue to perform on an international level. They played a momentous co-headline show with Britfunk legends Cymande at London’s Barbican in May 2015, and at the time of writing they have just played two festivals in Spain. Time has, of course, taken its toll on the band: many of the old team have fallen, including Mac Tontoh, who sadly passed away after suffering a stroke in 2010. And Teddy’s own health issues and advancing years – he is nearly 80 – mean that he won’t always be there to perform. But he believes the future of the band is assured.
“The band will still go on, you know. We’ve got some new young guys. Probably I’ll still handle them, that’s as far as I can go. I won’t be performing…”
But even if they never played another note, Osibisa would have left an amazing legacy…
“Oh yes, very much!” Teddy brightens. “Very definitely so. Because having a band for over forty years is not a small thing. We’ve been lucky… I can truly say that we came and we conquered!”
ORIGINAL SUPERSTARS OF AFRICAN MUSIC!
Edge Magazine by Gaynor Crawford
Osibisa – another exclusive Bluesfest appearance, Osibisa are no less than the ORIGINAL SUPERSTARS OF AFRICAN MUSIC! Their energetic and spiritual fusion of African, Caribbean, jazz, rock, Latin and R&B sounds feature Criss-Cross rhythms that just explode with happiness!
Still regarded as one of the best live African/World Music bands performing today, CLASSIC Osibisa songs include: “The Dawn Song”, “Woyaya”, “Welcome Home”, and “Sunshine Day.” And their seminal albums Osibisa, Woyaya, Heads, and Welcome Home are bedrock essential must have recordings in any complete collection of 60′s and 70′s music. Come see why they’ve influenced so many African performers and are responsible for introducing African music to European and North American audiences
Osibisa, Queen Elizabeth Hall
The Independent – By Kevin Le Gendre
Although the general consensus is that Osibisa did World music before World music, this firecracker of a gig makes another, more important point. The band founded in London by Ghanaian multi-instrumentalist Teddy Osei some four decades ago was part of a rich crop of late 60s combos that collapsed the boundaries between African music, funk, rock and jazz, so inventively that the resulting “fusion” could sound remarkably different from one track to the next. Comprising horns, percussion, electric rhythm section and lead vocals supplied by various members, Osibisa have a rich, rotund groove that, when galvanised by Wendell Richardson’s growling lead guitar, loosely recalls the Chicano blues of Santana, no more so than on “Sunshine Day”, whose joyous chorus is taken up by the whole audience straight from the downbeat. Elsewhere, the lithe, fluid hi-life pulse of West Africa is liberally deployed to inject an entirely different energy and the skipping, vaulting rhythms that mark the middle of the set prove an invitation to dance that even those suffering from mid-winter lethargy can’t resist.
Given their far-reaching history, Osibisa have a vast repertoire at their disposal and tunes such as “The Dawn”, “Woyaya” and “Fire” draw an immediately hot response from a crowd that largely has silvery temples to match those of their heroes. As with their American and British peers, such as War and Cymande, Osibisa extensively use gospelish chants, and the nine-voice assault becomes a rousingly funky hallelujah.
Real moments of magic, though, come in the breakdowns of tracks like “Music for Gong Gong”, where horns, keys, guitar and bass drop out and djembes take over to make the beat muscular before further layers of percussion are activated like carefully synchronised dials in a clock. Metal cowbells, often whirling in a sexy 6/8 meter, sharpen the tonal canvas while leader Osei, a charismatic and avuncular figure, smacks congas with long drumsticks that create potently resonant timbres. With expert precision the band toys with the beat and the polyrhythmic trickery induces hypnosis before the horns kick back in and the energy is deflected on to a different sonic pathway. Fittingly, Osei reminds us that instrumental tracks like “Gong Gong” were actually top 10 pop hits back in the Seventies. How times have changed.
Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Guardian – By Robin Denselow
Osibisa have played a unique role in the history of African music. No other band achieved such extraordinary success, in terms of hit singles and albums in the UK and US, and yet no other band fell so dramatically from fashion. In the 70s, they performed alongside the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd, and were the first African-Caribbean band to pioneer a bestselling fusion style that mixed west African highlife influences with jazz, rock, calypso and unashamed pop. But by the 80s, dance hits like Sunshine Day were considered too mainstream for world music audiences who demanded more “authentic” African sounds. But Osibisa kept going and, 40 years on, they were back in London to show that they have refused to change their approach, and are still populist mavericks.
