Ghanaian highlife master and “The Golden Voice Of Africa”, Pat Thomas, returns with his first full career retrospective on Strut this Autumn, covering his late ‘60s big band highlife recordings through to the “burger highlife” movement of the early ‘80s.
Growing up with music around him (“my uncle, King Onyina, was an important highlife musician”), Thomas was inspired to become a singer after hearing vocalist Joss Aikins: “He sang with Broadway Dance Band and Decca in Ghana chose him to sing with any group that came into their studios.” When a new incarnation of Broadway Dance Band was created in ‘67, led by Ebo Taylor, Thomas received his first big break. “Ebo started to write new songs. I added the lyrics and sang them and it worked well.” The partnership with Taylor would become one of the enduring forces in Ghanaian music during the ‘70s, creating a fresh, progressive new highlife sound. They played with the Blue Monks band before, in 1974, forming Sweet Beans with the backing of Ghana’s Cocoa Marketing Board: “The album, ‘False Lover’, was the first under my own name and my first for Gapophone,” Pat reflects. “Reggae was “on” at that time - Jimmy Cliff was the guy - so I tried reggae fusions and brought in some soul.”
The album established Thomas across Ghana. Sweet Beans disbanded but the musicians stayed together as Marijata. “The guys initially used Jewel Ackah as their vocalist but they involved me and I re-vocalled the album. This became the ‘Pat Thomas Introduces Marijata’ LP. At that time, I would go to George Prah at Gapophone to ask for money and he would say, ‘if you want me to pay you, go and write a song!’ So, tracks like ‘Coming Home’ came about that way, written on the spot.” A second Marijata album followed before a damaging coup in Ghana in 1979. “Jerry Rawlings’ “house-cleaning” was designed to stop corruption but it seriously damaged our country’s music culture.” Thomas left for Berlin and stayed true to his highlife roots, becoming the first Ghanaian to record highlife there. “In Ghana, people ex-pats living in Germany called themselves ‘burgers’, so the scene became ‘burger highlife’.” Thomas travelled to Togo and London, before settling in Canada: “I ended up there for ten years playing for universities, Ghanaian societies and festivals.” Pat is now back with Kwashibu Area Band and touring worldwide: