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    The rise & fall of Okyerema Kontor: Ghana's pride

    by Osarfo Anthony
    posted Sunday, 12 January 2014 14:02| 1 Comments

    He started playing drums at the age of 10! He is the first Ghanaian to introduce Jazz into Juju music!

    He can play 18 drums at the same time! He teaches many Caucasians how to play traditional drums in Ghana! He has performed in almost all countries in East Africa! He is called Stephen Yaw Okyerema Kontor Boamponsem – The Master Drummer.

    Born to Kwasi Addai and Afua Manu in a small village known as Bontomuruso in Ashanti region, Okyerema Kontor, as popularly known, had a very humble upbringing. His father was a hunter and his grandfather was a native doctor.

    Watching how the traditional drummers played the drums each time his grandfather performed his rituals and danced in the full glare of the folks in the village square, Okyerema's inherent knack for drums was ignited.

    Having a father who is a hunter, Okyerema took advantage of the animals skins obtained from games his father preyed and produced drums with them. That is how his drum playing started; no formal education on drumming. Though he had formal education and even passed his Common Entrance Exams, Okyerema had to follow his passion - drumming because his parents were not well to do to help him further his formal education.

    In 1961, Okyerema joined Royal Brothers Band led by the late Kwaku Bour. They used to play in the then popular Lido Night Club. Within a few years' time, Okyerema's fame as a drummer had spread all over the city. He was poached by Paramount 8 Dance Band led by the late Ewusi Amoah.

    From Paramount 8 Dance Band, Okyerema later joined Ironic Revolt Band otherwise known as Wango Wango Boys and Black Santiago Band. Okyerema also played with Uhuru Band of old. The late Bobby Benson, a Nigerian musician who had heard of Okyerema, came to Ghana and took him to Nigeria to permanently perform at Kaban Bamboo Nightclub situated in Bobby's own hotel – Bobby Hotel at Lagos state in 1967. Bamboo Nightclub was a very popular club then in Nigeria.

    Having gathered enough fame but still financially constrained, Okyerema taught Bobby Benson was only exploiting him to enrich himself at he, Okyerema's expense. Okyerema left Bobby and joined the Nigerian Army Band in 1969 as a drummer with the help of one Jimmy Lee - a guitarist. Okyerema played drums to the admiration of all the authorities of the army. Unfortunately, he could not perform at one of the army's performing concert due to ill health and had to be sacked from the army in 1971. Kontor became frustrated and thus, decided to go back to his master, Bobby Benson.

    Since old friends are always the best, Bobby Benson accepted Okyerema back and took him to Nairobi – Kenya in 1977 for the first-ever 'All African Trade Fair' – a musical exhibition concert that saw the conglomeration of musicians from all African countries. Due to Okyerema's spectacular performance, some Kenyan music promoters contracted many gigs for him which kept him in Kenya.

    Okyerema performed extensively in Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Ethiopia, Uganda, America, Holland, etc. He came back to Lagos – Nigeria in 1979. He had 8 years stint with Nigeria's Star-Composer King Sunny Ade's Sunny Ade and African Band through his performance at Kaban Bamboo Nightclub. Sunny Ade reveres Okyerema Kontor like a pantheon.

    With pressure on him to marry, he came back to Ghana and married Yaa Gyamfuah – biological sister of Ghana's Black Stars coach Kofi Appiah. He bore 3 children with her and lived happily with her until his own wife, turned his woe. Okyerema Kontor's fall came in 1990.  Okyerema once went to perform in Kenya. He returned home only to find partially and stark naked Ghanaian ladies who sojourned Nigeria to engage in prostitution, asleep in his room together with his wife. In his fumed state of asking his wife what those prostitutes were doing in their matrimonial home, his wife dashed out of the room.

    Before Okyerema could sack all the prostitutes from his house, his wife, in the company of the police, came and arrested him. His wife had gone to make a report to the police that her husband – Okyerema Kontor, threatened to kill her and that all the ladies were her witness. He was put behind cells overnight. Luckily for Okyerema, his fame as a Ghanaian master drummer in Nigeria saved him. The Deputy Superintendent of Police at the station who had heard of Okyerema and also witnessed his performance before, saw him the next day and ordered for his release. But for the DSP, Okyerema would have ended up in jail.

    Innocent Okyerema returned home only to find an empty room – furniture, bags, shoes, dresses, money, etc. all gone. Okyerema asked his neighbour of his wife's where about only to be told she packed bag and baggage and left for Ghana with their 3 children. With virtually nothing left to show for in life, Okyerema had no option than to return to his motherland – Ghana in 1991 as a star but a pauper. He came back to Ghana in T-shirt, trousers and a pair of slippers scornfully known in Ghana as “chale wote.”

    Out of despondency, crestfallen and despair, the legendary Okyerema Kontor turned a drunkard. At a point, he had wanted to even take his life. The Master Drummer Okyerema Kontor, had come back home to start all over again.  In 1993, he formed and managed the first-ever all female drummers and dancers group called 'Bomsaka Cultural Group.' The girls, whose ages range between 15 – 30 years, set exciting renditions at venues like the La Palm Beach Hotel, Golden Tulip Hotel and Shangri – La Hotel. After over 50 years of having gathered enough experience in music life and still as fit as a fiddle, he has 4 albums to his credit. All his drums are there but he does not get gigs to play as he used to.

    Okyerema Kontor needs music promoters outside Ghana to contract him to sell his great traditional percussion to foreigners: Italians, Indians, French, Asians, Japans, Arabians, Chinese, Germans, Americans, etc. with his dearest 'advocacy against divorce and peace among nations.'  If you are a music and event promoter in and outside Ghana or Africa, you can please call the number below +233-265-068979 or email: okyeremakontor@yahoo.com and his publicists shall get in touch with you. Until then….MOTWUM!!

    Osarfo Anthony

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