Friday, February 20, 2009

Exploring Ga Cultural Highlife




I often tell Priscilla that if I leave this mortal coil before her and she's hard up for cash, she can raffle off my record collection on Ebay. Some of the prices people are getting for their old African vinyl are astronomical and mind-boggling. $300 for a scratchy old disco record by Christy Essien-Igbokwe? Come on, people!

Some of you may remember the old alt.music.african usegroup back when the internet was first catching on big-time (and is it still around?). I used to be a pretty active participant back around 1998. At one point a record dealer in North Carolina or some place posted a list of some records he wanted to unload. This guy didn't specialize in African music but he had come across about twenty or so primo West African pressings that he was auctioning off to the highest bidder. There were a few Fela records, a couple of Sonny Okosuns, and most intriguingly, a number of LPs labeled "tribal vinyl from Ghana." I hadn't heard of any of the artists mentioned, but the minimum bid was $5, so what did I have to lose?

As the auction proceeded over the next week, it became apparent that while there was a healthy interest in the Fela and Okosun records, I was the only person who wanted the Ghanaian LPs, so I obtained these mint-condition pressings for five dollars each!

On first listen it was obvious that I had come into possession of some rare gems. These records were in a style about which I had heretofore known very little, "Ga Cultural Highlife," a mainly acoustic, perscussion-based genre described by musicologist John Collins as originating in the early '70s among the Ga people around Ghana's capital city Accra.

A record reviewer I read once made a derisive reference to Ghanaian "Jug Band Music." I think she was referring to those Makossa Records pressings that came out in the late '70s (and if you've been collecting for a while, you know what I'm talking about), but the label could more accurately describe these wonderful recordings.

Take the Suku Troupe, whose home-made instrumentation and heartfelt enthusiasm blow some of the more professional highlife combos out of the water! The group was founded in 1976 by Nene Acquah and featured vocalist Maa Amanua (above left), quickly achieving fame throughout Ghana and other parts of West Africa. Here are two tracks from their second album, Ye Wanno Komm (Donno WADLP 002, 1978):

Suku Troupe - Awonye Lee

Suku Troupe - Hwe Wo Ho Yie

I've been unable to find out anything about the Ashiedu Keteke Cultural Group led by Nii France, but here's some wonderful music from their 1978 album Gbo Ofo Mino (Polydor 2940 015):

Ashiedu Keteke Cultural Group - Ake Me Aya

Ashiedu Keteke Cultural Group - Edo Mi



Likewise the background and history of the Adzo Troupe, led by Amartei B.C., are a mystery to me, but listen to these tunes from their 1979 LP Siolele (Essiebons 1277938). Interestingly, the group was managed by Stan Plange, who also led the popular Uhuru Dance Band back in the day:

Adzo Troupe - Siolele

Ado Troupe - Kerodze



Akwwetey Wallas had a peripatetic musical career before founding the Gaamashiebii Cultural Troupe in the mid '70s, starting out in the band led by his brother Oko Jack Bay. He went on to join the Obadzen Cultural Troupe led by Renaissance man Saka Acquaye. His musical itch then led him to found the Blemabii and Obuabedii Cultural Troupes in quick succession.

The liner notes of Gamashiebii's debut LP Ebaa Gbeee (Obuoba JNA 10) state,". . . For its twelve months of existence the Gamashibii Cultural Troupe has established itself as one of the best exponents of traditional music and has therefore earned it a participating place in most social activities in the Gamashi area. . . It cannot be gain said that this musical masterpiece will for some time come to liven up many homes." Hear for yourself!

Gamashiebii Cultural Troupe - Wuobi (Akroma)

Gamashiebii Cultural Troupe - Faale Ke Mi Ya (Pt. 2)



Of all of the groups featured in this posts, Wulomei, led by Nii Tei Ashitey, is the only one that has achieved a measure of fame outside of Ghana. Indeed, the name in practically synonymous with Ga Cultural Highlife. Under the name Sensational Wulomei, the group is still in existence and still perforforming in the Accra area after 36 years.

Here's some music from Wulomei's 1978 album Kunta Kinte (Philips 6354 022):

Wulomei - Aplanke

Wulomei - Kwani Kwani



By the way, if you like the music in this post, I can't recommend enough The Guitar and Gun (Sterns Earthworks STEW 50CD), which puts back into circulation John Collins' seminal highlife recordings from the early 80s. It's not all Ga Cultural Highlife, but it's all wonderful.

15 comments:

Simon666 said...

What an extraodinary post, thanks very much!

Comb & Razor said...

I love that Ashiedu Keteke LP cover...

Aaron J said...

Amazing post...thank you!!!

icastico said...

I like these...and I love the artwork on the covers. Thanks.

Quadzo said...

excellent post!

John B. said...

Thanks for your comments, folks.

Readers may be interested to know that all of the above commenters have interesting websites of their own:

Simon666: Never Enough Rhodes

Comb & Razor: With Comb &
Razor


Aaron J.: With a Shout

Icastico: Pen & Mallet

Quadzo: The Afrobeat Standard

Dr.Frank said...

Thanks for this great post, I love Ga cultural music. This typical Ga rythm in most of the songs is called "kpanlogo" an is very popular in Ghana.

icastico said...

John B. Thanks for the shout out. You are a classy dude.

Oro said...

Kpalongo rythms are very popular in west africa. And your post is very powerfull, Thank you a lot.

Come and listen some Kpalongo from benin in my post:

http://orogod.blogspot.com/2008/08/initiation-into-voodoo-music-4-amikpon.html

or

http://orogod.blogspot.com/2008/08/initiation-into-voodoo-music-3-amikpon.html

Malam Bala said...

meda'wase papapa! this post is awesome! it reminds me to my early days at Ga Mashie, moving around the corner-corner with my mates.

Comb & Razor said...

Second the thanks on the shout out, JB...

dj bel said...

thank you so much for this, especially for the Ashiedu Keteke Cultural Group tracks... i haven't heard these since the late 80's!!! is there any chance at all you could put the rest of the albumn up one day? thank you for the Wulomei tracks as well... i love the cover (rest in peace Big Boy)

cheers

bel

Anonymous said...

Oyiwala Donn!

Thanks a lot for posting this hard to find vintage Ga highlife, you made my day!

Martin

Ewiase said...

thanks a lot. is there a possibility to post all the music from the various albums??

Sarah Ortiz said...

I love that Ashiedu Keteke LP cover...