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Nana Tuffour: Ash-Town and Asanteman loses cultural icon

 Nana Tuffour: Ash-Town and Asanteman loses cultural icon

Nana Tufffour, Asanteman’s Cultural Icon

News of Nana Tuffour’s death came to me this morning via some posts on Facebook. The posts had about them the hesitancy and lack of specificity with which our people disseminate national tragedies.  My immediate reaction was to call the person from whose post I picked the premonition of some unpleasant breaking news. The confirmation was that the Musician we affectionately called ‘9924’ was gone.

Nana Tuffour’s death comes roughly four months after that of another Ash-Town ‘Bozen’, Mr. Opoku-Afriyie, the former Kotoko and Black Stars Striker. The two gentlemen were age-mates and friends who went about their careers with a sense of purpose defined by the black, yellow, and green color of their blood. In a way, therefore, Nana Tuffour’s death refreshes in all true Ash-Towners and Kumasi people the pain of Bayie’s passing and orders us back accordingly onto the funeral mats. I write this eulogy from the eyes of a person who grew up in the same neighbourhood as Nana Tuffour, and who also shared his cultural passions.

Nana Tuffour as a cultural patriot and muscian

Nana Tuffour was a cultural patriot first and a musician second. His birth, I would argue, conditioned his artistic perspectives. Those who know it would tell you: when Asanteman wants to ordain you as a lifetime ambassador of its history, culture, and traditions, it baptizes you in your infancy into the synthesis of its ancient and modern sights, sounds and stories. The finest forms of these converge at AHENEBOBOANO, literally, the ‘King’s Doorstep’, the landmass within a mile’s radius of Manhyia Palace.

Until security imperatives resulted in measures that now deny the public a casual glare of goings-on at the palace, growing up in Aheneboboano implied being immersed in the enthralling idiosyncrasies of the music, flavours and rituals that give the palace’s forecourts its distinctive character. We used to walk into the palace as children to partake in the meals served by the SOODO group at the house right before the old Manhyia prisons. Fridays were an opportunity to eat free MASSA (fried bean cakes) from the Moslems who pray for the King’s soul every Jumaha!


Nana Tuffour performing the icon Sikyi medley

Close interaction between subjects and King

One other thing. Otumfour Osei Agyeman Prempeh II’s and Otumfour Opoku Ware II’s years at the palace were typified by a close interaction between King and subjects. A major aspect of that was the laissez-faire policy that governed access to the palace precincts. Nana Tuffour grew up in a house opposite Cricket Park (Kotoko’s former training grounds), about two hundred metres away from the palace. There was no way his youth was going to escape a close moulding in Manhyia’s rich performative traditions, one could argue.

As also with most things about Kumasi, dance band music in the city had its early nurturing at Ash-Town. One of the first musical acts from the neighbourhood was Papa Kwasi Offeh’s Manhyia Palace Band. By the time we attained the age of discernibility, the band was defunct. In the vibrant days of Kumasi Dance Band music, however, Papa Kwasi Offeh’s band was said to be a crowd-puller. The band’s influence on a young Naan Tuffour is uncertain, but it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to suggest anything to that effect given that the band used to practise and perform at the Samanhene’s house, a few houses away from Nana Tuffour’s family house. Further inspiration for a musical career would have come from a first-hand knowledge of the stories around the careers of Senior Ash-Town Musicians: Afro Boateng, Oko (of Oko’s band) and Osibisa Greats, Teddy Osei and Mac Tonto. Ash-Town also was and is still the base of the famous Manhyia Tete Nwom-Kro, Nana Afia Basa’s all-female folk music group.

Nana Tuffour’s gravitation towards music

Nana Tuffour’s gravitation towards a career in music before and after his secondary school education thus wasn’t fortuitous. His other two brothers, Abebrese (deceased) and Kwame Tuffour (just found out that he is also in the morgue) also veered into music at a very early age. While still a student at Asanteman Secondary School, Nana Tuffour picked up enough keyboard skills to qualify as a member of the school band. School bands of those days played mainly soul and funk imitations. That was one of the routes for the entrance of the soul into Ghanaian pop music. Lee Duodu was One of the many notable gifts from Ghana’s secondary school pop music culture. He is said to have started off singing and ‘boogeying’ to James Brown’s and Wilson Pickett’s Psychedelics as a member of the band of Acherensua secondary school en route to an early career as the lead singer in the soul preludes to Yamoah’s musical concerts.

