Showing posts with label Ghana. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ghana. Show all posts

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Dynamic Duo of Ghana Highlife



The two stalwarts of Ghana highlife, Pat Thomas and Ebo Taylor, have both been experiencing career revivals lately, thanks to new recordings and reissues of old material. As a team - with Taylor as guitarist and arranger, and Thomas contributing his golden voice - they've been together on and off for more than fifty years. I've written about Pat Thomas and posted his music before. Ebo Taylor has recorded with all manner of Ghanaian musicians as well as being a session musician for the very influential Essiebons label.

Today's offering, Oye Odo (Dannytone 002, 1984), recorded in Ghana and mastered in the Netherlands, showcases these two giants at their peak. Enjoy!





Download Oye Odo as a zipped file here.


Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Ancestral Voices of Dade Krama



With their politically-charged version of traditional Ghanaian sounds, Dade Krama were a sensation in Britain back in the mid-1980s. Kofi Hagan Jr. describes a typical performance in the June 23, 1986 issue of West Africa magazine:

The sensational quintet, Dade Krama are storming Britain's major cities with their soothing, sometimes cheering or even inciting, yet elusive ancestral music of Africa. At the time I caught up with them on their travelling programme, they had already enlivened London, Leicester, Leeds and Birmingham. I decided to find out what their fans in Manchester had been missing. 
...Dade Krama were ready like the artistic warriors they are to take on the old industrial city... "Enua num na adofo (brothers, sisters and fans)...Dade Krama." The group promptly launched into an Asafo war song, "Ena ena-aa, ena ena, aboa bi seo-o djata bi seo-oo..." - an order for the thumping charge of Atumpan, Atsemevu, Prempensua and other percussive instruments all in martialled formations. The music finished in a screech... 
...Word got around that the great big-band highlife maestrro, E.T. Mensah was in the audience (he is in Britain for a medical check up). The next song had to be dedicated to him: "Wo se gye shun noni ete- noni eba-ye" - "we've come from afar, what has gone, what has come we endure." The song was so heavy-handedly nostalgic that it made one want to reach out for a steaming meal of kenkey, a giant hairy-legged land crab steamed to a red-brick colour with hot Kpakpo shitor (pepper). A bottle of real unadulterated akpetechie would have been great!
 By now the audience had unravelled into a crowd. Whistles, catcalls and general uproar drowned the handclaps. In the intermission the group was assaulted with goodwill... 
I spoke to Nana Tsiboe and Dada Lamptey: what strategy did the group have in getting across the ancestral music of Africa, considering that Western audiences may find the instruments, lyrics of music strange? "We believe, and to some extent have found out that only by the use of a creative format on the basis of a traditional platform can our music develop. For a long time African musical instruments, for instance, developed without the interruption of Western instruments. With regards to the lyrics, our songs could not be sung in English - the feelings come across with minimal translation. 
"...People hesitate to appreciate the proper context within which our music is realized. I can only comment on what we are doing in the sense that we try as much as possible to project our African culture so that it is appreciated in a proper perspective. We are now more than a music group, we are a way of life. Our music fits into our way of life - it is a lifelong thing. It demands, we are aware, a very delicate kind of exposure, care, thought and presentation." 
What is Dade Krama's position on blacks here in Britain and elsewhere in the West? "It is essential for every black to know he or she is black. We try to advance this basic consideration through the medium of our music -  that is total glorification of our own musical culture." 
In the light of existing arguments here in Britain for a sound basis for Black Arts heightened by Kwesi Owusu's book on this, The Struggle for Black Arts in Britain (Comedia; 1986, ₤14.95) what contribution is Dade Krama making? "We've worked a lot within the struggle for Black Arts here. We have participated in concerts, workshops, etc, to popularise Black Arts. But we are only making our art. It is the system that creates the struggle. We can appreciate the fact that African people must have arts in this country but nothing will be given to you without a fight...
"...There are African people fighting and infiltrating on other levels - we can help by producing .a very bigh level of our art and linking up. It is like a call to all black people to say, hey look this is what you are made up of!" 
Will the group continue to be im England? "No, presently England needs to be used to popularize our music. It is also important to make our music audible. We have to rely on the technology of this part of the world.
All members of Dade Krama have backgrounds in Western music or have used Western instruments. When was the break? "It is the instruments that broke us - we can't rely on electric current to make music for our audience. It is only efficient musicians who can play African music. In getting together, we all had the same interest and decided to share our instruments communally. " 
You make your own instruments? "We make some of the instruments like Gonje, Brekete and Gai. We attempt to repair our damaged instruments and in the long run make them ourselves." 
How is the group's debut record faring? "The'LP is three weeks old. We would say it has sold to a fair percentage of' our audience at performances. Also response in the form of write ups, and radio interviews has been great." 
Dade Krama comprises: Nii Noi Nortey - former saxophonist and flautist with Misty in Roots and African Dawn; Nana Tsiboe - formerly with Jazz Africa, High Tension and the Afro-Rock group Ojah (which he led); Dada Lamptey - a filmmaker/graphic designer (he designed the sleeve of Dade Krama's new album), who played with Watusi and Eneaben V; and Kweku Gabrah, who worked with the highlife group. Carousel 7 and has since been a sought-after session percussionist. Afari Aboagye, a professional agricultural economist, administer them.
When the lights of our ancestors dimmed, the crowd called for more. Afari routinely pleaded with them to come back. They did, but not with instruments: they formed a circle and with sleight of hand clapped a tune from our youth: Sasakroma (the hawk) out of each other's hands in the ecstatic manner of a group that had had a truly successful evening. 
Brilliant! 
Dade Krama's uncompromising approach to their music was admirable at a time when many African musicians felt the need to "cross over" - water down their art in hopes of commercial success. Probably for that reason their following was somewhat limited. Discogs lists only two releases by them - Ancestral Dance (Round Music ROCD 9601), which came out in 1996, and their debut, the one we're going to hear today, 1986's Ancestral Music of Africa (Akoben AK1). Descriptions of the songs are taken from the above-cited article by Kofi Hagan Jr.

