Among the numerous people (both local and international) who continue to pay endless tribute to the late Nana Kwame Ampadu is the legendary Agya Koo Nimo who described Ampadu as an incomparable talent and one of the last greats in his generation to join the ancestors.
The ‘Owuo Tone Ade To Bi’ hitmaker who understands the phenomenon of death says although Nana Ampadu has joined the ancestors, his tongue will never decay.
Encounter in London
Unknown to many, Nana Ampadu met Agya Koo Nimo in London at a music shop in the early 1960s where Koo Nimo, as a lab-technology chemistry student at the Imperial College, used to fix strings on guitars and tuned them as a part-time job.
Although it was a brief encounter, it marked the beginning of their later intimate friendship and when Koo Nimo headed MUSIGA for a decade as the union’s president, Nana Ampadu served as his secretary. Later, both were members of the National Folklore Board of Trustees from 1991 to 1998.
Preservation of folklore
Aspects of Ghanaian Folklore that Nana Ampadu proved his worth were verbal expressions such as folk tales and musical expressions made up of folk songs and animal characters.
Agya Koo Nimo, a recipient of the UNESCO Living Human Treasure Award, described Nana Ampadu, in these words: “He gave practical meaning to Ghanaian folklore, researched on them and brought them into Highlife music in the form of narration of folk stories such as Aku Sika, Kofi Nkrabea, Ebi Te Yie and many others that end on pieces of advice.”
Koo Nimo concluded that his lyrics were suave, proverbial or parabolic, sometimes had hidden political messages and that no wonder he combined music and politics well, having been once an active member of the National Democratic Congress and later the New Patriotic Party.
Nana Ampadu was a powerhouse when it comes to guitar-based Highlife music and the history of Ghanaian popular music cannot be written without his name in golden letters. For instance, how he creatively did the first strums of the lead guitar for his ‘Agatha’ song and punctuated the intro verse produced a pleasant masterpiece that moves the laziest feet to dance.
Koo Nimo said Nana Ampadu performed his song Obi Ba Mane in odonson singing style and introduced electric guitar whereas he and the late Dr K. Gyasi used acoustic guitar. The master narrator gave a chronological order of all the past Ashanti kings.
How he recounted the exploits of past Ashanti Kings in the song is a source of ancestral veneration and the awakening of the spirit of the royal Oyoko clan of the Ashanti Kingdom. As a guitar player, he made guitar playing attractive and an indispensable component of Highlife music and as a charismatic stage performer, his costume portrayed his proud African root.
Creativity and Originality
Nana Ampadu was creative and an original who never adulterated his type of guitar-based Highlife with foreign rhythms. He always created something new and the paramount aim was to bring innovative rhythms that are danceable.
He was at the forefront of modern urban Highlife music and one of the leading exponents of authentic Ghanaian Highlife in the 70s, 80s and the 90s as he brought into Ghanaian popular music Afro Hili.
It is not out of nothing that he came to national prominence to earn the title ‘Nnwomtofo Hene’ because for decades, he maintained a standard and produced quality Highlife music uniquely Ghanaian. Nana’s lyrical contents touched more on social life that never lost the appreciation of the fans especially the theme of human nature represented by animals, love, death, inheritance, work and contained folk wisdom and morals embedded in proverbs and folktales, etc.
Nana Ampadu had exceptional composition skills and excellent arrangement coupled with irresistible rhythms so distinctive and Koo Nimo said Akwantifi Wuo and Oman Bo Adwo have been his favourites.
He had excellent vocal artistry with photographic memory. He never slipped with lyrics when on stage for hours and he concentrated much on his natural voice rather than computerised lip-synched. As such thousands of Ghanaians enjoyed his singing style, and his superb voice delivered his lyrics perfectly, which made him an admirable musician across cities, towns and villages in Ghana.
The significant role played by Nana Kwame Ampadu must not be in vain because he brought the link between folklore and popular music and has paid his dues. As such, there is the need for a foundation or an institute to understudy his works for conservation and preservation as a national treasure.
He has left an intangible cultural heritage in the areas of tales, folk wisdom, proverbs, musical rhythms, traditional knowledge, traditional cultural expressions, moral philosophy, etc.
NANTE YIE, Nnwomtofo Hene.
•The writer is a Research Officer at the Copyright Office of Ghana.