After nearly two decades of living and working in England, keyboardist and composer, Bessa Simons decided to relocate to Ghana and start another Bessa Band.
It took the man known widely for his Belembe hit, a little while to re-immerse himself in the music scene he had actively been part of. He eventually got a group of young players to team up with him and they played their first gig at the +233 Jazz Bar & Grill in Accra on October 8, 2011.
Highlife was the main fare on the menu that night and guest singers Pauline Oduro, Ben Brako and Felix Owusu, helped dish it out to patrons.
Eleven years on, the Bessa Band is still around with percussionist Richmond Laryea as the only player still with the group out of the five instrumentalists who featured with Bessa on the launch night.
Bessa Band is now a nine-piece outfit that leans a lot toward big band Highlife. That approach has almost become the band’s trademark. It is a style of music with first-rate predecessors in this part of the world and Bessa believes that tradition must not be left to fade away.
Though the band’s preference is for original material, there’s still room for a sprinkling of covers or copyright songs (as they are usually referred to here), to help expand the scope of the guys he plays with. To him, that’s a useful method for young players to get to understand how other musicians tackle different things their way.
Apart from the regular monthly gigs at +233, the Bessa Band also takes on corporate and private assignments. It has featured at several traditional festivals in different parts of Ghana.
“It’s wonderful to have a regular band to work with because you get your music played the way you want it. Amakye Dede and Ambolley, for instance, sound tight and nice all the time because there are regular sets of musicians they play with,” Bessa said.
A product of Aggrey Memorial Senior High School in Cape Coast and the University of Education at Winneba, Bessa played with several bands here before moving to England in the early 1980s. The groups included Pelicans, Dutch Benglos, Third Eye and Watu Wazuri.
He formed the first edition of the Bessa Band in England and they played at several prestigious venues and festivals. He also toured the world as a member of Osibisa and did session work for acts like Manu Dibango, Alexander O’Neal and Hugh Masekela.
He praised musicians who have passed through the Bessa Band since 2011 and those still with him for their hard work, describing them as dedicated players keen to help keep live music alive in this country.
Bessa’s view is that live music allows practitioners more room to express themselves and he wants young players to have that in mind all the time.
“The Bessa Band sounds like a real band and not like some ‘shabo shabo’ group hurriedly put together for a gig. I can say that with my guidance and influence, the guys in the band have a professional attitude to work and I’m happy about that,” Bessa pointed out.
Something else he is likely to be happy about is the album the band intends bringing out this year. There are plans also for the group to take its music to more regions across the country.
Bessa Simons is also a recording engineer and runs his Dibess Recording Studio at Baatsonaa, off the Spintex Road in Accra. He is the Acting President of the Musicians Union of Ghana (MUSIGA).
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