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A brief introduction to African High Life

Highlife music from Ghana and Sierra Leone emerged in the 1920's and has been a major influence on all subsequent African Music. A fusion of indigenous dance rhythms and melodies with Western sounds began in the coastal towns of Ghana, including. regimental brass bands, sea shanties, hymns; European foxtrots and Caribbean kaiso, with African rhythms of Liberia (dagomba), Sierra Leone (ashiko and goombe) and Fante (osibisaba). The instrumentation included African drums, harmonicas, guitars, accordions; and by 1920's were known collectively as Highlife. During 1930s three distinct styles emerged: ballroom dance style for the coastal elite, a village brass band style, and rural guitar bands playing a less Westernized style for a less Westernized audience.

By this time bands were springing up all along the coast of West Africa, including Nigeria; during '30s--40s thousands of records were issued for the West African market and the music began to establish an international reputation. During WWII big-band jazz became an influence and in '47 the most important post-war band emerged: E. T. Mensah and the Tempos Band toured widely with enormous impact, spawning hundreds of imitators. The '50s--60s were a golden age, with bands like the Tempos, Black Beats, Uhurus and Broadway in Ghana, Bobby Benson, Rex Lawson, Roy Chicago and Victor Olaiya in Nigeria; and the rural guitar bands had also flourished, in early '50s evolving the concert party, a fusion of highlife and comic theatre. Leaders in this style were E. K. Nyame, Onyina, Kakaiku and (in '60s) Nana Ampadu's African Brothers International Band. By the '70s highlife was perhaps past its peak; juju began to take over in western Nigeria, though highlife was maintained in eastern Nigeria by Celestine Ukwu, Osita Osadebe, Prince Nico, the Ikengas, the Oriental Brothers International Big Band. Even in Ghana highlife was affected by the disco invasion, though styles continued to be developed by C. K. Mann, the Sweet Talks and Alex Konadu. Not just an Anglophone African phenomenon, highlife influenced. for example the modern Congolese sound; and the single most influential. African style to have emerged remains open to innovation.

Among the major artists are:

  • Dance band highlife played at society and elite functions, such as ET (Emmanel Tettey) Mensah's Tempo,  Ramblers International and Uhuru Dance Band

  • Guitar band highlife played commonly in clubs and bars,  Nana Kwame Ampadu's African Brothers, Bobby Benson, Alex Konadu, Dr. K. Gyasi and his Nobl


Highlife Piccadilly African Music on 45 rpm records in the UK, 1954-1981
Highlife Times Website focusing on Highlife


Eric Agyeman

Highlife Safari - Eric Agyman.

A classic highlife album, originally release in 1978 from one of Ghana's most gifted guitar players Eric Agyeman.

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Salute To Highlife Pioneers

Salute to Highlife Pioneers - West African Highlife Band

Ken Okulolo's West African Highlife Band revive the highlife classics. An excellent album with classic highlife tracks including Bobby Benson's Taxi Driver.

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