Losing a Legend: Reflecting back on an interview with highlife musician Nana Ampadu

This interview with Nana Ampadu, who died last week, was conducted in his home in La Paz Accra on June 6, 2007 as part of dissertation research on the history and culture of driving and the public culture of religion in Ghana. We began by discussing his popular song “Driver Adwuma” (Driver’s Work, or, as it’s popularly known, “Drivers”).

Nana Ampadu

LaPaz, Accra


A:  Yeah, we were talking about your song.  You said it was released in 1983, but you started in 1977, starting to collect the songs?

B:  Yeah, I started 1977.  I said, “I want to sing about drivers—the inscriptions on their cars.”  Because when you read some of them, they are very entertaining.  Some of them are thought provoking.  Some of them are insinuating…writings.  Some of them, you will laugh, you know?  So, I said, no, I can make music out of this.

A:  Yeah

B:  So what I will do is I will start to collect the inscriptions.  And it took me six good years before I could come out.  I got about 140 plus, and I seek them.  I scribed through and picked those others that I felt…

A:  The 70 that you thought were good.  Yeah.

B:  Yeah, so it was 70.  If you have got the record, read it and you see it.

A:  I believe it.  There’s so many.

B:  35 for the old cars, and 35 for the new [laughing]. 

A:  There’s so many.

B:  Yeah.

A:  When we were transcribing and translating it, we said, “Oh, this man, he likes words!”  [laughing]  Because the song had so many words in it.  It was a full song.

B:  It became so popular and it is still popular—still people buy it.  It’s not forgetting because it was the first of its kind in the country.  Nobody has, you know, come out with such a beautiful piece.

A:  Even when Apetsi was looking for it, they told him everywhere that it was finished.  That they sold them all.  That they were there anymore.  And everyone that I talk to, they know the song.  So they all said, “Oh, you know, I don’t know what record it’s on, but I know this song and it talks about drivers.”

B:  Drivers, yeah.

A:  Um, yeah, I thought the inscriptions were very interesting because, um, now when I collect them I don’t see the same ones.  I don’t see many of the same ones.

B:  It’s true.  You see different ones.  I was telling the taxi driver, I have started compiling…  I came by taxi, my car is not here…so the taxi driver…when you called and I told him it’s my friend, see, I told him a white lady is coming to interview me about the song I did for you, and I’m going to compile another one.  He say, “Eh!”  Yeah.  So I’ve started.

A:  You’ve started a new one?

B:  No, I’ve started compiling the names.

A:  For your new song?

B:  Uh huh.  For the new song, but for the drivers, this time to advise them, their behavioral attitude, how they must behave.  When they are entering the main road, they have to stop and look and then I will add their inscriptions as I did with the first one.

A:  Aha, I see.  So me, um, I see a lot more religious ones from what people have told me before.

B:  uh huh

A:  So now you see a lot of “My God is Able” and “God is King” and “God First” and “Onyame Adom” and “Nyame Nhyira wo”.

B:  In mine there were many…

A:  Yeah, there were some in there as well.

B:  Yeah.

A:  It’s true.

B:  Yeah, some of them are sung in Ewe.

A:  It’s true.

B:  In Ga, “LÉlÉnyÉ”.  That is the Mantse (?).

A:  Yeah, and “Abedi” and “Abele”

B:  “Abele”.  “Abele” means “corn”

A:  Yeah, and there was one in Arabic or something as well.  “Aquay Allah”, or something…

B:  “Acquay Allah”, that is Hausa.

A:  Ah, it’s Hausa!  Ah, we didn’t know what that one was.  Okay

B:  “Acquay Allah”, meaning there’s an existing of God.

A:  Oh, God exists?

B:  Yeah, God exists.  “Acquay Allah”.

A:  Ok.  We didn’t know that one.  We couldn’t figure that one out.

B:  Oh, “Acquay Allah”, God exists.

A:  [laughing]  Ah, we couldn’t recognize it as Hausa, I think.  Um, so, but even now…I don’t…some of the ones, like, you don’t…everyone keeps mentioning to me, they say, “Oh, some people write on their car, ‘I love my car’.”  I said, “I never see that one”.  I’ve never seen that one.

B:  In town?

A:  Yeah, in town.

B:  You may not see it today on the car.  …Things are changing.  …On what they want to write.

A:  Yeah, even people are still…still mentioning…

B:  These times, if you don’t go to the hinterlands, you’re not going to see inscriptions like “Obi dea ba”.  You get it?  Those letters that portray wretchedness.  In the cities these young boys will not write anything that will deprive…no!…demoralize…no!…  …a little.  But in the villages you can still have some of those cars.

A:  Even when they have old cars now, I met a boy, a young man, who was driving a car, an old car and it said “Destiny”, and he told me that he was so confident that he was going to do better things.  He said, “Today I may be here, but tomorrow, you don’t know.  I may be teaching at the university or something.”  And so, I think, even when they have the old cars now they still…they want to be confident in their future, and they think God helps them get it.

B:  In those generations, that was the tyranny in the system.  You know, we could feel, poverty was an element of havoc.  You see?  People tempted those who were poor.  And so they had some consolation to write “Énye se ano mu, eye”.  Don’t expect that you will see me in these tattered clothes in the next future.

