Album re-issues have always been effective means of understanding what specific artistes had done in the past and The Simigwahene album of early 1970s Gyedu Blay Ambolley live recordings just put out by the Essiebons Music Entertainment Limited does just that.
Ambolley is backed on the 13 recordings by three bands: Steneboofs, Creations and Zantoda Mac III.
The man from Asamansudu in the Western Region is now well known for his vibrant but funny style of delivery, crisp horn arrangements and leanings toward certain socially-relevant issues.
This album introduces his fans and music lovers generally to the beginnings of those traits.
A heavy James Brown influence is evident on several of the tracks with Ambolley regularly throwing in Brown gimmicks like ‘hit it,’ ‘hear me now’ and ‘waooo!’ The ‘eeba’ that runs through his songs these days were not with him then.
Some of the songs in this collection such as The Simigwa, Akoko Ba and Toofi have been given new twists on some of Ambolley’s later albums.
Pieces like This Is My Point of View, The Best Things In Life Are Free and Sika Pe, however, seem to have been shelved by the artiste.
On Sika Pe which was recorded live at Asamansudu, Ambolley is introduced by an emcee as the “Black Jesus”. That’s a tag many people do not know Ambolley carried in the early 1970s.
The music on the album is also, in a way, a tribute to the instrumentalists involved. They included bassist, Ralph Karikari, trumpeter, Tommy King and keyboardist, Nana Yaw Boakye. They play with confidence and precision.
Another delightful aspect of the album is the well-written notes by Dr Amos Anyimadu and an unidentified American lady said to be a lover of Ambolley’s music.
They display clear understanding of Ambolley’s mission as a musician and their notes make delightful reading.
The Essiebons label has been around since about 1968 and still functions from its shop near the Accra main Post Office. The label is still managed by the 83-year-old Dick Essilfie-Bondzie.
At the end of the Toofi song, Ambolley simply says: ‘Thank you.” That’s exactly what serious followers of Ghanaian popular music over the last 40 years or so must say to Dick Essilfie- Bondzie and his staff at Essiebons for bringing us this vital collection of early Ambolley material.