Nana Tuffour’s similarly soul-and-funk defined secondary school ‘bandsmanship’ found a mature settlement in Highlife music, first as a keyboardist with Alex Konadu’s band. His co-bandsman and good friend under the leadership of the One-Man Thousand was the then drummer Mr Charles Amoah (Asaawa Do fame). The two of them were subjected to the customs of music band membership of those times. One of it involved the preconditioning of guaranteed stage appearances on one’s ability to contribute at least two songs a year to the recordings under the name of the Main Man (the leader of the band; Alex Konadu Nana Tuffour’s case). Daasebre-A-Osum-Asono-Guo and Charles Amoah satisfied that requirement with jointly written contributions notable among which was Konadu’s ASASE ASA! 

Music and Politics

By the time Nana Tuffour left Konadu’s band thus he was a confident keyboardist and a sound songwriter. The dream of recording songs that would publicly bear his authorship, I am sure, might have been a major factor to the decision to pursue a stint with WAZA AFRIKO. That band was literally carved en bloc out of Damfo Domino’s CINZANO DOMINOS. The owner was one Nana Kwadwo Adusei, a USA-returnee whose daring character manifested in a bold decision to contest John Agyekum Kufuor of all people for the privilege to represent Atwima-Nwabiagya in the Third Republic.

 Anybody with a knowledge of Kufour’s pedigree in Atwima and his credentials as the youngest minister in Busia’s Progress Party would certainly consider the direction of Nana Kwadwo Adusei’s political ambitions ill-advised. But Nana Kwadwo Adusei was a Returnee, and brazen things were what Kumasi-born Returnees of the day used to do. Many as an example went into the business of restaurants early Kumasi at a time folks used to celebrate sumptuous EFIE FUFUO Ne ABENKWAN as one of life’s glories. Those with neon lights in the eyes embraced music band ownership. A certain Mr Agyapong, a German Burger from New-Tafo (Krofrom), was one of them. He, like Damfo Domino and Nana Adusei, cobbled together a band with brand new instruments from Aburokyire to achieve Only-God-knows-what. Folks say that the only song that band (eponymously named The AGYAOS) managed to perform well in its short life was STEEL PULSE’s CHANT A PSALM. It came as no surprise therefore when the owner folded the band up and dispersed the musicians in the same sudden fashion, he put them together.

Nana Kwadwo Adusei’s WAZA AFRIKO on the other hand managed to survive the disastrous end of his political ambitions… but only for a short while.   I was a regular at their rehearsals at Mr B.F. Kusi’s house (BLACK SUNDAY) and so got to hear some of the songs Nana Tuffour later was to record under his name as a solo artiste. But either because of the distractions from the owner’s political ambitions or because he (the owner) merely intended WAZA AFRIKO as a popularity-building scheme, the band never managed to record a single song. Soon therefore, Nana Tuffour, DJ Lawyer and Sammy Queen, the leading names in the band, left the group.

The departure of these big names from Waza Afriko left Nana Kwadwo Adusei with no choice than to disband the group to preserve what was left of his peace of mind. Among Waza Afriko’s big names, Dj Lawyer and Nana Tuffour were the only ones who were able to make it as solo artistes. DJ Lawyer’s career soon fizzled out with some productions of average quality. That left Nana Tuffour as the only survivor from the star-studded Waza Afriko Band. Daasebre-A-Osum-Asono-Guo showed enough grace towards his former bandmates by keeping the willing ones (like the late Yaw ‘Baby Face’ Marfo) in his maiden band.

Nana Tuffour’s Solo Career

The solo career took off in earnest between the late seventies and early eighties.  Ghana only had a few radio stations and an equally small number of musical bands and artistes in those times. That guaranteed new releases and new artists’ sufficient airplay and commercial exposure, respectively. Nana Tuffour benefitted from that. His then major hit at the time, Owuo Abo Me Fie, could be heard on every public radio at the time. Songs from that album (JULIE was one of them) were the ones cassette and records sellers at Kejetia and Adum at the time used to start and bring to a close commercial activity in Kumasi’s business district. Suddenly Nana Tuffour was a star. He was no longer the quiet keyboardist on whose skills sustained the stardom of others.

