SHAWNEE TOWNSHIP — When he’s in Ghana, musical fans call him Uncle Ben.
Ben Brako’s name may not be well known in Lima, but he’s a national name back in his native country of Ghana due to his release of one of Ghana’s best-selling highlife albums of all time — Baya.
“You know it’s been the biggest blessing of my musical career because it really shook things up,” Brako said. “It’s probably the best-selling album from Ghana anyway.”
Now, Brako lives — at-least part-time — in Allen County. He’s been here for the last seven years starting when his wife, a pediatrician, took a job at Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center. Today, he’s still producing music in an effort to celebrate Ghana’s cultural heritage.
Living the highlife
Brako’s musical career began when he was a teenager, performing with a band comprised of him and his classmates at St. Augustine’s College in Cape Coast back in the ’70s. They played highlife, a type of indigenous Ghanaian music, but they used modern instruments weaving in new melodies with old African rhythms.
They were pretty good, and soon, they were playing in some of the largest performance halls in Ghana with professional acts. As the singer of the group, Brako said he became one of Ghana’s earliest teen pop-stars.
But Brako decided to continue his education post-graduation. He earned a degree in agricultural economics from the University of Ghana, and he went on to take up work in the corporate world working desk jobs. After almost a decade in the workforce, though, he still wanted to perform.
He moved to London to give his musical career another shot. By 1987, he released Baya, his debut album, which exploded in popularity.
“I got a lot of fulfillment from it, especially when people appreciate the music,” Brako said. “So one of my biggest dreams as I was growing up, my ultimate goal was to walk into a big club, and as I’m walking in they’re playing my music and everybody’s dancing.”
With Baya, he fulfilled that dream.
Since then, Brako has been dedicated to celebrating the heritage of Ghana through cultural exchanges and collaborations.
Know your roots
In 2019, he was involved with the country’s “Year of Return” campaign which encouraged African Americans and others displaced by the African diaspora to visit Ghana. The event drew 1.5 million visitors to the nation, including some big-name celebrities.
Without connecting with such cultural roots, Brako said Africans displaced throughout history are still trying to find how they fit within global community. Such problems even affect some Ghanaians, whose cultural roots are often clouded by European and American traditions encouraged by the upper class.
“Those that have retained their culture and traditions have managed to progress. Look at China, look at India, look at Japan, look at Israel, you know? Look at Europe. You see what I mean? Those who have been themselves, they get on because they work in the interest of the whole community,” Brako said. “Suppressed or repressed groups are not giving their best, you understand. So it will create a better world. It’s important that everyone is given the chance to bloom to reach the heights that they are capable of.”
Brako is also working on bringing different African musical traditions together through the organization of some “African Music Charts.” Under the current model, Brako said African bands and musicians will release material into the different regions of Africa, but they rarely cross into different parts of the continent. For example, a band out of Zimbabwe, located in the south, is probably not going to be heard in the more western Ghana. Through the formation of music charts, he’s looking to encourage that cross-cultural musical exchange throughout the continent.
In the United States, Brako is also trying to bring that collaborative spirit into Allen County. He recently began talks with the City of Lima’s sister city program to see if he can create a partnership between Lima and the Ghanaian village of Gomoa Assin Mampong.
He’s also interested in collaborating with local musicians to bring the highlife sound into the region. He hasn’t had any major public performances yet, but has jumped on stage with a band at Old City Prime to sing a few tunes.
“I love performing. I love writing songs. Recording is like, you have this idea in your head, it runs through your head all the time, and then you put it in the form of where it is completely up to you,” he said. “And I think that’s magic to me.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.