INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Financial Times MAY 2, 2020 - by David Honigmann
EDIKANFO: THE PACE SETTERS - TURBOCHARGED HIGHLIFE FROM 1980s GHANA
A reissue of the group's 1981 debut recalls a fecund period in Accra's musical history
Post-Independence Ghana was a musical powerhouse, its glories now being revived by the likes of Santrofi. A central figure in the Accra musical scene was the promoter Faisal Helwani, who presided over the Napoleon Club in Osu. When one of his acts, Hedzoleh Soundz, were taken up by Hugh Masekela and moved to the US, Helwani put together a new group of musicians who played a form of turbocharged highlife with strong jazz elements, with Osei Tutu and Gilbert Amartey Amar (the main songwriters) on trumpet and bass and Ishmael Odai "Smith" on piano. The band were called Edikanfo, meaning "the pace setters", and were immediately popular throughout Ghana, playing concerts in football stadiums and auditoriums rather than confining themselves to the club scene.
Helwani's masterstroke was to invite Brian Eno to Accra. Eno was immersing himself in west African music, singing the praises of Fela Kuti and bringing Afrobeat (one of the three great rhythms of the 1970s, he said, along with motorik and disco) to his production work with Talking Heads, notably on Remain In Light. It was agreed that Eno would produce the band's debut at Studio One in Accra and release it through the label he was then associated with, EG. In return they would record some tracks for him to remake and remodel, as he and David Byrne were doing for the record that would become My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts.
The Pace Setters is barely half an hour long. It opens in fine style with Amartey's Nka Bom, horns sharply descending over a disco bassline, with a triumphant electric piano solo from Odai and a lengthy percussion interlude. Other highlights include the growling Gbenta, with a bluesy bassline and machinegun drumming, and the trumpet voluntary and dubby choral singing on Moonlight Africa.
Edikanfo were all set to take the record on tour to the West. Heswani wanted them to become as big as the British Afrobeat band Osibisa. Then, the government was toppled by a coup. The country was locked down, live music died, and with it Edikanfo's career. Back in New York, Eno found that everything he added to the tapes he had received in part-payment sounded "clumsy and unnecessary compared to their witty, light funkiness". He never used them. "What they'd given me was finished - there was nothing else I could add."