Dade Krama - Tete Nantye

"...Using the Mbira (hand piano), Gonje, rattles, etc., Dade Krama performed 'Mutani N'Africa' - a Hausa tune and 'Magana Chiki' in a medley..."

Dade Krama - Mutani N'Africa / Magana Chiki / Aninwula Dagbon

Dade Krama - Inkululeko / Ye Azania

"...'Touba,' a mobilizing arrangement employing the use of Atenteben (flutes) and percussive instruments in an increasingly rapid rendition of a Northern Ghana tune..."

Dade Krama - Touba

"...'Brothers, sisters and fans, two years ago Reagan invaded Grenada and stifled the revolution. A few weeks ago he dropped bombs on Libya with the assistance of Thatcher. Two days ago with the knowledge of Reagan and Thatcher South Africa invaded Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe...We dedicate this song to all freedom fighters.' Wild cheers of approval from the audience. The song, 'Alkebu Lan,' - the original name of Africa, started with a bee-like droning sound from a pipe horn. Then the solitary whine of the Algaita - the instrument snakecharmers use, reared its lethal head and gave a lightning strike at the real cradle of State Terrorism. The recurrent sombre thums of the Brekete and Fomfomfron drums merely beat a warning to weakened hearts..."

Dade Krama - Alkebu-Lan

Dade Krama - Kronkohinkoo

Dade Krama - Adowa

Dade Krama - Wo See Dze Shonn

Dade Krama - Anukuo Nsele


Download Ancestral Music of Africa as a zipped file here. A few words on the inscription "Direct Metal Mastering" that appears on the sleeve. This technology appeared in the waning years of the analog era, probably in competition with digital recordings, which were then appearing on the market. I'm generally unconvinced that analog recordings are superior to digital (at least these days; a lot of the early CDs did sound awful!), but this record makes a good case! I was struck by its remarkable clarity while digitizing this disc. Something to look for if you're really into vinyl records! For more information on the process check out this Wikipedia article.

