After playing a short spell early in his career with Ebo Taylor’s Blue Monksband at Tip Toe’s in Accra, Asante joined the fledgling Hedzoleh Soundz during the early ‘70s at their Napoleon Club residency in the city. After playing Fela’s Shrine, Fela recommended them to Hugh Masekela as an ideal backing band and Hedzoleh joined Masekela on a US tour in December 1973. Sharing the same management company, Charisma, Asante first met Plunky and Oneness Of Juju during an East coast tour with Masekela, starting a relationship with the band that has endured until today.
Recorded at Arrest Studios in Washington D.C. in October 1977 and featuring musicians from Oneness alongside Gil Scott Heron cohort Brian Jackson on piano, Drum Message represents an important milestone for Asante: “This album really came from my heart. I wanted to project the African spirit in the music and come out with some unique African jazz. To be able to record it on Black Fire was extra special.” The album also involved some serious physical graft: “The studio was up on the 14th Floor and the elevator was often broken down. I showed up with a van full of African drums and Jimmy Gray from Black Fire and myself had to carry them all the way up there, each day!”
The resultant album was well worth the sweat. ‘Adowa’ adds jazz arrangements to a traditional Asante rhythm and Oneness classic ‘Follow Me’ is skillfully re-worked (“I used the bass drum in place of the bass guitar so it was all based on rhythms.”). New versions of Asante dancefloor favourite ‘Sabi’ sit alongside the mellow groove of ‘Asante Sana’ (“I wanted something cool like reggae or highlife on that track, a similar vibe. So, I went in between.”).
Drum Message only previously surfaced on a Black Fire CD in 1993. Now receiving its first full international release and its first-ever vinyl issue, the album has been fully remastered by The Carvery. The package features unseen photos and a brand new interview with Okyerema Asante tracing the ups and downs of his career in music.
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