Various artists – ‘Essiebons Special 1973-1984’ review: a beautiful tribute to one of Ghana’s greats

A new compilation celebrating the late, great Dick Essilfie-Bondzie's Essiebons record label is bursting with energy and vitality

‘Essiebons Special’ features the work of many phenomenal musicians – the shimmering highlife of Black Masters Band, Joe Meah’s driving afrobeat and CK Mann’s whipsmart funk to name but three – but it’s really all about one man. The compilation, put together by reissue specialists Analog Africa, celebrates the late Dick Essilfie-Bondzie, the Ghanaian producer and founder of the Essiebons label, which was home to some of the country’s most mind-blowing music during a particularly purple patch across the 1970s and ’80s.

In keeping with Essilfie-Bondzie’s influence, the cast on ‘Essiebons Special’ were all heavy-hitters in their time. It shows. While much of the record focuses on their more obscure output, every song still fizzes and cracks with masterful energy – even just a little yelp of passion let slip by Joe Meah over the groove of ‘Ahwene Pa Nkasa’ seems to burn with intensity.

When the record’s in full flow, it’s totally irresistible. The record’s centrepiece is a 10-minute medley from Nyame Bekyere, a pounding, searing, soaring cut guaranteed to ignite any dancefloor. The album’s not without tenderness, either. Keyboard player Ernest Honny’s four contributions, in particular (especially the record’s gently psychedelic opener ‘Kofi Psych’) envelopes with its warmth. Seaboy’s ‘Africa’, meanwhile, provides nothing but all-out joy, saxophones, trombones and flutes soloing to their hearts content over a gloriously upbeat mid-tempo rhythm.

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Over lockdown, which had forced Essilfie-Bondzie to postpone plans for a lavish 90th birthday celebration, the producer set about digitising his vast bank of recording instead. During the process he also came across a number of instrumental grooves that he had never actually released at the time they were recorded. What’s most telling, however, is that it would be impossible to identity which were offcuts. Such is the uniformity of quality on ‘Essiebons Special’.

You get the sense that they were never released not due to any deficiency, but purely due to the overwhelming barrage of quality coming out of Accra during Essiebons’ heyday. One label can only put out so much – even a label as special as this.

Though it barely scratches the surface, then, ‘Essiebons Special’ succeeds in its aim to celebrate Essilfie-Bondzie’s legacy. Sadly, Essilfie-Bondzie died before the album could be released, but its ceaseless quality and irresistible creative energy makes for the most beautiful of tributes.

Details

Release date: December 3

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Record label: Analog Africa

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