The gig took place not in the concert hall but in the QEH’s foyer, where the audience could dance, surrounding the nine-piece band on all sides. Osibisa might have recently released a new album, but its material consists largely of the greatest hits from their 70s heyday. Tonight, they revived the driving and jazzy 1971 best-selling instrumental Music for Gong Gong, which featured saxophone work from founder member Teddy Osei, who remained seated through much of the set as he switched between brass work, singing and percussion. They also showed off their harmony vocals and percussion on Kilele or Pata Pata, made famous by Miriam Makeba. Then there were more mainstream songs like Welcome Home and, of course, Sunshine Day, featuring sturdy guitar work from Wendell Richardson, who left Osibisa in the early 70s to join the blues-rock band Free. Osibisa may not be back in fashion, but the QEH crowd loved them.
LONDON AFRICAN MUSIC FESTIVAL 2010
By Shola Adenekan
What Osibisa did on this night is to bring back African rock to the faithful, and the audience in turn loved this journey into the golden past. They played some of the tunes that made them great success in terms of hit singles and albums. Music that saw them performing alongside the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd. Tunes that made them the first Black British group to pioneer a bestselling fusion style that mixed west African highlife influences with reggae, soul, jazz, rock, calypso and unashamed pop.
BYRON BAY BLUEFEST DAY 5
Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm, 25th Apr 2011
Following that, I once again revert to a state of reverence, as the Osibisa set begins with a reading of the Ode of Remembrance and playing of The Last Post. It’s a slightly surreal setting for these proceedings, with the brightly garbed African octet on stage performing these duties, but everyone acknowledges the respect of the band – although it’s the first time I’ve ever been present when a tentful of people has cheered The Last Post.
Before anyone gets a chance to dwell on this, the group – another whose previous performance created a strong buzz about them – launch into their set; an uplifting mixture of African and Caribbean rhythms, trumpet stings and wild passages of flute and soprano saxophone. Once again, their appeal is immediately obvious, the beat is incredibly danceable, the lessons in Ghanaian language for audience participation are fun (although unlikely to be retained) and the moments when the entire band take up percussion to create a whirl of djembes, tom-toms and cowbells send the crowd wild.
As if this wasn’t all vibrant enough, Afro Moses also joins Osibisa on stage – with a couple of dancers in tow – to raise the roof even further. With a third performance coming up in the Mojo Tent on the final day of Bluesfest, those who missed the first two shows still have a chance to see this.
2011 Ghana Music Awards
April 2011 – By Gloria Kyeremeh, The Ghana Times
The annual Ghana Music Awards were held on Friday, April 15. Ghana is ground zero for great music.”Ghana’s all-time Afro-pop band, Osibisa, virtually set the Accra International Conference Centre ablaze with an astounding live-band performance to commence the eleventh edition of the Ghana Music Awards…. Teddy Osei, brandishing a gold-plated saxophone as he sat in a wheelchair, led in the delivery of an enthralling show with the able backing of three young singers, Sherifa Gunu, Bertha Karikari and Efya Awindor.” Gloria Kyeremeh, The Ghana Times.
OSIBISA play the QEH
March 2010 – By Claudia A
Osibisa are a Brit-Afro band founded in 1969 by Teddy Osei, who moved to London in 1962 to study music on a scholarship from the Ghanaian government. After his first band ‘Cat’s Paw’ (formed in 1964), he later persuaded fellow Ghanaians Sol Amarfio and Mac Tontoh (Teddy’s brother) to join him in London. Together with four other expatriates they formed Osibisa – taking their name from the Osibisaba rhythms of Ghanaian highlife music. The band could be described as the first ‘world music’ act on a truly global scale. Osibisa brought a colourful and positive attitude to dull, grey and racist 60’s London. Their extremely danceable sound is an energetic and polyrhythmic blend of African, Caribbean, jazz, blues, calypso, r & B and funk-rock (have I left anything out?).
Now in its fourth generation and to mark forty years of Osibisa, the band gave a more than spectacular concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall to rapturous applause. Playing for almost two hours, the set consisted of tracks from their latest albums ‘The Very Best Of Osibisa’ and ‘Osee Yee’ (released by Cardiz Music) plus some golden oldies thrown in. One of the special-guest amongst the audience was Roger Dean, the very man who designed the band’s elaborate sleeve work (before he became famous for designing album covers for rock band Yes).
