Ghanaian highlife music, a musical genre that traces its roots from the 1880's marching bands of the sailor's 'palm wine' groups, will soon receive the needed boost to revive it.
This genre of music was associated with the then upper class during the pre and post independent periods. Soon after Ghana's independence local bands led by mostly Ghanaians were soon to evolve, defining the musical direction of the country as part of Kwame Nkrumah's philosophy of promoting the African pride.
Bands like the Tempos led by E.T. Mensah, Black Beats by King Bruce, Ramblers by Jerry Hanson Professional Uhuru Band and others, emerged as strong and popular musical forces that added to Nkrumah's African ideological drive.
A number of highlife songs were even composed to whip the patriotic feelings of Ghanaians at the time. The Tempos band for example, composed the song “Ghana, land of freedom.” He even went ahead to compose a welcoming song for the British royal family that was visiting the country at the time.
These bands dominated the music scene in the country for a very long time. Despite such huge popularity locally, they however failed to transform their local dominance to the international musical arena.
But such popularity was soon to wane in the early 1970's following the emergence of a new breed of musical genre called pop. This type of music originated primarily from Europe and the United States.
Majority of the youth in those days identified with such genre of music which made a strong presence on the global musical scene, including Ghana.
Gradually, highlife music became a distance type of genre for majority of the youth. Record sells began to drop; producers also capitalized on the new wave of music, and spent huge sums of money promoting it at the expense of the highlife.
The musicians were soon to count the cost of this penetration. Those who could not stand the challenge soon fizzled out. The rest with sophisticated appeal even at the time could not pull the needed crowd at their gigs.
But more troubles were to befall the musicians, especially in the area of finance. Despite recording numerous tracks under their names, most of them did not own the right to the songs.
The producers capitalized on their poor financial status and either convinced them to sell off the rights of their songs to them or the musicians themselves sell the right to the producers. They were then paid something scanty.
A familiar case of dispute over intellectual property ownership was even captured by Professor John Collins during a presentation titled 'hitechology, individual copyright and Ghanaian music'
He quoted the land mark ruling in 1990 between pianist Ray Ellis and producer Kwadwo Donkor. According to Prof. Collins “the pianist claimed some of the composer's royalties for the already copyrighted highlife tunes he had played instrumentally on the record, since he believed that he was re-interpreting the songs. However, because he had been paid merely as a session-man by the producer, Ellis lost the case.”
Again, they did not have the proper knowledge base to run the music as an enterprise, and this was heavily taken advantage off by the big sharks in the music industry, who exploited the situation to their advantage.
Most of them like the late E.T. Mensah, King Bruce and those still alive lost heavily in this direction and were rendered penniless. E.T. Mensah for example, despite recording popular hits died as pauper.
The 2006-2009 Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy II even identifies the low level of awareness of intellectual property rights as one of the major factors that continue to affect the music industry.
But beyond incorporating this aspect into the GPRS II, the World Bank has begun series of activities aimed at reviving the country's highlife music as well as sensitizing the musicians to run the music as a business entity.
Speaking to the dailyEXPRESS in his office, Communication Specialist at the World Bank Country Office, Kafu Kofi Tsikata, said most of the problems that confronted the highlife music industry in the past was because most of the musicians were not educated on how to run music as a purely professional and business entity. The problem, he said, still prevails in today's dispensation.
As part of measures to rectify the problem the bank through its Country Director Mats Karlson, plays host to groups of highlife musicians where the platform has always been used to discuss the alternative ways of making highlife music attractive and marketable.
He said the bank is also collaborating with JoyFM, an Accra based radio station to help promote the revival of the highlife music in the country.
“The station has a weekly highlife slot where we invite groups like the Ramblers band, and individual highlife musicians to talk about the music and why the need for Ghanaians to go back to it,” he said.
Mr. Tsikata said highlife music has a great potential of generating income not only to the musicians but the country's tourism industry and should therefore be supported. According to him, most countries outside the African continent have benefited immensely from their own brand of music by investing in the industry.
“We are sitting on a platinum of songs and we need to package them very well in order to make sure that we sell. We have not looked at highlife and its potential and should do so like we've done for chocolate, tuna and others,” he told the paper.