Monday, June 4, 2018

One More from "One Man Thousand"



Ghanaian highlife superstar Alex Konadu, or "One Man Thousand," was the subject of a previous post here on Likembe, and the indefatigable Moos over at Global Groove has a wealth of recordings by him. Sadly, since our last visit with him Mr. Konadu passed away on January 18, 2011. A Ghanaian website had this to say about him:

....Alex Konadu was born in 1950 at Adwumakase Kese in the Kwabere No.3 District of Ashanti. Konadu started singing at an early age, and became the leader of the Kantamanto Bosco Group before moving on to the band of the well-known Kwabena Akwaboah. He honed his artistic skills there after three years moved to the Happy Brothers Band. 
After two years Kwabena went 'solo' for some time, composing and practicing until he invited Mr. A.K.Brobbey -record dealer and producer- to listen to his rehearsals and he got signed and Brobbey organised a band. With their new, very uptempo guitar Highlife they had instant succes. 
His ability to draw crowds wherever he went gave Konadu the appellation "One Man Thousand." Withstanding the vicissitudes of fame and fashion, and staying true to his vision of pure, unadulterated highlife music, he became an inspiration to Ghanaian musicians for years. While Konadu issued many wonderful recordings over the decades, Asaase Asa is still considered one of his most noteworthy achievements. 
The 1976 album Asaase Asa (Brobisco KBL 016) was a breakthrough hit for Alex Konadu, establishing him as Ghana's foremost exponent of "roots highlife." The title song was based on a true story about Mr. Asaase Asa, who lost both his wife and sister when they were killed by a falling tree. It is dedicated to all who have lost their loved ones. Alex Konadu carved a special name for himself dedicating most of his songs in praise of the dead and his music is a must-play at any Ghanaian funerary.....
Today I present an Alex Konadu record that I haven't seen on any of the other African music sites, recorded during a Canadian sojourn - 1992's Da Bi Wo Behunu (BlackSounds RTLP 003). This is classic Konadu - Ghana highlife stripped down to its propulsive, infectious essentials. Enjoy!

Alex Konadu - Da Bi Na Wo Behunu

Alex Konadu - Agya Ata Wuo Part II

Alex Konadu - Pa Pa No No

Alex Konadu - Yen Anya Aba Na Yen Ko Ye Mu

Download Da Bi Wo Behunu as a zipped file here.


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Return of the Sweet Talking Man



Last month I gave you A.B. Crentsil's great 1985 LP Toronto by Night, with a promise of more sophisticated sounds from the king of '80s Ghana highlife. Well, here they are! Tantie Alaba (Earthworks/Rough Trade ERT 1004, 1984) was recorded at the Ghana Film Studios in Accra, and has more of an "organic" sound than Toronto.

Researching this series of posts devoted to Ghana music from the '80s, I've been digging through my archives, compiled back in the days before the internet, and came across issue #5 of Africa Beat magazine, published in London in Summer of 1986. It contains a most informative article, "Sweet Talking Man," about Mr. Crentsil, then on a European tour:

