Thursday, February 26, 2009

It's Highlife Time




I've been on a Ghana kick lately, digging out a lot of semi-forgotten vinyl in my collection that I haven't listened to in years. I know you won't mind if I share it with you!

Other than falling under the general rubric "Ghana Highlife," the tunes in this post don't follow any particular theme - I more or less pulled them out at random. There's the classic danceband sound and the more stripped-down guitar highlife style, and even an example of the controversial "Burgher" highlife genre. I've left for future posts some of the big names - the African Brothers, Alex Konadu, A.B. Crentsil and Jewel Ackah - as well as the multitude of Ghanaian artists who made careers in Nigeria during the '70s and '80s.

Yamoah's Guitar Band, based in Kumasi and led by Peter Kwabena Yamoah (right), emerged from the Ghana concert party scene in the 1950s and has been one of the most influential Ghanaian music outfits ever since, which makes its lack of recognition outside Ghana all the more unjust. Nana Ampadu of African Brothers fame got his start there, as did guitarist Smart Nkansah and the sublime vocalist Agyaaku, who later formed the Sunsum Band (more about which later). I'm not sure when Yamoah's Special (Motorway MTL 3001) was released, nor does it feature any credits, but I suspect it came out in the early '70s and does feature Nkansah and Agyaaku. "Saa Na Odo Te/Otan Gu Ahorow" is a killer track, and "Suro Nea Obesee Wo" is almost as good:

Yamoah's Band -
Saa Na Odo Te/Otan Gu Ahorow

Yamoah's Band -
Suro Nea Obesee Wo

Pat Thomas served as a vocalist with the Broadway Dance Band, the Stargazers and the Uhurus before False Lover (Gapophone GAPO LP 02, 1974) introduced him to the world fronting the Sweet Beans, official band of the government Cocoa Marketing Board. He went on to became one of Ghana's most popular vocalists, and while his star has dimmed somewhat since, his sweet voice and sparkling arrangements are hard to forget. Not content to dip his toes in the reggae sound then sweeping Africa, Thomas jumps in head-first in the first four songs on False Lover, notably this one:

Pat Thomas & the Sweet Beans - Revolution

The rest of the album, billed as an attempt to revive the danceband sound, succeeds admirably:

Pat Thomas & the Sweet Beans - Don't Beat the Time

Pat Thomas & the Sweet Beans - Merebre

Pat Thomas & the Sweet Beans - Wabe Aso



I mentioned in my last post The Guitar and Gun (Sterns Earthworks STEW 50CD, 2003), which collects tracks from The Guitar and the Gun Vol. 1 (Africagram A DRY 1, 1983) and The Guitar and the Gun Vol. 2 (Africagram A DRY 6, 1985) John Collins' groundbreaking collections of Ghana highlife. Inexplicable to me is the exclusion of the African Internatonals' "Noko Nya M'akire" from Vol. 1, probably the best track on either record. To correct this oversight, I make it available here:

African Internationals - Noko Nya M'akire



Smart Nkansah and Agyaaku became friends when they were part of Yamoah's Band in the late '60s. A few years later Nkansah went his own way, eventually forming the immortal Sweet Talks Band with A.B. Crentsil in 1975, which recorded such classics as Adam and Eve and Hollywood Highlife Party before falling apart.

Nkansah & Agyaaku later reunited to form the Black Hustlers before founding the Sunsum Band in 1981. Their album Odo (Love) (ASA Records ASA 1001, 1984) features an exciting blend of guitar highlife, the classic danceband sound and the vocal stylings of Becky B, Smart Nkansah's sister-in-law. The title track was included in my compilation African Divas Vol. 1. "Mensee Madwen" is a medley from Side 2 of the LP:

The Sunsum Band - Mensee Madwen



Over the years thriving Ghanaian communities have developed in the United Kingdom, Canada and the U.S. Interestingly, because of relatively liberal immigration laws at the time, a sizable Ghanaian population emerged in Germany during the 1970s, and this community gave birth to the so-called "Burgher" highlife phenomenon.

Excoriated and loathed by purists, Burgher highlife, along with Hiplife, has come to define the modern-day highlife sound in Ghana. George Darko's "Akoo Te Brofo," released in 1983 with its funkified beat and heavy reliance on electronic instrumentation, is generally considered the first Burgher highlife hit. Musicians like Kantata, Rex Gyamfi and McGod were quick to follow in Darko's footsteps.

Charles Amoah's Eyε Odo Asεm (Cage Records 01-18957, 1987) is pretty much your archetypal Burgher highlife record, recorded in Dusseldorf and featuring mainly German musicians, German producers, even a German art director! Amoah himself started out playing straight-ahead highlife music in the '70s with the likes of the Happy Boys led by Kwabena Akwaboah and Alex Konadu's Band. He ended up in Germany in the late '70s where he bounced around various bands before releasing Sweet Vibration in 1984, the first of his many hit records.

Amoah has since returned to Ghana, where he has a prosperous career touring and recording. Here's a tune from Eyε Odo Asεm:

Charles Amoah - Di Ahurusi



If you'd like to hear some more contemprary examples of Burgher highlife, go here. Many thanks to Akwaboa of Highlife Haven, who provided useful information.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

wonderful tunes from pat thomas
many thanks

Malam Bala said...

thanks again and again for these amazing highlife tunes. the pat thomas tracks are really something special.

icastico said...

Nice.

Comb & Razor said...

Hmmm... A bit unlike you to feature an R-rated image so prominently, JB! (Not complaining!)

This is great selection... Man, you have a lot of incredible stuff! I need to start picking up more 1970s stuff from Ghana when I get the chance...

(Can you believe I didn't know The Guitar and the Gun was originally released in the early 80s? Every day's a school day!)

Boebis said...

Great great blog! Thanks a lot! So much thing, I don't know where to start !-)

Bellemskey said...

Hi Likembe, there is this Highlife track that goes by the lyrics "Its time for Highlife for Ladies and Gents, engage yourselfs and let us have a good time..... shake shake shake your body...." Pls post it if you have it.....

Anonymous said...

been looking for this pat thomas lp on ebay for quite some time. It has surfaced three times, but when the bidding gets way over 90 dollar (for an lp that has clicks..) I lose my interest.
Just hoping that Pat Thomas (and all the other sought-after african artists from that time) get to know how lovede their music is today.
Thanks for posting the songs. They are classic cuts!

John B. said...

Anonymous 7/24: Email me at beadlejp (at) yahoo (dot) com.

simon said...

"Don't Beat the Time" is amazing.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible that you can post the track listing of the album "Eyε Odo Asεm" by Charles Amoah, amazing classic. Thanks so much for posting!