Music is dynamic and changes with the years and seasons. There are genres of music, and for reasons of dynamism, it would not be surprising to wake up one morning and hear a number of other genres that complement existing ones. Known and widely used genres include Afro Pop, Country, Soul, Funk, Jazz, Calypso, Rhythmz & Blues (R&B), Reggae, Reggae Dancehall. It is obvious that most people continue to listen to music, not only because of the genre, but also because of its masterpiece. And if you want more of these outstanding creative works, then Ghana’s Hi-Life music is one of them.
Obviously, one of the bands that sold this genre around the world is Osibisa, a Ghanaian group that brought Hi-Life beyond Africa to the world’s living room with thrilling performances. Agya Koo Nimo, Nana Kwame Ampadu and Afro Moses are some of the Hi-Life superstars who have made this genre very popular.
At a pure white party, a Canadian couple happily danced their hearts out to this genre of music (Hi-Life), and after the party, they walked straight to the Disc Jockey (DJ) what kind of music it is. The DJ answered with words: This is Music Made in Africa, infact Ghanaian Hi-Life music.
Hi-Life originated in Ghana in the early 20th century and has been a British colony throughout its history. This is a unique music genre that still exists today. In Ghana and on the African continent, Hi-Life is recognized as one of the best music genres. Initially, it was considered only for high class people because of the mature and deep lyrical content. Today the youth join in admiration. In fact, there are other forms of pop music that was very common before Hi-Life. It’s called Palm Wine Music. This form of music is played by guitar and concertina. This is very common in rural Ghana. It’s actually a combination not only from the guitar and concertina, but also from the drum (boxdrum and music video) plus fine vocals. It is usually made in places where palm wine or akpeteshis (local brandys) are sold. Through this local performance, Palm Wine Music gradually developed into a larger guitar group and even appeared in popular theater shows.
Many people are addicted to Hi-Life because of the use of melodic and rhythmic structures of traditional music of Asante music. It is played with western instruments. This music lives on from the story and love of authentic Africa. The resulting rhythm is phenomenal, which is why it was quickly adopted by the majority of African families in the 1950s.
Hi-Life music features jazz horns and several guitars that lead the band. Lately it has received synchronous sound. When you listen to these songs, there is no doubt that you will immediately fall in love with them because of the beautiful vocal abilities behind them.
In the 1920s, Ghanaian musicians recorded foreign influences, including slow and fast rhythms and Calypso with Ghana rhythms. Associated with local African aristocracy during the colonial era, Hi-Life has been played by many bands, including jazz kings, Cape Coast Sugar Babies and the Accra Orchestra along the coast.
It’s amazing that high class members who enjoyed music in certain clubs at that time gave this music the name. Dance orchestra director Yebua Mensa (Mensa’s older brother), told music expert John Collins in 1973 that the term Hi-Life was a catch-phrase for local songs played at the clubs of early dance bands such as Jazz Kings, Sugar Babies of Cape Coast, Secondi Nanshamang and then the Accra orchestra.
Interestingly, during club days in Ghana, some people outside the club called it Hi-Life because they were not synonymous with the high-profile personalities who joined the club. These people couldn’t afford the relatively high entrance fee of around seven shillings and six pence. And all they could say was, “These guys are really having a High Class -Lifestyle,” thus the name Hi-Life.
Since the 1930s, Highlife has spread through Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and Gambia and other West African countries where Hi-Life has become increasingly popular. A year later (1940), Hi-Life music split into two separate streams: the highlife dance group and the highlife guitar group.
Guitar Band Hilife featured small group of bands and were most commonly found in rural areas. During the tour through the landscape, these Hi-Life musicians combined instruments such as “Seprewa” and guitars with their bands to add high-end sound. Other traditional African instruments, such as Harpe-Harp-Lute and Gankogul Bell, were combined with European harmony and guitar when people express themselves through this song. One band that performed almost everywhere during that time was the Guitar Band Hi-Life. The group, who could sing with drums and claves, was led by the great singer E.K Nyame and his trio of Akan. And these people released more than 400 recordings, making it one of the most popular siding bands out there. In contrast, another band, the Dance Band Hi-Life, was anchored in an urban environment with an appalling Hi-Life performance.
Shortly after the war, foreign troops began to move from Ghana to their country, so the mainstream audience and the music changed according to their taste.
Legendary American musician Louis Armstrong was invited to Ghana and played in May 1956 with Ghana’s own E.T. Mensah in Accra. This collaboration catapulted his name to the world and earned him the nickname “The King of Highlife”.
There were a number of other Hi-Life bands that entertained audiences in the 1950s with good tunes. These include King Bruce, leader of the Black Beats, Red Spots, Rhythm Aces, Rambler International Band and the Broadway group Uhuru.
Between the 1970s and 1980s, a new generation of hi-life superstars also wore early legendary robes and performed very well. Some of these artists still perform and produce very good singles and albums. The following artists have created brilliant Hi-Life melody sounds:
Nana Aboagye Da Costa
Nana Nsia Piesie
Marriott’s International Band
Amandzeba Nat Brew
A. B. Crentsil
Senior Eddie Donkor
Alhaji K. Frimpong
Sloppy Mike Gyamfi
E. T. Mensah
Kaakyire Kwame Appiah
From the above generation, comes more young Hi-Life singers today who are doing very well.
Naa Agyemang Ofori Amponsah, Kofi Bee, Kofi Nti, KK Fosu, Kwesi Pee, Bless, Bisa Kdei, Kumi Guitar, Kwabena Kwabena, Kwadwo Akwaboah Jnr., Kuami Eugene, Kidi, Quabena Benji, Nene Joojo, Kay Wusu, Odehyieba and several others have produced very good Hi-Life songs, which are combined with current beat trends. This is a gradual evolution of the current Hi-Life in Ghana.
Hi-Life is traditional African music combined with pleasant rhythms. And many music researchers, including British-born guitarist, accordionist and drummer John Collins,
So I’m not surprised to hear that guitarist Sonny Sharrock has a song called “Highlife” on his 1990 album. Craig Harris (trombone) also had a song called “High Life” in 1993 on his album F-Stops.