The dramatic plunge in the value of the Ghanaian currency, the cedi, has thrown up some stories. One of the most heartbreaking is the virtual death of the Ghanaian recording industry. The price of imported basics, like guitar strings or vinyl, has killed off virtually every full-time touring professional band. Some put the number of survivors as low as three. 
One man who has survived all this and a lot more is A.B. Crentsil, the 36-year-old singer whose mid-1970s band Sweet Talks was a germinating ground for some of the strongest talents to emerge out of Ghana during the last ten years - the Sunsum Band, Eric Agyemang and Thomas Frempong among them. But the figures even he throws out so casually are terrifying. He starts off talking about how his second band the Lantics were stolen away from the Atlantic Hotel by an extra 25 cedi a month - "100 cedi a month was a lot and we were happy to go!," he chuckles. Now he talks about paying his bus driver 10,000 cedi a day, a week, a month, whatever it takes to keep him. 
Even more scaring is his account of the break-up of Sweet Talks in 1979 and the court battle to get money out of the manager of the Talk of the Town Hotel who owned the band's instruments and in a lot of ways seemed to own their souls as well. "In court we heard that Phonogram had paid him 5.4 million cedis. Out of that we had seen 68,000 cedis." Needless to say there were dark doings in the background and A.B. is not a rich man - but her survives. 
And away from the numbers, back to the music. Throughout the 1970s A.B. played in the best hotel bands in Ghana - first the El Dorados, performing funk, reggae and James Brown material, the usual songs known as "copyright." The there was the Lantics, again tied to a top hotel but this time getting away to record the first album, Adam & Eve [as the Sweet Talks] in 1975. They had been spotted playing in the hotel by Phonogram MD Arthur Tay who swept them off to the 16-track EMI studio in Lagos which was quite a jump from the two-track they had used for three 45s earlier. 
The 75-venue tour of Ghana which followed built Sweet Talks into one of the biggest bands in the land. Throughout the string of LPs that followed - Kusum Beat, Spiritual Ohaia, Osode - it was all up and up, closer to dangerous temptations that lay in wait when Phonogram Holland took them to Los Angeles' Total Experience studio to record the best-selling Party Time [Hollywood Highlife Party]. It was then that they discovered that their manager was using their money to send a Thunderbird back to Ghana. It was when they got back they discovered they were broke, and broke up....
Which brings us up to 1984, and Tantie Alaba, recorded with Mr. Crentsil's reorganized Super Sweet Talks International, and the first of his albums to receive modest international distribution. Here's a nice video someone made of the title track, utilizing footage that apparently has nothing to do with the song itself, but, I'm sure you'll agree, matches up very well indeed!


A.B. Crentsil & Super Sweet Talks International - Tantie Alaba

A.B. Crentsil & Super Sweet Talks International - Akpêtêchi Seller


A.B. Crentsil & Super Sweet Talks International - Odo

A.B. Crentsil & Super Sweet Talks International - Who is Free

Download Tantie Alaba as a zipped file here.


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Mmmmmm . . . Sweet '80s Highlife Music!



I've been going through my record collection, pulling out and digitizing Ghanaian LPs that I got hold of back in the '80s when I was a regular customer of Sterns African Record Centre in London.  Most of these  were recorded in London, Berlin and Toronto, the economy in Ghana at the time having forced some of the biggest stars there to seek sustenace overseas. The result was a new, hybrid sound, marrying the standard themes and sounds of Ghana highlife with modern production values, synthesizers and drum machines. 

Over the next weeks and months I'll be presenting the results of my excavations, but I think it's only fitting to open with an LP that stands as a pinnacle of the '80s Ghana highlife sound - A.B. Crentsil's Toronto by Night (Wazuri WAZ101, 1985).

Alfred Benjamin Crentsil was born in 1950 and showed an early aptitude for music, forming with his friends in the mid-'60s a group called the Strollers Dance Band. A few career moves later and he founded, with Smart Nkansah, the group that would make his name, the Sweet Talks. Their fledgling effort, Adam and Eve in 1975, almost single-handedly rescued highlife music in Ghana, then under assault by assorted foreign styles. Many more hits - Kusum Beat and Hollywood Highlife Party (recorded in the US in 1978 when the band was playing backup for the Commodores) among others - and the Sweet Talks were at the top of their game.

As is often the case for African musicians, dissension set in and the classic Sweet Talks lineup was no more. Smart Nkansah left to found the Black Hustlers (later named the Sunsum Band) and Crentsil carried on with the Super Sweet Talks International. More solo recordings followed (among them the controversial Moses), and Crentsil found himself in Canada, where Toronto by Night, a certified classic, was recorded.

