Guy Warren

Guy Warren Guy Warren

Recording

Afro-Jazz [LP, 1969]

Emergent Drums [LP, 1963]

The African Soundz of Guy Warren of Ghana [LP, 1960]

The Guy Warren Sounds: Themes for African Drums [LP, 1958]

Third Phase [LP]

 

Guy Warren of Ghana (or Kofi Ghanaba) (4 May 1923 – 22 December 2008) was a Ghanaian musician, best known as the inventor of Afro-jazz and as a member of The Tempos. His virtuosity on the African drums earned him the appellation "The Divine Drummer".

He was born Warren Gamaliel Kpakpo Akwei in Accra in the then Gold Coast on 4 May 1923 to Richard Mabuo Akwei, founder of the Ghana National School, and Susana Awula Abla Moore. Named by his parents after the 29th president of the United States, Warren G. Harding, he later changed his name to "Guy Warren of Ghana," and ultimately took the name "Ghanaba" on 1 July 1974, Ghana's Republic Day.

He was educated at the Government Boys’ School, Accra, from 1928 to 1939. During this time, he developed his interest in music by playing for the school band. After passing with distinction from the Government Boys’ School, he enrolled as a student/founder at Ordorgonno Secondary School in 1940. That same year, he joined the Accra Rhythmic Orchestra under Yeboah Mensah as a drummer. He won a government teacher training scholarship to Achimota College, Accra, in 1941 with the intention of becoming a teacher at his father’s school. While at Achimota, he participated in sports competitions. He dropped out of the college in 1942 because, as he later said, "I was bored stiff with my studies and the stern discipline of the college, which attempted to change me into an Englishman."

In 1943 Warren Akwei enlisted in the Office of Strategic Services, a branch of the United States Army that dealt with overt and covert operations in World War II. He returned to Accra in the same year and joined the Spectator Daily as a reporter under the editor Robert Wuta-Ofei. In addition Akwei held various journalistic positions, including editor of the Daily Echo, Gold Coast Independent and Star of West Africa, between 1950 and 1952. In 1944 he began broadcasting jazz programmes while working at the Gold Coast Broadcasting Service under the name Guy Warren, which he continued using for the next three decades. In 1951, he did a series of jazz programmes for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), becoming the first African to host programmes with the service. He worked at Station E.L.B.C., the National Broadcasting Service of Liberia, as assistant director and resident disc jockey (DJ) between 1953 and 1955.

He teamed up with E. T. Mensah and others to form The Tempos, considered the greatest jazz band in Africa. Guy Warren left for Chicago in 1955 and joined the Gene Esposito Band as co-leader, percussionist and arranger. With them he recorded his first album, Africa Speaks, America Answers (Decca, 1956), which has sold over one million copies since its release. This album confirmed his reputation as the musician who established the African presence in jazz. African music was popular, but it had not been integrated with world music until Warren fused them together. Later musicians, such as Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Osibisa, succeeded in popularising Ghanaba's innovative fusion of music. During his stay in America, he met and worked with Duke Ellington, Max Roach, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong and many other leading jazz musicians.

By 1974 he had returned to Ghana, where on 1 July 1974, Republic Day, he changed his name to Ghanaba. In the 1990s, he played a role in the film Sankofa (1993), written and directed by Haile Gerima, who was working in the United States. It was filmed also in Ghana and Burkina Faso.

Ghanaba continued to make music until his death on 22 December 2008. He was buried in a coffin designed as a drum by Eric Adjetey Anang of Kane Kwei Carpentry Workshop.

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