A:  But now they don’t like to admit that they have the tattered clothes to start with?

B:  Yeah.  Now Christianity is unfolding everywhere.  That is what’s changing the minds of the people.  They’re getting a new perception—a perception of positiveness.  Unlike their old times where people would be brooding over life.

A:  And now because of Christianity they think that things will get better, or they have an attitude of…

B:  They think, they’re teaching that talk better for yourself and it will happen because you expect it.  You get it?  Talk better things.  Like the one who wrote, “Destiny” and he was telling you, “Maybe today you will see me, I’m a driver’s mate, but next time you see me a teacher.  A step forward in the right direction in life.

A:  Um, yeah, it’s similar to some of the preachers who say, you know, they like this…they call it “Gospel of Prosperity”, and so they say if you believe then you will be rewarded.

B:  Yes.

A:  You will be prosperous, you will succeed.

B:  So you collected the names of the churches also?

A:  Yeah, I’ve had some of the names of the churches, yeah.  The new Pentecostal ones, the charismatic ones.  Those are the ones that are the most interesting I think.

B:  My church is, um, you know I’m an evangelist?  They told you?

A:  Yeah, Kofi Agyekum told me.

B:  My church is Center for Christ Mission.

A:  Shelter for Christ?

B:  Center for Christ…Mission.  CCM [laughing].

A:  Yeah, and so do you sing anymore or no?  You sing in your church?

B:  I sing in my church.  I sing at big funeral, big functions.  Yeah, this year when we had the 50th independence I was drawn up with other prominent musicians, yeah, to sing at a concert.  A very big concert for dignitaries.  And we were given some awards.

A:  But you didn’t choose to go sing gospel music?

B:  Where?

A:  You didn’t  choose to go sing gospel music after you stopped the highlife?

B:  No, highlife…let me tell you one thing.  People misconstrue and have a different conception of what is highlife.  Highlife is the rudiments of rhythms in Ghana, you see?  Highlife is Ghana, when you talk about music.  Highlife is the beat, so you can sing the secular music using the highlife tempo, like America is for jazz.  You can sing gospel with jazz, you can sing secular with jazz, but people don’t understand it.  The moment you sing secular, they say you are playing highlife while somebody sings and says “Oh Lord, I love you!”  They play it with the highlife rhythm, they will say it is gospel and forget about mentioning highlife.  The highlife is the tempo, the recognized tempo, the indigenous tempo of Ghanaians.

A:  Um, so when…are you still making new songs?

B:  Yeah.  I’ve been making.

A:  Oh

B:  But the last time I released some was some three years ago.

A:  Oh, I see.  Uh, so you’re an evangelist and a musician at the same time?

B:  Yeah, the meeting is an inborn kind of thing.   The other day I was telling people, in music you can say I’m going for a timing.  It’s not like government official when they will just check your age and say you are 55, you are 60, go on retirement.  Dr. Ephraim Amu retired when he was about 85.  He was still a musician when he died.

A:  It’s true, yeah.  Very true.  So, as a preacher, what do you think of these…or an evangelist—sorry—what do you think of these people now and the new kinds of signboards you see on the taxis?

B:  Most of them are good.  I mean, comparing to the old times.  Except that some of them are coined…some of them are coining…coinages, you know?  Innuendos.  They just wrote…coined them themselves, but most of the other writings or inscriptions are very healthy.  Reading that…they use to mention God, it encourages a lot of people.  You get it?  You see, I saw one of them said “Jehovah will do it”.  You see?  It’s encouraging.  God will do it, so it’s not daunting.  I like them!  That’s why I said I want to repeat it.

A:  And so what will the new song talk about?  Because in the first song you talk about how a driver’s life is…

B:  The tiresomeness of driving.   You know, how the passengers would come and infuriate the driver…certain pedigree.   But now…

A:  Yeah, if you go too fast they say, “Oh, where are you going that you have to go so fast!?”  But if you go too slow, they say “Oh, do you want us to sleep in the road?”

B:  Yeah, so I want to advise the drivers on their mode of ethics—driver errors—I want to tell them so that when they want to enter to the major roads, you look your right side first, look your…before you enter.  Driver, the country loves you.  If you know you are drunk, don’t drive.  When you are driving, don’t drink.  Such things.  And then I will coin and add their writings.  To make them happy.  And this one I’m going to do.

A:  So, um…

B:  I’ve got a small studio here so I can start from here and then finish it, yeah…

A:  Oh, nice.  Um, so do you feel like maybe the drivers don’t do these things?  So they don’t drive well?  They aren’t moral with their driving?

B:  Yeah, yeah

A:  And so you need to tell them?

B:  Yeah, yeah.  And they love me so at least some of them, yeah, some of them will take it.

A:  But yet they write religious things on their cars.

B:  What?

A:  Yet they write these religious things on their cars like they are…

B:  But you have to remember that to err is human…

A:  It’s true.

