You are here: HomeEntertainmentMusic2003 12 07Article 191106

Music of Sunday, 7 December 2003


Senior Citizen King Onyina ...Pioneer Of Highlife Music

King Onyina At 71, King Onyina, one of Ghana's celebrated highlife musicians has not shed any of the traits that made him a household name in the 60s and 70s.The genius, born Kwabena Onyina, had to yield to the teeming requests of his admirers to drop his first name for King after he was crowned the best in highlife music in 1961, has up to date lived up to that accolade.

No wonder he still plays guitar and sings some of his compositions that made him the darling of music lovers in his days. King Onyina's love for the guitar and highlife in general is inherent because his late father, a professional driver, had a guitar which he played in his leisure.King Onyina made this known in an interview at his residence as Kwadaso Estates in Kumasi last Wednesday.

When King Onyina lost his mother at a tender age of four and later his father, when he was 13, a situation which compelled him to drop out of school, he decided to marry his father's guitar and make a living out of it.
Even though the exponent of highlife music relocated from Agona Ashanti to Koforidua to train as an apprentice shoemaker, he eventually abandoned the training to hold on to the lessons in guitar music as the influence of the guitar on his life was so great.

King Onyina's musical life was sharpened in no time because he lived near the Methodist Chapel at Koforidua and was exposed to church music. He remembers vividly how he used to follow an accomplished piano accordionist dead in the night to his house as he played the accordion.
But the man who made him what he is today was a former Cornerstone and Black Stars footballer, Mr Kwaw Boafo, who taught him how to play the guitar, and after six months of tutorials he became conversant with the strings and was hardly seen without the guitar in his hand.

He fell foul of the law on two occasions while entertaining some of his fans with the guitar and was fined ?1.1 for disturbing public peace.He is also grateful to Professor J. E. Owiredu, then a philosophy student, domiciled in Ashanti New Town, who provided him with music of contemporary great guitarists like Barney Kessel, Tal Farlow, Launinds Almeida and Kenny Burrel something others which helped to broaden his skills.

At 16, King Onyina started serious music where he organised a trio called the Cooler's Band and entertained guests for free but accepted whatever token amount was offered him and the group after their performance.
The atmosphere in Koforidua was not conducive for him so he went back to Kumasi where he strengthened his group with the recruitment of one Bandele, a Nigerian, who was the second guitarist, Kwame Ampong, Afro Boateng and Nana Atakora Manu.

In 1953, a businessman, Mr Daniel Kyei, who later became the mayor of the Kumasi City Council took over the management of the group and named it Onyina's Guitar Band.
King Onyina's rise to fame was in 1961, when he won a National Guitar Band competition in Accra with some of his memorable songs such as Wiase nsem adoso, Odo Ye Owu, Lumumba, Nantiyie, Ohia Asoma Wo and the ever popular The Destiny of Africa.

His triumph in this keen contest provided him the greater opportunity of accompanying Ghana's first President, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, on a tour to Mali, Tunisia, Poland and the Soviet Union in 1963, together with other artistes like Dr Kwame Gyasi, the late E. K. Nyame, Bob Cole, Kakaiku and the Broadway Band.King Onyina recollects a memorable day in his life when he, in London in 1964, played at a concert organised by the Ghana Musicians Union, under the tutelage of Nana Oduro Numapau, Esumejahene, then the President of the Union.

"I performed as a guest artiste and when I mounted the stage, I felt I was playing in Kumasi because all the guests in attendance were people I knew from Kumasi and other parts of Ghana. The crowd was thick and no one could dance but held their hands to form a chain and swung from one end to the other?, the king said.

He said his first music was recorded in 1953 by Decca Recording. "At the time, there was no money in music, all we sought was fame and popularity. I, however, made some little money from the commission on the sale of my records, and that was around 1956", said King Onyina.
Even though King Onyina said he did not take advantage of women who admired him, it is on record that he once fell in love with a woman from Begoro and got married to her in 1960, had four children with her but they all died.

He later married another from Mpankrono with no issue. The third was Madam Mercy Anno who had a son with him, now a Bank Manager in Accra.In 1961, King Onyina met his current wife, Madam Agnes Owusu, also known as Ama Pokua, from Antoa. He said Aggie, as he calls her, (now Mrs Agnes Onyina), could sing all his songs with cheeky ease. This attracted King Onyina who married her. He has a number of recordings with her. They are blessed with eight children, four of whom are domiciled in London, Germany and the Netherlands.

King Onyina said life has not been kind to him during his childhood days and that explains why most of his songs were played with a solemn touch. The King of Guitar Band did not keep his knowledge of the guitar to himself but imparted this skill to other greats like Dr K. Gyasi, T.D.B. Agyekum, the founder of the defunct Happy Stars, Pat Thomas (his nephew), Ofori Dominos, Lady Talata and Otis Asamoah.

At the moment, King Onyina is the only surviving pioneers of highlife music. He named Otu Larteh and Kwaw Mensah, E.K. Nyame as his contemporaries.He combed and roamed villages and towns throughout the country to entertain and sell his music.Even though King Onyina sees hiplife as the music for the youth and therefore no one can rubbish it, he still believes they have to improve upon the rhythm power and employ the use of refined lyrics.

?I personally do not like that music because it is monotonous and not creative. I believe they can use lyrics that will give them some identity. It?s time the artistes got serious with their music?, he added.King Onyina was born on March 15, 1932, at Agona Ashanti to Opanyin Kwabena Mensah, a driver, and Ama Konadu, a trader in textiles. He is the only son of his mother and the last child of his father. He stopped schooling in Class Five after he was orphaned.

He was the regional chairman of the Ashanti Regional Branch of the Musicians Union of Ghana (MUSIGA) until recently, when he resigned as a result of his deteriorating health.He is a Buddhist and Mr Daniel Amponsah (Koo Nimo) of the Department of Biochemistry of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology is his best friend.