modernghana logo

FEATURED STORY Church Services Are Simply Canaanite Entertainment!!...

body-container-line
July 7, 2018 | Book Review

Book Review: Highlife Music – Remembering the good ‘old days’ and present mutations

Ivor Agyeman-Duah
Book Review: Highlife Music – Remembering the good ‘old days’ and present mutations

Highlife has become, for those beyond half-a-century old, the music of nostalgia. Its peaked lyrical powers of the 1960s and 70s have turned into historical memories. With the transition from the Gold Coast to Ghana in 1957, pride and the creative arts – more particularly music – became the frame-work of so much Pan-African thought, especially in Anglophone Ghana and Nigeria. The same attended the compositions of Francophone music from Benin to Senegal and the small island nations across the Indian Ocean. One of the elements of colonialism’s overcome was for sure, the musicality of its outlook.

The maleficence of the political class, social malaise of bad marriage, uncertainties of sojourners, proverbial realities of livelihoods – Who Knows Tomorrow, Life is What you Make of it, fate and the many mysterious ways of God engaged the minds of deceased composers. But these social incidents in different, changing scenes, have new interpretations in the compositions of new Highlife into the third decade of the century. It had done tremendous journey from its palm-wine leisure drinking roots (the so-called Palm Wine guitar) of folkloric immemorial.

And much of this is known through the publication of the third edition of Highlife Time 3 written by the music historian and, for years, professor at the University of Ghana, John Collins. The first two editions of the book were published by Anansesem Publications. Founded by Dr. Charles Wereko-Brobby, this publishing house from the late 1990s did so much good with Around Ghana magazine. It documented the tourism economy and leisure as well as biographical accounts of individuals that included ET Mensah’s.

This third edition of 64 chapters under broad-based sections of 632 pages, on occasions a mix of history of music other than strictly Highlife, is a collaboration with a new publication company –DAkapabi & Associates founded by two Ghanaian writers. It takes us to the evolution of this brand of music and its avant- garde composers.

It is most interesting that the prologue to this edition is the present looking into the past and that Ebony (Priscilla Opoku Kwarteng), who passed on a couple of months ago, is discussed as are Shatta Wale, Okyeame Kwame and others before their occupation’s history begins.

Collins reminds us of his own changed thoughts. Between the second edition in 1996 and the third of 2018 he writes:

… a lot of young artists were influenced by electronic disco and hip-hop were no longer performing live on stage with bands….in this third edition, I mention a return to live musical performance by hiplife artists that began from around the year 2000 with free-styling GH rappers and artists like Sidney, Obour, Okyeame Kwame and many others. Live shows are now common, whether performed on stage by hiplifers, or by newer generation of contemporary highlifers, rap poets, dancehall musicians, and also by Afro pop divas, many of whom have been trained in church choirs.

With this proviso starts the historical re-count in ten chapters of guitar band and concert parties, the well-known tune story of Yaa Amponsah from which the fundamental base was established through some of the early masters such as E.K. Nyame, Kobina Okai and Nana Ampadu.

The second section of another ten chapters focuses very much on the 1960s and 70s of ET Mensah the King of Dance-Band Life, The Tempos and travels in West Africa, not to forget King Bruce and The Black Beats and Saka Acquaye to the Republic of Benin where the music of Ignace De Souza is remembered for its French influence.

The third section – Interaction Between Highlife and New Traditional Music – looks at Twi, Ewe and Ga lyrics of the time with the fourth section Back to Roots devoted to the music of Koo Nimo, Kofi Ghanaba, Kwesi Asare, Jerry Hansen, Joe Eyison, Joe Mensah to Gyedu Blay-Ambolley and the Wilomei and the Ga Cultural Group of Explosion.