Crentsil has been back in Ghana for many years and is still recording. In 2016 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 17th Ghana Music Awards.





"I Go Pay You Tommorrow" is a rework of Crentsil's big hit from 1984, "Akpêtêchie Seller," from his LP with the Super Sweet Talks International, Tantie Alaba (I will be posting this album some time in the future). In it an alcoholic beseetches a seller of Akpêtêchie (distilled palm wine) to give him one more drink until payday:


Download Toronto by Night as a zipped file here. Ronnie Graham's article from the August 11, 1986 issue of West Africa magazine, "A.B.'s Highlife Humour," was extremely useful in researching this post.


Friday, September 29, 2017

Lovers' Hi Life



I've been unable to find out much about Asare Bediako, who is responsible for today's offering, the very enjoyable Lovers Hi Life (Highlife World HW 2017) from 1986. I believe, however, that he is the "Sam Asare-Bediako" who has acheived fame as a composer and arranger of Christian devotional music in his native Ghana:



Whatever. Lovers Hi Life is a pretty good example of the sort of synth and drum-machine driven "Burger Highlife" music that became popular in the 1980s. Enjoy!

Asare Bediako - Odo

Asare Bediako - Ene Wiase


Asare Bediako - Ohufor


Asare Bediako - Abena


Asare Bediako - Ohianti


Asare Bediako - Ewisia


Download Lovers Hi Life as a zipped file here.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Highlife Music From the "Great White North"



Ghana's highlife great Pat Thomas has been experiencing something of a career renaissance lately. 2015 saw the release of  Pat Thomas & Kwashibu Area Band (Strut STRUT126CD), his first new recording in many years, and in 2016 a 2-CD retrospective of his recordings from 1964 to 1981, Coming Home (Strut STRUT147CD) hit the scene.

Thomas has been around for many years. He was born into a musical family in 1951 (his uncle was the legendary King Onyina), but got his first big break in 1966 when he made the acquaintance of Ebo Taylor, a musician who had studiend in London with Nigeria's Fela Ransome-Kuti. Thus began a musical partnership that would continue on and off for many years, producing a number of fine recordings and revolutionizing the Ghanaian music scene.Together, with Ebo on guitar and Pat as arranger and vocalist, they played in the Broadway Dance Band and the Stargazers, two of the most important orchestras of the era. Thomas's breakthrough as a highlighted artist came in with the release of 1974's False Lover (Gapophone LP 02), recorded with the Sweet Beans, official band of Ghana's Cocoa Marketing Board. A few tracks from this landmark recording are included in an earlier post here on Likembe.

Ghana's political and economic travails in the early '80s impelled many musicians overseas, to London, Germany and Toronto, which gave rise to new and exciting permutations of the highlife sound. Ghanaian musicians in Germany, where Thomas lived for a time, developed a disco/highlife hybrid called "Burger Highlife," which took Ghana and its diaspora by storm. In the late '80s Thomas made the journey to Toronto, joining a vibrant Ghanaian exile music scene which included at times musicians like A.B. Crentsil, Alex Konadu and Joe Mensah. He would remain in Canada for ten years, returning to Ghana in 1997.

Although it was recorded in Lomé, Togo, 1986's Highlife Greats Mbrepa (Jap Records JAP 0102) was released in Canada and is a product of this fertile period. It's a great album, which deserves a proper reissue. Perhaps tracks from it will be included in a future retrospective. For now, though, enjoy!

