The party with UB40 on the first day of the 2019 Stanbic Ghana Jazz Festival started almost at midnight with the If It Happens Again I’m Leaving song and the crowd was immediately sucked into the band’s infectious music for the next hour.
The nine-piece English band offered the excited audience it's easily digestible pop-reggae which was lapped up with glee. Many in the audience knew the lyrics of almost their entire repertoire and sang as well as danced along on the neatly-engineered concert floor in the sand at La Pleasure Beach.
It was a magnificent show right by the Atlantic Ocean as UB40 did what it had done for many years throughout the world, delighting a highly receptive crowd with hits like Cherry Oh Baby, Kingston Town, Fijian Sunset, Many Rivers To Cross and Red Red Wine.
There had been about an hour and a half break before UB40 came on stage. Stanbic Ghana officials explained it was due to part of the band’s key equipment, including their portable mixing station, not arriving with them and therefore the need to reset sound levels manually.
Once the technical issues were resolved and the band got going and promised the audience something really nice was coming their way, urging them to clap and wave their hands, everything was spot-on with the highly-experienced UB40. Their show fitted in perfectly with the festival theme of Nostalgia.
With four big screens mounted by the sides of the performance area, the audience not close enough to the players could still see every detail of action on the stage.
Proceedings on the night had kicked off with Nhyira Addo as emcee and the sound of sea waves enticing everyone to enjoy the evening out. The Blue Rhythms, an in-house Stanbic Bank band was the first on stage. They did their best as amateurs but it was obvious they could still polish their act.
The audience at the Labadi Beach Hotel obviously had fun
The seven-piece Jazz Accra, led by Nii Oblie on guitar, was in good form. The band represented Ghana last year at the Ouaga Jazz Festival in Burkina Faso and they held out pretty well on the night.
Their rendition of Osibisa’s famous Welcome Home track was inspiring with young flugelhorn player, Peter Somuah giving off some pretty lines.
His cohesion with trombonist Bernard Gyamfi and the rest of the band made pleasant listening.
Singer Nana Yaa joined in after a while. Her interpretation of the Ella Fitzgerald old jazz classic, Summertime and rendition of a Nii Oblie original called Accra Is Sweet lifted the band as she also threw in some stimulating vocal gymnastics.
Nana Yaa was also great
Guitarist Akablay and his Abiza Band always deliver good stuff whenever required. The guitarist relies heavily on his Nzema roots to work out his songs and that was clear as the band ran through material from his five albums and threw in a little bit of his popular Take Away piece.
The GH Jazz Collective can be described as an all-star band. The band comprises Victor Dey (piano), Nii Barnor (percussion), Bright Osei (bass), Sandra Huson (vocals), Colter Harper (guitar), Frank Kissi (drums) and Bernard Ayisa (saxophone).
They truly understand the fundamentals of jazz and how to take the knowledge to new heights. They played some compositions by Dey and Ayisa but there was also room for some delicious scat moments from Huson and a display of the rhythmic synergy between Barnor and Kissi.
Guitarist Owuraku comes along with his own approach to playing his instrument. He smoothly blends Highlife grooves with jazz melodies and has a good sense of improvisation. He got a warm applause on the night when he played his own take on the famous Luther Vandross So Amazing track.
Saxophonist Steve Bedi and singer Knii Lante were to feature before UB40 but time was long gone and UB40 had technical challenges to deal with.
The two Ghanaian acts, therefore, could not mount the stage. They might have been disappointed but the audience still went home satisfied with a wide variety of musical styles on the night.
The three-day Stanbic Ghana Jazz Festival ends on Saturday, March 2 with a bash at the Fantasy Dome at La in Accra. The show will feature SSUE, Francis Osei, Wanda Baloyi from South Africa, Kyekyeku and the three festival headline acts: Salif Keita, Richard Bona and UB40.