Pat Thomas: Coming Home - Original Ghanaian Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1964-1981

Pat Thomas' voice was made for singing, and that's the simple truth.

Pat Thomas

Coming Home: Original Ghanaian Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1964-1981

Label: Strut
US Release Date: 2016-09-30
UK Release Date: 2016-09-30

To look back on Pat Thomas' career is to examine the musical history of a nation. His voice, versatile and powerful, has been ubiquitous in Ghanaian popular music for decades, and Coming Home traces 16 years of it, from Thomas's formative years singing highlife in big bands through a rainbow of Afrobeat, reggae, disco, and everything in between. If Ghana was buying it, Pat Thomas was selling it -- the best of it. To have so many of these different styles packed into a single retrospective makes for the best kind of history lesson.

Referring to Pat Thomas's golden voice is more than empty adulation. Back in 1978, he earned the actual title of Mr. Golden Voice of Africa, and it stuck, an apt description for him. Even in ensembles as large as the early highlife bands Thomas fronted as a teen, his voice stands out, adding a soaring, jubilant note to sunny brass and upbeat guitars. Featured on Coming Home are highlife cuts of the brightest and clearest variety, with infectious choruses and a sweet ease to each groove. Carefree imperfections in "Go Modern" with Broadway Dance Band and "Yaa Amponsah" with Ogyatanaa Show Band speak to a simpler time, when partying trumped production and melodies let their listeners escape.

Gradually, the era shifts away from carefree highlife. The Sweet Beans bring drums, bass, and social consciousness to the forefront, embracing Thomas and a chorus of backing vocalists in reggae track "Revolution", a positive but entreating ode to progress and struggle. From there, the album gains a new heat, and Thomas's golden voice joins a nationwide fight against war and corruption. His hopeful brand of Afrobeat swings, his voice resonant as it carries each tune with the help of fast drums and electric guitar, the souls of Nigeria and Ghana mingling in exuberant chants and unstoppable horns. "We Are Coming Home", a track Thomas sings with the Sweet Beans' alter ego Marijata, is at the pinnacle, with Thomas's voice hitting new heights and stepping back to let trumpets and guitars alike take on furious solos.

Thomas's work with Marijata and the Sweet Beans tends to sound the most balanced in terms of band and singer, as well as the most accessible. It's hard to say if Pat Thomas held the same occasional disdain for James Brown as his musical neighbor and contemporary Fela Kuti, but there's traces of that same style of funk throughout many of the Marijata tracks, and the Sweet Beans' tunes smack of old-school reggae.

Things arrive back home at highlife when Ebo Taylor comes into play, bringing with him piano chords that could fit in just as well at a club in Havana as they do in Accra, not forsaking Afrobeat sounds, but bringing their roots right back to them. "Sack The Devils" pulls no lyrical punches when it comes to Thomas calling on Africans across the continent to fight for political freedom while alternating between modern arrangements and a plethora of traditional percussion.

On the second disk of Coming Home, the fight continues into the late '70s and early '80s, where electronics and 15-minute tracks bring burger-highlife to the table. It's the musical equivalent of "all of the above" and then some, brewing funk, soul, Afrobeat, and the ever-polarizing sounds of disco together into a single, bombastic style, named for both its physical origins in Germany and its spiritual roots in Ghana. Important for Thomas's international influence, the later tracks nevertheless walk a fine line between fun and cheesy, and sometimes land on the wrong side. That's always a risk of letting a musical career stretch into the '80s, though, and for the most part, Thomas's voice saves even the maudlin synth strings in "Can't You See", the R&B ballad closing the album.

Over the course of the 16 years covered here (not to mention the decades since then), Pat Thomas's voice changes to suit each new style, but at the same time, it doesn't age a day. It's honey and lemon, smooth and substantial, a sincere warmth that elevates every song Thomas sings.

Some artists might use a title like Mr. Golden Voice of Africa as a reason to take it easy, but not Pat Thomas. Nearly four decades after being given the title, he's still embarking on world tours and basking in every new twist that Ghanaian music takes. Listening to his breadth of work on Coming Home, though, this shouldn't come as a surprise. Pat Thomas's voice was made for singing, and that's the simple truth that makes this a retrospective worth the time it takes to listen -- and a good pair of dancing shoes.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

Keep reading... Show less

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

The Force, which details the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts, is best viewed as a complimentary work to prior Black Lives Matter documentaries, such 2017's Whose Streets? and The Blood Is at the Doorstep.

Peter Nicks' documentary The Force examines the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts to curb its history of excessive police force and systemic civil rights violations, which have warranted federal government oversight of the Department since 2003. Although it has its imperfections, The Force stands out for its uniquely equitable treatment of law enforcement as a complex organism necessitating difficult incremental changes.

Keep reading... Show less

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.