Just Wanna Know

Revolutionary Propaganda Organ

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Bolgatanga and the Uppers

Here's French actress Aissa Maiga mouthing the lyrics to the song "Naam" by Christy Azuma and Uppers International, a clip from the award-winning 2006 film Bamako, directed by Abderrahman Sissako. The song is traditionally based and has something to do with an appeal to the chief--I will have to get some more competent Farefare speaker to work it out for me.

When I was four and five we lived in Bolgatanga in a Presbyterian Mission house with high eaves in a shady neighborhood. Across an open valley behind our house was the Catering Rest House, a hotel complex built by Nkrumah in the 1960s. Before June 4, 1979, the Uppers would play there on the weekends, and the sound would waft across through our rooms at night as we slept. After the coup, the Uppers were replaced by the Police Band, who had a tendency to get more out of tune on their trumpets and trombones as the night wore on and the free drinks took their toll.

One of the guitarists for the Uppers was a friend of my parents before he hit the big-time. There's a great picture of me and my siblings with him as a teenager in the late 1970s with his creation of a guitar out of cardboard and papier-mache. I saw him again in the late 1990s on a visit, then retired from music and just living at home, farming. I wonder whether any of those people got any royalties from the excellent disk Ghana Soundz: Afro-Beat, Funk, and Fusion in 1970s Ghana Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. Christy Azuma's track is on Vol. 2.