There was a super talented guy on the Ghanaian and London music scene who constantly warded off attention from himself but was always ready and happy to play the creative facilitator role for others to get noticed and appreciated.
That fellow was multi-instrumentalist, producer, arranger, composer and recording engineer, Victor Mensah.
He died in London on June 29, 2023, at the age of 67. To those who knew him, even before his Adisadel College days in Cape Coast where he played guitar, harmonica, keyboards and bass with bands in and outside of the school, through to the countless projects he worked on in England, Vico, as most people called him, was a genius. Yes, but a reluctant one!
An intensely admired musician, his impact on the African music scene in London was huge. Apart from playing with bands like Osibisa, African Dawn, Taxi Pata Pata, Trouble Dat, This Is It and the Bessa Band, his recording studio at Stoke Newington was an exciting creative hub and a friendly, open house for Ghanaian and African artists.
Musicians who passed through to catch up on the latest news and musical vibes or work with Vico on a variety of music-related projects included Ben Brako, Pat Thomas, Kwame Yeboah, Kari Bannerman, Paulina Oduro, Joe Osei, Francis Fuster and Jewel Ackah.
Others were Jon K , Nii Noi Nortey, Bessa Simons, Ray Allen, Ray Carless, Paul Dawson, Emmanuel Rentzos, Musa Mboob, Kwesi Owusu, Kofi Adu and Paul Bilson.
His flexibility on the musical landscape meant he was many things to many musicians and he helped some of them find their feet and bloom. His massive influence is inextricable from the successful careers of several Ghanaian musicians on both the local and London music scene.
Ghanaian multi-instrumentalist, Kwame Yeboah recalled that Vico and Kwesi Owusu gave him his first job in London as keyboardist for a band he (Vico) had put together to tour with Gambian musician, Musa Mboob.
Vico had recorded Mboob’s Chossan album and was also the bassist for the band. The tour was to help generate more visibility for the iconic album produced by Kwesi Owusu.
“The first time I played at the Africa Centre when it was at Covent Garden was with the Chossan band led by Vico. I think we played four shows across England. He walked me through the whole thing. It was a really good experience,” Yeboah said.
Singer Paulina Oduro knew Vico and his family well. She said Vico was like a brother to her and they worked together on several projects. In fact, Vico was the keyboard player in Paulina’s This Is It band.
“We worked on the soundtrack for the Ama film and did some African Dawn shows also. Vico was very supportive of other musicians. He had a good grasp of music, in terms of both theory and practicals and was always willing to share ideas and offer advice. He was such an affable, wonderful human being. We all miss him dearly already,” Paulina said.
Vico also played bass for Bessa Simon’s Bessa Band at a time. When Bessa later worked with Osibisa and the Afro-rock band needed a bass player at a point in time, he readily recommended Vico who fitted perfectly into the set- up.
When Bessa got busy with other things and Kwame Yeboah replaced him in Osibisa, it was Vico that band leader Teddy Osei assigned to take Yeboah through the Osibisa repertoire.
“He actually played the role of a musical director for Osibisa at that time. He prepared me well. Everything he gave me was exactly what happened at the gig. He was really generous to me. He gave me his old car. That was the very first car I got in London. It was a Ford Sierra.
“It didn’t matter what he himself was going through; he would still smile. He was so selfless, an incredible human being. He left a great legacy as far as I’m concerned. I’ll forever sing his praises wherever I am,” Kwame Yeboah stated.
One of Vico’s long-term collaborators on the artistic front in London was his friend from Adisadel College and fellow Tema guy, Kwesi Owusu. As bubbly teenagers interested in all the music and artistic ventures going on in Harbour City, they hobnobbed with all the top musicians and those who really mattered on the Tema entertainment scene.
That meant they were regulars at venues like Talk of the Town, El Paso, Top Hat and Club Faliesa during the college holidays. They also formed a student band that performed at one of the Anansekrom music competitions at the Arts Centre in Accra.
Hooking up in London later, Owusu got Vico to join the African Dawn music and poetry outfit he had founded with other African and Caribbean artists. They travelled across Europe and Vico played guitar on three of African Dawn’s albums.
They already knew Jewel Ackah from their Tema days so Jewel also traveled and performed with African Dawn. The two friends and Jewel later formed the JVK Productions music label that produced Jewel’s You Better Fly High album.
Owusu was the Executive Producer on the Musa Mboob project. For that album, Vico was credited with: programming, keyboards, percussion, co-producer, recording engineer, arranger, mixing engineer and composer. They also did an album of reworked Wulomei songs and Vico was the man behind the console.
Apart from jointly working on the soundtrack for the Ama film directed by Owusu and Nii Kwate Owoo, Owusu and Vico got involved with stage and screen acting as well. They were both in the short film called Love in a Cold Climate and in a stage production titled The Trial of Dedan Kimathi directed by the famous Ngugi wa Thiongo from Kenya.
“Vico had a lot of artistic talent. People didn’t really know the acting part of him but he was an incredible actor. He was always an asset wherever he was. Most importantly, he was a musicians’ musician,” Owusu said about his cherished friend.
Something many people who knew Vico say they will always remember him for is his passion for cooking. He liked people to feel at home whenever they visited. He insisted and almost always cooked for his guests.
Osibisa leader, Teddy Osei who is currently recuperating in hospital, sent a special message of gratitude to Vico for his contributions to the group and for all his special, kind-hearted services.
When Teddy Osei had a stroke and was confined to a wheelchair, Vico and percussionist Lord Eric Sugumugu took special care of him whenever they were on tour together. Other tributes have mentioned Vico’s wonderful sense of humour.
As the co-producer of the soundtrack for the Ama film, there will be a special screening of the film in Vico’s honour on October 1 at London’s Rio Cinema in Hackney.