This text provides an overview of the origins, growth and status of Highlife music in West Africa. A century?
Maybe even more than that? Did it come from Nigeria? Sierra Leone? Did it sprout spontaneously in various points across the West African coast? Or did it arrive there from further beyond, over the Atlantic, somewhere in the Caribbean? While the roots of highlife extend across West Africa, the Gold Coast—the country today known as Ghana—is typically recognized as the crux point at which all the streams coalesced.
While the popularity of adaha spread across the country, its performance was dependent upon the possession of very expensive brass instruments, so in less elite circles, down-market versions of the music emerged such as osibisaaba—which was built upon percussion effects and melodies played on more accessible instruments such as the guitar and accordion.
The guitar was originally popularized by sailors from the Kru coast of Liberia. By the early twentieth century, as they traversed the ports of West Africa, they spread a basic, cross-fingered playing style as they sang tunes influenced by English sea chanteys and West Indian airs.
It is believed that the name arose as a reflection of the more glamourous profile given to the music by the high-society orchestras that played at formal dances organized by the emerging Ghanaian elite.
While these orchestras and their audiences took pride in their flawless rendition of Western ballroom music, by the early s, they were peppering their repertoire with the occasional big-band arrangement of a palm wine tune.
These numbers were usually received joyously by the audience, who welcomed the opportunity to break from the rigid, copiously rehearsed steps of the waltz, fox trot, quickstep, tango and quadrille, and lose themselves in the unchoreographed, hip-rolling movements of the familiar local rhythms. These balls were swanky affairs open only to those who could afford the accouterments of upward mobility required for admission, but the proletariat were allowed to lurk outside, peering through the windows to observe the exuberant proceedings within.
Highlife started as a catch-name for the indigenous songs played at these clubs by such early bands as the Jazz Kings, the Cape Coast Sugar Babies, the Sekondi Nanshamang, and later the Accra Orchestra.
The people outside called it highlife as they did not reach the class of the couples going inside, who not only had to pay high entrance fee of 7s. Mensah started out playing in the large ballroom orchestras, but as American soldiers stationed in Ghana after the Second World War popularized jazz and swing dancing, Mensah achieved prominence with the Tempos, a smaller, swing-style combo that played new styles such calypso as well as a jazz-accented version of highlife.
Mensah and the Tempos created a sensation when they toured Nigeria in ; Nigerian radio stations started playing nothing but E. Bobby Benson —whose Jam Session Orchestra typically specialized in jazz, blues, calypso and mambo—was the first Nigerian bandleader to take a tentative stab at emulating Mensah.
Mensah toured extensively across West Africa, going to Dahomey present-day Republic of BeninCameroon, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Togo, establishing his highlife as the most stylishly modern of African sounds, an African music of the future, emblematic of a continent that was steadily marching towards independence from colonialism.
In fact, not long after Ghana achieved independence inPresident Kwame Nkrumah declared highlife as the official music of the new nation. Nigerian musicians such as Roy Chicago ? The bandleader who was celebrated more than any other for investing a distinctly Nigerian character to highlife was Rex Jim Lawsonwho drew from the rhythms of ashiko and other indigenous pre-highlife social music from his native Niger Delta region.
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Definition of highlife. First Known Use of highlifein the meaning defined above. Keep scrolling for more. Learn More about highlife. Time Traveler for highlife The first known use of highlife was in See more words from the same year.
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List of Nigerian highlife musicians
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Love words? Need even more definitions? The awkward case of 'his or her'. Take the quiz Spell It Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words? Take the quiz Add Diction Build a chain of words by adding one letter at a time.Highlifetype of West African popular music and dance that originated in Ghana in the late 19th century, later spread to western Nigeria, and flourished in both countries in the s.
The earliest form of highlife was performed primarily by brass bands along the Ghanaian coast. By the early 20th century these bands had incorporated a broader array of instruments primarily of European origina vocal component, and stylistic elements both of local music traditions and of jazz. Highlife thus emerged as a unique synthesis of African, African Americanand European musical aesthetics. In the s the popularity of highlife stretched inland and eastward along the coast, garnering an especially large following in Nigeria.
There highlife experienced an important transformation: asymmetrical drum rhythms derived from traditional drumming practices of the Yoruba people were combined with syncopated displaced-accent guitar melodies to accompany songs sung in either Yoruba or English.
By the mids, however, highlife had lost much of its audience to guitar-centred popular styles. Info Print Cite. Submit Feedback. Thank you for your feedback. Highlife African music. See Article History. This article was most recently revised and updated by Virginia GorlinskiAssociate Editor. Learn More in these related Britannica articles:. Ghanacountry of western Africa, situated on the coast of the Gulf of Guinea.