The evening kicked off with ‘The Dawn’ a track dominated by a heavy bass line, circular keyboards and enchanting percussions – approximating an African dawn. If this is what an African dawn sounds like, it’s certainly worth getting up early! Since it’s impossible to mention each and every track from a two-hour set, I will instead focus on some of the highlights (though strictly speaking, every track was of course a highlight!).
‘Fire’ and ‘Music For Gong Gong’ (an purely instrumental delight) were next, followed by ‘Woyaya’ – dominated by a strong tribal sound that recognises the ongoing African struggle for freedom. Suffice to say, this particular track was much embraced by members of the African community in the audience. The incredibly uplifting ‘I Feel Pata Pata’ needs no further introduction, and the same can be said for ‘Sunshine Day’ – one of the band’s best known songs with an irresistible pop sound, and dynamic horn charts. The audience was invited to sing along to ‘Everybody do what you’re doing, smile will bring a sunshine day’ and the punters happily obliged. Despite the track being in English, its complex rhythms remind of deep and mysterious Africa. At that stage, the atmosphere was simply ecstatic, with various other members from the audience chanting ‘Ooosiiii-beee-saaa’ in between.
‘Ayioko’ (my absolute favourite!) is slightly reminiscent of Santana or even Earth, Wind and Fire and stands out through a very modern production and its constant change of tempos. With its complicated bass-drum grooves and cleverly applied horn interventions, it’s impossible not to move and groove to this track and well, move and groove is precisely what everyone in the venue did. The band was visibly thrilled by the warm reception – with founder member Teddy Osei still amongst the current line-up! The band’s colourful and traditional outfits complimented their songs – performed both in Ashanti and in English language.
The final number of the night, ‘Watusi’, starts off with a distinctive drumbeat, followed by horn charts that add a contemporary element to an otherwise more tribally oriented arrangement. It was the perfect song to bring a memorable concert to an end – with everyone keeping on dancing and sporting a happy smile on their faces.
Osibisa oozes joyous music
November 2009 – By Sudha JagannathanThey came, rocked and moved out. Osibisa was a fitting finale for the 2009 edition of The Hindu Friday Review November Fest. On the evening of November 22, the Afro-rock band – coming to Chennai after a hiatus of three decades – made the charged-up audience at the Music Academy sing, clap and dance to its music beats. Through out the nearly two-hour show, Band Osibisa held the audience – comprising a large contingent of youngsters – in a trance. It’s an old band, no doubt. But Band Osibisa evoked extreme emotions that ranged from wild shouts to spontaneous claps and vigorous dancing.
As the audience outpoured its emotions, there was merger of moods. There was harmony in communication between the performers on the stage, who turned up in multi-colour dresses, and the audience.
Jeans-clad boys and girls, excited young kids, finely dressed women, curiously clothed men, officially-dressed persons, traditional-looking guys and serious-faced foreigners – the audience comprised a huge mix of assorted music buffs cutting across age and gender. It was a twice-blessed show. If it had blessed the huge audience with tones of happiness in the end, it had brought immense feeling of joy for the young-at-heart Teddy Oesi, the leader of the band, and his energetic team.
Osibisa was started in 1969 by three musicians from Ghana and three from Caribbean.
And, the band was largely responsible for making African music popular in Europe and North America in the 1970s. Founder Teddy Osei might have grown old since his last visit to this country. But the energy level in him has not dimmed. The music of Band Osibisa on this evening was fresh, vibrant and appealing. Clearly, their show reiterated the universality of music and its boundary-less character. As he was savoring every moment of his show at this famed venue, Teddy Osei wished everyone a merry Christmas.
Many would not have heard the band before. For those who had heard it, however, this was a life-time opportunity to see, feel and experience Teddy Osei & Co. perform in a live show. The joy was flowing all over the Academy. Indeed, Osibisa lived up to the great expectations of the wild audience and produced a mind-blowing music with a high level of energy till the very end of the show. And the audience was not willing to head home even as the band ended its music. This promoted Osibisa to say in a laughing way, “Go home! We will be back again, sooner this time.”
The melodious music “The Dawn” in the beginning with familiar lyrics made an instant impact on the audience. Teddy Osei played Saxophone, vocal and drums as well, Gregg Brown played the rhythm guitar and vocal. Emmanuel Rentzos played the keyboard and vocal. While Wendell Richardson played the lead guitar and vocal, Herman Asofo Agyei played the bass guitar. Nii Okine Tagoe Jembe was on the Congas. Alex Swaku Boateng Drums and Colin Graham played the trumpet.
