Saturday, 2 August 2008

The Guy Warren Soundz - Themes For African Drums

Themes For African Drums

256+ VBR LAME mp3
Vinyl rip & scans from RCA LSP-1864

The original Ghana Soundz. In fact, Guy Warren is pretty much checked as the start of afrojazz, bringing Yoruba rhythms and melodic sensibilities to NYC & Chicago in the 50s. He was so far ahead of the curve that they didn't know what to do with him back then (so of course the record company marketing men played up the sensationalist savage drummer angle) but his effect on the jazz idiom and popular music has been profound.

AMG Bio by Bruce Eder

Guy Warren, also known as Kofi Ghanaba, was among the earliest African musicians to exert an influence on world music -- a bold achievement for a musician who was so far out in front of his own time and audience that his presence was barely perceived by most of his colleagues. Born in Accra, Ghana, in West Africa, in 1923, he was drawn to music from an early age, especially traditional Ghanian percussion -- in 1937, at age 14, he became a drumset player in the Accra Rhythmic Orchestra, which led him to his first visit to America, in 1939. By 1947, Warren was a drummer and singer with celebrated Ghanian musician E. T, Mensah and his Tempos Band. In 1948, he played with Kenny Graham's Afro-Cubists in England; he was back in Ghana the following year, but he knew where he was headed -- after a brief return to the Tempos Band, and an involvement in Ghanian politics, he headed to Nigeria and Liberia (as a radio disc jockey) and by 1953 he'd made his way to the United States.

In the mid-1950's, based in Chicago, Warren began leading a string of different combos of varying sizes, all directed to the fusion of West African music and American jazz. His music -- between 10 and 20 years ahead of his own time in his goals and results -- was unusual enough to attract little more than a cult following, but he did cut albums, including Africa Speaks America Answers and Theme For African Drums. Other musicians were quick to appreciate Warren's virtuosity and unique gifts, and he was soon traveling in a circle that included Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk, and Max Roach. In 1962, he published an autobiography. That same year, he also saw one of his pieces become an international hit -- and a staple for easy listening radio -- when German bandleader Bert Kaempfert recorded "That Happy Feeling"; drawn from a Warren-authored Ghanian piece, the Kaempfert single and accompanying album helped put African flutes into the top 40 in America and elsewhere.

In 1965, Warren returned to Ghana, where, thanks to his decade in the United States, he was something of a celebrity -- he was also too advanced and too internationally oriented to earn much of a living as a performer, apart from the occasional concert in Accra. By the end of the decade, he'd changed his name to Kofi Ghanaba (i.e., "Son of Ghana"), accepting and even inviting the mantle of being a cultural institution. By rights, he should have been at least as renowned before the public as Ginger Baker -- an Englishman who got to a somewhat similar place in music by following jazz back to Africa -- but he never had the press or the association with an English power-trio to carry his name to the world's public.

He did participate in the Afro-American music "Soul To Soul" concerts in Ghana that spawned the movie of that name, but principally Warren has been a teacher since the early 1970's. In that role, his years in the United States, coupled with his decades in Ghanian music before and after, have made him a magnet for aspiring percussionists and a living legend among musicians on several continents. Alas, his 1950's and early 1960's remain out-of-print, though in recent years his later recordings have been re-released on CD, to the delight of drum enthusiasts and jazz (and African music) scholars everywhere.

Guy Warren - Percussion, Vocals
James Hawthorne Bey - Percussion
Robert Whitney - Percussion
Phillip Hepburn - Percussion
Lawrence Brown - Trombone
James Styles - Bass on "The Talking Drum Looks Ahead"
Earl Griffin - Vibes on "The Talking Drum Looks Ahead"

1 - Ballad For Giraffes
2 - Waltzing Drums
3 - Blood Brothers
4 - Love, The Mystery Of
5 - The Talking Drum Looks Ahead
6 - The Lady Marie Drum Suite
7 - My Story

Listening Notes has one of the only reviews online specifically for this album:

Featuring one of the most compelling exotica covers ever, this hard to find recording from 1958 is actually one of the best drum records RCA ever made. Kofi Ghanaba (born Guy Warren in 1923) is a West African musician who, at the time held court at The African Room on New York's Third Avenue. Melding traditional African themes with a jazz sensibility, Guy Warren is the originator of "Afro-Jazz". He also spent time in Chicago, and worked with jazz legends Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk.

