Sunday, February 25, 2024

Tag: Highlife Music

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Highlife Music, type of West African popular music and dance that originated in Ghana in the late 19th century, later spread to western Nigeria, and flourished in both countries in the 1950s. The earliest form of Highlife Music was performed primarily by brass bands along the Ghanaian coast. By the early 20th century these bands had incorporated a broader array of instruments (primarily of European origin), a vocal component, and stylistic elements both of local music traditions and of jazz. Highlife Music thus emerged as a unique synthesis of African, African American, and European musical aesthetics.

In the 1930s the popularity of Highlife Music stretched inland and eastward along the coast, garnering an especially large following in Nigeria. There Highlife Music experienced an important transformation: asymmetrical drum rhythms derived from traditional drumming practices of the Yoruba people were combined with syncopated (displaced-accent) guitar melodies to accompany songs sung in either Yoruba or English. By the mid-1960s, however, Highlife Music had lost much of its audience to guitar-centred popular styles. One of these styles, a predominantly Yoruba-based outgrowth of Highlife Music called juju, gained widespread international recognition in the 1980s and remained popular in Nigerian “hotels,” or nightclubs, into the 21st century.

Highlife Music gained popularity in the genre “Native Blues” prior to World War II before production was shut down. After the war its popularity came back within the Igbo people of Nigeria, taking their own traditional guitar riffs and the influence of the Ghanaian highlife performing ideas, mixed and perfected it to form Igbo Highlife Music which became the country’s most popular music genre in the 1960s.

Highlife has remained a part of popular music for Ghanaians and their diaspora globally through its integration with religious institutions and the positive effect it had on immigrating Ghanaians leaving their homeland.

Palm Wine music

Palm-wine music was one style that originated on costal locations when local musicians began using portable instruments brought by traders and fused it with local string and percussion instruments. It was usually played in a syncopated 4/4 metre. This music was played in low class palm-wine bars at ports where sailors, dock workers, and working class locals would drink and listen to the music. Eventually this genre worked its way inland and a more Africanized version came containing 12/8 polyrhythms, this would be known as the “Native Blues”. This style would gain popularity up until World War 2 when production of the records were stopped.

Brass-band Highlife Songs

A style of Highlife that resembled western brass bands in European forts across West Africa. The military would use local musicians in their brass band regiments and taught them linear marching music. After these musicians seen how the West Indian regimental bandsmen practiced traditional music in their spare time it inspired them to do the same. The fusion of linear marching music with polyrhythmic local music created a danceable style called Adaha, as well as a style with cheaper, local instruments called Konkoma. This fusion was similar to the birth of Jazz in New Orleans.

Dance and Guitar band Highlife Songs

In the 1920s, Ghanaian musicians incorporated foreign influences like the foxtrot and calypso with Ghanaian rhythms like osibisaba (Fante). Highlife was associated with the local African aristocracy during the colonial period, and was played by numerous bands including the Jazz Kings, Cape Coast Sugar Babies, and Accra Orchestra along the country’s coast. The high class audience members who enjoyed the music in select clubs gave the music its name. The dance orchestra leader Yebuah Mensah (E.T. Mensah’s older brother) told John Collins in 1973 that the term ‘highlife’ appeared in the early 1920s “as a catch-phrase for the orchestrated indigenous songs played at [exclusive] clubs by such early dance bands as the Jazz Kings, the Cape Coast Sugar Babies, the Sekondi Nanshamang and later the Accra Orchestra. The people outside called it the highlife as they did not reach the class of the couples going inside, who not only had to pay a relatively high entrance fee of about 7s 6d (seven shillings and sixpence), but also had to wear full evening dress, including top-hats if they could afford it. From the 1930s, Highlife spread via Ghanaian workers to Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and Gambia among other West African countries, where the music quickly gained popularity.

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