There was this number “Don’t play with fire”. The real entertainer came when they took up the popular “Ojah Awake” As they sung the prayer song – Woyaya (“we are going, heaven knows where”), there with high involvement and melody. Gandhiji’s “Raghupati Raghav..” sent a huge wave of joy across the audience, which joined in the singing. To hear Osibisa sing this number proved an excitement in itself. Teddy Osei then sang a song about traditional villagers sipping palm wine. “Killele,” he thundered. “Avo Avo Killele, Mama Mama Killele and Papa Papa Killele’’. Well, everybody began to sing with him. “Ayiko Bia,” he said. This means well done. “Music for Gong Gong” was rhythmic with the drums playing reverberating beats. Then there was this music of happiness. Needless to say everybody stood up and danced putting their hands together in joy. “Welcome home, welcome to Africa” showed up the warmth in the musicians. The show came to an end with a few newer compositions such as “Watusi” and “Patha Patha”.
Well, the show may have ended. But the music is reverberating still.
NATIONAL THEATRE – MAY 1999
MAY 1999 – Ghana
Osibisa. The London based Afro-Rock group that thrilled hundreds to their unique beat during Ghana Union London’s Durbar last year have done it again – this time in the motherland!
At a packed concert on 7th May 1999, Osibisa turned the National Theatre in Accra into a sea of waving hands and dancing feet in one of their ‘Final Home Coming’ bashes.
Playing with the skill and energy that has characterised their concerts for the past 30 years; they had fans shouting “O-SI-BI-SA” immediately after each of their repertoire of criss-cross rhythms.
Sporting the bright multi-coloured apparel that they are noted for, the band played favourite tunes like ‘Welcome Home’, Ogya’, ‘Fire will burn you’ , We are going’ , Celebration’, The coffee song’ and ‘Pata pata’.
These songs evoked memories of life in the late sixites and through the seventies and eighties among the never tiring old and young audience.
Most of the members are due to go solo after this three-day bash, but the leader, teddy Osei teased fans by saying ‘people say after this show we will split. We have not split. We’ll be there om time for you’.
BMICH – JULY 1991
JULY 1991 – COLOMBO, SRI LANKA
It was against all odds that ‘Showbiz’ was able to keep their promise of an international group performing live in Colombo after ‘The Real Thing’ cancelled their tour here in the eleventh hour due to unavoidable circumstances.
Despite this setback they fought with their backs to the wall to bring an equallt good – if not better – class of musciians, ‘Osibisa’, which simply took the audience at the BMICH bt storm last Saturday (July 6)
Getting down to their long string of African hits for the evening with ‘Fire’. All six members of Osibisa, leader Teddy Osei (flute & African drums), Tony Matola (lead guitar), Herman Asafoadjei (bass guitar), Solomon Amarfio (drums), Patato (African drums) and Bessa Simon (keyboards), displayed their immense wealth of talent. Their repertoire which revolved around mostly black African music, emphasised with drums, with a couple of English, Hindi and Oriental songs thrown in for good measure created an atmosphere thick enough to lean on.
The groupd performance was such that almost all their songs inflamed the audience, partiulary when they sang the popular hits in Sri Lanka like ‘Wo Ya Ya’. ‘Ragupathi Raja’, ‘Ki LeLe’, ‘All You Little Children’, ‘Music from Gong Gong’ and ‘Sunshine Day.’
Their hit ‘Why Do You Shoot Him Down?’ typifies their zest for blues as well, which ended with Tony’s sleek guitar work skimming the scales added by tremolo effects. Osibisa’s rythmic music was well supported by their stage act – Patato stealing the show with his compulsive plunging steps, the way someones walks on a rolling ship.
The music that prevailed was akin to Santana’s, with all six members bent on producing music to rhythm, rap or otherwise. None of them appeared to like seeing an instrument lying about without taking it to add its sound to the highly hypnotic beat.
Teddy Osei, a founder member of Osibisa also was enthralling to watch with his occasional ‘whistle blowing’, exquisite saxaphone and flute playing together with castanets. Laudable also his occasional stint on the African drums.
Ruwan Godage, The Island, July 14th 1991
SRI LANKA – DECEMBER 1987
SRI LANKA – DECEMBER 1987
The world-famed Afro-rock group Osibisa (criss-cross rhythms that explode with happiness) did something on Saturday night that I thought I should not see in Sri Lanka. It had its audience of thousands of young and old, on its feet, rocking and rolling and covorting like mad, headless of the bright lights that blazed down on them.