What Warren has created here is an exotic percussion album that features ancient instruments such as "The Talking Drum", conga drums, bongos, flute. The music is primarily rhythm driven, and some cuts feature vocals, shouting, and chanting. The hypnotic rhythm and dynamics of this special record are evident just by looking at the grooves. Each track is appears like a swirling spirograph of sound.

James Hawthorn Bey (AKA "General Lefty" AKA "Chief Bey") had a long career in jazz, highlights of which included Ahmed Abdul-Malik's Sounds of Africa, Art Blakey's African Beat, Solomon Ilori's African High Life and Pharoah Sanders' Izipho Zam and Thembi.

Lawrence Brown should need little introduction to fans of swing, starting out in the early 20's with Louis Armstrong and then spending 50 years as a member of Duke Ellington's Orchestra with the occasional side gig for cats like Johnny Hodges & Big Joe Turner along the way.

Earl Griffin is a bit of an enigma. In an extensive interview Anthony Braxton mentions seeing him play with Cecil Taylor in the early 60s but the vibe playing on CT's Looking Ahead! released the same year as Themes For African Drums (and recorded in NYC around the same time) is credited to an "Earl Griffith" so I'm pretty sure it's the same person but less clear on which appellation is correct.

Couldn't find much on bassist Jimmy Styles unless he's reincarnated with the same name and plays in a metal band. Better luck with Phillip Hepburn, who is mentioned in Tom Lord's Jazz Discography with one credit - this LP. Robert Whitney fares even worse in history's roll call since he doesn't even get that much consideration. If anyone has any further info on either of these players, please let us know.

This album is extremely rare and popular with collectors of African music, Jazz, Exotica and those misguided souls who pay a premium for these types of covers with little regard for the music contained therein and can fetch sums upwards of $100 or more. Then again, it was just on auction over at eBay for $4.99 and closed without a single bid (there's one going for $30 at the moment) and Gemm's prices range from $8 - $180. I found it a few years back in superb condition for $3 at a local store called Jam Can
, so it's still easy to find an affordable copy if you keep your peepers peeled.

Otherwise you can grab it from Soundological's library HERE or HERE.


Anonymous said...

I also found a copy of this in a dollar bin at a record store, which actually left me with mixed feelings because I can't believe that more people aren't into Warren's incredible music. There is just so much GOING ON in his music!!! I agree that the cover probably confuses folks in various ways...

cheeba said...

I know what you mean. It's a hard one to call, though. I never heard of him until I saw the LP and it was obviously the cover that attracted me. I was relatively sure of copping a sample or having a curio cover for cheap so I turned it over and all it took was a glance at the liner notes to know it was for real.

It strikes me even more that he didn't even get much recognition in his homeland. I guess that's a big part of why we bloggers partake in this labour of get more people into the world's incredible music!

Reza said...

incredible thanks ...and the cover !!!!

Gianni said...

disco affascinante, dalla copertina al sound.
mai visto nei negozi.
ringrazio cheeba per la scoperta

Anonymous said...

Kofi Ghanaba

The world of music lost one of its most illustrious practitioners when the Divine Drummer, Kofi Ghanaba, died at the 37 Military Hospital in Accra Monday night. He was 85.

Ghanaba was the main African influence on jazz in the USA and Europe in the 1950s and is regarded in many circles as one of the founders of the Black Pride Movement for his insistence on a positive projection of Africa at all times.

His son, Glen Ghanababa Warren, confirmed to the Daily Graphic that his father was taken ill on Monday morning and was admitted to the hospital where he died in the night.

Ghanaba created his own profoundly African music and was known for his powerful pounding on the unique set of fontomfrom drums which he switched to after abandoning the usual Western drum kit.

The usual set comprised two large fontomfrom drums, placed on their sides with foot pedals attached. He played the fontomfrom with his feet, while playing a set of smaller drums arranged around him with sticks.

“He was in a class of his own,” veteran trumpeter Mac Tontoh said yesterday after hearing of the death of the man he knew very well. “It is sad to miss someone like him who opened international doors for African musicians. He brought the world’s attention to the ability of African musicians to create world-class music.”

