Together Through Tontoh

Last night I went to the Mac Tontoh tribute concert. I thought it was going to be just another social event where new Afropoitlans, the ‘who’s whose’ and those wanting to be “who’s” would converge, pose, and pretend to represent the “average” Ghanaian while deep inside wanting nothing to do with anything average in Ghana. You have to be here to know the type.

I confess I didn’t really KNOW who Mac Tontoh was when I went to the concert. I knew he was part of the group Osibisa, but it wasn’t until last night that I realized WHO Osibisa was and what they meant to me. Artists like Osibisa, Miriam Makeba and Asaabea (who also performed at the concert) provided the soundtrack to my early life in Ghana when my family moved here when I was 8 years old. They were the inventors of Afro pop; they were cool; they were prolific; they were AWESOME. Rolling Stone magazine once hailed Osibisa as the greatest live band to come out of Africa. It was a worthy adulation – Tontoh was an enigmatic front man, and his band’s timing and energy was unquenchable.

The crowd was diverse and a testament to how many people Mac Tontoh had touched. The Rastafarians were in full force, greeting each other by offering blessings to one another. The expatriates clung primarily to one another, as they typically do at such events. Photogs snapped pictures of Ghana’s new celebrity corp. Regular folk like me were just happy to be out and about, and to get (re)acquainted with old and new friends.   We were all there as revelers, and revel we did.

Music –  so much wonderful music flooded the air. There is a new found appreciation for African fashion that discerning women of my generation have embraced. Ladies clad in bright kente prints and bold batiks ‘broke it down’ to Sunshine Day and Fire Will Burn You. In true Ghanaian fashion, the whole crowd yelled a guttural “Eiiii!!!” and threw up our hands in glee when Gyedu Blay Ambolley resurrected a song that I could never get the words to as a child. My very nimble friend Lizzie grinned and rolled her hips to the ground as he chanted be sei bi o ko disco o sh3 yellow-yellow. I could only manage to sway enthusiastically in 4″ platforms (an idiotic choice for the venue) and throw out an equally enthusiastic eba! at the appropriate time of the chant.  It was a throw back to the days when a plate of jollof rice and long night of high life jams could make your cares evaporate.

If only we could live our lives as Ghanaians as we did that night of tribute. With a genuine meeting of minds, embracing our differences, and collaborating for a common purpose. What better tribute to a man than to see that work of his life and its fruits in his death reap overarching togetherness?

Mac Tontoh will surely be missed.