Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for 1,000 backers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!


Obituary: Ambrose Adekoya Campbell (1919-2006)

Chris May By

Sign in to view read count
Nigerian singer, guitarist, percussionist, composer and bandleader Ambrose Adekoya Campbell died in the UK on June 22, 2006. He was 86 years old and passed away peacefully in his sleep.

While no single person can be credited with establishing African music in Britain—the process has been gradual and ongoing, and must have begun soon after Africans first arrived in the country many hundreds of years ago—Campbell's influence in the mid twentieth century was massive and unprecedented. Most West African musicians working in Britain today will cite Campbell as their spiritual godfather and the scene's pioneer.

Born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1919, Campbell settled in Britain at the start of the second world war. Arriving in the country as a merchant seaman, he jumped ship in Liverpool and made his way to London. His early years in the city were hard, with paying gigs difficult to find. But Campbell was an extraordinarily determined, charismatic and talented man, and he wouldn't be deterred. In 1952, he and his band, the West African Rhythm Brothers, acquired a longterm residency at the Abalabi Club in Soho's Berwick Street. Campbell's impact on British music began at the Abalabi and with the 10- inch 78rpm singles he recorded for Melodisc while bandleader at the club.

The excellent compilation London Is The Place For Me 3 (Honest Jons, 2006) collects some two dozen classic Campbell recordings from the period. The album comes with an authoritative essay from the distinguished British jazz and African music writer and photographer, Val Wilmer. (London Is The Place For Me 4, incidentally, due out in August, includes the first recordings in the series by drummer and bandleader Ginger Johnson, 1916-1975, a fellow Nigerian expatriate with whom Campbell could be said to have shared the London baton from the mid 1960s.)

Campbell was a key figure in the emergence of Soho as London's louche and edgy bohemian quarter in the 1950s. When the owner of the Abalabi, Ola Dosunmu, moved from Berwick Street to open the Club Afrique in nearby Wardour Street, Campbell moved with him.

The Abalabi and the Afrique are important (if largely unchronicled) links in Britain's countercultural history. Both clubs were informal salons where London's writers, poets, jazz musicians and painters met and mingled with more recently arrived musicians from Africa, to their mutual enjoyment and enrichment. Campbell was befriended by a wide circle of movers and shakers, from George Bernard Shaw and Colin MacInnes to Prince Buster and Tubby Hayes.

In 1972, Campbell moved to Los Angeles, where he had been invited to work with Leon Russell. He was on the sessions for Russell's million-selling collaboration with Willie Nelson, One For The Road (Columbia, 1989). In recent years, however, Campbell had withdrawn from the public eye to such an extent that many believed him to have passed away. But he returned to Britain a few years ago and settled in the southern seaport of Plymouth.

Campbell's grandson, Ron Ambrose Hammond, has put together a web site honouring his grandfather's memory. The site includes a memorable photo of Campbell, taken last year.

Campbell's funeral will be held at the Islington Cemetery and Crematorium on Friday, July 7.


comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read The World's First International Online Contest by 7 Virtual Jazz Club General Articles The World's First International Online Contest by 7...
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: January 3, 2017
Read The Word is Beat: Jazz, Poetry & the Beat Generation General Articles The Word is Beat: Jazz, Poetry & the Beat Generation
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: August 12, 2015
Read Unseen Recordings: Copenhagen Jazzhouse Launches New Web Channel for Experimental Music General Articles Unseen Recordings: Copenhagen Jazzhouse Launches New Web...
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: February 28, 2014
Read The Harlem Renaissance and American Music General Articles The Harlem Renaissance and American Music
by Mike Oppenheim
Published: March 3, 2013
Read Goodbye, Cecil's General Articles Goodbye, Cecil's
by David A. Orthmann
Published: March 14, 2012
Read Hear Me Talkin' to Ya: Jazz Aphorisms General Articles Hear Me Talkin' to Ya: Jazz Aphorisms
by Chris May
Published: December 23, 2011
Read "The World's First International Online Contest by 7 Virtual Jazz Club" General Articles The World's First International Online Contest by 7...
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: January 3, 2017
Read "Enrico Rava and Tomasz Stanko: Elective Affinities" Musician 2 Musician Enrico Rava and Tomasz Stanko: Elective Affinities
by AAJ Staff
Published: October 18, 2017
Read "FORQ at The World Cafe Live" Live Reviews FORQ at The World Cafe Live
by Mike Jacobs
Published: August 18, 2017
Read "Erik Friedlander: A Little Cello?" Interview Erik Friedlander: A Little Cello?
by Ian Patterson
Published: January 9, 2017
Read "The Art (de Vivre) of the Trio" Multiple Reviews The Art (de Vivre) of the Trio
by Geno Thackara
Published: August 12, 2017
Read "Al Di Meola at Balboa Theater" SoCal Jazz Al Di Meola at Balboa Theater
by Jim Worsley
Published: September 30, 2017
Read "What We Liked: 2016" Best of / Year End What We Liked: 2016
by Michael Ricci
Published: January 5, 2017

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Please support out sponsor