In January this year my working life gave me the all-too-brief pleasure of spending an afternoon digging for records in Accra, Ghana. My collecting ‘bug’ was satisfied, and so it is my pleasure this week to share some of these delicious discoveries – starting with early fifties highlife, and then migrating later this week to the more electric 70s.
Ghana’s early highlife music is a captivating blend of local tradition embracing the roots of ragtime, swing, afro-cuban, rhumba, and calypso – with trap drums, bongos and the double bass providing a foundation for guitars and/or banks of brass.
Professor John Collins recounts a very readable history of various African musics. Much of the text in this post either quotes Collins, or is informed by various articles he has written. See here for an example. Collins describes early twentieth century tradition in Ghana leading to the formation of big dance orchestras that played foxtrots and ballroom music for the coastal elites in ‘high-class dancing clubs’. “The earliest was the 1914 Excelsior Orchestras of Ghana and by the 1920’s these included the Jazz Kings and Cape Coast Sugar Babies of Ghana ... it was during the 1920's, when the prestigious dance groups began to orchestrate local melodies, that the term ‘highlife’ (i.e. high-class) was coined.”
After the second world war the ‘huge’ orchestras were trimmed down to swing-combo size, which blended afro-cuban percussion, calypso and swing-jazz with highlife. E.T. Mensah’s Tempos were the pioneers who influenced the bands whose recordings are being shared here. In 1947 Decca established a recording studio in Accra.
Another influential band, The Black Beats were formed in 1952 by King Bruce and Saka Acquaye. Check out our earlier special posting on the Black Beats here. This music has strong influences from swing and the Trinidadian calypso musician Lord Kitchener. In amongst the pile of 78s I came across in Accra, I did find two records by Lord Kitchener and one by female calypso singer Marie Bryant.
Collins mentions another strand of small highlife groups that, after world war two, became ‘guitar-bands’. In 1952 E.K.’s Band (named after E.K. Nyame) fused the guitar bands with the concert party, creating a comic highlife-opera format. The ‘concert parties’ were vaudeville black-face minstrel acts whose first performers came from the U.S. and Liberia as early as 1924. The likes of Nyame and Onyina’s Guitar Band Africanised and appropriated or ‘hi-jacked’ the genre from the elites and took it to the villages.
1. Black Beats Band: De Ehuo - Decca WA904
2. Black Beats Band: Mikuu Mise Mibaa Don- Decca WA904
3. Black Beats Band: Agoogyi - Decca WA917
4. Black Beats Band: Anokwa Edomi - Decca WA917
5. Black Beats Band: Essie Mercy - Senaphone FAO1527
6. Black Beats Band: Maye Maye - Senaphone FAO1527
7. E.K.'s Band: Mambo Mambo - Queenophone QP245
8. E.K.'s Band : Mani Agyina Wo - Queenophone QP245
9. E.K.'s Band: Ta Me Na Mu Awurade - Queenophone QP280
10. E.K.'s Band: Kaa Bi Reba - Queenophone QP280
11. E.K.'s Band: Sunkwa - Queenophone QP352
12. E.K.'s Band: Taxi Oreko - Queenophone QP352
13. E.K.'s Band: Me Beyar Mo - Queenophone HH/PH014
14. E.K.'s Band: Otan Bebrebe Yi - Queenophone HH/PH014
15. Golden Stars Band: Me Nko Meye Mmobo - Queenophone HH/PH021
16. Golden Stars Band: Obra Ahyease - Queenophone HH/PH021
17. Happy Stars: Mado Ama Moa Adi - Kotoko DKL001
18. Happy Stars: Mefre No - Kotoko DKL001
19. H.K. Williams: Mene Wobeko Tamate - Parlophone UTC16
20. H.K. Williams: Ye Nim No - Parlophone UTC16
21. Onyina's Guitar Band: Akakoa Ayeb Agu - Decca GWA4105
22. Onyina's Guitar Band: Obiara Ne Ne Nkrabia - Decca GWA4105
24. Onyina's Guitar Band: Maye Baako Foo - Decca WA909
25. Rakers Dance Band: Gold Coast Farewell Call - Senaphone FAO1514
26. Rakers Dance Band: San Bra Fie - Senaphone FAO1514