Pat Thomas - Mbrepa Baba

Pat Thomas - Onsu Nyame Ye

Pat Thomas - Adze Akye Henbia

Pat Thomas - Nyi No Nsen Hwe

Pat Thomas - Asembe Nyi

Pat Thomas - Odo A Me Do Woyi

Download Highlife Greats Mbrepa as a zipped file here.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Rest in Peace Jerry Hansen



Jerry Hansen, founder of Ghana's influential Ramblers International Dance Band, passed away in Accra Saturday, April 7th. He was 85. Besides leading the band and composing many of its hit songs, Hansen was a founding member and President of the Musicians Union of Ghana

The Ramblers, the last of Ghana's great "danceband highlife" orchestras, were founded in 1961 when Hansen left King Bruce's Black Beats. Their innovative sounds held them in good stead through the political upheavals of the 1970s and ínto the '80s when the band finally expired thanks to changing tastes and poor economic conditions.

Jerry Hansen was one of the last giants of the classic highlife sound and will be sorely missed. Remember him while listening to Ramblers International (Decca WAPS 334), an album from 1976:

Ramblers International - Akwanuma Hiani

Ramblers International - Dear Si Abotar

Ramblers International - Megye Wo

Ramblers International - Inemesti

Ramblers International - Maye Maye

Ramblers International - Mbre Ofiong

Ramblers International - Awusa Dzi Mi

Ramblers International - Esa Ni Otse Ohie

Ramblers International - Dodzi

Ramblers International - Ao Danye

Ramblers International - Highlife Medley

Download Ramblers International as a zipped file here.

Monday, February 14, 2011

African Divas Vol. 4




Once again I'm forced to apologize for the infrequency of my posts lately. As usual, I have several projects in the hopper, but all kinds of personal business has intervened to prevent me from finishing them.

Fortunately, what should come over the transom but a fine new compilation by our friend Ken Abrams, who was responsible for a couple of installments in the fondly remembered African Serenades series a few years back. Ken calls this collection of tracks by female artists "African Woman is Boss" (a play on a calypso, "Woman is Boss") but with his permission I'm rechristening it African Divas Vol. 4, since I've been wanting to put together another installment in that series for some time.

Mostly off the World Music™ radar, these chanteuses are testimony to the talent and artistry of Africa's female singers. Enjoy!

1. Deka - Ade Liz (Cote d'Ivoire)
2. Fide (Le Repos) - N. Lauretta (Cameroun)
3. Mumi We Njo - Cella Stella (Benin)
4. Je Caime Larsey - Lady Talata (Ghana)
5. Oa - Betuel Enola (Cameroun)
6. Time - Sissy Dipoko (Cameroun)
7. Shameributi - Oyana Efiem Pelagie & Soukous Stars (Gabon)
8. Komeka Te - Pembey Sheiro (Congo)
9. Mu Mengu - Itsiembu-y-Mbin (Cameroun)
10. Mbo Ya? - Lolo (Cameroun)
11. Gbaunkalay - Afro National (Sierra Leone)
12. Gnon Sanhon - Rose Ba (Togo)
13. Djombo - Hadja Soumano (Mali)
14. Kanyama - Amayenge (Zambia)
15. Mesa Ko Noviwo O - Okyeame Kwame Bediako & his Messengers (Ghana)
16. Mede Yta - Yta Jourias (Togo)
17. Play Play - Wulomei (Ghana)
Download African Divas Vol 4 here (and you can get Vol. 1 here, Vol. 2 here, and Vol. 3 here). Be advised also that in addition to his musical interests, Ken Abrams is a talented artist. Check out his work here.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

One Man Thousand




The 1976 album Asaase Asa (Brobisco KBL 016) was a breakthrough hit for Alex Konadu, establishing him as Ghana's foremost exponent of "roots highlife." The title song is based on a true story about Mr. Asaase Asa, who lost both his wife and sister when they were killed by a falling tree. It is dedicated to all who have lost their loved ones.

Konadu had been singing since an early age, and became a leader of the Kantamanto Bosco Group before moving on to the band of the well-known Kwabena Akwaboah for three years and then to the Happy Brothers Band. After going solo he was discovered by the producer A.K. Brobbey and the rest, as they say, is history.

