When a talent is taken from the world too early, the story is often condensed into a tragic ending. Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, the list of creative geniuses who met an early demise for one reason or another goes on. In Ghana, Kofi Gyan, famously known as Kiki Gyan, is the quintessential tragedy.
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So much can be said about Kiki Gyan, one of the world’s top pianists and, by most metrics, one of Ghana’s most successful artists. He joined the famous Osibisa Band as a teen to tour the world before carrying on a solo career of his own. He passed away in 2004 due to complications stemming from heavy drug use and HIV. Many musicians in Ghana and abroad give credit to Kiki Gyan and believe that the musician does not receive his proper due–which brings us to his daughter, Vanessa Gyan, along with HPR Media and the Alliance Française, who threw a Kiki Gyan tribute show on Oct. 3 in Accra, Ghana’s capital. The show featured Adomaa, Ko-jo Cue, Ewvdzi, M.anifest, Ambolley, VVIP; Vanessa Gyan wanted the artists chosen to pay Kiki Gyan the homage he deserved. Rashid Raymond of HPR felt Kiki was a part of the “forefront of founding music fathers that brought Ghanaian music and culture to the world stage.” Vanessa reflected further, “He meant a lot. A lot more than he is even given credit for. My father helped to break barriers, introduce new genres and break records. He helped put Ghana on the map in a major way and many continue to have the negative overshadow the positive.”
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Some of you may have googled Kiki Gyan by now, and if you did, then I am willing to bet that most of the hits were related to his untimely death, criminal drug use, or other things along those lines. By letting the dreadful narrative of his drug use shape your view, you miss out on so many aspects of his life and personality. As Ghanaian journalist Swaye succinctly explained, “Kiki’s musical legacy has been overshadowed by his drug addiction tales, so it was apt to remind people of his musical contribution to highlife and Ghana music.” After being added to the bill, Ewvdzi could feel the “depth of [Gyan’s] impact” just by speaking to the “generation of Ghanaians whom were given the privilege of getting to witness the rise of a national rock star.” Gyan did use dangerous narcotics but he also inspired contemporary artist Ko-jo Cue, who commented, “He represents everything genius is and everything genius shouldn’t be at the same time. Hopefully, I achieve as much as him and I don’t make the same mistakes as him.” A recent article from Modern Ghana mentions that as he got older, he played with church bands to champion drug-free environments and even took his anti-drug fight to the United Nations, proposing to speak on a global campaign.
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It is important to commemorate a great musician’s career but Vanessa, Kiki’s sister Gugi Nunu, and the others took it a step further. The show served as a formal launch of the Kiki Gyan Foundation and the proceeds went towards the works of the foundation. Raymond reminds us that “[Kiki] had a soft spot when it came to giving back to the society.” Almost a decade after Gyan’s passing, the foundation named in his honor was created to fulfill a dying wish. To continue the work that he did with local churches, the foundation aims to raise money through musical ventures to support drug education, rehabilitation and similar programs, according to the Alliance Francaise’s recent press release. It also helps provide musical opportunities to those that may be without. Ewvdzi thought that the show and foundation were proof that art has the power to do worlds of good. “The Kiki Gyan Foundation is all about giving back to the less privileged who have a love and passion for music. There are so many children who have so much talent but don’t have the means to perfect their talent and that’s what the Kiki Gyan Foundation will bring to the table,” continued Vanessa. “Of course, there will also be the ‘Say No to Drugs’ campaign.”
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With a legend’s memory in their hearts and the chance to help a good cause in their heads, people flocked to the Alliance Française in Accra for a night of entertainment. The successful concert was the culmination of a full campaign to honor the late musician. Promoting the concert wasn’t just about a night of entertainment but remembering a life’s work. “It forced a lot of people to learn a lot more about the man,” Ewvdzi remarked, as the promotion spread and Oct. 3 approached. “More and more articles relating to him and his life started to pop up all over social media and it drove a conversation which led a lot of people to discover the incredible talent birthed from our great nation.” The tribute was years in the making: Vanessa originally decided to put on a show of this caliber when she arrived in Ghana over two years ago. And it was well worth the wait; she couldn’t have been happier, “It was a huge success. It was a sold-out event. My main goal was to honor my father in a positive light and we did just that.” All I can add is, while the story of his demise was newsworthy, do not let yourself miss out on the genius of Kiki Gyan, and the legacy which lives on.