Born an ordinary child on Wednesday 13th September 1899 at Peki-Avetile, a small village in Volta Region, Dr Ephraim Kɔku Amu grew to become an authority in Ghanaian music.
He was born to Mr Stephen Amuyaa, a wood carver, drummer and singer and Madam Sarah Akoram Ama. Dr Amu was the last of eight children.
He realised his love for music at age 12 when he entered the Peki-Blengo E.P. Boarding Middle School. Dr Amu enjoyed it any time his music teacher, Karl Ntem played the organ during church collections.
The smart young boy went into a mutual agreement with his music teacher. He asked that he be taught the rudiments of music and the skills of playing the piano and in return he was to work for Mr Karl Ntem in his farm every Saturday. For little Ephraim, it was a good deal since he also had soft spot for agriculture.
In 1915, Amu passed the Abetifi teachers Seminary Examination and also passed the Standard 7 School Leaving Certificate Examination.
A year later, Ephraim Amu moved to the Abetifi Teachers Seminary to start his teacher training. During his stay in the school, Amu invented his own bicycle from wood. His friends named it ‘Amu’, after its creator. Amu also used his ingenuity and creativity to carve wooden balls for the school games. These replaced the imported balls used at the time at the seminary.
He completed four-year teacher-catechist training in 1919. Newly graduating teacher-catechist Ephraim Amu was one of the two preachers selected to mount the pulpit on behalf of their fellow mates as was customary to preach and to express their appreciation to their tutors and townsfolk. The sermon also served as an assessment of the quality of theological training offered and learnt by the students. Amu chose the sermon text from Matthew 25:40 on this occasion. Amu’s theme was “the Lord will thank you for all the good you have done for his little ones”
From 1 January 1920 Amu started work as a teacher at Peki-Blengo E.P. Middle Boarding School. On taking his appointment, Mr Amu taught songs and was keen on making his pupils able to read music well. He went to Koforidua to buy a five octave Henry Riley folding organ for the school. He faced the problem of carrying the organ to Peki. After successfully reaching Frankadua by a motor vehicle, he had to carry the organ on his head and walk the distance all-night and arrived at Peki the following morning. Eager to master his skills in music, Amu took music lessons with Rev. Allotey-Pappoe who was a Methodist Minister stationed at Peki-Avetile.
He had particular interest in the instruments Atenteben – flute (for which he wrote music) and Seprewa. He was also very keen on writing music that reflects Ghana’s native languages.
In his compositions, he used various music genres to reflect the times, mostly highlife, pop, choral and Asafo music.
Amu composed several musical pieces. Some of his famous compositions are; Fare thee well, Mawɔ dɔ na Yesu, Nkwagye Dwom, Dwonto, Yetu Osa, Israel Hene, Onipa da wo ho so, Yaanom Abibirimma, Yen Ara Asase Ni, Adawura abo me and Samansuo among others.
His most famous song is Yen ara asase ni (also known as Miade nyigba lolo la and Wo dientse wo shikpon ne) which has pretty much become a national song. There have been calls for it to be adapted as a national anthem as well.
He was given an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Ghana for his services and contribution to Ghanaian music. He was instrumental in the building of the school of music in Legon. He also led a group from the school in Legon to play at the Lincoln Center in New York where he received a standing ovation.
Dr Ephraim Kɔku Amu moved on to the next life on January 2,1995. The death of the 96 year-old music veteran hit Ghana like a dark storm.