By Damali and  Nii B. Andrews.

Many years ago, at least one of us became wired to sleep with an eye open and to reach for the phone after the first ring!

But on that pre dawn Monday morning, the caller’s name portended trouble and sure enough, the terse news was devastating; our BIG Brother, Nii Allotey Odunton now belonged to the ages.

It was in the early 80s in New York City that he earned the appellation – BIG Brother; the suave, urbane, taciturn, upwardly mobile professional with the drop dead Armani suits accessorised with deep navy socks that had Rasta colors of Red, Gold and Green at the rim.

When he sat in at high powered meetings, he judiciously placed his legs and feet so that the colors peeked at discreetly just below his cuffed trousers.

It was obvious where his allegiance lay; as part of the first generation that came of age in a sovereign, independent and free Ghana; his pan African credentials and sensibilities were never in doubt and he strove to be the best at what he did.

Nii Allotey became the defacto untiring patron of Damali’s fashion troupe – a high spirited but poised and disciplined multinational group of young ladies who pioneered the showcasing of African fashion – textiles, clothing, jewelry and natural hair styles in New York City. 

What was then a striking novelty has now gone mainstream.

His abiding love for African clothing and style was unsurpassed; a true denizen of the multiple textured organic fabrics with their variegated patterns that have yielded the sensuous draped design cuts of authentic and avant-garde African women’s style.

And he simply adored the male robes particularly the hip modern flowing silhouettes initiated by Jimi King that were a must have for the purveyors of elegance, the rakes and cognoscenti; even the finer elements of the classic batakari were also well within his purview.

It was in his 15th floor apartment overlooking the East River with its classic mid century furniture that we were introduced to and able to begin honing our perspective on an aesthetic elan that put contemporary African art (CAA) firmly in the center – thus establishing an uncompromising devotion and attention to African artistic talent as it continues to evolve and update itself for modern life on the continent and in the diaspora.

The thick leather strips of the Wassily arm chairs, the wood and glass table by Noguchi and Eileen Grey chrome and glass side tables, bokhara rugs, Bolgatanga leather pouffes and white lilies in clear pear shaped glass vases all gave his apartment tremendous mojo when paired with walls featuring the large striking CAA paintings; the Ablade Glover town and market scapes; the rampaging horsemen of Ato Delaquis; Amon Kotei’s market queens and domestic matriarchs; Baule tapestry with beige backgrounds and striking animated deep chocolate masked figures.

Also present were slender, elongated over one foot high brass figures from the Sahel which clearly had inspired Alberto Giacometti; Fon betises to chuckle over; Asante gold weights and the visual jazz of kente and bogolan cloths either highlighted on the walls or strategically strewn on the back or arm rest of the huge off white leather modernist sofa.

The always perfectly polished parquet floors together with the spectacular and tasteful collection of CAA made the apartment a poignant lesson in the glorious aesthetic reach of the African genius. 

And when as often happened BEAUTY FULL people gathered there to enjoy Nii Allotey’s always impecabble hospitality – with Mory Kante, or Fela or Hugh Masekela or Lady Smith Black Mambozo playing cooly on the solid sound system; we were inspired to strive harder towards the new Africa – a place that will regain its rightful pre eminent place in the world.

We listened in awe to his occasional quiet and confident short explanations on the extent of our continent’s mineral wealth and particularly the riches that abound in its  seabed and beyond.

It was therefore not at all surprising that he rose to become the Secretary General of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a position he held with distinction for two terms that encompassed eight years.

The fact that the ISA Museum is named after him is a solid testimonial to his professional excellence.

In a quiet, unobtrusive but determined way, he was one of the early and most committed patrons of CAA in all its myriad forms of excellence; fashion and hair design, painting, sculpture, textiles and music; through his perspective he influenced cultural history by supporting and preserving the work of many artists; he also inspired younger people like us to start collecting CAA.

The current worldwide surge in artistic and commercial interest for CAA is a resounding testament to the aesthetic sophistication and resilience of otherwise unsung and largely unknown pioneering indigenous African patrons such as Nii Allotey Odunton who nurtured and supported the genre with their own resources until it gained international traction.

For this we owe him an eternal debt of gratitude and will never forget him.

It is our fervent prayer that his gentle soul will find favor at the Throne of Grace as we offer our condolences to his family.

Rest in Peace our dear BIG Brother.

Photo credit Azelda Dees aka Zee Dezigns NYC.


  1. A brilliant tribute to someone who was a true son of the African soil & lived proudly as an African showcasing his African-ness in his lifestyle & appreciation of his heritage.

    May his soul find eternal rest.

  2. I will definitely share this beautifully crafted homage to a guy of international repute one knew so little about.

    Will read & reread this impressive tribute to the dearly departed!

    Ayekoo to you & Damali for shedding so much light on this brilliant person of many talents, parts & interest.

    Mo mo, well done!!

  3. What a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful tribute to one of our own: among the pioneers who appreciated and promoted African art; an unsung hero in the field of African art; helping to break new artistic ground; also acknowledged internationally in the “professional” domain.

    Yes, even in his professional life he broke new ground in the field of the law of the sea.

    Was also “intellectual” in other domains :
    His passion for Pan-Africanism stood out.

    Spectacular record of the all-rounder that he was, indeed.

    Reached for the skies in whatever he did.

    Your tribute emanates straight from the heart and that is why it is so moving and strikes a deep chord.

    May he rest in peace.

    **Please,is someone going to remember to curate an exhibition of his private art collection,just for the record ?

  4. Good morning and thanks for sharing the writeup.

    As always, I have learnt a lot reading your piece.

    May Nii Allotey’s artistic soul Rest in Peace.

  5. Thank you for writing such a wonderful article about Allotey.

    Very touching and inspirational.

    He was a great person whom I admired and looked up to.
    May his soul rest in eternal peace.

  6. I now know where the inspiration for CAA came from.

    A good read in honour of a man who helped in no mean measure in the preservation of African art.

    May his gentle soul rest in peace.

  7. Lovely, lovely tribute Nii an Damali; we pray for peaceful rest for Nii Allotey’s gentle soul.

  8. Absolutely beautiful tribute.
    May the earth lie gently on him. Rest In Peace, Allotey.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *