Ghana, known as the golden child of West Africa is a quiet country. The success of its stable democracy has enabled Ghana to develop rapidly in a short period of time. The country welcomes its visitors with welcoming beaches, and an interior full of culture, nature and wildlife. Transport through the interior of the country is easy, normally everyone moves in the well-known trolls. Its gastronomy is very rich, based mainly on sea products. There is no doubt that Ghana is a country full of cultural treasures, including its music.
When visiting Gahana we can feel how the country differs in two parts: the north and the south. The south is a Christian majority area, agricultural, more commercial, while the north is a Muslim majority area, livestock. These differences also mark the rhythms of the country. In the northern part of the country we find the Fra Fra population, from which also derives a model of African music known within this country. Fra Fra music stands out for the use of the “kologo”, a traditional stringed instrument in this culture. This type of music is common in West Africa, however it is one of the least known rhythms, and therefore less “polluted”.
Another distinct rhythm that stands out from the north is the “apala”, a style of Muslim music, which is characterized by vocal and percussion rhythms, the aim of this music is to encourage the Muslim population during the fasting period of Ramadan.
On the other hand, in the south we find the music of the coast, which stands out for its percussion rhythms where drums and dances are often linked. This music includes the talking drums “fontomfrom”, a style that reflects how the music is used to talk about different topics of Ghana.
Yes, Ghana songs has many rhythms to highlight, let’s not forget its strategic position on the map, bordering many other countries. And of course, we could not talk about the music and rhythms of Ghana without naming the “Hip-life”, a style of music based on the traditional rites of the Akan style and rhythms of the High-life style. The name of this style comes from the translation of “hip-hop” in the local dialect of Ghana. This is one of the most international styles, which is already beginning to be heard in the UK, USA or Canada.
As we can see Ghana is a country of unbeatable rhythms, one of the best in Africa due to the mixture of cultures within. Its landscapes are unbeatable, and its beaches invite you to enjoy their rhythms. One of its most musical beaches is the beach of Kokrobite, where the Academy of African Arts and Music is located, and where also takes place various concerts of traditional music, which brighten up the weekends and festivities of all who pass through the area, as they are outdoor concerts.
Highlife: Ghana’s national music experiences a revival
Highlife was once the national music of Ghana. In its 100-year history, the wild mix of styles has experienced many ups and downs. Today it blossoms again.
A little blues, swing, rhythm and blues and African rhythms: This is how the music style Highlife from Ghana can sound. Or quite differently: a pinch of samba, a hint of European church music mixed with sailor songs – but even there the Ghanaian rhythms are not missing. Because they are the common denominator of high-life music, which is so diverse that it is difficult to characterize it.
Highlife has its roots in the pulsating capital Accra in the late 19th century, when Ghana was still a colony of Great Britain. Especially at the coast different cultures meet. This also leads to a musical melting pot: music from all over the world mixes with local sounds and rhythms.
At the beginning of the 20th century, two different forms of this genre developed within the country: the highlife of the rich and the highlife in the bush.
On the coast of Ghana, the black and white elite move to the dance orchestra highlife: African foxtrot, waltz and ragtime, played by large string and wind orchestras. The rich dance in tails, with cylinders and a lot of pomp.
Highlife in the bush
Meanwhile, in the heart of the country, the guitar band highlife is emerging. This simpler style differs from the elitist one above all in its instruments: The harp lute Seprewa and later the guitar characterize this music – and percussion instruments.
The signpost of the beginnings: The band “Sam’s Trio”, also called “Kumasi Trio”. As early as 1928 they were standing in a studio in London recording the song “Yaa Amponsah”. This structure can still be found in almost every highlife song today.
Crisis and Renaissance
Although so many Western influences meet in this music, after independence in 1957 Highlife became Ghana’s national music and also has political value: The president often takes an entire orchestra with him on his trip abroad.
In the 80s, when Ghana was buzzing with corruption and arbitrariness – politics dominated, the economy declined – the music industry collapsed. More and more musicians are emigrating: Many move to Germany, where highlife merged with funk and rock to form the so-called burger highlife. Some moved to Canada, where an enthusiastic audience and a free society prevail.
Hiplife – Rapped Highlife
Ten years later Highlife is back on the ground again and experiences a revival, with a striking difference: Ghanaian Hip Hoppers rap about Highlife songs and mark a new beginning; the name: Hiplife.
But also the classic Highlife lives on. In musicians like Aaron Bebe Sukura, who go back to the roots and revive the harp lute Seprewa, once the soul of highlife.
King Ayisoba – Music from Ghana, Between Tradition and Hiplife
King Ayisoba is a great star in the Ghanaian music scene. He combines the traditional music from the north of the country with the beats from the capital Accra – currently on his album “Modern Ghanaians”.
King Ayisoba lives in Bolgatanga, in the very north of Ghana. He accompanies himself on the Kologo, a one-string lute traditionally played at weddings and funerals. But King Ayisoba is not only content to pay homage to traditional music: He mixes it with the latest beats from hip life.
In 2007, as a traditional musician, he accomplished the feat of producing the most popular song of the year. This also gave him the opportunity to perform in Europe. And when he saw here how the good old records were again played by DJs and also sold in shops, he said to himself that he absolutely wanted to release such a “big record”.
Ghana Hits of the past years collected on one record
In Ghana itself there are no more turntables and many throw away the old records carelessly – so much music from previous decades is lost forever. Now this big cassette has been released, and it has become a kind of best-of-album of King Ayisoba with the hits of the past years, which were previously only available in Ghana as a CD. And those who now think that African music today is still only drumming will learn with “Modern Ghanaians” how funky and hip-hop oriented this music can be.