Nii Otoo Annan is well known in Accra, Ghana as a formidable percussionist in traditional, highlife, gospel, and jazz groups. Less known is that he composes and performs guitar songs with lyrics about classic morality, work, and religious themes. After five years of collaborative projects, we finally got around to recording some of Nii Otoo’s guitar songs in Accra, and when he came to New Mexico some months later for a performance residency, he overdubbed each piece multiple times: first with ododompo (finger), dawuro (banana leaf), and gangokui (double) bells, then with shekere (beaded gourd shaker), apentema (a pair of small congas), and gome (a seated bass drum played with heels and palms). Finally he added electric bass and vocals. Often enough the overdubs were performed, like the earlier solo guitar tracks, in the confidence of just a single take. Departing for Accra after the sessions, Nii Otoo slapped my hand vigorously, and with his infectious grin and laugh said, “OK, Prof, now make the arrangements!” For each of the songs I layered the overdubs to build up or break down the shifting rhythmic gestalts, bringing parts in and out to expose their dynamic interactions. I hope this one-man-band tour de force takes you into the deep playfulness and masterful creativity of multi-instrumentalist Nii Otoo Annan.
Steven Feld, January 2012
Nii Otoo Annan's notes for Ghana Sea Blues, translated from Ga by Kwame Assenyoh.
1. Ghana Sea Blues (instrumental) 3:38
This rhythm came to me listening to the sea at my home in Korle Gonno [a beach area west of central Accra].
2. People Are Talking About You 5:15
This song is about a notorious child whose mother tried to warn him about his bad behavior. Not until his mother’s death did he realize the value of her advise. The song represents the wondering of such a child at loss of his mother. I sing this song to instruct my own life.
3. Thieves 5:05
This song concerns two thieves. In fact, they were our fellow bandsmen, but we did not know that after playing with us they would go to Makola Market to pick pockets.Their actions infuriated the market traders and a tea seller provided boiling water to be poured on them for their punishment. I sing this song to remind all that stealing is bad. Be satisfied with your work, whether you are bandsman or any other professional.
4. Live Well, Live Longer 4:20
This song tells how a mother’s advice is wisdom; when heeded one can live longer in life. I first heard this song sung by the traditional priests. But I am singing it differently from how they sang it.
5. All Shall Pass 4:40
One of my friends with whom I played in a band was also a driver. He had an accident and died. When we went to the morgue for his body, to prepare it for wake keeping, the scene moved me to compose this song for his funeral. This song tells the deceased not to worry; farewell, go and come back, no one lives here forever.
6. Africa Take Five (instrumental) 4:43
This song comes from the rhythm of Dave Brubeck’s Take Five. You can hear five sitting between the time of four and six.
7. Your Character 3:31
Success in the world depends own one’s own lifestyle. There are people who cannot even take care of what they inherit. They spend their money on women, visiting luxurious hotels. When the wealth runs out, their women and friends stop responding to their calls.
8. I’m a Christian 4:05
This song is inspired by I Am With Jesus by an old musician, Kofi Sammy, of Okukuseku International Band. The rhythm is similar to his but I used my own lyrics, in the Twi language.
9. Mind Your Own Business 3:44
This song instructs that some matters are not yours to talk about. You should not talk about other people’s issues because doing that will bring you troubles. With this song I’m advising people to mind their own business.
10. Crying Out 3:53
The rhythm of this song is from a musician called Nana Ampadu, of the African Brothers Band, but I used my own lyrics. It comes from my experience with a baby whose mother stepped out briefly. Since the baby relied on the mother’s breast milk he was soon hungry and began to cry. I took the baby into my arms and began to rock him to stop crying. As I rocked him, I sang this song, with words I heard from my own mother.
11. Kwao (instrumental) 3:56
In this song I am inspired by the highlife guitar rhythms of Kumasi guitarist Koo Nimo and also the jazz chord sound of Wes Montgomery.
12. My Wife! Open The Door! 3:25
This is a love song between me and my wife. Once some friends came by and asked me to join them for a gig. My wife had already gone to market and I couldn’t contact her to say that I will arrive back late. When I came home that night I found that the door was locked. My wife was angry at me and I knocked at the door for a long time before she let me in.
13. Pull The Boat 4:15
This is a song of fishermen from the seashore. When I was a teenager my friends and I used to watch the fishermen pull their boats from the sea after fishing. They would be energized by songs like this as they worked.