A genre that would dominate the music of Ghana (in West Africa) in the decades after its emergence, highlife is a gentle, guitar-band dance style. Highlife descended from the earlier, rural acoustic styles of palmwine music, but it has been infused... [more]
A genre that would dominate the music of Ghana (in West Africa) in the decades after its emergence, highlife is a gentle, guitar-band dance style. Highlife descended from the earlier, rural acoustic styles of palmwine music, but it has been infused with many influences. The seaports of the Ghanaian coastline were a point of entrance for sounds from neighboring countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone, with sources as distant as Jamaica contributing strains of Maroon (escaped slaves) music into the highlife mix.
Highlife adapts to its surroundings, with a "ballroom" variant popular among sophisticated coastal audiences and a more rustic, guitar-oriented version playing to less Westernized dancers in outlying areas. During the '30s and '40s, many emerging bands were recorded (Ghana being an English colony, companies such as Decca West Africa put out thousands of highlife discs), enabling a higher international profile for highlife. ET Mensah, renowned as "the king of highlife," arrived on the scene in the late '40s alongside his band, the Tempos. Though the big band highlife that he popularized effectively died out in the '50s, Mensah continued to make comeback appearances into the '80s, riding the mercurial peaks and troughs of highlife's ongoing popularity.
During the past few decades, military rule has forced many musicians to leave Ghana and seek their fortunes in other locales, often cities within the Commonwealth of which Ghana was once a member. Hence, the highlife scene in Toronto, Canada is vibrant, with talents such as Pat Thomas, A.B. Crentsil ("Toronto by Night"), and Jewel Ackah in residence.
Juju (the name is thought to stem from musician Tunde King) is another West African dance music that evolved from palmwine origins and is now Nigeria's calling card in the world music community. Very much representative of local Yoruba culture, from whose dialects and proverbs its lyrics are drawn, juju has gone through many phases -- from acoustic to electric to electronic and back again -- since its emergence in the '20s. And as with Ghanaian highlife, juju was heavily recorded at the dawn of phonography by British companies such as HMV and Decca. It wasn't until the late '50s that juju took a large evolutionary step with the innovations of I.K. Dairo, who added electric guitars to his group. The squeeze drum, better known as the talking drum or gongon, was also introduced to juju bands during this time.
Whereas the '60s belonged to Dairo, the '70s and beyond saw the rise of two Modernist stars in the juju firmament, Ebenezer Obey and "King" Sunny Ad. Obey, like Dairo before him, had a strong undercurrent of Christian morality threaded through his lyrics, but his music spoke to the comparatively new urban culture of Nigeria's sprawling cities -- Obey reaped huge sales with his electrified Yoruba dance beats on albums such as "Current Affairs" and "Joy of Salvation."
Sunny Ad became juju's "matinee idol" during the '70s, though his good looks and the stylish presentation of his large African Beats group did not detract from his prolific writing and innovative bent. Rather than scale his songs to the three or four minute 45rpm format, Ad arranged his compositions into flowing suites that lasted for the entire side of a long-playing album. His band grew to include two dozen players and more, with multiple keyboards and pedal steel guitar joining the lineup of talking drums and electric guitars. His infectious dance music caught the attention of Island Records' Chris Blackwell, who bankrolled a promotional campaign that included world tours and three albums recorded by Ad for Island. When Ad was ultimately dropped from the label in the mid-'80s, other juju acts such as Sir Shina Peters and Segun Adewale (both formerly of Shina Adewale) became favorites in Nigeria with newer, pop-infused mutations of juju. At the same time, the Yoruba street music known as fuji (and its close relatives waka and sakara), with massed groups of talking drum players and singers, was led into the light by performers Kollington Aynla, Sikiru Barrister, and others. [show less]