B:  To err is human, but it’s good even that they are seeing the light to write something that is good for others.  If that driver who has written that thing is not going to take it, maybe a passenger or somebody passing by will just read and understand, and it can help, you know.  Confidence or fate and those writings, they use them for himself or herself, you understand?  These pastors…not all of them are called by God, but they preach the word, so people who are listening will take the word.  Leave the preacher to his fate.  This is what he… [laughing]

A:  Um, so is there a particular reason why you were interested in taxis?  Because I look at the…there’s also the signboards on the lorries and the trotros and the shop there…

B:  No, with mine, most of them were on lorries.

A:  They’re on lorries not taxis?

B:  No, no, they…no, no, no, when I was doing it, most of them were on lorries.  In the hinterlands we had the old lorries so most of the old…the wretched ones…

A:  The Bedfords?

B:  No, the “Wretched Ratchets” (?) were the old lorries like “Obi dea ba”, “Dwene wo ho”, “Onyame nae”, some “ebeye yie”, “yesi Énom eye”…all were on lorries.  Mammy truck…we call them mammy truck lorries where the woman sat in to go to market places.

A:  Yeah, yeah, they use it for that now.  Oh yeah, it’s true.  [laughing]  The Bedford…

B:  The Bedford, yeah [laughing]

A:   Yeah, I know that one.  Yeah, I think that a lot of people assume that you are talking about taxi drivers, I think.

B:  No!  I don’t think so!

A:  Oh, whenever people would tell me about the song they would say, “Oh, it’s a song about taxi drivers.”  [laughing]

B:  No.

A:  I don’t know why they would tell me that.

B:  Maybe that is the perception they had, but…

A:  Yeah, I think so.

B:  But I was talking generally to drivers.

A:  Yeah, it’s true.

B:  Professional drivers.

A:  Yeah, you’re not specific, so it’s true.  I don’t know why they were saying that.  Um, so in the days that…in the 70s and 80s when you were collecting these signboards, these inscriptions, did you also see them on shops?

B:  No, no

A:  They were not on shops?

B:  No, no, I was not talking about shops.

A:  Yeah, I understand.

B:  I was solely…ah, you just want to ask me whether I saw some of them.  Yeah, some of them were on shops.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Like “Onyame nnae”, “ebeye yie”.  Most of them were on shops.  “God is King”…you’ll find some on shops.

A:  Right.  The part I think is most interesting is that these things normally appear on things that people use in business.  So it’s something they’re using to get money.  So a shop or a taxi or a trotro or a lorry…it’s something they use for their work.

B:  No, they were not using that for money!  I don’t know, but I don’t think that added to their wages.

A:  No, no, not that the signs added to their wages.

B:  Okay.

A:  But driving the taxi itself, it’s how they…

B:  It’s a commercial venture.

A:  Yeah.

B:  Ok.

A:  So it’s like their shop.

B:  Yeah.

A:  It’s like they were a shop owner or…

B:  Yeah, yeah, I get it.

A:  You get me?

B:  I understand.

A:  Sorry.  And, um, so I think it is interesting because people don’t often put them on private cars.  So you don’t put it on your own car or your own house or these things.  Often they…

B:  Few private cars now have them.

A:  It’s true, there’s a few, yeah.

B:  Yeah, a few.  But in our days they were very minute, but now you can see, most of these young boys, as I was telling, they will coin a name like “Sakota” or…”Tola”, “Big Boy”…

A:  Yeah, “Binghi Man”, I saw “Binghi Man”.

B:  Do you see this in America?

A:  No, see, we don’t have this, so this is why I think it is so interesting.  Because people come…when I came to Ghana the first time, the thing I noticed was all the signboards about religion, about God…everywhere.  All around.  All in the street.  God was everywhere in the street.  You get me?  So, we don’t have that in US.  You don’t…so, people are even surprised when they see a billboard that has the Ten Commandments on it and there are a few of those on the side of the road.  Very few.  But you don’t see the writing on cars in this way.  And painting on the cars and, um, shop names, the shop names tend not to be religious, but in Ghana there’s so many…

B:  Just on the supply cars.  Cars they use to supply.  Then they can write the company’s name on the car.

A:  Yeah, except for that one.  Yeah.  It’s true, but not so many religious ones.  Um, very, very rare.

B:  So do you think that religion in America is minute?  In some of the states?

A:  Um, I think it is just different.  So I think that people understand or…experience religion differently and maybe think about it differently.

B:  Yeah, okay.

A:  It’s possible.

C:  And they don’t like to express it in public.

A:  Yeah, it’s private.

B:  You express it within.

C:  Yeah.

A:  It’s a private thing.  It’s like the missionaries used to tell you that…they used to preach that religion is a matter of your personal salvation.  It’s not about…

B:  But when I was in America, I saw that before I could study America I had the same perception, you know, like many Ghanaians, that when I went to America, I saw many TV channels that were religious channels.

A:  Yeah, it’s true.  It’s very true.

B:  And there were a lot of people.  I mean, they preach to people on the TV, so I say, “Oh, so these people, they understand God.  You know, when we were in Africa we thought that America was just a helpful paradise.  [laughing]  I was so sorry about that thing.  So when I came back, I was telling them.