Although relatively small in area and population, Ghana is one of the leading countries of Africa, partly because of its considerable natural wealth and partly because it was the first black African country south of the…. Jazzmusical form, often improvisational, developed by African Americans and influenced by both European harmonic structure and African rhythms. It was developed partially from ragtime and blues and is often characterized by syncopated rhythms, polyphonic ensemble playing, varying degrees of improvisation, often deliberate deviations of pitch, and the use of….
Nigeriacountry located on the western coast of Africa. Nigeria has a diverse geography, with climates ranging from arid to humid equatorial. The country…. History at your fingertips. Sign up here to see what happened On This Dayevery day in your inbox! Email address. By signing up, you agree to our Privacy Notice. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox.The High Life is a unique, dynamic musical experience.
Invaluable live experience and dance-floor know how allows The High Life to provide the essential loose, free and grooving mood to suit your event.
With a flexible line-up from understated duo, old-school-cool trio to classy four or five piece band, The High Life will provide the perfect ensemble, tailored for your special event. The dance-floor was busy throughout the whole night, and even in the breaks between sets, they played such good tunes that people just kept dancing. All staff thought it was the best Christmas Party.
The band was easy to deal with and prepared great entertainment based on our ideas and worked around the schedule of our Christmas Party. Two words sum up the band: Bloody brilliant. The music was sensational and the feedback from all the guests — including two who are professional musos — was fantastic.
The guys have so much energy and an outstanding repertoire of songs. Would I recommend them to venues, private parties, corporate gigs? You bet I would. They were most definitely one of the highlights of the party. Phone Number. Message Message. Simon Cashman Sales Director, Campaigntrack.
Lisa Llewellyn. More Kind Words from our Awesome Clients. Get in touch with us today to book your next event.Highlife music has not been a single movement, it has not been a statement of political intent, of uprising or the idealism of a particular group; no use of it to channel a particular message has subsumed its sound. No one group has made it their own, and therefore it has remained a wonderfully rare example of free spirit and expression of the human experience.
The foundations of the tradition are grounded, initially separately, in the north and south of Ghana. The sub-Saharan north has long acted as a cultural catch-all for the traffic of Western Africa at large. The Songnai and Mali empires caused ethic migration and the blurring of cultural borders in West Africa, bringing praise-singing traditions of the Frafra, Ghurunsi, and Dagomba people in the northeast together with that of the Dagara, Lobi, Wala, and Sissala in the northwest.
This spiritual identity is tempered by the osmotic folk music of the south. The music of southern Ghana seems historically to have taken a more internal and pragmatic focus; the settled Ashanti south incorporated music as a relief and pleasure in and of itself rather than as a billboard for their identity as a tribal entity. This is reflected in the simpler folk style, which has simmered into existence with a gradual influence from neighboring Benin and Tongo. Though the Ashanti uprising against the British was initially unsuccessful, it was their assertiveness which led to the creation of an art powerful enough to hide in plain view what it was intended to express.
The Ashanti people wanted to be free and this shared objective gave rise to musical union. Traditional African instruments such as the seperewa harp-lute and the gankogul bell were combined with European harmonies and guitars as people expressed themselves through song.
Perhaps, even the appearance in which the genre took its name is indicative of the cultural displacement effected upon the colonizing forces. With the failed uprising behind them, and no opportunity for self-governance forthcoming, attention was given to social matters and the formation of strata. As it became fashionable for people to be seen in certain hotels with certain bands playing, the media and fledgling record companies attached an aspirational label to the by-then sonically defined genre.
The self-confidence of bands and musicians took off and has continued for generations, allowing the evolution of the form. In the wake of the Second World War, jazz, blues, reggae, and even funk influences gave rise to acts like Osibisa, who carried Highlife beyond Africa and into the living rooms of the world.
The High Life Cajun Band
As the music evolved, the concerns and intentions of those who practiced it also shifted. When Ghana was formed inthe Socialist-aligned government saw Highlife as a powerful tool for forming national identity. State-funded bands appeared in order to ensure that the correct image was propagated. The breakthrough onto the world stage and potential for the international fame and financial gains that commerce brings saw a huge increase in the use of the English language over the traditional Akan dialects, though this cultural compromise never took any deep political or cultural effect due to the dire economic state of the country at the time.
