Ebo Taylor is often heralded as one of the most underrated figures in African music. Last year’s excellent compilation Life Stories certainly made the case for his elevation to official legend status. It was a thrilling, relentlessly upbeat ride through some of the finest highlife and Afrobeat ever made. Following swiftly on its heels is Appia Kwa Bridge, an album of entirely new material.
It’s recorded with the Afrobeat Academy, a Berlin Based group who have been touring with Taylor since his 2010 comeback album Love And Death, and features legends of the calibre of Tony Allen, Pax Nicholas and Oghene Kologbo. Even more encouragingly, Taylor has promised a return to highlife on this record, while preserving traditional war chants, children’s rhymes and Fante music. All in all, you couldn’t ask for much more from an Afrobeat album (from any album, in fact).
But there’s something missing on Appia Kwa Bridge. The band is tight, the tunes are fine, and Ebo himself is on good form. But in general it simply lacks the power of his earlier material. Numbers like “Aysema” come with that Afrobeat wallop, but they just don’t linger in the memory. The horns are fast, the organ is fat, the sound is big, but for an old battle chant it does everything right except hit you between the eyes.
Funnily enough, the best tracks here are the simplest, where it’s just Ebo Taylor and his guitar. “Barrima,” his lament for his late wife is particularly affecting, and “Yaa Amponsah” rattles along at a fair old lick. Both these tracks give his voice more prominence, a good move as it drips with feeling and cracks with emotion. Together with his guitar playing, it’s a pleasure to listen to.
The problem, if there is one, is simply that Appia Kwa Bridge doesn’t stand up to the Taylor’s earlier work. It’s a solid album, nothing more, nothing less, the kind of record that will please devotees but won’t win a bigger audience. It feels churlish to criticise an album for not being as good as some of the best music ever to come out of Africa, but that’s just the way it is. At the same time, we should celebrate the fact that Ebo Taylor is still out and about and touring, because, live, he brings the heat, the funk and the magic that are too ofen missing on this record.
– Will Georgi