A:  Many people go to church.  It’s true!  Yeah, and there’s many big churches just like in Ghana.

B:  So is it the only African state that you have visited in your research?  Have you gone to Nigeria and the other?  They are all there…

A:  I haven’t gotten to go to Nigeria, no.

B:  Nigeria, it’s worse!

A:  I have heard, yeah.  Yeah, they tell me.  [laughing]  I’ve only been to Togo, so it’s not so much there.  Because they’re Catholic there, you know.  They don’t do these things.  But I’ve been told by several other people…I know some people who do this work in Liberia.

B:  Ok

A:  And also a bit in Nigeria from, like, the late 1980s, I guess.  And they also collected slogans—they call them slogans—inscriptions from taxis.  And, um, the ones in Nigeria, some of them were religious but not all of them.

B:  Ok.

A:  Not as many as are in Ghana now.

B:  In Nigeria there are some of them, when you go to the Yoruba area they use…most of them use their gods…the names of their gods on them, on their cars.

A:  Yeah, the Onitshas.

B:  Yeah, I’ve been to Nigeria before.  I toured there with my band a couple…about four times and we experienced all these kinds of things.

A:  I haven’t myself seen it.  I only have this writing by this man, this Nigerian man who wrote about a similar thing…about the taxi inscriptions.

B:  Ooh!  Ok, another journalist?

A:  Well, he’s a…I’m a History student

B:  A researcher?

A:  He’s a…I don’t know if he’s an anthropologist or what.

B:  Okay.

A:  Um, and then I met some people who work in Liberia.

B:  I see.

A:  And they also said…they listed all these taxi slogans, taxi inscriptions, and I went up to them afterwards and I said, “I study these…the religious ones in Ghana”, and they said, “Oh, in Ghana, of course they’re religious”.

B:  Yeah.


A:  So, somehow Ghana is known to be so religious.

B:  In Ghana we are religious.  Very, very religious, you know.  We come to know…because of the missionary schools, you see, I myself was brought up in Anglican church.  I grew with it.  I was baptized in it.  Like my compatriots, all of us.  So the moment you come out as a Christian, when you get married and bring forth [children] automatically you won’t let your children go wayward.  You will just bring them into it.  And this is what we are missing.  Whether we understand it or not, we have to let people know that we are Christians.  We have it there.  Unlike in America where somebody will worship in his heart that you won’t display it.  But here somebody will display that he is a Christian, but his ways are opposite of what is expected, you know.  Opposite the norms and values of the Christians.  But he just goes to the church to let people know that he knows God.

A:  Right, but I wonder because people talk about how in Ghana and Nigeria the religion is so much more than in some place like maybe Kenya or South Africa or Zimbabwe where they also had mission schools and…

B:  Yeah.

A:  Yeah, and yet somehow religion didn’t become quite as popular as it did in Ghana and Nigeria.

B:  Yeah, well maybe that is our style.  The way we want to make it.  Like, let’s go off a bit and talk soccer.  In Britain it’s their most popular game, but when you go to America, it’s not their religion, the soccer.  They have a different…  So this is how Ghanaians, they want to take it, ok?  It’s good with us.

A:  Yeah.  So, um, I can’t really remember if I already asked you this–  Do you see an increase in the number of religious signboards and inscriptions or do you see the same number?

B:  Oh, every time!  Every time, it’s springing up!  Every time!  No, the rate, it’s being accelerated.  Yeah!  Every time.

A:  It’s being accelerated every time?

B:  Yes

A:  Ah, why do you think that may be?

B:  Uh…let me take it to the first…the attribution of spiritualism.  You know, nobody knows how God works with his people, but the other time I was interviewing on radio and I said, “When you hear that a church has sprung up from another church, don’t get annoyed.  Because there’s somebody over there where the new church is going who hasn’t repented yet.  And so maybe through that church…because he might be a deprived person…he can’t take a car or walk all that the long way to visit a church, but when it’s at his doorstep, I think he can get it.  The access to get there will be easier.  So, that alone is another way to promote the Christianity.  So it’s good.  I’m not saying I fully support it, but it’s good for God.  That is why it is springing up.  Unlike Muslim…even the Muslims have even started.  Formerly, when we got this land in 1978, we had only one church, one Muslim…mosque.  But now, just this area, we have about six.  You see, so they too, they are springing up.


This is my son.  He is called Kwabena.


He’s a radio man.  He works at the radio station.

A:  Oh, okay.


Um, so, a lot of people have actually told me…I’ve seen differences…some people have kept the same signboard for a long time.

B:  Yeah.

A:  And they move it from car to car.

B:  Yeah.

A:  But some other people, they just started driving recently and they put the signboard on because before they weren’t Christians, but now they are so they use it to remind them of the time before they were Christian and they were suffering then.

B:  Yeah

A:  And then they became Christian and they got a car, and…

B:  Yeah, of course.  I will call it a sense of reformation.  They see that they have reformed so they have to reform with the words, too.

A:  Yeah, and they told me they want to remember it.

B:  Yeah.

A:  So that’s why they write it there, so that any time they try to…they start to do something bad that they shouldn’t do, that will make them lose their job or something then they say, “Oh, but  remember this time when I did this…

B:  Yeah.

A:  But then the people who have always been Christian from the time they were born, who always went to church, they keep the same one.

B:  Yeah, they keep the same one, or even if they will change it, they will change it and pick another strong Christian phrase or clause, you know.  You get it?  Like somebody will pick “Jesus Never Fails”.  He might use it for about five years, then he can write, “I’m with Jesus”.  It’s the same thing.

A:  Yeah, it’s true.  They didn’t do it for quite the same reasons, it seemed.  But, um, so what are the things that you are seeing for your new song about the drivers?  What are some of the slogans that you are seeing now…that you find really interesting?

B:  No, they are with my first son.  We are compiling.  I can’t remember them, but most of them are on the gospel trail, on the gospel trail, like “Jesus Never Fails”, um, Jah…there was one that I loved, but…uh…it said “God never sleeps”.  Jesus is around, Jesus is in this car.  Something…

A:  Yeah, that is a very nice one.  So what…are you going to say something particular…do you see a difference between the old cars and the new cars now?  Like you did before?

B:  No, it’s not vividly clear that you can see old cars with those wretched writings, or, what do I want to say…  But, uh, still some of them use them but it is very minute now…the old car.  You might see an old car, but the writings may be healthy because a person has known God and that person thinks it is positive.  You see, I was telling people, our tradition…some of our tradition, not the whole Ghana…you know, we have different tribes.  In the Akan tribes, I saw that our tradition was based more on sadness and wretched tendencies unlike other tribes that base their tradition on positiveness.  Like the oburoni—your people—your tradition…I’ve been in America before.  It’s based on positiveness.  Yeah!  The white man doesn’t fear that he should tell the truth, but here I will fear to tell the truth about what you are doing with Paul in my room, but the white man will say, “Oh, I saw them.  She was kissing him.”  And he’s free.  But here, no.  So we always try rather to groom such misconducts unlike…  It’s because of fear and the negative tendencies and bordered in our tradition.  I’ve been preaching to people now at least to eradicate those concepts.  Let’s think positive.  Yeah.

A:  I was told by someone that Americans will let their children do things that Akans would never let their children do.

B:  Yes, there’s quite a difference comparatively.  I mean, we study from ourselves, we study from people, different backgrounds those, you know, things, characters, features on them that is good.  You have to adopt them and come and use it.  Those that are not good, that will be detrimental, just leave them.  Don’t even criticize them, just leave them.  Those that you feel you can’t use it, but those that can help you to build your nation or your body or your family, why don’t you adopt it?  Hm?

A: Yeah, it’s true.

B:  Here, formerly in the olden days, most fathers will not go with their wives.  The wives were always at home, but when you want to invite an American he will say, “Oh, I’m coming with Jane, my wife.  If my wife’s not coming, I’m not coming.”  [laughing]  You know it!  I remember when we went to London in 1973, we went to a shop…it was a musical shop.  There was a young girl serving there.  One of my boys didn’t know she was married and he was saying, “I love you.”  And she says, “You love me?  Then wait.”  And then she made a phone call.  And she gave him the phone and said, “Talk to John”.  And he said, “Who is John?”  “He is my husband.  Tell him that you love me.”  And all of us were laughing!  [laughing]

A:  It’s true.  I always tell people the same thing.  [laughing]

B:  She said, “Talk to John that you love me.”  [laughing]

A:  I tell them my husband will cry…

B:  Oh, I see!

A:  …if they take me as their husband.  Um, yeah, so I think it is interesting that this is the only research song.

B:  Yeah.

A:  …that you did.  So how do you see this song as different from your other songs?  Or what did you gain?  Was the research just the collecting the…or did you speak to people?

B:  You see, I gained a lot of respect, you know.  People classify this as a peculiar composition.  It’s outstanding!  There was no match even in my repertoire.  You see?  And I became swollen headed, I became encouraged that I have done something that the people have liked.  That was my profit.  Forget about the money I got from it, I did something special for the people or in the music fields.

A:  It’s true.  I think the song is amazing because I listened to the song and I saw how much you were sympathizing with the drivers and seeing both sides of the situation.

B:  You see, yes.  [laughing]

A:  Because most people, they will just curse the drivers.  They don’t like to see that they also have it hard.


B:  You see, how can you please a set of people with different temperament, with different traditional background?  They are all in your car.  Some of them want you to go speed.  Some of them, you speed and they want you to slow down.  Some of them want to come down, others wish you hadn’t stopped.  And you are contenting all these people, so you are somebody we have to sympathize with you, I mean the driver, you see.  So I got that sympathy for them.  [laughing]

A:  You wanted to encourage them?

B:  Yeah.  [laughing]

A:  So do the drivers now need encouragement?  Do you think?

B:  Yes!

A:  They still need it?

B:  They still need it.  And these drivers need a lot of advice.

A:  So did the drivers used to be old?  Older?  Were they more wise?

B:  In the olden days?  Yeah, because, my friend will tell you, in the olden days before you became a driver, you have to be a mate for some certain amount of years and then your master would teach you the rudiments in driving.  So before you will come out, you will know what you are doing.  You get it?  But now somebody will be in the house and he gets a license.  He pushes his father or mother’s car, somebody takes him around two…three times.  He say, “I am a driver.”  He doesn’t know nothing!  So I have to…I’m going to do it very, very soon.

A:  Oh, I would like to know when that happens.  I would like to make sure I get it.

B:  Oh, if you are here, maybe I can promise you because of you…  When are you leaving Ghana?

A:  I’m leaving the 9th of August.

B:  No, I can’t do it.

A:  No, you can’t do it by then.

B:  But maybe you can take my address, you can write to me, when I finish I can send you a copy.  Maybe a rush copy for you because I’m doing it.

A:  That would be great!

B:  If I won’t do it…I told my friend that I would do it and I’m going to do it.

A:  Yeah, that would be great.  I will even be back in 2009, hopefully.

B:  Ok, but by then I might have released it already.

A:  Yeah, it’s true.  But I will love to hear that one.

Watch this video of Nana Ampadu describing the creation of “Driver Adwuma”

The transcription and translation of the lyrics are included below:

Nana Ampadu I and his African Brothers Band Int.  “Adwuma Yi Ye Den (Drivers)”  Double-Do:  Oman Bo Adwo/Drivers (originally released 1983)

Transcribed by Kofi Agyekum

Translated by Kofi Agyekum and Jennifer Hart

Adwuma yi ye den.

            This work is hard

Nanso ehia ma abotere

            Therefore it needs patience.

AdrÉbafoÉ e monnue

            Drivers have my sympathy.

Nnwom a yerebeto yi

            The song that we are coming to sing

Yebeto ahye adrÉbafoÉ animuonyam

            We are coming to sing it to honor the drivers.

ehia ma abotere

            The work needs patience.

AdrÉbafoÉ e monnue

            Drivers have my sympathy.

Yesan ma mo nkuranhye

            We give them encouragement.

Hwe se drÉbani wasÉre anÉpa na wakÉtena wo sitia anim

            Look how the drivers get up in the morning and go to sit in front of their steering wheel.

W’ani, w’aso, wo hwene, wo nsatea ne wo nan mmienu

            Your eyes, your ears, your nose, your fingers, and your two legs (you need them all).

ewÉ se wode w’ani hwe kwan mu yie na wankÉfa asiane biara amma.

            You ought to use your eyes to watch the road well so that you don’t go and bring any

kind of accident.

Draveni e wo mfomsoÉ a wobeye no se onyame ampata a wobehwere Ékra bi nkwa.

            If you make a mistake and God doesn’t intervene, you will cause somebody to lose

his/her life.

W’aso ne w’ani nso ebiara wÉ adwuma a eye.

            Your ears and your eyes each have a role to play.

Wo nsa mmmienu yi se ebebare sitia no ara ni.

            Your two hands are confined to the steering wheel.

Wo nsa korÉ yi ara eye gyia ho adwuma.

            These same hands are the ones that are supposed to be shifting the gears.

Wobekyim wipers, trafficator a, wo nsa korÉ yi ara.

            You turn the wiper and blinker (trafficator) with this same hand.

Wo nan mmienu nso bre a wÉÉmo rebre wÉ asee hÉ,

            Look at how your two legs are tiring themselves down there [shifting],

KlÉÉkye, breeki ene kae no gya no a, ese se wo nan yi ehwe ye biribiara pepeepe.

            Clutch, brake, and accelerator, it’s necessary that these legs function accordingly.

Na woasi mu a wode apasenyafoÉ rebetu kwan no, wo tu mmirika kakara bia,

            When you set off traveling with the passengers, if you speed a little,

Ebinom bedidi no atem.

            Some of them [the passengers] will insult you.

–E Draeva, to bo, to wo bo, na woankÉku yen

–Eh, Driver (insult), slow down, slow down, have you not seen that you are killing us?

ehene ara na yerekÉ a wode kae retu mmirika sei?–

            Where are we going that you are speeding in such a manner?–

se wonkÉ ntem nso a, apasenyafoÉ no bi beteatea wo

            If you don’t go quickly, some passengers will reprimand you

–e Draeva wope se yeda kwan mu anaa?

            –Eh, Driver, do you want us to sleep on the road?

Wontia gya se yerepe ntem akÉye adee.—

            Press the gas because we are in a hurry.—

Na wo ara baakofoÉ wobeye deen?

            So, as a single person, what can you do?

Draeving adwuma yi ehia ma abotere,

            This driving work requires patience

PassenyfoÉ yi nso ebinom dawe paa.

            Because some of these passengers are very proud.

Woaduru baabi a Ébesie no Énka no ntem.

            When you have arrived at the place where they want to alight, they won’t say it early.

Baabi a Épe se Ésie no, na Ébetea mu se

            Where he will get down, he will shout there and say

–Draeva gyinagyina na eha yi ara na mesie.–

            –Driver, stop, stop, for this is the exact/very place I want to get down.–

Woannyina hÉ amma no a draeva due atennidie a ekÉÉ Twi kÉÉ Breman ne nyinaa,

            If you don’t stop there, you are going to be attacked with insults from all over and of all


Draevani e wobegye ahye wo ho “cool”.

