Back on familiar territory with some more Ghanaian Highlife from blog staple, Kofi Sammy and Okukuseku.
According to the sleeve notes the band was formed by Sammy along with Walter Proof, an actor and former member of E. K. Nyami’s No. 1 Band. They hit a hurdle when they realised they had no instruments to play! Thankfully, Proof’s past as an actor came in handy and they were able to borrow instruments from the Ghana Film Corporation and start recording.
Today’s post is from their second LP; it appears they recorded over 60 singles and several albums making them one of the most prolific bands in Ghana at the time. Today’s selection is a medley of their songs on side 1 of the LP. Highlife bands appeared to do this regularly perhaps to showcase their ability and range as musicians.
Record Details: Kofi Sammy and his Okukuseku Band – Bosoe Special (197?) – Ambassador (LPAM 004)
Today marks the final part of our exploration of Highlife in Ghana, but fear not I will be showcasing more of the genre in the near future. We already touched upon the influence of the music from the West such as Funk and Jazz and how this was incorporated into modern Highlife music.
In the early 1970’s there was a movement in Ghana to bring music back to its roots and ignore what was going on in the rest of the world, instead to focus on the country’s cultural and musical heritage. The Ga-Adangbe people of South-East Ghana, started this movement taking music back to its early simple form and often fusing it with traditional folk tales. Nii Tei Ashitey, himself a Ga and the percussionist with E.T Mensah‘s Tempos Band, famously set up the band and cultural group Wulomei, meaning “Fetish Priest” in Ga,who embraced the ideals of the movement.
Today’s band, Dzadzeloi, “bards” in Ga, followed in the vein of Wulowei, incorporating traditional stories into their stripped back music. The album, Two Paddy Follow One Girl, tells the story of how two men fall in love with the same girl.
Story of Two Paddys
The band was formed and led by Nana Nelson in 1974 and they recorded this LP the following year. Today’s track Wonshe Hunu, is a traditional Ga folk story and has had nine previous versions according to the sleeve notes. The song itself is stripped back mellow music with lovely drums, a simple melody and harmonious vocals.
Enjoy the weekend!
Record Details: Dzadzeloi – Two Paddy Follow One Girl (1975) – Agoro Records (AGL 010)
Last post we explored the roots and early development of Highlife and its spread across Ghana and West Africa. The Highlife of the 1940’s and 1950’s is very different from the genre in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, being more electric instrument andsynthesiser based. But what runs through the genre apart from the structure and style is the fact that it is very much a national music that unites Ghana.
For this reason a lot of the stories of the artists are similar. Alex Konadu got into music and Highlife, whilst studying at school. He never pursued his studies further than elementary education and was taken under the wing of record producer A.K. Brobbey who moulded him into one of the most successful musicians. The first band he was in was the infamous Akwaboah’s Band for three years before he moved to the Happy Brothers Band.
Konadu’s ambition was to set up his own band and in the late 1970’s he did just this and went on to record many LPs. He was nicknamed “One Man Thousand” due to the fact that wherever he played crowds gathered to watch and listen to him. Sadly, Alex Konadu passed away on 18th January 2011 aged 63. George Ernest Asare has written a fitting obituary that can be read here.
Today’s selection is the last track from his 1979 album Agyata Wuo. A beautiful low key track that lingers long, much like the legacy of Konadu.
Today marks the start of a three part series of posts on Highlife, specifically Ghanaian Highlife. I do not intend to produce an academic style history of the genre; I am not qualified nor do I have the knowledge and inclination. I want to present you with three different tracks and hopefully convey to you why I love them and fingers crossed evoke similar feelings in you.
Highlife in Ghana, has it’s roots in Palm-wine, in both the fermented drink and the music that evolved as guitarists gathered under the palm, singing their songs where the sap was gathered and drank. Palm wine music originally came from Sierra Leone and Liberia, but spread throughout West Africa. The songs were often topical, political, moral or humourous, providing entertainment for the drinkers.
With the arrival of sailors from Europe and the military of the British in Ghana and with them the musical styles of the West, the music developed and took on the flavours of Jazz and Latin music and evolved into Highlife. The sounds spread throughout Anglophone West Africa. E.T. Mensah was one of the first musicians to incorporate brass into the traditional guitar music.
The genre changed a lot as music evolved and Funk and Rock reared their heads, having a profound influence on the style of the music, making it faster, grittier, with more complex arrangements. Highlife also spread from Ghana to Nigeria, with a lot of the Nigerian bands starting to record their own Highlife and Ghanaian bands moved across the border to record in Nigeria.
