Monday, September 6, 2010


“EVERYBODY do what you're doing, smile will bring a sunshine day. Everybody do what you're doing, smile will bring a sunshine day…,” goes the famous hit, ‘Sunshine Day’ by the legendary Afro-rock Ghanaian band, Osibisa.

One of the musicians behind this melodious song and trumpet maestro, Mac Tontoh - one of the great pioneers of the fusion of African and western music, is no more, he breathed his last on August 16, 2010, in Accra, Ghana. He was 69 years old.

According to his family Tontoh suffered a stroke, diabetes and was flown to London during the earlier stages of the stroke for treatment and his condition improved markedly two months earlier. He was able to attend an Osibisa conference whiles there. He however relapsed and admitted at the hospital due to complications of the stroke. Days after his return, the ailment escalated and was admitted to the Korle Bu Teaching hospital in Accra where he passed away whilst receiving medical treatment.

According to his elder bother Osei Teddy and band leader of Osibisa, a tribute concert by Ghanaian musicians is scheduled for September 30, 2010, in Accra and thereafter, burial and funeral celebration on October 2, 2010, in Kumasi.

Besides, the trumpet Tontoh played the flugal horn and cabassa, and he was a composer, arranger and producer at the same time. As a founding member of Osibisa he co-composed most of the group’s memorable hits.

Tontoh co-wrote ‘Sunshine Day’ with Osei and Amarfio, ‘Music For Gong Gong’ with Osei, ‘Welcome Home’ with Osei and Amarfio, he arranged ‘Nkosi Sikeleli Afrika’ with Osei, ‘Dance the Body Music’ with Osei, Amarfio and Gyan, ‘Celebration’ with Osei and Amarfio, ‘Cherry Field’ with Osei and Amarfio, ‘Kilele’ with Osei, Amarfio and Ayivor, ‘Uhuru’ (the BBC Network Africa signature tune) with Osei and Amarfio, ‘Fire’ with Osei, Amarfio, Mandengue and Ayivor, ‘Home Town’ with Osei, ‘Akwaaba’ with Osei, ‘Ayioko’ with Osei and Amarfio, ‘Life Time’ with Osei, and ‘Too Much Going On’ with Osei.

“…A founder member of Osibisa he (Tontoh) looked deeper into musical traditions of his own people, the Kete and Adowa styles. His new fusion of jazz and traditional rhythms confirms of his status as a truly vital force in world music,” Tontoh’s biography reads on Osibisa web site. “…Such an energetic performer will be greatly missed. May he rest in peace.”

“Mac’s contribution is unmentionable. He was a founder member and his passion and strength helped drive Osibisa to the success it is. His love for everybody shone through,” Osei told me.

Osei admitted that: “Osibisa would not be the same without his influence. Although the band has continued touring without him for some time his contributions both live and on recordings is immense.”

As to the impact of Tontoh’s death on modern live African music, Osei, said: “This is a great blow as he organised young musicians and helped them to achieve great goals. He was a mentor to many young up and coming musicians.”

In regard to Tontoh’s legacy, Osei mentioned, “He contributed heavily in fusion music and particularly in traditional Ghana and African Music.”

On his part a former member of Osibisa, Besa Simons says Ghana has lost a great hero in the name of Mac Tontoh. He noted that Tontoh was a symbol of Ghanaian and African cultural heritage who always portrayed the sense of Africanism in everything he does including stage performances. Besa who was a Keyboardist in the Osibisa band and a close ally of the late Tontoh added that the late Tontoh was a motivator and an inspiration to more young musicians.

Tontoh's friend and compatriot, Carlos Sekyi described the late Tontoh as very strong, full of joy and the live-wire in any group that he was a member of. Mr. Sekyi told in Ghana that Tontoh’s death is great loss and that, “Ghana has lost an icon, he is a legend and he is gone. It is sad news.”

The Ghanaian musician Nana Kwame Ampadu says the late Tontoh played a pertinent role in promoting Ghanaian and African heritage through music on the international platform.

Nana Ampadu told Adom 106.3 fm that he has known Tontoh in his early youthful days and saw him to be a one of the few excellent trumpeters the nation has ever produced. He added that he always loved to see Tontoh playing his trumpet and so were lots of music lovers in Ghana and beyond.

Tontoh was born on December 25, 1940 in Kumasi and was called ‘Kwaku Bronya’ meaning Kwaku Christmas. He received his basic education in Kumasi.

