Interview with Jagger Botchway conducted in May of 2015
How did you get into music? Who were your early influences? What musicians did you idolize?
I grew up in a musical family mostly from my mother's side. I had 3 uncles and the first born played clarinet and alto saxophone and had a 4 piece highlife/jazz band. My youngest uncle played guitar and was a recording engineer at the broadcasting corporation in Ghana. My cousin played guitar for a cover group at a night club called Che Maxim. My dad taught hymns at school. I got interested in playing because of its availability. There was always a guitar lying around the house. My early influences were Jimi Hendrix, Santana, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones. My idols at the time were Jimi Hendrix, Santana, Eric Clapton, and John Mayall.
What was the Ghanaian music scene like when you started making music and playing in bands?
The Ghanaian music scene was bustling with lots of group that played cover songs from all over the world. James Brown's influence was everywhere. Every group had a James Brown-like lead singer. There was a competition every weekend to crown the best James Brown impersonator.
I heard you played with Hugh Masekela. How did you hook up with that gig? What was it like?
Hugh was looking for something new to get him back on the road again so he went to Nigeria to meet with Fela Kuti, the Afrobeat king but Hugh didn't really fit well with him so Fela told him to check out the band I was playing in, the Hedzoleh Soundz in Ghana. We played every night the Napoleon Club. Hugh was blown away and that led to the re-recording of the first Hedzoleh Soundz album on Nigeria's EMI Records and it was released in the US. This got us on a tour of the US for 3 months. We recorded another album with Hugh which featured Joe Sample and Wayne Shorter called I Am Not Afraid. We ended up touring with the Pointer Sisters and played Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center.
How did the Kelenkye Band form? How did you come to record?
The Kelenkye Band came about after my return from a US tour with Hugh Masekela. I used to play in a cover band called the Barons. The lead singer was Leslie Addy and he and I wanted to record but we didn't have any money. I was also playing in the Hedzoleh Soundz which had a minor hit and then of course other producers started getting interested in recording us and paid for our sessions as the Kelenkye Band.
Tell me how you got your nickname "Jagger"?
My brother gave me that nickname. He introduced me to so much amazing music from the 60s and 70s and bought me my first electric guitar. He is now a Doctor in Germany. And we were both huge Rolling Stones fans.
How did you put together this group of musicians for the recordings of the Odze Odze album? Can you tell me some of the backgrounds of the musicians on the recording?
Most of the musicians on this album I had previously played with at one time or another. Cliff Asante, the guitar player I played with in a group I formed in the 80s called the Gold Coast. Rhodes Okaidza, was the bass player in a group called the Universals.
What were the recording sessions like?
The recording sessions took place at Frequency Recording Studio in the capitol city of Accra and also at a private small studio 45 minutes from Accra. Dave Yowell, a British recording engineer happened to be visiting the country and he helped us record and did the final mix.
You mentioned that “Odze Odze” is a traditional Ghanaian folk song. What made you decide to recreate it for this album? What is meaning behind the song?
Most of these folk songs are fading away and somebody needed to bring them back. That was my reason to include “Odze Odze”. “Odze Odze” is a greeting from a street vendor in Ghana saying “hey hey would you like to buy some fried plantain or otin kaaklo.” Otin kaaklo is a ripe plantain mixed with cornmeal and then deep fried. This is a food you commonly see sold in Accra by street vendors.
Can you tell me about some of the other recordings on this album?
“Moko Le Dzen” was a song by a musician friend named Nii Lantei. You can hear his voice on “Odze Odze.” “Moko Le Dzen” means ‘nobody knows this world that we live in.’ The rest of the song is about how coming into this world is easy when you are born but when you grow up things get difficult so take it easy and everything will be alright.
“Take Time” is about this guy who is trying to win the love of a girl by sending her gifts and sneaking around to entice her and win her love. He doesn't want people to know his secret love for her because this girl belongs to somebody else so take time and be careful not to get in to a confrontation with her partner.
How come the album never came out? Did you end up performing any of this material in Ghana?
We didn't have money to complete the project and release it.
No but we do play some of these songs with the Hedzoleh Soundz which still plays regularly in the US.