            Driver, you have to receive them coolly.

Enti na mereka no no draeva adwuma yi enna fam.

            That is why I am saying that the driver’s work is not easy.

DraevafoÉ monnue.  Yemma mo nkuranhye o—

            Drivers, I sympathize with you.  We give you encouragement.


Adwuma yi ye den, nanso emu ye ya.

            This work is hard and painful.

ehia ma abotere.

            It requires patience.

AdrÉbafoÉ e monnue e

            Drivers, I sympathize with you.

Ao monnue e

            Sympathy to you all.

Draeving adwuma yi a, adee a ewÉ mu ne se

            This driving work, what it involves is

Draevani biara pe “laif”, Draevani biara pe “show”

            All drivers want to be fashionable, and all drivers want people to recognize them.

WoasÉre anÉpa akÉtena wo sitia anim.

            When you wake up in the morning, you go and sit in front of your steering wheel.

Obiara hu wo a, na wafre wo na wo nso woayi no nsa.

            Everyone sees you and calls you and you also wave at them.

eba no saa a, na wo tirim aye wo de.

            When it is so, you are delighted/pleased/happy.

Wo nso woye “popular”, wo nso woye “somebody”.

            You also are popular, you also are somebody.

Draeving adwuma yi adee baako a ewo mu ne se wo lÉre asee a wonkÉ kwan so no,

            One thing about this driving work is that when your lorry is spoiled and you are not on

the road,

wo dee kÉ station yebeye no “bookman”.

            You just go to the station and they will make you a “bookman” (collects tickets, tolls,

fines, etc.)

Wo yÉnko bi nso Ébema wo “spare”.

            Your friend also will allow you to do some spare driving.

Dee wobedi nko ara dee wobenya no daa.

            As for what you will eat, you will get something every day.

Draeving adwuma yi dee ema eye de ne se woman kwan so,

            As for this driving work, what makes it interesting is that if you are on the road,

wobehyia wo yÉnko draeva.

            You will meet your driver friends/colleagues.

ÉbesÉ ne kanea na Éde akyea wo na wonso wasÉ wo dee na wode agye no so.

            He will flash his lights to greet you and you will also flash your lights back and respond.

Woahyia wo yÉnko no na Éde ne nsa akyere fam.

            When you meet your friend, he points toward the ground.

se Éyesaa a, Éde rebÉ wo nkaee se yaanom wÉ kwan mu, apolisifoÉ wÉ kwan mu.

            If he does that, he is reminding/warning you that troublemakers are on the road,

            policemen are on the road.

WorekorÉ no nso ebia na woafa polisini atena “front”.

            As you go maybe you have taken a policeman at your front seat.

Wotiri aye yie, Éte mu no nko ara dee polisini biara nkoha wo wÉ kwan mu.

            If you are lucky, since he is sitting in your car, no policemen will trouble you on your


Na draeving adwuma yi dee eye me fe wÉ mu ne se

And as for this driving work, what is pleasing to me is that

Draevani biara Épe din nti ebere biara wÉtaa tweretwere wÉn kae no ho.

            Every driver wants likes a name, so often they write on their car.

Draevani bi wÉ hÉ a …

A certain driver…

Kae ho ntwere no nso wokenkan bi a eye de yie.

            It is interesting to read some of the inscriptions on cars.

Ebi ye ÉdÉ asem.

            Some of them are about love.

Ebi ye afisem.

            Some of them are about domestic issues.

Ebi ye akutiabÉ.

            Some of them are insinuations/innuendos.

Na kae ho ntwereee no nso egu mu ahodoÉ mmienu. 

            The inscriptions on the cars are of two types.

Kae no ye emono a, esono sedee wÉtwere ho.

            If the car is new, the writing is different.

eye dada nso a, esono ho ntwereee.

            The old ones also have different things written on them.

[New Cars]

Kae mono no eho ntweree na ereba yi.

            The inscriptions on new cars are what follows.

Epuee no ara wobehunu se wÉatwere anim se

            The very moment the car appears, you will see that they have written at the front that

“I Love My Car”.

Kae no bi ntwere ne

            Some cars have the inscriptions

“Cool and Collected”

“Lover Boy”

“Envy No Man”

“Pe wo dee ahoÉyeaa”

            Find/Seek for your own

“eye wo ya”

            It pains you (that I am prospering)

“Skin Pain” (Envy)

“Étan nni aduro”

            Hatred has no cure/medicine

“Yaa Baby”

“Still Good Boy”

“ÉdÉ ye wu”

            Love is death

“Sweet Jesus”

“Jah Bless”

“Rasta Man”

“Ancestor” (are watching/helping)

“Honest Labour”


“I Shall Return”

“Road Master”

“Girl bi nti”

            Because of a girl

“Sea Never Dry”


            Something beautiful

“Acquay Allah”


            He loves me (Ewe)


            Our God is alive (Ewe)


            Loving is good (Ewe)

“Kamfo Yehowa”

            Praise be to God

“True Friends”

“Adamfo Papa”

            Good Friend

“Agya pa ye”

            A good father is good. (b/c someone has provided a car for you)

“Ena pa ye”

            A good mother is good. (b/c someone has provided a car for you)

“WÉfa pa ye”

            A good uncle is good. (b/c someone has provided a car for you)

“Ase pa ye”

            A good in-law (except brother/sister-in-law) is good.  (b/c someone has provided a car)

“God is King”


[Old Cars]

Kae dada no nso.  Epuee a wobehunu se wÉatwere anim hÉ–W’ano pe asem.

