the Sweet Talks

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I’ve written a couple time on here about the Soundways record label, and my love for all the amazing compilations they’ve been putting out, exposing a thoroughbred maritimer like me to all sorts of psychedelic African craziness. I don’t know how I missed it until now, but they recently released a re-issue of a previously unavailable gem of a record. It’s called the Kussum Beat by the Sweet Talks. Along with having possibly my favorite band name ever, these gentlemen made a record that’s fun, interesting, challenging and all together exciting to listen to. Soundscapes and Moog Audio in TO have it, otherwise order it from the Soundways site. It’s worth it. Here’s a great bio, let’s all learn together shall we…….

In the early 1970s, many Ghanaian musicians found themselves at a crossroads. With the pervading influence of American soul music – spearheaded by James Brown – and the cross-over success of London-based Afro-pop sensations Osibisa, who were founded by three Ghanaians, the idea of emulating such sounds from abroad must have seemed like an obvious and lucrative route for young aspiring bands to follow. Besides, many young people in Ghana by then saw highlife as music of the past.

However, Sweet Talks succeeded by taking highlife back to its roots, consciously featuring local influences in their music. This was most obvious in their signature style, the ‘Kusum’ beat (‘native’ or ‘from Ghana’), which drew on rhythms from the country’s Upper, Central and Western regions.

The band were founded on December 15, 1973, by Jonathan Abraham, the proprietor of Talk Of The Town, a lively hotel in the port town of Tema. Under the joint leadership of guitarist Smart Nkansah and singer Crentsil, Sweet Talks alternated with the other resident band The Talkatives. They kept the punters grooving every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday night, and on Sunday evenings, when a lower cover charge made family entertainment the focus.

By 1975, they had released their first album Adam and Eve. The title track was the first example of the biblical themes Crentsil would subsequently explore on the likes of Satan Go, The Lord’s Prayer and Moses. This mirrored the huge increase in the number of churches appearing in every Ghanaian neighborhood, an inevitable consequence of the steady economic decline that would eventually have serious consequences for the band.

In 1976, Nkansah left to form his own group The Black Hustlers (and later Sunsum), which left Sweet Talks with guitarist Eric Agyeman, and Crentsil on vocals/guitar, plus brass and percussion sections. They recorded the albums Spiritual Ghana, Mbesiafo Nto Nsa and The Kusum Beat that year. The influence of the arrival of disco can be heard on the Hollywood Highlife Party album from 1978, which they recorded in California, while on an American tour.

However, on their return, it became increasingly difficult to keep a 12-man band afloat. By then, Ghana’s ailing economy had been struggling under military leaders for more than a decade, and the music industry was in terminal decline. On top of this, a curfew from sundown onwards meant many big bands had to call it a day, and Sweet Talks were one of them. But the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back in 1979 was a dispute with the band’s proprieter, Mr Abrahams:

“He signed a contract on our behalf, which is never done, which is improper,” recalls Crentsil. “Because composing fees and things like that have to be strictly something between the composer and the recording company. Composers fees are not to be paid to any third party. They have to go to the composer himself, direct, but our proprietor chose to collect these monies on our behalf and the whole thing became an argument. We said: ‘No we can’t tolerate that’ …[so] we broke up.”

The following year, Crentsil reformed the band as Super Sweet Talks, a smaller unit. With ‘International’ added to their name, they recorded the classic album Adjoa – a.k.a. The Lord’s Prayer – in 1981, and Tantie Alaba (1984). Crentsil also pursued a solo career, starting with the album Moses (1982) and continuing – usually backed by his Ahenfo Band – right up to the present. After Sweet talks broke up, Eric Agyeman went on to lead his own Kokoroko band and have a successful solo career, as did Tony Mensah and other former members.

Jon Lusk

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