His ability to draw crowds wherever he goes has given Konadu the appellation "One Man Thousand." Withstanding the vicissitudes of fame and fashion, and staying true to his vision of pure, unadulterated highlife music, he has been an inspiration to Ghanaian musicians for years. While Konadu has issued many wonderful recordings over the decades, Asaase Asa is still considered one of his most noteworthy achievements. Enjoy!

Alex Konadu's Band - Obi Aware Wo

Alex Konadu's Band - Me Ne Me Aserene


Alex Konadu's Band - Obiri Pajampram

Alex Konadu's Band - Owuo Mpe Sika

Alex Konadu's Band - Emum Aso Dae

Alex Konadu's Band - Asem Ne Me Ara

Alex Konadu's Band - Asaase Asa

Alex Konadu's Band - W'awu Da Ho No

Download Asaase Asa as a zipped file here. For a taste of Alex Konadu recorded before a live audience,
be sure to check out his album One Man Thousand Live in London.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Roots of "Art Music"




I didn't know what to expect when I posted a recording of Fela Sowande's African Suite a couple of weeks ago, but the reaction has been surprisingly positive, not only in comments and emails but in the the number of downloads.

I say "surprisingly positive" because I didn't know what people would make of this effort to fuse African traditional music with European classical forms. Turns out that African "Art Music" isn't the obscure back ally that I thought it was. Not only is there a lot of it out there, it is the subject of a surprising amount of scholarship. Andreas Wetter directs us to two articles on his website Ntama, and the internet offers up considerable analysis for those who are interested.

Reader/listener

George Williams Aingo - Akuko Nu Bonto

Ghanaian composer Ephraim Kwaku Amu was a trail-blazer in the field of transcription of traditional African songs. He was born in 1899 and began teaching in 1920, contemporaneously with his musical education under the Rev. Allotey-Pappoe.

Soon he had composed a number of popular songs, including "Mawo do na Yesu" ("I Shall Work for Jesus"), "Onipa," "Da Wo So" and "Yen Ara Asase Ni." His cultural nationalist tendencies led to a break with the Church, and he left for London in 1937 to study at the Royal College of Music. It was here that he learned to fuse African polyphony with European forms of music. In the late '60s Amu was the director of the University of Ghana Chorus, which recorded the LP Ghana Asuafo Reto Dwom (Ghanaian Students Sing) for Afro Request Records (SPLP 5027). Amu's composition "Ennye Ye Angye Da," included on the album, was the basis for "Joyful Day" in Sowande's African Suite. From the liner notes, the lyrics are as follows:


This is a joyful day.
Why be sad, when all around is happy and merry?
Work and merrymaking alternate each other to make life enjoyable.
We pledge to engage in both, work and merrymaking, each in its appropriate time to make life happy and merry.
University of Ghana Chorus - Ennye Ye Angye Da



Miles Cleret of Soundway Records asked my wife Priscilla to translate some Igbo-language songs for inclusion on the upcoming Volume 2 of the amazing Nigeria Special. Interestingly, in light of our subject matter, one of those songs, "Egwu Umuagboho" ("The Young Maidens' Dance") is by Joy Nwosu Lo-Bamijoko (above), one of the leading lights of Nigerian Art Music. Ms. Nwosu was born in 1940 and has lived in the United States since 1996. In 1961 she journeyed to Rome on an Eastern Nigerian Government scholarship with the ambition of becoming an opera singer. Here she studied in several conservatories for ten years. Returning to Nigeria in 1972, she became Producer of Musical Programs for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation and became a Musical Lecturer at the University of Lagos in 1975, holding a number of posts in that institution until 1992.