            Old cars also, when they appear, you see that they have written on the front of it—Your

mouth likes issues (You like talking/You like to comment on everything).

etwa mu nso a, hwe etoÉ hÉ.

            When it passes by, look at the back.

edeen no wÉatwere–efa wo ho ben?

            What have they written?—Does it concern you?

Kae dada no no eho ntweree bi na edidi soÉ yi

            Some old cars inscriptions follow.

“Slow but Sure”

“Poor No Friend”

“Moko, Moko Legyen”

            Nobody knows the world (don’t presume that you know everything; nobody knows what

can happen tomorrow) (Ga)


            It will be well. (Ga)

“Ebaa Kyake”

            Things will change. (Ga)

“Me Nyame Kae me e”

            My God, remember me

“Onyame Bekyere”

            God will Show/Provider

“BoafoÉ ye na”

            Helpers are scarce

“Fa ye me nko ara”

            Do this to me alone

“WÉaye afere”

            They have been shamed

“ÉsrefoÉ nnim awieee”

            The teaser does not know the end

“Ohia ye ya”

            Poverty is painful

“Mmaa mpe ohia”

            Women don’t like poverty

“Sika nti”

            Because of money

“Ofie Mmosea”

            Gravel from the house, from the proverb “Ofie abosea se etwa wo a, eye ya sene

abÉntene so dee” (When gravels from the house cut you it is more painful than gravels

from the street)

“Se asa”

            Now it is finished

“Se mope me ara ni”

            This is how you people wanted me to be

“Aka m’ani o”

            It has touched my eyes (I have suffered or I can only look at you/I can’t do anything)

“Ankonam BoafoÉ”

            A Lonely Person’s Helper (is God)

“ebetÉ da”

            A time will come

“Obi dee aba”

            Someone’s has come, from “Obi de aba na obi de nam kwan mu” (Someone’s has come,

but someone’s maybe be on the way)

“Dwene wo ho”

            Think about yourself (not me)

“Onyame nnae”

            God is not asleep

“Abusua ye dÉm”

            A family can despise you/ignore you

“Abusua te se Kwaee”

            A family is like a forest, from the proverb “Abusua te se kwaee.  WowÉ akyiri a ebom

koro.  Wopini ho a, na wohunu se dua koro biara wÉ ne sibere” (A family is like a forest. 

When you are far away, it seems to be unified, but as you get closer, you will see that every single tree has its positionàintra-family conflict)

“efie mpo ni”

            Even at home

“Nku me fie”

Don’t kill me at home, from a song saying “Nku me fie na nkÉsu me abÉntene” (Don’t kill me at home and go cry for me outside/mourn for me).

“Aburuburo Kosua”

The egg of the sparrow, from the proverb “Aburuburo kosua adee a ebeye yie nsee da” (Things that are destined to be better/meant to be well will never be spoiled; If you are destined to be prosperous, nothing will keep it from you; If God means for you to have it, you will have it)

“enye sei ara na meye”

            I wouldn’t be like this (throughout life)

“Adom wÉ wiem”

            Grace comes from heaven

“Me dee beba”

            Mine will come

“Mese Hmm”

            I say [silence], meaning I won’t talk, I will only sigh

“Ehuruhuru a ebeduo”

            No matter how hot it becomes, it will cool down

“Psalm 91”

“He that dwells in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress:  my God; in him will I trust.  Surely he shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler, and from the deadly pestilence.  He shall cover you with his feathers, and under his wings shall you trust:  his truth shall be your shield and buckler.  You shall not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flies by day; nor for the pestilence that walks in darkness; nor for the destruction that wastes at noonday.  A thousand shall fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you.  Only with your eyes shall you behold and see the reward of the wicked.  Because you have made the lord, who is my refuge, even the most High, your habitation; there shall no evil befall you, neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.  For he shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.  They shall bear you up in their hands, lest you dash your foot against a stone.  You shall tread upon the lion and adder:  the young lion and the serpent shall you trample under feet.  Because he has set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him:  I will set him on high, because he has known my name.  He shall call upon me, and I will answer him:  I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honor him.  With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation.” Holy Bible, King James Version 2000

“Psalm 23”

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I Shall Not Want,”

Enti na mereka no draeving adwuma yi eye de.

            That’s why I’m saying that driving work is interesting.

AdrÉbafoÉ mma mo mpue aba.

            Drivers, don’t be discouraged.

Mo adwuma ye bue, eye bue, eye bue, bue, bue, eye pÉki, eye bue.

            Your work is admirable/good; it is admirable/good; admirable/good; admirable/good; it is

admirable; it is admirable/good

Chorus repeat

Adwuma yi ye de nanso emu ye ya…

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