It is amazing how a musician whose big break was as far back as the early 70s, does not only continue to remain relevant, but is also a usual collaborator with the hippest of contemporary acts. Gyedu Blay Ambolley undoubtedly has a sound and swagger that transcends time. His style of music is so authentic that it embodies elements that appeals the old and young alike.
Music aside – Ambolley is the quintessence of the cliché about fine wine getting better with time. I can swear the legend has vampire blood running down his veins. Pictures I stumbled upon whilst looking him up prove he is indeed growing younger.
Perhaps his appeal to the younger generation should not be a surprise after all. Ambolley is not only a multi- instrumentalist, singer, song-writer, composer and producer, but also a living ancestor of rap music. Yes, rap music.
The Guinness book of world records credits the Sugar Hill Gang as being the pioneers of the rap genre with their 1973 release Rapper’s Delight. This fact is however questionable. Ambolley’s historic debut release Simigwado which was released a good six years prior, incorporated elements of modern rap music into local highlife rythms, creating a sub-genre of highlife music dubbed Simigwado.
The Sekondi-born musician’s musical interest dates back to the age of eight, when he began playing with his father’s flute until he was able to teach himself how to play. His formal musical training came at the age of fourteen under the apprenticeship of a certain “Uncle Bonku” who taught him the guitar. The young music enthusiast continued to learn the rudiments of music from highlife titans Sammy Lartey and Ebo Taylor.
The ambitious musician relocated to USA in 1988. Ambolley’s performance career is extensive. He has toured throughout Africa, Europe, Canada, and the United States. He has performed on the same stage with some of the world’s most celebrated artists, such as Miriam Makeba, the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the late George Howard, Angela Bofill, Norman Connors, Manu DeBango, Lakeside, Chikuzan Takahashi of Japan, Ricardo Estrada of Cuba, Mayuto Correa of Brazil and toured Ghana with Oscar Brashear and Michael Session.
His impact on the international jazz scene has been immense. His stylistic sound, a unique blend of highlife and jazz made him a crowd favourite. In June 2015 he received a citation in the USA from the City Council of Philadelphia, in recognition of his contributions to Ghanaian music in the USA. This is just one of the host of national and international honours and awards bestowed on him.
Returning to Ghana in 1997, Ambolley broke a 17 year musical hiatus with an album in 2007.
He can now brag of a catalogue of over 25 albums, the most recent Sekunde, which is a tribute to his birthplace, Sekondi and was released in 2012.
Legends never die, ‘the simigwado man’ is a living example.
Compiled by Philip Edusei