Nana Tuffour vocal skills were unique. Somebody once remarked that his (voice) had the beauty of Rod Stewart’s minus the latter’s wheezy timbre. A close listening of Nana Tuffour’s music may confirm this. His physical frame and vivacious personality seemed to have found a blend in his voice. I watched two of his live performances, one at the then UST’s Great Hall (1989) and the other at Broadwater Farm, London. To say that he bossed the state and microphone on those two occasions would be an understatement. At the concert at the Great Hall, he killed Kojo Antwi’s DADEƐ ANOMA, the then reigning hit in the country. It got the students asking for more!

In an earlier comment on Facebook on Nana Tuffour’s passing, I described him as the Last of The Greats from Kumasi’s Rich Highlife Traditions. By that, I was referring to his single-minded commitment to the music styles Kumasi people have come to associate with the likes of Dr K Gyasi, Alex Konadu, Osei Vasco, King Onyinah, Akwaboah, Yamoah’s and Oko’s band. The constituents of this canon do not lend themselves to an exact taxonomy.

Generally, however, one would notice about compositions from Kumasi an unmistakable groovy feel and lyrics that dispense valuable life lessons. The latter quality is a non-negotiable demand of Kumasi music fans. It was cultivated in the people by the aforementioned Greats. Musicians who do not want to be subjected to a gratuitous insult fest take the trouble to infuse ‘sense’ into their songs. And so in spite of Nana’s experimental streak, (listen to that in songs like JULIE, ODO ANI NISUO, FEELING SO LOW, ODO YE YEWU), he stayed true to the lyrical demands of his main audience. In theme and message, Nana Tuffour was inveterately a KUMASIONO. That marked him out as a conscious artiste.

Flair for proverbs and metaphors: Leadership of Alex Konadu

Nana Tuffour’s flair for proverbs and metaphors would have something to do with his upbringing at Manhyia. No doubt about that. But the major influence here, I would argue, would be the years spent under the leadership of Alex Konadu. One Man Thousand stand in my books as one of the three most gifted Akan lyricists ever! The others are Yamoah’s and Nana Adomako Nyamekye. Konadu’s pithy statements, proverbs, and aphorisms populate Nana Tuffour’s compositions. Far from making Daasebere a copycat, that fact about his music reveals a conscious resolve on his part to modernize and maintain the distinctive features of Kumasi’s musical traditions and Asante culture as a whole. Consider Nana Tuffour’s dedication of half of his albums to Sikyi rhythms.

His mastery of that genre has led many to conclude that he played in Dr. K Gyasi’s band. I know for a fact that his love for Sikyi music was not commercially motivated. While still a youngster, Nana Tuffour used to frequent Osofo’s ODOKA Joint right behind Maame Konadu’s house (M.E. 44) just to join in the Sikyi medleys a certain guy from the then AnokyeKrom used to treat us to. How much that influenced his music is hard to tell. What I can say is that some of the songs appeared on his albums. It endeared him to music fans from Kumasi and beyond. With Nana’s passing and the dearth of credible music talent in the Ashanti Region, once can only speculate on the future of that unique music genre.

Loyalty and Commitment

Nana Tuffour named his band after the most sacred and most powerful stool in Asante. It was a testimony to his loyalty and commitment to that culture that made him what he was. When everyone was leaving for Accra and Abroad, Nana Tuffour stayed put and graced funerals, weddings, and parties with his infectious sounds. That for quite a while was Kumasi’s only opportunity of authentic live highlife music. Wherever Nana Tuffour performed, people felt the power and magic in Kumasi and Asante’s rich culture. Naming an award in music after him would be a telling monument to all that he stood for, and an expression of gratitude to the fallen giant.

As intimated earlier, his family is mourning a double tragedy. Let all music lovers and sons and daughters reach out to them in emotional solidarity and also keep them in your prayers. Nana Tuffour made us laugh, dance, and sing. His songs would certainly have minimized somebody’s depression and anguish. He served humanity with his talent. May he rest in perfect peace.

By: Kwame Kante (senior K K B)

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