‘Speedy’ Acquaye

Nii Moi ‘Speedy’ Acquaye, percussionist: born Accra, Ghana 7 June 1931; died London 15 September 1993.

SPEEDY ACQUAYE was one of a long line of African musicians whose presence in Britain since at least Elizabethan times has provided a cogent reminder of modern music’s rich and diverse origins.

For over 40 years his challenging remarks and gap-toothed grin were as familiar around Soho as many of the quarter’s better-documented denizens. But in Britain’s careless tradition of paying scant attention to the individuality of black people, he often experienced anonymous status. Those who knew him and his sturdy drumming knew better. Born in Accra in what was then the Gold Coast, Acquaye played a small drum, a parental gift, before starting school at 12. Teenage bands and encouragement from an older cousin failed to interest him in a musical career and he joined the Army briefly before heading for England. Pantomime (Man Friday in a Nottingham production) provided his show-business entry, London the stimulation for the rest of his life.

Soho in the 1950s teemed with small black clubs; here Acquaye found fellow Africans and local modern jazz players who admired their music. He worked with the saxophonists Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott and the redoubtable drummer Phil Seamen, then followed other African percussionists into Kenny Graham’s adventurous Afro-Cubists.

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