Tuesday, 14 December 2010
GUY WARREN - THE AFRICAN SOUNDZ OF GUY WARREN OF GHANA
In this age of instant Internet information access there is something elusive about him.
His earlier, 'exotica' records are quite easy to come by. I think that is in part because they are seen as exotica rather than jazz. His later records where he teams up with Amancio D'Silva amongst others are much harder to turn up.
Warren, or Ghanaba, as he was later known, remarkably played with ET Mensah in the Accra, then with Kenny Graham's Afro-Cubists in London (although I do not think he was recorded) and then with Charlie Parker in New York (again unfortunately not recorded due to the untimely death of Bird). He appears on landmark recordings by Ian Carr and Don Rendell and one of his songs appears on Bert Kaempfert's Swingin' Safari. What a resume!
I think this quote from Max Roach in 1974 shows how important he was: "I met Ghanaba in Chicago in 1956.... Ghanaba 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-fertilize with its African origins.... We ignored him. Seventeen years later, Black Music in America had turned to Africa for inspiration and rejuvenation, and the African sound of Ghanaba is now being imitated all over the United States, where ever Afro-American music is played."
I also like this description of him by Ian Carr: "A few months later we had met the African percussionist Guy Warren when we worked with him on one of his own LPs, and the experience had been very stimulating. He played everything from talking drums to maracas, cowbells, Indian bells, gourd, bamboo flute, harmonica and tambourine - but more than his music, his attitude to music, his dress, his uninhibited manner seemed to epitomise a completely and refreshingly opposite approach to jazz. The Rendell-Carr Quintet wore dark suits and primly knotted ties and could have merged into almost any respectable background; our clothes seemed to symbolise the conservatism and safety of our music. But Guy never wore Western clothes. His shaven head would be covered by a black fez or else a kind of straw pith-helmet; over a white African gown he sometime wore a black cape, sometimes a leopard skin. And he always wore dark glasses."
In many ways I think that his music was, as Roach says, so far ahead of his time that he was really waiting for the advent of free-jazz so that his forceful, rhythmic, evolving and fascinating percussion work could be properly accompanied.
He gets close to achieving it on this album. One might not think that a guitar would be the perfect foil to his waves of beat but in fact D'Silva is his perfect partner - perhaps making a connection back to his Ghanaian highlife days. The partnership is still perfect when D'Silva switches to electric bass on African Dance No. 4 producing a very eerie, deep sliding noise that matches the jiggering staccato drums.
Dick Heckstall-Smith provided sax and flute support. He is understated and complimentary and at no point tries to upstage the show although he gets a chance to let rip on African Dance No 2 and plays some wonderfully honking squealing sax.
For those not used to percussion led music this record may, at times, seem repetitive and lacking in melody or very much in the way of song structure. But I urge you to listen again. Perhaps, given the rise of dance music, prominent drums will not seem as strange today as they did when this record was first released. Don't listen as you would listen to an orchestra. Rather listen as though you are feeling the music. Listen as though the music is for a party and is asking you to take part.I think that this is music to envelope the listener, music to try and take over the listener. Its not entirely jazz, its not entirely highlife or traditional African music. Its a wonderful amalgam of all of these. African Soundz indeed.
He also wrote an autobiography called I Have A Story to Tell and, even though I have looked for it in the British Library I can find no evidence of it anywhere!