It was perhaps the terrible state of the economy in the s and lack of opportunity to export the Highlife genre and capitalize on interest that preserved the genre from becoming merely a commercial tool. This economic suppression allowed artists like Nana Ampadu to appropriate the music as the voice of a people with protest songs such as Aware bone. This idiomatic use of the genre is a perfect example of its status as a tool for all to benefit from. The prevailing popularity of traditional artists like Koo Nimoa Ghanaian national treasure, despite the influx of American influence in the s, shows that the affinity with the sound transcends the normally fickle forces that guide the music industry.
Some Ghanaian artists have found international fame through the Hiplife style, which became popular at the turn of the century — artists like VIP regularly playing shows in North America and Europe — but at the cost of trading something of their national identity.
The Best Highlife Groups/Artists
Fortunately, the classic Highlife style has remained and resisted the pull to the Hiplife middle ground. Select currency. Africa Ghana Music. Yet, the genre evolved from a past filled with tradition and survived, propelled by musicians such as Nana Ampadu and Osibisa.
We take a look at the gradual evolution and current state of Ghanaian Highlife — and its younger cousin, Hiplife. Read Next. Art 10 of Ghana's Best Contemporary Artists. Music 10 Musicians to Know From Ghana.Highlife artists list, with photos, ranked best to worst by votes. This list of the top highlife bands in the world includes all musicians who have released recordings that have gotten distribution, and is an up-to-date list.
Highlife groups and artists are shown below along with any additional genres in which their music belongs. If available, you can also see information about where all highlife bands on this list got started. These are truly the greatest highlife bands of all time, since the most famous highlife artists ever are listed, and the order is decided by actual fans of the best highlife music. You can click on the highlife band names to see more information about that particular notable highlife group.
If they're near the top of the best highlife artist list, though, then they should have at least some information available. All the top highlife bands named on the list also have discographies on their pages if you click on the highlife band names themselves.
List artists include Vampire Weekend, Fela Kuti and many additional artists as well. Dowvote the artists you don't like and upvote the ones you do.
The order changes depending on votes. What's in your top 10? All important, significant and iconic names in highlife music history deserve your votes, so make sure to choose wisely. You can only vote once on this list. The list includes all new highlife bands, and if there are any missing on the list, you can always add them yourself.
Just make sure they aren't already on the list and check your spelling, because this is already an accurate compilation of the best examples of highlife, as well as a good place to start if you're asking yourself, or friends, exactly how to get into highlife music. Especially since the bands at the top of the list will at the very least be the best choices if you're looking for a list of good highlife bands with which to start out.
No point in listening to them if they aren't actually good or even half-way decent highlife bands. This list answers the questions "who are the best highlife bands of all time? If you know enough about the genre, please vote based on the quality of the band's music instead of just voting for the most popular highlife bands that you might've heard of, but not really listened to closely enough to cast an informed vote.
Fela Anikulapo Kuti 15 October — 2 Augustalso professionally known as Fela Kuti, or simply Fela, was a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist, musician, composer, pioneer of the Afrobeat music genre and human rights activist. At the height of his popularity, he was referred to as one of Africa's most "challenging and charismatic music performers.
Genres Music : Highlife, Afrobeat.Highlife Band Dirndel Ball in Ingolstadt
Nationality: Nigeria. Career Began: Abeokuta, Nigeria. Nigerian guitarist King Dr. Since releasing his debut album Messiah Messiah inCoque has recorded no fewer than 73 albums in his homeland. His dance-inspiring "Ogene" style of Nigerian high life, which blends modern high life and traditional Igbo music, has produced such hits as "Biri Ka Mbiri," "Ana Enwe," "Naukwa Mmwanwu," and "Identity," which remained on Radio Nigeria 2's Top Ten throughout most of Playing music since the age of 11, Coque was taught to play the guitar by Piccolo, a Zairean guitarist living in Nigeria.
Serving an apprenticeship with juju stars Sunny Agaga Genres Music : Highlife, Igbo music. He also served as commissioner for arts and culture in Edo State under the government of Lucky Igbinedion. Uwaifo is famous for his joromi music.Highlife is a music genre that originated in Ghana at the turn of the 20th century and incorporated the traditional harmonic 9th, as well as melodic and the main rhythmic structures in traditional Akan music, and married them with Western instruments.
Highlife was associated with the local African aristocracy during the colonial period. Highlife is characterized by jazzy horns and multiple guitars which lead the band. Recently it has acquired an uptempo, synth-driven sound see Daddy Lumba. Igbo highlife and Joromi are subgenres. This arpeggiated highlife guitar part is modeled after an Afro-Cuban guajeo. The pattern of attack-points is nearly identical to the clave motif guajeo as shown below.
Ebo Taylor 0 0 0. Highlife Music Releases by Decade. Top Submitters of Highlife Music.