Ms. Nwosu has recorded several LPs in Nigeria and is responsible for numerous popular compositions. "Egwu Umuagboho," recorded with Dan Satch Joseph's band, is quite unusual for an Igbo song, reflecting her operatic training. It is based on the traditional girls' dance of Nwosu's Enugu region. Lyrically it is more of a "tone poem" than a straight narrative, adress to a girl named Agnes: "Beautiful Agnes. . . what slight is done to another person? . . . peace, peace Udoegwu. . . anger and quarrel. . . Agnes, it's me talking, Agnes, it's me calling:

Joy Nwosu & Dan Satch Joseph - Egwu Umuagboho

"Egwu Umuagboho" is unavailable for download at this time. Many thanks again to

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Africa Roots Vol. 4




I'll be out of town for a week and don't expect to be able to blog, but I wanted to get something in, so this one's a quickie.

I never managed to snag Vols. 1-3 of the legendary Africa Roots series, recorded at the Melkweg in Amsterdam in the early '80s. I did get hold of the fourth and final (?) installment, and what a wonderful recording it is!

Click on the picture below to read about the artists and the songs. The standout here is Mali's legendary Salif Keita along with the equally fabled Kante Manfila and Ousmane Kouyate, who deliver a scorching rendition of the Ambassadeurs classic "Primpin." Senegal's Baaba Maal, Algeria's Cheb Mami, Angola's Bonga and A.B. Crentsil from Ghana don't disappoint either with inspired renditions of some of their greatest songs. It's all good!

Listening to these tracks will take some of you back to the exciting days of the '80s when every day brought a new revelation for us African music fans and World Music™ had yet to be conceived. Enjoy!

Salif Keita & Les Ambassadeurs - Primpin

Baaba Maal & l'Orchestre - Dental

Baaba Maal & l'Orchestre - Yela

Baaba Maal & l'Orchestre - Lomtoro

Cheb Mami - Sanlou Ala Enabi

Bonga - Kua' Sanzala

Bonga - Camin Longe

A.B. Crentsil - Osokoo

A.B. Crentsil - Atia


A.B. Crentsil - Ahurusi




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.

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.

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!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

African Divas Vol. 1




With the kids back in school and monopolizing the computer, and me swamped under a ton of overtime, I just haven't been able to give this blog the attention it deserves. As usual, I have several posts in progress, which I'm putting the finishing touches on, but I haven't wrapped things up yet.

Still, I want to put something up, so here goes:

You're probably familiar with Matt Temple's blog Matsuli Music. Last year, shortly before I started Likembe, I compiled an installment in his great "African Serenades" series. It was Volume 47 in two parts, subtitled African Divas 1 and African Divas 2, a selection of great female vocalists from across the continent.

I'm really proud of the work I did on this collection, but it was only online for a week or two on Matsuli Music. So I'm bringing it back into the light of day here. Here's the tracklist for Volume One:

1. E Beh Kiyah Kooney – Princess Fatu Gayflor (Liberia)
2. Haya – Khadja Nin (Burundi)
3. Ndare – Cécile Kayirebwa (Rwanda)
4. Du Balai – Angèle Assélé (Gabon)
5. Kalkidan – Hamelmal Abate (Ethiopia)
6. Ezi Gbo Dim - Nelly Uchendu (Nigeria)
7. Odo (Love) – Sunsum Band featuring Becky B (Ghana)
8. Dikom Lam La Moto – Charlotte Mbango (Cameroun)
9. Kuteleza Si Kwanguka – Lady Isa (Kenya)
10. Vis à Vis – Monique Seka (Côte d’Ivoire)
11. Femme Commerçante – M’pongo Love (Congo-Kinshasa)
12. Fe, Fe, Fe – Tina Dakoury (Côte d’Ivoire)
13. Koumba – Tshala Muana (Congo-Kinshasa)
14. Fote – Djanka Diabate (Guinea)
There are a few tracks you will recognize if you've been following Likembe for a while, but most may be new to you. In a departure from my usual practice, I'm posting this as a zipped file (108 MB) rather than as individual tracks, as it was meant to be listened to as a unit. An inlay card has been included as a Word file if you want to make your own CD. Volume 2 will follow shortly:

African Divas Vol. 1

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Some Recent Tunes From Ghana


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.