From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Highlife is a music genre that originated in Ghana early in 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 has a part to play in most of the present day Ghanaian and Nigerian music as most of their artistes fuse it with their style of music.

Highlife is characterised by jazzy horns and multiple guitars which lead the band. Recently it has acquired an uptempo, synth-driven sound (see Daddy Lumba).[1][2][3]

This arpeggiated highlife guitar part is modeled after an Afro-Cuban guajeo.[4] The pattern of attack-points is nearly identical to the 3-2 clave motif guajeo as shown below. The bell pattern known in Cuba as clave is indigenous to Ghana and Nigeria, and is used in highlife.[5]

Top: clave. Bottom highlife guitar part.


In the 1920s, Ghanaian musicians incorporated foreign influences like the foxtrot and calpyso with Ghanaian rhythms like osibisaba (Fante).[6] Highlife was associated with the local African aristocracy during the colonial period, and was played by numerous bands including the Jazz Kings, Cape Coast Sugar Babies, and Accra Orchestra along the county's coast.[6] The high class audience members who enjoyed the music in select clubs gave the music its name. E.T. Mensah suggests that the "people outside [the clubs] called it highlife as they did not reach the class of the couples going inside, who not only had to pay a relatively high entrance fee of about 7s 6d, but also had to wear full evening dress, including top-hats if they coul afford it."[6] By the 1930s, Highlife spread via Ghanaian workers to Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Gambia among other West African countries, where the music quickly gained popularity.

An invitation to a concert featuring Louis Armstrong "from America" and E. T. Mensah and his Tempos Band "of West African Fame"

In the 1940s, the music diverged into two notable streams: dance band highlife and guitar band highlife. Guitar band highlife featured smaller bands and, at least initially, was most common in rural areas. Because of the history of stringed instruments like the seprewa in the region, musicians were happy to incorporate the guitar. They also used the dagomba style, borrowed from Kru sailors from Liberia, to create highlife's classic two-finger style. [6] Guitar band highlife also featured singing, drums and claves. E.K. Nyame and his Akan Trio helped to popularize guitar band highlife, and would release over 400 records during his lifetime.[6] Dance band highlife, by contrast, was more rooted in urban settings. In the post-war period, larger dance bands began to be replaced by smaller professional ones, typified by the success of E.T. Mensah and the Tempos. As foreign troops departed, the primary audiences became increasingly Ghanaian, and the music changed to cater to their tastes. Mensah's fame soared after he played with Louis Armstrong in Accra in May 1956, and he eventually earned the nickname, the "King of Highlife."[6] Also important from the 1950s onwards was musician King Bruce, who served as band leader to the Black Beats, an numerous other bands.


Artists who perform the Highlife genre include:



Sierra Leone[edit]

Highlife in jazz[edit]


  1. ^ "Igbo Highlife Music". Pamela Stitch. 17 July 2011. Retrieved 1 October 2014. 
  2. ^ Oti, Sonny (2009). Highlife Music in West Africa. African Books Collective. ISBN 978-978-8422-08-2. 
  3. ^ Davies, Carole Boyce (2008). Encyclopedia of the African diaspora: Origins, experiences, and culture. ABC-CLIO, Inc. p. 525. ISBN 978-1-85109-700-5. 
  4. ^ Eyre, Banning (2006: 9). "Highlife guitar example" Africa: Your Passport to a New World of Music. Alfred Pub. ISBN 0-7390-2474-4
  5. ^ Peñalosa, David (2010: 247). The Clave Matrix; Afro-Cuban Rhythm: Its Principles and African Origins. Redway, CA: Bembe Inc. ISBN 1-886502-80-3.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Salm, Steven J.; Falola, Toyin (2002). Culture and Customs of Ghana. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 181–185. ISBN 9780313320507. Retrieved 30 May 2017.