Music Mon, 25 Jun 2007

Biography of Mac Tontoh

Most people, who know him well, know him as the man on the trumpet. Mac Tontoh (name in showbiz) was introduced to the trumpet at a very young age by his late father Michael Tontoh, a goldsmith cum father, who played the instrument in the church.

Kweku Adabanka Tonto, as he was named at birth in the 1940s in Kumasi, grew up listening to jazz on the radio and to highlife which dominated the region at that time.

He started music during his school days at the Roma Catholic school in Kumasi. Mac Tontoh?s first professional break came when he joined The Comets, led by his brother, Teddy Osei after his elementary education.

After playing comets where he gained experience, he from time to time played with some other bands in and around Kumasi and finally moved to Accra in 1962.

For the first few months in Accra, he only moved around and played Jazz band highlife with any band he came in contact with at the night clubs until he later joined President Nkrumah?s Brigade Band and played at state functions.

Subsequently he joined the Uhuru Band. Among their achievements were playing at Malawi?s independence celebrations in 1964, and touring Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.

While still a member of Uhuru, Mac formed and led the Bogart Sounds Sextet, made up of sidemen from Uhuru.

In 1968, together with Teddy, he left Ghana to broaden his musical horizons. After sojourns in Germany and Tunisia, the two brothers settled in London where, together with drummer Sol Amarfio, they founded Osibisa. Osibisa toured the globe. Listening to Mac Tontoh and the Kete Warriors may at times conjure up associations with the 70s Afro/Latin funk and jazz fusion pioneers war.

At other times it may summon up the qualities of a reflective Hugh Masakela or a blue Miles Davis (listen to those horns on the hauntingly beautiful instrumental version of "Sosomiaso". Reggae surfaces in the influence of Jamaican dub poet Mutaburuka that can be heard on the vocal version of "Sosomilaso".

This track also references essential pillars of Afro-centered Rastafarian philosophy such as "Nyabinghi", "Babylon", "Mount Zion" together with Haile Selassie and other icons of African liberation and independence such as Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba and Jomo Kenyatta. Interestingly this tune also incorporates scratching, borrowed from hip-hop, another urban form born out of the black ghetto experience.

Mac?s current brew may not have the strong pop and rock influences that Osibisa incorporated into their African blend, but it does also includes touches of seasoning that are "non-African" in origin. Take for example the brief hints of rock in the guitar on "Alright", and the middle-eastern touch in the horns on "Kurubanie".

Given this assimilation of the indigenous and the diasporic, with speckles of other global sources, it is not surprising to learn that Mac?s Warriors have been invited to play at several major pan-African gatherings in recent years. More recently they have been signed up by the London based Acid Jazz label, and a new release, "Nana Eba" is out there waiting for you.

The elephant has landed, how long before it takes off again? Puerto Rico, Nigeria, India, the USA, Japan, Europe, Australia, Middle East?.. the elephants were on the move.

In 1992 Mac returned to Ghana, where together with producer and engineer Mike Swai, he set up a recording studio in Accra. His first solo CD "Rhythm and Sound" was released in 1994, and is described on his official web-site as "jazz-tinged contemporary which take on some classic Ghanaian highlife styles together with some hard-hitting African funk?"

After having travelled extensively, assimilating influences worldwide, Mac made a conscious decision to go deeper into his Ashanti roots. He travelled to his home city, Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti Region, to seek out musicians.

Currently, Mac still plays and does other shows. He visited U.S. last year to lecture at the University of Colorado Bulder where he also played with the highlife ensemble there. At that university, he taught highlife music and talked about Osibisa band.

Mac Tontoh is currently a board member of the National Commission on Culture. He has formed an awareness children?s group called Mac Tontoh and the kids. The group visits schools to educate the pupils and students on Ghanaian culture as well as perform with them

On challenges, Mac Tontoh said there are a lot as far as the music industry is concerned. He said what one needs is perseverance, dedication and hardwork to succeed. "I ignored some of the theory and used the practical side and this is what has helped me. One has to apply or use practical wisdom with book knowledge. Using just straight pocket book knowledge alone does not help much. One has to apply the two, in fact and playing like a Ghanaians is my secret of success. We must perform like Ghanaian, and for that matter Africans. My advise is that whatever we do, should be African /Ghanaian oriented and that is what will win the trophy for us in the industry," he said.

Comparing the present state of the music industry to the past, Mac Tontoh said currently there is no clear cut records company; the companies are scattered.

"There is no central point for the industry. The industry has to be constructed well at this time, probably the players on both sides of the coin are not certain on what they have to do. In fact they have to come together. All the institutions of the music industry need to sit up.

Those in the music field and the incoming should not get frightened. It?s not a one man business. Let?s have team work business. Just team up with experienced colleagues and all would be well," he said.

Mac Tontoh was born to Michael Tontoh and Madam Josephine Akosua Addai, a trader. He has four brothers and three sisters.

He has two children,a male who is a drummer musician in London and a female, who is an accountant and is married in New York, U.S.A.

Mac Tontoh does not smoke nor drink alcoholic beverages. He enjoys fufu and groundnut soup with smoked fish.

He likes playing the trumpet at home and doing cross-word puzzle.


Source: ghanamusic.com