Section Five Outside Influences from the 1950s features Louis Armstrong in Ghana, pop music and impact as well as soul-to-soul to Afro-music and of Reggae and Afro-Reggae. A whole chapter is devoted to contribution to Highlife but under the inexactitude, The Gospel Explosion and Women on Stage. Today, few of these women including the octogenarian resident of Kumasi, Ama Bonsu (the nobility of her beauty and the evocation of that string of lyrical romance, of the song-track - alomuo se woye swinging safari by The Ramblers Dance Band) are alive.

Section Eight includes Nigeria’s Juju Music, Fela’s Afrobeat and other Nigerian Popular Music Styles with other chapters looking at music of Sierra Leone, pop music profiles of Liberia and Francophone West Africa.

The usefulness of this book lies in its third attempt to deepen the history of Highlife across West Africa and so, apart from its evolution and biographies of some of the composers, there are also some significant producers and investors including the Lebanese Faisal Helwani, who is singularly (not in the book though) credited with making a street beggar with musical talents – Onipa Nua –an international star.

In doing this and because he also knows so much of his subject and worked with some as biographer (Fela and E.T. Mensah among them, or playing the harmonica, curating for the BBC the series – In the African Groove or as the British colonial officer dramatist in Fela Kuti’s film The Black President), Collins becomes ‘too much’; for an uneven historical development narrative of West African musicology; and from one whose British father did so much for historiography in post-independent Ghana at Legon, hence preservation is inborn.

Collins’ discussion getting to the end of the book touches on computerized Highlife, Highlife Imagination and MUSIGA’s role in the creative industry. The first connects to the digital age we live in and how ICT has changed everything including artificial intelligence (not his description) on music production. Not long ago, the BBC World Service did a radio documentary on the best-record of all times in Africa – Sweet Mother from Nigeria. The over hundred million copies sold (not to add the pirated version) saw the travel musical fill stadiums with capacities of 60,000 to 100,000 across the continent in what is described as the most successful musical label ever of its time. But that was pre-digital.

MUSIGA’s role which concerns Collins is how live music is sustained in digital time. In my view, MUSIGA should look into sustainability. They should look into the infrastructure development in the regions and some of the semi-completed building projects it embarked on years ago which are under suspension as litigation, small inconsequential quarrels and, in some cases, extractive fame hold their time. For as today’s ‘youth,’ they will get old tomorrow as one of their kindred says in a song of a toad (not in a sexist contest in this) grows to become a frog.

This human bearing is what has produced history – Anansesem Publications Limited of Dr Charles Wereko-Brobby who is receding in active public service and the transfers of co-publishing rights of records to a new generation – DAkpabli and Associates.

Title: Highlife Time 3
Author: Professor John Collins
Year of Publication: 2018
Number of pages: 632
Publisher: DAkpabli & Associates

img 2826 img 2823
img 2827 img 2828
img 2831 img 2832
img 2838 img 2839
img 2869 img 2875
img 2878 img 2879
img 2936 img 2951
img 2957 img 2969
img 2984 img 3007
img 3038 img 3042
img 3044 img 3046
img 3070 img 3087
img 3095 img 3099
img 3108 img 3115
img 3116 img 3118
img 3168 img 3196
img 6810 img 6815
img 6816 img 6826
img 6827 img 6828
img 6831 img 6845
img 6890 img 6893
img 6895 img 6911
img 6941 img 6944
img 6946 img 6948
img 6949 img 6951
img 6955 img 6959
img 6973 img 6974
img 6977 img 6978
img 6979 img 6986
img 7016 img 7026
img 7039 img 7069
img 7089 img 7091
img 7093 img 7098
img 7102 img 7117
img 7136 img 7145
img 7146 img 7153
img 7164 img 7166
img 7176 img 7194
img 7235 img 7238
img 7251 img 7272
img 7280 img 7344
img 7356

Realizing Ghana’s Economic Transformation Through an Improved Road Network

quot-img-1Love begins with a sweet smile but ends with heartache

By: Steve, Germany quot-img-1
body-container-line