Tontoh tuned into jazz broadcasts on VOA and the BBC World Service from an early age, and as his father played trumpet in the local church, he was lucky enough to receive encouragement from his parents to pursue a career in music, at a time when playing a horn in a band was not considered a serious occupation in Ashanti society.

Tontoh started playing the trumpet at the age of 17 with “The Comets,” based in Kumasi and led by his elder brother Osei. The Comets became very popular in Ghana and Nigeria during the early 1960s for highlife and jazz, and Tontoh soon emerged as one of the leading and most progressive Ghanaian hornsmen, fusing the modern jazz styles of trumpeters such as Miles Davis and Clifford Brown with West African highlife.

Following his move to Accra, Tontoh spent a brief period with the Brigade Band of Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, which played mainly at state functions, before joining the now legendary Uhuru Band. Uhuru, the first big band of its king in Africa was a big band which played its own brand of highlife as well as hits from American composers such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Glenn Miller.

Uhuru were very popular all over West Africa, and their fame spread when they played at Malawi’s independence celebrations in 1964 and toured Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in 1965. During his time with Uhuru, Tontoh also ran a smaller jazz combo, the Bogart Sounds Sextet, made up of the pick of Uhuru’s sidesmen.

Still searching for new horizons, Mac left Ghana for Europe in 1968. At first he stayed in Hamburg, Germany, playing in various jazz clubs in the St. Pauli area. Then, after a rendezvous with his brother Osei and drummer Sol Amarfio in Tunisia, the trio traveled to London in 1969 to form the band which was to set the world alight with its ground-breaking fusion of African music and western pop and rock: Osibisa.

During the 1970s and 1980s Osibisa toured virtually every corner of the globe, and “Mac became a complete performer, playing not only his trumpet but also marimba, percussion and digeridoo, and he established a rapport with audiences which few could equal,” notes. The band’s music sold in millions the world over.

Apart from his activities with Osibisa, Tontoh also became part of the London “scene” of the 1970s, playing horn sessions for rock luminaries the Rolling Stones, Peter Green and Elton John.

Osibisa played before 25,000 people in Harare during Zimbabwe’s independence party in 1980. In 1983 Osei and Tontoh collaborated with an all-star Ghana line-up on the highly acclaimed album Highlife Stars 1.

After more than twenty years of living in London or on the road, Tontoh decided that it was time to return to his African roots for fresh inspiration. In 1992 he moved back home to Ghana and, with the help of producer/engineer Mike Swai, set up his own recording studio in Accra.

According to, Tontoh and Mike then set about searching for and collaborating with some of the most dynamic and talented young Ghanaian musicians. The first product of this new phase was Tontoh's first solo album, Rhythms and Sounds (1994), which featured a jazz-tinged contemporary take on some classic Ghanaian highlife styles together with some hard-hitting African funk whose energy and punch recalled Mac's early days with Osibisa.

Rhythms and Sounds re-established Tontoh as a musical force to be reckoned with in Ghana, and several tracks from the album have become national institutions through their frequent use by Ghana Broadcasting Corporation Television (GBCTV).

Following the release and successful promotion of this first solo album, Tontoh decided to look deeper into the musical traditions of his own people, the Ashanti.

Tontoh decided to form a new band, “Kete Warriors” and went to his home town, Kumasi, to look for drummers and singers who were well versed in the Kete and Adowa styles of the region. He brought his new group to Accra.

“…The new fusion of jazz and traditional Ashanti rhythms which emerged from this group confirmed Mac’s status at home as a truly vital force in contemporary Ghanaian music,” notes. They performed at various national events in Ghana including the funeral of the recently deceased Asantehene (King of Ashanti), Otumfuo Opoku Ware II.

Tontoh toured the UK with the Kete Warriors in 2000 and 2001 to a rapturous reception from British audiences. Since returning to Ghana after the group’s successful run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August 2001, Tontoh had taken a break from making music and concentrated on his work with the Ghana National Commission on Culture. The Kete Warriors are now forging ahead in their own right with the blessing of their master.

Tontoh performed for the 2008 CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Award finalists and judges in Accra in July 2008 with the “Kete Warriors,” at the residence of the group executive chairman of Safebond Africa Limited, Krobo Edusei Jnr. “I am bringing up these young musicians and they are the best coming out of Ghana now,” Tontoh told me then.


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