There are those moments that you would like to “sumptuously” celebrate the passing of great artists of genius and the illustrious, in general, but you are often at a loss to do so, either because a surfeit of tributes by those more intimately familiar with the subject have already been written and published, or it just could be that you are simply so overwhelmed as to be literally rendered nonplussed.
In the case of Nana Kwaku Addai, better known as Agyaaku, there is absolutely no such lack. For the very personality of the man – as epitomized by such highlife perennials and classics as “Serwaa Akoto,” “Saman Me” and “To Wo Boto Mu,” and also, of course, the churchy and staid numbers that Owura Agyaaku did with my homeboy, the resonant and electrifying Mr. Smart Nkansah – was just too formidable to be allowed to recede into the dimly lit lanes of memory without remark.
I didn’t personally know the man, though I had the much cherished privilege of performing with Agyaaku on the same stage at Anokyekrom of the Ghana National Cultural Center in the early 1980s, when the Sumsum Band, led by Smart Nkansah, ranked among the topmost acts on the Ghanaian highlife circuit. On this particular occasion, Mr. Godwin Avenorgbor, of GBC-2 fame, was hosting a weekend special of his popular show called “Variety Ahoy!” I would perform my poetry one more time on “Variety Ahoy!” several months later.
Anyway, what makes the occasion being recalled here quite meaningful, as well as memorable, is the fact that for the first time in my poetic career, I would also be backed by the drummer of the Sumsum Band whose name I cannot readily recall now. Neither do I suppose that I could be blamed too much for such forgetfulness, being that I was, naturally to be expected, a bit nervous and busy rehearsing my lines in the wings of Anokyekrom’s Apatakesease. Needless to say, in those days, one did not often get the chance of a radio exposure and/or publicity.
Well, when I finished performing my poem titled “Africa!” Smart Nkansah, waiting back stage, after a brief intermission for my act, heartily commended me for the effort. And so did Agyaaku, who gently nodded his approbation. I, in turn, expressed my gratitude to the drummer. The idea of a drum-suite accompaniment, as it were, must have been the brainchild of Mr. Avenorgbor, Mr. Robert Owusu, then-director of GBC-2, or even Mr. Yeboah Nyamekye, the artistic director of Anokyekrom. I forget who. I would years later encounter Mr. Owusu, once more, at the now-defunct Accra radio station called Groove-Fm, where he would exquisitely and deliberately tutor the likes of Ms. Matilda Asante, then a recent graduate of the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ), in the solemn art of news reading, largely the time-honored phonetic art of enunciation.
Anyway, I grew to relish Agyaaku’s number titled “Serwaa Akoto,” allegedly written in celebration of the fabled beauty of a daughter of the Chief Linguist (or Spokesman) of the Asantehene, Nana Baafuor Akoto. I grew to relish it if also because I got to know the wife of Dr. Agyei (Adzei), one of the leading lights of the University of Ghana’s agricultural science department in the late 1960s. I mostly remember Dr. Agyei for his red Chevrolet, which seemed to be rather too large for the narrow roads of Ghana at the time. The couple also had a daughter by the name of Sylvia, who had been born in Canada, where Dr. Agyei had, reportedly, earned his doctorate in agronomy. I often then imagined that I would one day grow up and distinguish myself like Sylvia’s father and even marry her! In the late 1990s, just before she passed on, I asked my mother about “Auntie Serwaa Akoto” and was told that Sylvia’s godmother had invited her for a stay over in Canada.
I guess what I am driving at here is that there are song that wheeze past the leaves – or foliage – of one’s ears and promptly cease to exist the moment playtime ends. And then there are those songs that reverberate through one’s mind’s-ears and keep playing and evoking memorable and delightful experiences without cease. And the best pieces of Agyaaku’s belong to the latter category. Still, what is even more interesting is that one can almost endlessly talk about the music of Agyaaku without so much as event a hint about the man who introduced the great singer into the throbbing world of highlife. And on the latter score, of course, the unmistakable allusion is to Mr. Yamoah, whom I also had the privilege to see perform under the Big Shed (or Apatakesease) at the Anokyekrom of the Ghana National Cultural Center. The man who also introduced Nana Kwame Ampadu I to the at once jolly and pensive world of highlife music was then officially in retirement but had delightfully decided to rekindle memories of the good, old days with some highlife bug-bitten youths of the Kumasi municipality.
What made Agyaaku remarkably stand apart from other recognizable contemporary lead-singers of highlife music, unmistakably had to do with both his vocal and physical femininity. It was quite tempting to look at the man and instantly imagine, accurately or inaccurately, that one was also looking at the singer’s mother. In fact, so pretty and delicate did the man appear that it was almost unlikely to fathom him in any conjugally heterosexual relationship in which Agyaaku was actually said to be the father of any offspring.
On the particular occasion being herein recalled, too, Agyaaku was paired up at the microphone with the resplendent Eugenia Asabea Cropper, a kind of inimitably deft combination. And on this Saturday afternoon at Anokyekrom, Agyaaku and Smart Nkansah did a resonant and pulsating number called “M’asem Yi” (“This Predicament of Mine”), a semi-Christocentric number that brought out the full-throated pastel-richness of Agyaaku’s silken voice. And so when on September 10, 2010, the striking caption of “Stop Press: Agyaaku Dies at 60” appeared on the website of Ghana’s Daily Graphic, I could only mournfully sigh, simply lament the glorious but, perhaps, untimely passing of an artist of genius. Godspeed, Agyaaku, be still and peaceful!
Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is a Governing Board Member of the Accra-based Danquah Institute (DI) and the author of 21 books, including “Ama Sefa: Unrequited Love” (iUniverse, 2004).