Here was the audience of conservative Sri Lankans, who generally are content to clap, cheer and encourage in every way except rise to their feet and participate. But the tempo of the Osibisa, and their stage manner combined to let loose the inhibitions of the most staid, irrespective of age.
But it might never have been, but for the fast thinking and a quick decision by Rotarian President Melville Assauw, who saved the day for Osibisa. The weather had been unking on Saturday morning, with heavy rain till long after noon hour.
Arrangements for the installation of sound and so on had, perforce, to be delayed. And the authorities in charge of security had been instructed that on-one was to be admitted till everything was ready. But at the press conferences, the organisers had been keen that the public should start coming in by 5 in the evening. At 6pm crowds were gathered outside the gates and were getting restive, with many suggesting they go back home. Then Rotary President Assauw, appraised of the situation, took the decision that saved the day. ‘Let them in’, he told the security people.
The crowd came in, and patiently watched as the sound system was checked and the show was about to begin. It did, half and hour behind schedule. But Sohan and his experients, with Estelle and Ayesha more than made up for the delay.
And then the Osibisa took over and rocked their way into the hearts of thousands who gathered there. It was a scene reminiscent of that famous gathering at Woodstock in America many years ago, when many of those rocking in the aisles were just little infants in their cradles.
Everyone went home tired but happy. More than happy. They were literally exploding with happiness, a la Osibisa.
Cecil V. Wikramanayake, Daily News.
AUKLAND TOWN HALL
JANUARY 1978 – NEW ZEALAND
They promised cross-rythms and happiness, and that’s what they delivered with a storm of musical happenings at the Aukland Town Hall last night.
Osibisa are a unique group who combine the rhythm and life of African tribal music with sophistication of electronic instruments.
Conga drums, bongos, maracas, saxaphone, electric guitars, African flutes, organ and cow bells to mention a few, all went together with community singing, hand-clapping and dancing to provide an unforgettable experience.
After putting on a special early performance because of demand, Osibisa kept their audience waiting impatiently. But when they appeared before the foot-stamping crowdthey gave everything they had.
Osibisa played without a break. The crowd gradually rose to their feet to move with the music. Police tried to return some members of the audienceto their seats, but by the end they were around the stage and in the aisles, sining and dancing.
The evening was a visual treat. Osibisa are all colour in their flowing robes, yellow, green and red silks and an array of headgrea, including scarves and skull caps.
As musicians, Osibisa have improved infinately since their first album in late 1973. It is not many bands who can bring an audience to its feet – especially one as mixed as last night’s – and convey feeling in the way they do. The music scene needs more of this.
New Zealand Herald 3-1-1978
NOVEMBER 1972 – CHICAGO USA
Instruments of ‘War’ that came in a profusion of sound bounced off the wall of the Auditorium Theatre, and their sining was firm with an extroadinarily cohesive sense of phrase and line in the jazz-rock idiom.
The group was joined by the contemporary interpretative talents of The Last Poets, who also thrilled the audience with their imagination and piquant humour.
But it was the white heat of excitement generated by the profound performance of Osibisa, which means ‘rhythm’ in the Aban language, that made the evening super grand. With their blending of black rhythms and melodies from Africa, America and the West Indies, they merged together the essence of ethnic musical ioioms.
This seven-man team literally pulled the audience up from its seats, a superb group, affluent in all facets of melody and rhythm, each individual went wild in expressing himself before the SRO house.
Although the Osibisa band appeared before War, the tremendous power and exciting dramatic billiance in communication was never brought to its full fruition by any other group.
These seven instrumentalists and singers, who possess the ability to sing and utter a million different sounds, are sensational and it is a great joy to hear them perform, expoding with such enthusiam that shivers run up and down the spine.
Their Afro-rock-jazz has burst upon the international scene and it’s here to stay. Their driving power can be heard on MCA Records’ Decca label albums called ’Osibisa’, ‘Woyaya’ and ‘Heads’.
Following the three group’ appearance, they will continue their cross-country tours of principal cities.
The Last Poets are scheduled to return to New York to prepare for another album, whileWar returns to California, where they will finish cutting their release for United Artists Records.
Osibisa will leave American shores to perform on an extended tour in England, Africa and the West Indies later in the season.
Earl Calloway – Chicago Daily Defender.