Opambuo International Band of Ghana were one such outfit, led by Leo Nana Agyeman. The band recorded several albums in the early 1980’s, and to my knowledge the song for today is from the first, Odo Yewu, which roughly translated from the Twi is “Love till Death” or “My Everlasting Love”.
I have chosen my favourite track from the album. It has great drums, a Rhodes and beautiful vocal harmonies. Great Ghanaian Highlife!
[audio http://k002.kiwi6.com/hotlink/nd470l4s2y/you_de_find_me_trouble.mp3]You De Find Me Trouble
Opambuo International Band of Ghana – Odo Yewu (1981) – Bonne Records/Niger Bridge (NRLP 004)
Musical styles evolve and change, and out of the rubble a new music is often born. Highlife was big in Ghana from the late 1940’s right up until the late 80’s. During this period the sound developed as new electronic instruments came to the fore and the sound moved away from early Palm-Wine style of E.T. Mensah towards a more modern sound, that made use of electric guitars and synthesizers.The influence of America music moved the genre further away from its traditional roots and more toward Funk, Jazz and Soul.
Ghanaian musician Gyedu-Blay Ambolley is often named as an early pioneer of the most popular music in Ghana today, Hiplife, which mixes R’n’B, Jamaican Dancehall and Hip-Hop with Highlife. His 1973 track Simigwado, contains arguably the earliest recorded Rap, that was to later become so popular in Hiplife.
The track was even sampled by Hiplife artist Replay and Ambolley was invited to perform in the video. Music has a habit of coming full circle with artists, who usually look to America, coming back to home grown sounds:
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Ambolley started playing with legendary guitarist Ebo Taylor in The Uhuru DanceBand, a more traditional Highlife band,and TheApagya Show Band, which explored the Funk sounds of James Brown. His voice is well suited to this style as he is able to produce smooth soulful lines as well as gruff and high-pitched call and response vocals. Both Taylor and Ambolley eventually went their separate paths to to record individually, and both are still active today, with Taylor bringing out his latest album in 2012 and Ambolley about to release an album collaborating with the biggest names in Hiplife.
Today’s selections are from Ambolley’s rare 1985 LP Cut Your Coat. The track Highlife is pure disco and demonstrates his vocal range. Walking Down the Street is a great smooth funk track that gently simmers.
Last post I chose a deep track by Vis a Vis, which I hope was enjoyable. Today I want to show the diversity of Highlife as a style. Despite both tracks coming from Ghana and being classed as Highlife they are very different in sound but still contain all the essential ingredients, that when mixed together, make a very tasty dish; the arpeggiated guitars and driving percussion that force you to jump up and dance.
Okukuseku International Band of Ghana & Chief Sammy Kofi provide the infectious sounds today. This was the first African record I bought and is Ghanaian music at its most vibrant, like the Ghanaians, it encompasses a love of life that cannot help but move you and your feet.
Sammy Kofi is a popular legend within Ghana and set up several other bands, E.K Nyame No.1 Band and Dr. K. Gyasi’s Noble Kings, before Okukuseku. His vocals and belly laughter on this track really move things along nicely, the message is to Take Time for your life, forget about tomorrow and everything will be fine.
A very good outlook on life, especially for Monday, we all would do well to follow!
Okukuseku International Band of Ghana (Led by Chief Sammy Kofi) – Take Time (1982) – Roger All Stars (RASLPS 030)
Now comes the time to get deep and serious. Ghanaian Highlife was my starting point into African music and probably still is what I consider the pinicle of all the African music I have heard. It blends African rhythms with Jazz, that was brought to Ghana, by early sailors and traders.
As I mentioned in my first post I was blown away by a compilation put out by Soundway Records, called Ghana Special, which was what started this love affair. The labels creator, Miles Cleret, put out the record, plus two others, Ghana Soundz 1 & 2, after a trip he made to Ghana, deciding to create Soundway to make compilations of all the records he found during this trip. These compilations are highly recommended and were for me a great introduction to Ghanaian music.
After hearing the records and in particular a track by K. Frimpong, plus reading a lot about the country, I decided to book myself a 3 week trip to Ghana. One of my fondest memories of that trip was drinking Guiness and listening to these records on a 6 hour bus journey from the capital, Accra, to Hohe in the Volta region. It was a great trip and my first step into Africa, so I will always remember it happily.
The song featured in today’s post is by a band that played regularly with K Frimpong called Vis a Vis. The song is deep, melancholy, and the synth is trademark Vis a Vis. The cover is great too, in typical two colour style of many of the LPs of the time.
Grab a beer, sit back and enjoy!
Vis a Vis – Highlife Time, Owo Bieya (197?) – A.D. Records (XLP004)