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Album Preview: Pat Thomas’ “Coming Home”

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Ghanaian highlife legend Pat Thomas will release his first-ever retrospective album, Coming Home: Original Ghanaian Highlife and Afrobeat Classics 1967-1981 on Strut Records, Sept. 30, 2016. It covers Thomas’ career from his early big-band highlife music in Ghana to his later participation in the “burger highlife” movement in Germany.

Thomas came from a musical family: His mother was a bandleader and his father a music teacher. In a 2015 interview with Afropop, he told us, “King Onyina…He’s my uncle. So I went to stay with him, and while I was staying with him, I was learning a lot of things like drums, guitar, and other equipment and instruments. And then I decided myself to go to Takoradi. Because I wanted to play highlife in a modern way, which in that time it was modern, but my kind was more modern. So then, I met Ebo Taylor and he formed a band and I was the singer. That’s where it started.”

Thomas would continue his storied career with the Broadway Dance Band, the Blue Monks, Sweet Beans, Marijata and more. He would also go on to be the first Ghanaian to record highlife in Germany, after his move to Berlin in the early 1980s. He has since moved around even more, touring all over Europe, Africa, and North America, and settling for a long time in Canada before eventually moving back to Ghana.

Coming Home is an impressive 23-track cross-section spanning 14 years of Thomas’ musical career, issued on two-CD sets, three LPs, or as a digital download. On the collection, Thomas is joined by–or plays as a part of –the Broadway Dance Band, Ogyatanaa Show Band, the Black Berets, the Big 7, the Sweet Beans, Marijata, Ebo Taylor and Super Sounds Namba, resulting in a total playing time of just over two hours 15 minutes for the entire album.

In an anthology this big, with so many of Thomas’ top songs, it’s hard to pick only a few standout tracks. “We Are Coming Home” with Marijata is great for its blend of tight percussion, funk-inspired electronic elements and understated vocals. “Brain Washing,” also with Marijata, is a laid-back lament crying out against conformity and colonial influence with hints of both reggae and church influence.

“Ma Huno,” with Ebo Taylor, manages to sound smooth, rich and cool all at the same time, thanks to Taylor’s signature brass arrangement. “Yamona” has driving funk beats that invite the listener to get up and dance.

“Mewo Akoma” is one of the longer tracks at almost 15 minutes. Thomas described his inspiration for this track saying, “‘Mewo Akoma’ means I have a heart.’ I accept anything that comes to me. I’m talking about family. My family. And in general, family. When there are good things, they don’t call me, but when there are bad things, then they call me.” “Gyae Su” shows up in two incarnations: the first with more traditional, acoustic big-band elements, and the second with funky electronic backings and harmonies. Of those, Thomas said, “‘Gyae Su’ is ‘Stop crying, and give yourself to God. When you are weak, call him and and he will take your cares from you. God is there for everybody. If you call him, he’s there for you.’”

The final track, “Can’t You See,” is done in a plaintive 1960s style, reminiscent of the likes of Barbara Lewis.

Pat Thomas continues to tour with the Kwashibu Area Band, who accompanied him on his 2015 album, and members of which backed him on many of the tracks compiled on Coming Home. We hope that 1978’s Mr. Golden Voice of Africa treats us to more music for many years to come.

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