Photo of Captain Yaba

Captain Yaba

Origin : Ghana
Instrument :
Styles :

Azongo Nyaaba (also known as Captain Yaba) was from the Fra Fra ethnic group and was born in Bolgatanga in the Upper East Region of Ghana in the late 1960s. In 1972, when he was still a small child, he began playing the local two-stringed lute or banjo known as the 'koliko'.

He came to Accra, the capital of Ghana, in the mid 1980s as a member of a northern cultural group invited by Mac Tonto of Osibisa fame, and took on the stage name Captain Yaba. He subsequently settled in Accra, staying with some of his relatives in the Mamobi district. He teamed up to play in various Accra venues with Joseph Kobam, who taught the northern Ghanaian xylophone at the University of Ghana at Legon.

In 1987, Captain Yaba joined up with the Afro-Jazz Combo of Jimmy Beckley that was based at Jimmy's Jazz Club in Tesano, Accra. As a member of this group for over 10 years he played at many of Accra's top hotels such as the Shangri-La, Golden Tulip, Novotel and Labadi Beach Hotel.

Captain Yaba made his first recording in 1989 for the Ghanaian-Lebanese producer Faisal Helwani at the Black Note Studio in Kanda, Accra. That cassette-only release was followed by another album, Tinanure (released on both CD and cassette) recorded at the ARC Studios in Tema and produced by the celebrated Sierra Leonean musician Francis Fuster whose band, Ninkribi, backed Captain Yaba. This RetroAfric release is a reissue of that album, which has been augmented with five tracks from the original Ghana sessions at ARC studio, which retain the vital edge of griot funk.

In the mid 1990s Captain Yaba toured the UK and France for six months with Ninkribi. When he returned to Ghana, he continued to play with Jimmy's Jazz Combo, but he fell sick in 2000. After a protracted illness he died of tuberculosis at Korle Bu Hospital in Accra in April 2001. He was only in his early thirties.

The koliko lute which Captain Yaba plays is found all over the Sahel region of West Africa from Mali and Senegal in the West to northern Nigeria in the East (it is also called xalam and molo). It has between two and four strings and is made of a calabash body with an animal skin cover. It is widely believed that the early slaves from Senegal took this instrument to the Caribbean in the 17th century where it was called the banjar. When it later arrived in North America, a fifth string was added, a metal body replaced the gourd and it became the African-American banjo.

Amongst the Fra Fra people of northern Ghana (and in the neighbouring areas of southern Burkina Faso) the instrument is often accompanied by someone playing a northern form of maracas with beads inside a calabash (instead of outside like the southern Ghanaian and Nigerian types).

This music is played by itinerant musicians who, like the griots/jalis of the Sahel countries, move around from place to place telling histories, moral stories and satirical songs. They also praise chiefs and dignatories, and play at funerals and weddings and at bars where the local millet beer called 'pito' is drunk.

Captain Yaba : discography

Captain Yaba - YabaFunkRoots album cover Album : YabaFunkRoots
Year : 2003

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