EBENY….HEAVENLY RETIRED (1952-2016)
Donald Wesley, born Ebeny Bombe Dihan, former soldier of the Cameroon defense forces, retired US army colonel, military advisor known as “Colonel Bonbon” to the Angolan army in the war against Jonas Savimbi, adventurer extraordinaire and a great storyteller who loved the funny anecdote and enjoyed making people comfortable and at ease in his presence.
Best known as a master drummer, he redefined drum play by introducing a Funky syncopated double roll in Makossa. With him the drum was not only a rhythmic instrument but played a role in harmony. He used the hit-hat variations smoothly the same way Elvin Jones did in jazz but added color layering it with several out of sync beats known as contretemps. He did not need to do a solo as one could hear him no matter what arrangements were made. His play was smooth buy yet melodic and this is what differentiated and distinguished him as his technique was percussive giving you the impression that you were listening to a whole drum and percussion sections.
He had a prolific recording studio career starting in 1975 with Nalandi of Eko Roosvelt and plaid in more than 500 records in the eighties. Only connoisseurs knew who he was until he was revealed in 1980 to the wider Cameroonian public with the Bemb’a Iyo tour, promoting an eponymous LP by Dina Bell. That tour kicked off with a completely sold out first concert in Douala at the Maison Du Partie and one could also suspects his artistic director’s touch with the dressing code of all musicians wearing pilot combat boiler suits known in the country as combinaisons.
He lined up some crème de la crème musicians with “Toguy” Toto Guillaume in lead guitar, “El hadj” Aladji Touré in bass guitar, Keyboard Jean-Claude Naimro, saxophones Priso Felix, Roger Kom, Trumpet Jerry Manga. Back vocals Sissy Dipoko, Cathy lobe, Irène Essomo, Kape, Medy Dayas and you can guess that the drums and percussions were officiated by him and of course Dina Bell in lead vocals but whom else?
He also a had a brief producer’s career and his production company Ebeny Records International was started in 1981 and his biggest success was of course Bemb’a Iyo who sold 20.000 copies making a disque d’or.
He got disillusioned with the poor quality of musicianship and the overall lack of artistry of the younger generation of musicians in Cameroon and had just recently been playing for pleasure after 40 years of intermittent music activity. Most drummers, mainly younger ones who played Makossa copied his style of play and spirit, now a talented recording artist and multi-instrumentalist is a former drummer who was the best emulation of the man.
Donald Wesley or Ebeny as he was known in different quarters was unassuming, unpretentious, refined, and so elegant that you would not guess he had a military background.
He was a giant of Cameroonian music and only musicians he worked with knew the man as an artist. He was also sometimes in the company of some beautiful ladies making him a ladies’ man with a traditional chivalry finesse.
He passed away after been hit by a stroke in hospital in Yaoundé while celebrating the birth of his new born child.
What a way to go; the joy of welcoming a new life was too much for him to bear and let’s hope he left this sometimes ugly world somehow happy..