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.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Thursday, September 6, 2007
If you're a homesick Ghanaian who's hungry for the taste of Banku, Kenkey or Shito, Makola Super Market in Chicago (1017 W. Wilson Ave., 773-935-6990 or 773-878-3958) is the place to go. In addition to its culinary offerings, Makola has a nice selection of Ghanaian DVDs and CDs, almost none of them available through the usual World Music™ sources.
I've been wanting to do a post on Ghanaian music, and since I'm a bit pinched for time, it seemed easy enough to rip some tracks from a few of these CDs. I got these the last time I was in Makola, which must have been four or five years ago, as they're all dated around 2002. So, they're not the very latest thing from Ghana, but they do give one a decent idea of what's been going on musically in that country recently.
Those hoping for the sophisticated sounds of classic dance-band highlife ala the Ramblers or Uhurus, or the down-home guitar stylings epitomized by the African Brothers Band are in for a disappointment. These tracks are all in the synthesizer-heavy "Burger highlife" style that started among Ghanaian musicians in Germany twenty years ago and has been so popular of late. I'm a bit distressed about the eclipse of the classic Ghana guitar sound myself (and if it hasn't been eclipsed, please school me; I'm not as up to date on these matters as I should be!), but I have to say that for synth-pop, these tunes pretty much hit the spot for me. The cheesiness quotient is low, the arrangements are top-rate, and the vocals are mighty fine indeed.
I can't tell you much about the artists, nor anything about the lyrics. If anyone out there is familiar with Twi or whatever language(s) these are in, please enlighten us!
Nana Tuffour is the only one of these musicians that I was familiar with. He is said to have been born on Valentine's Day 1954 and has been recording since at least the 1980s, having released numerous LPs, cassettes and CDs. "Abeiku" is from his CD of the same name (Owusek Productions OW 66-2, 2002). The prolific Oheneba Kissi has been recording since 1990 and has put out 13 albums. I was kinda knocked on my heels by the opening notes of "Wogya Me Ho A," a fine tune from his 2002 release ABC of Love (Owusek Productions OW 65-2).
Nana Tuffour - Abeiku
Oheneba Kissi - Wogya Me Ho A
It just goes to show how out of it I am that I'd never heard of Kojo Antwi - he's released at least a dozen CDs. His voice has been compared to R. Kelly's, and he looks a little like him, too. "Eva," aka "Sista Sledge," accompanies him on "Odo Ano Wappi," from Densu (Freedom Family Music FFM08152002-12, 2002). I can't tell you much about Nana Acheampong other than he was one of the famous Lumba Brothers back in the '80s before going solo. He has issued numerous cassettes and CDs on his own and recently re-united with his partner Daddy Lumba (Charles Kwadwo Fosu) for a Lumba Brothers reunion tour. "Gyegye Meso" is from XXL (Owohene Productions MOR 0210).
Kojo Antwi - Odo Ano Wappi
Nana Acheampong - Gyegye Meso
London-based Kwaisey Pee has several CDs to his credit and has been making inroads in the home market. "Enye Agro" is from Krokro Me (New Era Productions). I was quite impressed with Kaakyire Kwame Appiah's Eye Gye (Tropic Vibe Productions 2002-2003). Not only does Mr. Appiah pay tribute to Nico Mbarga's "Sweet Mother" in this tune, "Kono Saa," he also references the Mahotella Queens' "Kazet" on another track, "Shubidu." Catch the video here.
Kwaisey Pee - Enye Agro
Kaakyire Kwame Appiah - Kono Saa
If you're interested in obtaining any of this sort of music, try Ghana.co.uk. I've not had any dealings with them, so I can't say how reliable they are, but their website features an excellent selection.