A Tribute To Mac Tontoh After One of His Death

One week-end in the early 1970s, after finishing my household chores, I was listening to a musical programme on the BBC (the British Broadcasting Corporation) on my father’s PYE radiogram when I heard this electrifying Afro-Caribbean Rock Jazz Fusion. I got firmly rooted to my seat, waiting to find out which group was playing this music which was “way out” quite different from the Beatles and the raw soul music by James Brown, or indeed the soulful ballads of Otis Redding. It was a surreal departure from the Psychedelic music by Jim Hendrix and Sly and the Family Stone, etc. I did not have to wait for long. The presenter introduced it as the sound of the 70s. It was the first time I heard Osibisa, purveyors of the “criss-cross rhythms that explode with happiness”. Listening to this musical programme took me to another level and I have since then grown to admire Osibisa and followed their music closely to this day. The group came to Ghana to much fanfare in 1973 and I was fortunate enough to go and see them perform live at the Cultural Centre in Kumasi. When they came again to Ghana in 1985 with the Musical Youth, I was there to listen to my favourite group at the then Kumasi Sports Stadium. I saw them again in 1999 and later at the MOGO shows in 2006 and 2007. Mac Tontoh was the central vibrant figure in Osibisa and in all these shows he was the “grasshopper”. I had the privilege of getting to know Mac personally in the late 1980s when he and my late brother Robert Kyei (Bob Kyei), a High Court Judge, developed a close relationship. They had known each other since their adolescent years in Kumasi. They admired each other and seemed to get along very well, which perhaps is a reflection of the similarities in their liberal and cosmopolitan disposition. A month before Bob’s death, Mac went to spend a week with him at Asante Mampong, where Bob was stationed as a High Court Judge. When Bob died in March 1997, Mac came to play a wonderful trumpet rendition of the famous Osibisa song ‘Woyaya’ at the church service, which transfixed the whole congregation and made the ceremony very solemn and moving. The notable thing about Mac managing to be there was how he had to literally struggle to get to Kumasi that day. He had had a problem with his car at Nkawkaw on the way from Accra. He left the car behind and rushed to Kumasi just in time to meet the church service and to pay a tribute to his dear friend. Mac was good to us as a family and always welcomed us into his home, be it London or Accra, whenever anyone of us visited. We were all members of the Christ the King Catholic Church, Accra, and we met regularly at services. Mac could not contain himself when gospel songs were being sung. He transported himself from the stage to the church, ever vibrant. In October 2006, a Nigerian friend of mine who was born, bred and educated in Ghana and now based in Abuja, decided to bring his wife down to celebrate her 50th birthday anniversary in Accra. We managed to get Mac to play at the function and the Nigerians who came down were ecstatic at meeting the great Mac for the first time. To many of them, it was the highlight of the birthday celebrations. We were lucky to also get him together with Gyedu Blay Ambolley to provide music at a luncheon held for Heads of States and Delegations in connection with the 2nd Africa Cocoa Summit in Accra in September, 2007. The climax of all these interactions was my 60th birthday party in June, 2009. Mac told me he wanted it to be a great event. When we started planning the event with Ambolley, I was aware that he was not too well but he still insisted that he will play. Mac was true to form on the day and made it memorable for all of us and for me in particular. A few weeks after the party, Mac was struck by a stroke. It was a sad moment for me the day I visited him at the 37 Military Hospital. Mac could only communicate very little at this stage but in his true caring nature was enquiring about the well being of my family. I also visited him at Korle Bu when he returned from London. Alas the die had been cast and Mac had to leave us here. Mac you were such a great personality, creative, talented and most of all a quintessential African. Your memory lives on. May The Good Lord Bless and Keep You, Dear Friend.