Ghana’s Independence Era Through the Lens of S.K. Pobee
The photos below (click to enlarge), offering a glimpse into the joy and optimism of the immediate post-Independence period in Accra, are from Samuel Kobian Pobee’s Modern Photo laboratory. They were acquired by Samy Ben Redjeb of the Analog Africa record label while he was during research for the liner notes for his latest release Afrobeat Airways 2 – Return Flight to Ghana 1974-1983.
Samy Ben Redjeb wrote a piece explaining how he came across the photos over at This is Africa. The post contains this interesting anecdote courtesy of S.K. Pobee’s son, who now runs Modern Photo:
When Modern Photo was created in 1955, the Tip Toe night club just opposite of our offices was already operating. The manager was Mr. Page, an American. My father S.K. Pobee, the founder of Modern Photo, wasn’t too much into music then; he was mainly taking pictures of political figures. It wasn’t until 1966, when he leased the Tip Toe, that his interest in all cultural things began to grow.
The first thing he did when he took over was to modernise and renovate the whole place. He bought new furniture, and ordered a new set of modern musical equipment. At that time every club had a residential band. For example The Lido night club, a few blocks away, had Broadway Show Band, Napoleon club had Basa-Basa and Bunzu Soundz. Tip Toe had the Uhuru Dance Band and the Blue Monks, a group my father had formed and sponsored.
To keep up with the demand, every club had to invite bands from other parts of Ghana and also from abroad to stand a chance of surviving the fierce competition. One of the first groups my dad invited to Ghana was Fela’s Koola Lobitos. They were followed by Victor Uwaifo, who had a big following here in Ghana, and then Ignace de Souza, a fantastic musician from Benin, just to name a few, but there were many. However, he was most impressed by a powerful band from Congo Brazzaville, Les Bantous de la Capitale, who stayed here for 6 months – by the time they left they were playing and singing Twi highlife perfectly. One of my dad’s main qualities was his sense of innovation; he started organising boogaloo competitions influenced by James Brown’s ‘mashed potato’ dance style. The people were dancing while the band were playing soul tunes, and we had bands who played that style incredibly well – especially P.P Dynamite and also the Hougas (with Gyedu-Blay Ambolley on bass). We also organised ‘Miss Tip Toe’ contests and the girls really looked nice in their mini skirts and their Afro hair. Today it’s all artificial.
Additionally to the highlife and big band concerts, my father introduced another event called ‘Jazz Night’, on which he would have two drummers competing against each other. The most memorable one was between Kofi Ghanaba (a.k.a. Guy Warren) and Uhuru’s percussionist, Max Amah. Oh, you would have loved it, I tell you. That day Kofi took a beating.
You know my father was also someone who was into advertising and promotion and he knew how to convince the musicians to be loyal to the Tip Toe night club. He would tell them “after the sound check come to the studio, I will make a picture of you and place an advert in the daily graphic to promote your next show”. This is what made Tip Toe stand above the other clubs, the fact that we had Modern Photo. The promotion tools we used worked so well that on Saturday afternoon, when we had what we called the ‘Afternoon Bump,’ starting at 6pm. If by 1pm you were not inside Tip Toe you wouldn’t come in – sold out. That’s the reason why so many bands and musicians wanted to work with my father and that’s what made our success.
My father left to the United States between 1973 and 1977 to improve his skills. When he returned, he found the place was going strong; I had perpetuated his work. But unfortunately my efforts would not be rewarded because in 1979 we were hit by a second curfew. It was serious. The first one, which took place in 1966, didn’t last too long. It didn’t hit us too hard, but it was the third that knocked us out. It killed social life and the music industry in this country. Everybody had to be home by 10pm: no parties, no concerts, no boogaloo, no Miss Tip Toe. When after two years that crazy curfew was over most of our musicians had already left the country and DJs had replaced the bands. Live music was dead.
These photos and more can be seen in the liner notes for the second Afrobeat Airways compilation. If you are interested in exhibiting any of the photos that Samy has collected please contact him at: [email protected].