Friday, January 30, 2009

Red Spots, Black Beats and Stargazers

Reader/listener Malam Bala, in a recent comment, reminded me that this blog is long overdue for a posting of good old Ghana highlife music. And what better way to correct this oversight than to post the LP Akom Ko (Decca WAP 281)? This fine compilation features the down-home sounds of guitar highlife on Side One, while Side Two showcases the more sophisticated danceband sound.

Back in the 1990s John Storm Roberts' Original Music label released a series of
Ghana highlife CDs that are eagerly sought out by African music aficionados, being as they are long out of print. Giants of Danceband Highlife (OMCD 011, 1990), I've Found My Love: 1960's Guitar Band Highlife of Ghana (OMCD 019, 1993) and Telephone Lobi: More Giants of Danceband Highlife (OMCD 033, 1995) cover much of the same musical territory as Akom Ko, but there is very little duplication of the music itself. So, if you are fortunate enough to own any of the Original Music compilations, consider this another volume in the series.

I suspect these recordings were made in the 1960s or at the very latest, the early 1970s, but Akom Ko itself was apparently pressed sometime in the '70s. I've tried to find out as much about the musicians as I could, but some artists, as talented as they are, dwell in obscurity. I'm passing on what information I have. If you'd like to pursue further studies, John Collins' "Musicmakers of West Africa" (3 Continents Press, 1985) is a good place to start, as well as a number of very informative articles he's written for Afropop Worldwide.

Royal Brothers - Anamon Nsiah

Boaken Stars - Medze M'awerεho Bεko

Bob Kwabena Akwaboah, founder of the band that bears his name, passed away January 2, 2004, leaving a legacy of numerous hit songs and LPs recorded during the 1960s and '70s. His son, Kwadwo Akwaboah, founded the Marriots International Band, which had a burst of popularity in the early 1990s:

Akwaboah's Band - Osu a Mesu

Awesome Tapes From Africa calls Yamoah "one of the greatest highlife singers ever," and I don't doubt it. I've been unable to find out much about this musician and his band, other than the fact that Nana Ampadu, founder of the African Brothers Band and a giant of the 1970-80s highlife scene, got his start with them:

Yamoah's Band - Nkrabea

Oppong's Band - Assaase Nkyiri Fun

Akwaboah's Band - Adeakye Abia

M.K. Manson - Nkokohwedeε Mienu

The Black Beats Dance Band was founded in 1952 by King Bruce and Saka Acquaye. Bruce, born in 1922, had already played with a number of the giants of the Ghana danceband scene like E.T. Mensah and Kofi Ghanaba, and the Black Beats were a very influential group for their time, recording innumerable hits and giving birth to several other outstanding orchestras including Jerry Hanson's Ramblers Dance Band and Acquaye's African Ensemble. A very informative article about King Bruce and the Black Beats by John Collins can be found here:

Black Beats - Medo Wo Sε Wote Yi Ara

The Red Spots, popular from the '50s through the '70s, were founded by Tommy Gripman, who got his start in E.T. Mensah's Tempo's Dance Band:

Red Spots - Oyε a Kae Me

The Broadway Dance Band, based in Sekondi-Takoradi, was led by a Nigerian trumpeter, Sammy Obot and included many great musicians like Stan Plange, Joe Mensah and Duke Duker. Following a legal dispute in 1964, it changed its name to the Uhuru Dance Band and continued to play a vital role in the Ghana music scene until the Seventies:

Broadway Dance Band - Menua

Black Beats - Anibre Sεm

Stargazers Dance Band - Owu Ayε Me Ade

Black Beats - Me Yε Ayera

Update: Akwaboah, who hosts the excellent new blog Highlife Haven, writes: ". . . please let me correct your remark about Kwabena Yamoah: he is the bandleader and guitarist, not the singer. The 'treble singer' on Yamoahs albums is the great Agyaku, who later recorded with Eric Agyeman and Smart Nkansah's Sunsum Band." Thanks, Akwaboah!


Anonymous said...

Dear John B.
I have many reasons to thank you:
First for all your efforts over the years in preserving and promoting African Culture ,through your blog,a true treasure of good music and information.
Then for this post especially,of superficially beautifull Highlife
and the least ,for adding my blog as a link here.

Thank you


Anonymous said...

the last phrase should be:
and last of all,for adding me...

please correct

peace n.

Anonymous said...

very very nice hi life record
many thanks

Anonymous said...

Lovely - the classic Ghanaian highlife sound seems a bit out of fashion these days, which is a great shame. Thanks for reviving this excellent album.

Perfect Sound Forever said...

BEAUTIFUL music! Thank you so much for posting this.

Akwaboa said...

Great music, thanks!
But please let me correct your remark about Kwabena Yamoah: he is the bandleader and guitarist, not the singer. The 'treble singer' on Yamoahs albums is the great Agyaku, who later recorded with Eric Agyeman and Smart Nkansah's Sunsum Band.

Comb & Razor said...

JB -

Could you shed any light on the legal dispute that led to the Broadway-Uhuru name change?

I had always assumed it was a result of Nkrumah's Africanization policy...

Anonymous said...


Here's the story:

Anonymous said...

Akwaboah: Thank you for that correction. Looking through my collection I see I have another LP by Yamoah's Band, Yamoah's Special (Motorway MTL 3001), which is also excellent. I'll probably post some tunes from it soon.

Comb & Razor said...


(Actually, I should have known this... I recorded a talk with Stan Plange last summer and I think he mentioned this. I need to transcribe it one of these days...)

w said...

Thank you and meda'wase papapa! John, for returning the discussion back to the Ghanaian Highlife. Its always a great enjoyment not only to hear these tunes but to learn more about them.
I am curious on the announced tune Yamoahs Special of Yamoah's Band.

w said...

John, i am also curious about the long-time announced feature about popular HAUSA music by Mamman Shata and Ali Baba from Nigeria/Niger and Cameroun.

Malam Bala

Anonymous said...

Malam: Could you get in touch with me at beadlejp at yahoo dot com. I have some questions about Hausa music.

Here, There, Elsewhere... and more said...

Fantastic blog - love, love, love highlife, takes me back to my roots..!
Thanks for sharing all this fascinating info...
I'll be back asap..:)

Tone said...

Wow wow wow! You never cease to amaze me with the beautiful music! Thank you.

Here's a link to the Original Music comp Telephone Lobi, if anyone's looking for it:

øשlqæda said...

belated thanks john b., this is superb. thanks for adding my blog to your 'roll' as well, if only for moment. paz

Kwabena Boakye said...

Thanks a lot, let me however say that the "Nkokowhidie mmienu" song is not by M. K. Manson but rather by Alhaji K. Frimpong....yes he started out as a guitar band & here's a link to another compilation that has that same song with the same crisp Frimpong voice running through...