Review: Pat Thomas – Coming Home
Dutch icon and sexy football protagonist Ruud Gullit recently released a book entitled “How To Watch Football”. Given the recent culture of mining from the past, perhaps its time for an edition on “How To Deal With Reissues.” With a flood of them every week, a trusted supply line is an essential and Strut have a ruthless hit rate of unearthing some of the most vital talent to come crashing back into the collective musical conscience.
Coming Home is a sprawling compilation of tracks from the Ghanian Highlife artist Pat Thomas, from early efforts from the late 60s up until after the 1979 coup that sent the country’s music industry under and saw Thomas pack his bags for Berlin, before a stint in Canada. As your consummate guide to a sound, Strut take care to contextualise the works of the artists they release, which can often help to bring out elements that may have otherwise been missed in the music. The physical versions of this release come with a full-length interview, itself a rarity from the artist once dubbed The Golden Voice of Africa.
Highlife as a genre emerged in Ghana when musicians versed in indigenous Akan musical forms began to experiment with Western instruments. Keeping the melodic structure and rhythm, the sounds soon spread from the ruling classes to become the heartbeat of the towns and villages of a country shaping up against it’s colonial past. Since then Highlife has been batted back and forth across the Atlantic, influencing African American jazz musicians and beatnik poets as well as bringing heady amounts of Cuban and Latin influences back to the west coast of the mother land.
Born in the early 40s in the town of Agona with a bandleader mother and music teacher father, Thomas’s uncle was King Onyina, an important Highlife protagonist. The young artist started as a drummer and guitarist before taking cues and influence from Ghanian legend Ebo Talyor and assuming a leading role as singer and bandleader himself. Now is his 70s, he recorded a brand new, critically acclaimed album in 2015, Pat Thomas & Kwashibu Area Band.
Last year’s long player was tightly focused and succeeded in tenderly bringing a sound up to date for modern audiences. Delving into his expansive back catalogue, Coming Home is an expansive 2 CD/3 LP set guiding us through Thomas’ work from a from sweet drink sponsored pop songs to epoch defining afro beat that sent ripples of political change through his continent.
Thomas’ vocal delivery is unsurprisingly an outstanding feature across the album, be it the harmonic rhythmic chanting of Gyae Su or the sickly US influenced soul of Can’t See You. Despite the endearing quality of the front man, It certainly takes some patience for this compilation to get under your skin. Unless you are tuned into the era, it takes time to turn your ears back nearly 50 years to adapt to the more basic way the records were recorded. This is a compilation to be understood in its own whole context rather than as a solid music journey.
10 short songs of pop length in an unfamiliar style will always blur into each other. Without any knowledge of the language on some songs and the similar sound palettes each track draws from and the inclusion of some seems a little superfluous, lessening their individual impact.
The curator strikes a balance in the language, with songs in both English and Ghanaian, striking gold with the gorgeous Let’s Think It Over but there’s a lot to get through, even given the textures and rhythms rich in Thomas’ crooning. Despite the re-mastering that the original records go through, at first listen these tracks such as openers Go Modern and (Super) Yaa Amponsah can seem like a flat surface of dusty, tracky grooves and vocals repeating motives.
The key is with the longer tracks on the later discs where you can just to let the needle drop and allow the extended tracks guide you into the music universe of an artist like Pat Thomas. Through immersion in the groove, magic eye like the details begin to appear as the sound soon takes hold. Percussive sounds start to leap out, such as the cut and thrust of We Are Coming Home, drums become increasingly earthy and bass lines emerge like islands from the sea.
Tracks such as Mewo Akoma, which extend to a whole side of vinyl are incredibly tight and focused pieces of music, displaying the imperious musicianship and discipline that was demanded from the bands who were used to keeping people dancing all night at the various clubs in the country. The tough, marching I Need You and Super Sounds Namba’s Who’s Free cross over into afro beat territory, with all the political bent that goes with it. The heady psychedelia and intense drumming of Sack The Devils pushes the subversive commentary further, reflecting the musician’s roles as the mouthpiece for political change in Africa at the time.
Immersion and patience is the most rewarding approach in taming this at times unruly compilation. Tuning out from today’s super-compressed, artificially loud digital recordings and enjoying the analogue, organic sounds of elite musicians living through tumultuous change is another way to connect with the past and understand the musical nuances of the times. This compilation is not immediately essential but with one that many will grow to love and wish to explore more of the sound.
Pre-order the release HERE.