The SAD story of Ghana’s Best Keyboardist who was making £8,000 per weekend but died with just 70 cents.
Kiki Gyan also called Kiki Djan was undoubtedly Ghana’s best keyboardist who won the hearts of global music lovers with his amazing keyboard works.
The story of Kiki has created precedence in the art industry with the notion that most celebrities die poor. So we ask is it ‘monecrazy’ or ‘asuoden’?
Kiki at the peak of his career at his very young age (18 years) was making over $1 million, hanging out with Elton John and Mick Jagger, played for the British Queen and cruised on champagne-drenched luxury ocean-liners to island-hop in the Caribbean, it was a particularly ignominious way to cross life’s finish line. This was in the 70s, so you can imagine how ‘best’ life was for him at the time.
Kiki died at age 47 of AIDS and drug-related complications. He was found dead in a toilet inside a church, with the equivalent of 70 US cents in his pocket.
“Right now, I’m sad. Very sad, I‘m sad, not because Kiki’s dead – he was suffering too much; I saw him every day. I’m sad because he should’ve died with dignity.” said Mac Tontoh, a trumpeter, and joint-leader of Osibisa, the erstwhile London-based Afro-rock group with whom Kiki first found fame in the early 1970s.
How Kiki’s talent was discovered
Tontoh, now in his sixties, is the man who spotted Kiki’s keyboards talent in 1971 and signed him on with Osibisa.
And it was he who, together with Kiki’s sister, Gugi, found his body and signed him in to the mortuary.
Kiki came from a middle-class family in Takoradi in the western region of Ghana and dropped out of secondary school at 14.
“There was too much music in me; I couldn’t stay in school,” he said.
He’d been playing the piano at home since he was three. He joined Osibisa shortly after a tour of London with a local Ghanaian band, Pagadija.
“I remember our first gig with Kiki – this was in Cardiff. The boy was just fantastic! Fantastic!” recalls Tontoh.
“After the show, all the girls charged at him. They were tearing him apart; they all wanted a piece of him. Kiki was running. We had to call the bouncers to protect him,” Tontoh said.
“We travelled round the world, flew first class, slept in the best hotels and had the best girls. Man, life was good, too good,” Kiki told me in an interview three years ago.
“More than $2m ($3.6m) passed through my hands. I could make £8,000 over a weekend as a session keyboardist. I was the best in London.”
Worst day experienced by Kiki Ghana’s Best Keyboardist
In 1979, Kiki left Osibisa to pursue a solo career. His single 24 hours in a Disco, featuring a 16-piece orchestra, made the charts in the UK and America.
“Producers told me I could become the next Boney M,” Kiki said. That’s where his career peaked.
The fame and fortune went his head, and soon “psychedelic pharmaceuticals” too.
Kiki picked up a narcotic drug habit, which he battled with for the rest of his life.
“The day I tasted cocaine in New York, was the baddest day of my life,” he said. “At one point, I had a $5,000 a day habit.”
Kiki Djan went in and out of rehabilitation during much of the last six years, after failing to revive his career.
South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela even pitched in, flying him out to a drug rehab center in South Africa in 2003.
But Kiki went back to the habit upon his return to Ghana.
He became a tattered pauper who begged for coins on street corners, and slept wherever sleep found him.
His Sense of humour
“What would you do differently if you had to live life all over again? I asked Kiki in a TV interview two years ago.
“I would take my Mum and fly her all over the world,” he responded.
“These days I don’t go to see my Mum anymore, because whenever she sees me her temperature rises.”
Last month, Kiki told me he had Aids.
“When did you know this?” I asked.
“Seven years ago,” he replied in between terrible coughs. He had become so skinny that his shoulder blades were tearing through his shirt.
Obviously, Kiki’s drug addiction wasn’t his prime worry.
In a sense, he had become fatalistic. In his final years, he took the drugs to numb him from the pain that his life had become.
Kiki Djan joked sometimes that after all the women he’d been with, he couldn’t believe he had only one child.
He leaves behind a 20-year-old daughter, Vanessa Gyan, and takes with him a sense of humor.