11 December 2012

Ghana: 24 Hours in a Disco (1978-82)

Kiki Gyan — A new compilation rediscovers the career of one of Ghana's forgotten musical sons.

Kofi 'Kiki' Gyan's meteoric rise - and subsequent crashing fall from grace - can be considered the archetypal story any aspiring young musician should learn from.

Once ranked eighth in a poll of the world's greatest keyboardists (in an illustrious top ten including such music royalty as Stevie Wonder), 24 Hours in a Disco showcases Gyan at the very top of his game.

Gyan's rags-to-riches tale is one few from his background have ever been afforded. Dropping out of school at a young age, Gyan travelled to his nation's capital Accra to ply his trade as a musician. Playing with several bands (most notably Ghanaian-based Pagadija), his first big chance to shine came with the intercontinental supergroup Osibisa.

However, despite the opportunity to tour the world, Gyan felt unappreciated as the youngest band member and left to pursue highly successful solo projects and lucrative session work. And all this before his 21st birthday. Tragically, a lifestyle of excess and addiction followed. The rest, as they say, is history.

Slave to the rhythm

With 24 Hours in a Disco, Soundway Records presents seven slices of funky grooves that showcase Gyan's stunning talent. Soft harmonic vocals dominate throughout, complimenting the driven bass-lines. The title track of the album, and the single he found most success with, highlights the fact that not one part of each of these compositions is out of place.

'24 Hours in a Disco' is a typical upbeat disco number that has all you could ask from the genre. Even lyrically, as one might expect, Gyan's simplistic but repetitive phrases lend themselves to the immaculate rhythm found in each offering.

Though he was renowned as a keyboardist, Gyan's skill on the bass is unmistakeable, forming a key component of his funk songs. His talents are well-supported by the skill of the bands that accompany him here - The K G Band and The Twins.

Despite the collection's modern Western appeal, the unmistakable West African influence is there to be heard. The echoing percussion of 'Keep on Dancing' hints at the artist's roots, while stark hand claps enhance the rhythm in 'Pretty Pretty Girls'. Despite disco music facing derision in some circles, 24 Hours in a Disco (1978-82) offers a skilfully composed set of songs. As an additional treat, the album also includes extensive liner notes from Nigerian producer Uchenna Ikonne.

Kiki Gyan's fade into obscurity was as swift as his rise to fame and stardom. But despite his life's cautionary tale, 24 Hours in a Disco highlights Gyan's great talent and inevitably leaves us wondering what could have been.

24 Hours in a Disco (1978-82) is out now from Soundway Records.

Robert Jamieson is an English Literature graduate from the University of Sussex. He has travelled extensively through South Africa and Tanzania, where he taught English as part of a volunteer project.

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