Ghanaba was born Kpakpo Akwei in Accra on May 4, 1923 to Richard Akwei, an educationist, and Susana Awula Abla Moore, a trader. His fascination with America made him adopt the name Guy Warren, after Warren Gamaliel Harding, the 29th President of the US.

He attended Government Boys’ School and Achimota College, both in Accra, before joining the Accra Rhythmic Orchestra as drummer around 1940.

Apart from being a musician, Ghanaba worked variously as a reporter, newspaper editor and radio disc jockey in Liberia and England.

His big break came in 1955 when he went to Chicago in the US and joined Johnny Esposito’s band as co-leader, percussionist and arranger.

He recorded his famous Africa Speaks, America Answers album in 1956 with that band. The album contained his best known composition, That Happy Feeling. His other great album, Themes For African Drums, was recorded in New York.

Ghanaba met and befriended many of the leading jazz musicians of the time, including drummer Max Roach, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, saxophonist Lester Young and singer Billie Holiday, when he worked in the US. Many of those musicians admired Ghanaba’s tenacity to push ahead with his African approach to jazz.

Roach, who visited Ghanaba in Accra in the early 1970s, wrote, “I met Ghanaba in Chicago in 1956. He was so far ahead of what we were all doing that none of us understood what he was saying — that in order for Afro-American music to be stronger, it must cross-fertilise with its African origins.”

A very outspoken person and keen follower of politics, Ghanaba was close to Dr Kwame Nkrumah and dedicated his autobiography, I Have A Story To Tell, to him. He was also a close pal of former President Jerry Rawlings.

Ghanaba’s last public performance was at the Goethe Institut in Accra last September where he appeared on a programme called The African Presence In Jazz.

“He was a good friend to us and we will miss him dearly,” the Director of the Goethe Institut, Mrs Eleonore Sylla, said.

cheeba said...

A fantastic new blog - Fat Toro - has just posted Guy Warren's Afro Jazz LP.

Don't forget to say thanks for this super rare slice of vinyl!!!

ish said...

I'm not sure how I missed this the first time around. Thanks so much Cheeba.

I had the pleasure of hearing Chief Bey play many many times at Santeria ceremonies...and the awesome responsibility of witnessing his incredibly moving funeral in Brooklyn a few years ago. Glad to hear some more of his groundbreaking work.

cheeba said...

Hey Ish! Better late than never!

I knew practically nothing of Bey except for the Sanders sides before I bought this. When my mate Andy Williams saw I had bought this, he hepped me to Ahmed Abdul-Malik using Bey as the throughline.

It must have been something to hear such a talented artist play in an intimate ceremonial setting!

ish said...

Bey was also one of the drummers on the legendary Babatunde Olatunji's Drums of Passion albums

cheeba said...

Right you are! I just pulled Zungo! and there he was. Guess I had overlooked him in favour of Lateef, Terry and Duvivier. Haven't put it on in a loong time so think I'll have a listen. Cheers ish!!

ish said...

How could it be that I do not know this Zungo album...reading about it now on Discogs.... wow.

cheeba said...

Well then, looks like deciding what to rip next after the coming Mainstream mayhem will be easy!

One of the blogs I frequent, The Basement Rug, had a post of rare Olatunji LPs a while back here and returning to it now I noticed he didn't have that one up either.

Did a quick search and couldn't find it on the blogosphere either so I'll do it up soon!

cheeba said...

Fat Toro has left the building and that makes me sad. To soften the blow, Pathways To Unkown Worlds has re-upped Afro Jazz here:

cheeba said...


Fat Toro returned to the game so the album is available at his blog once again.

Arkadin has just posted another Guy Warren album African Rhythms

troods said...

Linked here through Arkadin, glad to find more of this brilliant, musician. I can't sit still, I tell you. Thanks to you and Arkadin for your continued generosity. I feel so fortunate to have found you.

cheeba said...

Thanks troods! Always a treat to hear from you. Glad you enjoy this one and very happy to hear you've been dancing around again!

Anonymous said...


Lemez said...

Thank you. Wonderful. Am just back from a trip to Ghana looking at brass music there - incredible connection with drummers, the punch of the horns is such a defining part of the African sound, horns playing drum patterns and drum lines. We're doing a doc for BBC Radio 2 to be aired this November: check for more details.