Highlife Essentials

Highlife Essentials

For centuries, Ghana was overrun by foreign powers—both colonial oppressors and the Allied armies that used Ghana as a staging ground during World War II. That influx of outsiders meant that American jazz, Caribbean music, and brass instruments have found their way into the hands of local musicians, who've devoured it all. In the 1920s they began combining jazz syncopation, horns, and indigenous Akan rhythms to create highlife, a ravishing cultural mongrel that got its name from the exclusive clubs where expats and Ghanaian swells went to dance. Swaying with a tropical joie de vivre, the music, thanks in large part to tireless bandleader E.T. Mensah, spread across West Africa in the ‘30s. Dance-band highlife, with its sophisticated horn arrangements, ruled the cities; in the countryside, musicians who played the stringed seperewa quickly adopted the guitar and invented highlife’s unique, ringing guitar style. Nigeria, in particular, birthed many classic artists, including Dr. Victor Olaiya, Rex Jim Lawson, and Sir Victor Uwaifo.

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