Ghana’s Highlife Music: A Political History & Struggles of Upcoming Musicians

What is the impact and effect of Ghanaian Highlife Music? How did it evolve into Hiplife? Are the Struggles of Upcoming Musicians a reason why Ghana is losing its sound to Nigeria? What are the Effects of Ghanaian Music to the Economy?

Created in Ghana in the beginning of the 20th century, Ghana’s Highlife Music is the result of the rhythmic structure of traditional Akan music paired with Western instruments. Its impact and effect on the youth and political scene in Ghana and across west Africa is still felt presently.

Created in Ghana in the beginning of the 20th century, Ghana's Highlife Music is the result of the rhythmic structure of traditional Akan music paired with Western instruments. Click To Tweet

My name is Akwesi, a Rising Ghanaian music producer and artiste. This is a quest to share and understand the Music Industry in Ghana.

Highlife Classic Old School – Ghana

Classic High-life from Ghana Old School. Sweet Talks FT A .B Crentsil, Adam and Eve Album. Hi-life Stars of Ghana. 01. Adam & Eve 02. Fakye Me 03. Womma Yenyi Ewuradze Aye 04. Onyame Aye Ewie 05. Adam Nana

What is it like to be a Musician in Ghana today?

Doing music in Ghana is almost like running a business and does not entirely thrive on your talent, skill or appearance. It requires capital and some form of networking or connections to some key stakeholders and this can be very expensive.

The entertainment industry in Ghana hasn’t been given the much needed attention by current and previous governments even though a few attempts have been made to push some initiatives which haven’t really been successful.

Music as part of the entertainment industry contributes immensely to the economy. This is in the form of taxes paid by Record labels, artistes and organisers of music events such as concerts, award shows and talent hunts.

This can also be in form of taxes from radio and television channels for commercials, radio promotions and many other ways which most of the time have been overlooked.

The rhythmic flow of Ghana's Highlife Music Genre developed its unique sound as a result of the country's traumatic political history and a struggle for independence. Click To Tweet

A Brief Political History Of Ghana’s Highlife Music

The rhythmic flow of Ghana’s Highlife Music Genre developed its unique sound as a result of the country’s traumatic political history and a struggle for independence.

Politics played a huge role in the evolution of Ghana’s Highlife Music and its impact on the civic world.

From the tradition of royal talking drums, Ghana’s Highlife Music was used for philosophical debates and communication. It was also used to pass coded messages intended for specific people.

Before you continue reading this, I highly recommend this article about Ghana Beyond Aid Agenda: The Possibility of an Independent Ghana and the effect it will have on other African countries. It will give you a great juxtaposed perspective of where Ghana is today in relation to the economy and freedom from neo-colonialism. Click here to open the Ghana Beyond Aid Article in a new tab.

From the tradition of royal talking drums, Ghana's Highlife Music was used for philosophical debates and communication. It was also used to pass coded messages intended for specific people. Click To Tweet
Ghana's Highlife Music - Ghana's Kyekyeku puts a fresh spin on Africa's musical heritage

Ghana’s Highlife Music – Ghana’s Kyekyeku puts a fresh spin on Africa’s musical heritage

Where did Ghana’s Highlife Music Music Genre originate from?

Highlife is a popular music and dance genre across West Africa. It started in Ghana in the late 19th century with brass bands along the Ghanaian coast.

Highlife later spreading out through Western Nigeria and diffusing to the other West African states, reaching an all time high in the 1950’s.

From the 1950s to the early 1970s Ghana led the way in West Africa with its popular highlife and Afro-rock music and its viable recording and music production industry.

Hidden multi-layered meanings in Ghana’s Highlife Music

Sometimes, the music had hidden multi-layered meanings, likely to be understood by only a small number of people with specialised knowledge or interest while openly entertaining everyone else.

This depth is one of the factors that contributed to Ghana’s Highlife Music’s sustainability and growth.

Sometimes, the music had hidden multi-layered meanings, likely to be understood by only a small number of people with specialised knowledge or interest while openly entertaining everyone else. Click To Tweet

Revolution and Uprising Against the British:

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 the Ghana’s Highlife Musical union.

Musicians like Nana Ampadu and Osibisa can be credited to the evolution of this melodic genre which later gave birth to Ghana’s Hiplife Music, which is a skilful fusion of Ghanaian culture and hip hop.

Recorded predominantly in the Ghanaian Akan language, hiplife is rapidly gaining popularity throughout West Africa and abroad, especially in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada and Germany.

Recorded predominantly in the Ghanaian Akan language, hiplife is rapidly gaining popularity throughout West Africa and abroad, especially in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada and Germany. Click To Tweet
Ghana's Highlife Music - Traditional Women's Music from Ghana- Ewe, Fanti, Ashanti, and Dagomba

Ghana’s Highlife Music – Traditional Women’s Music from Ghana- Ewe, Fanti, Ashanti, Dagomba

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… Click To Tweet

Untapped Power of Ghana’s Highlife Music

Despite the power within Ghana’s Highlife Music, it has not been fully tapped for a specific purpose. No political movements used it as a main tool for revolt. As a result, Highlife can not be confined or pointed back to one particular group.

Perhaps this is because of the immense power it yields or the fact that it cuts across many cultures both Geographically and Ideologically. This has contributed to it’s mystery and beauty that is seemingly uncorrupted and almost godly.

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.

Despite the power within Ghana's Highlife Music, it has not been fully tapped for a specific purpose. No political movements used it as a main tool for revolt. As a result, Highlife can not be confined or pointed back to one… Click To Tweet

Examples of Ghanaian Traditional Songs:

Traditional Women’s Music from Ghana: Ewe, Fanti, Ashanti, and Dagomba is a great place to start when exploring Ghanaian Traditional Songs.

Released in 1981, Traditional Women’s Music from Ghana features songs and dances attributed to women of the Ewe, Fanti, Ashanti, and Dagomba societies.

In these societies, participation in music is restricted by both age and gender, and only women perform these songs using instruments and techniques that have been designated appropriate for them.

Each song serves a specific purpose, whether it is purely for recreation, like the gabada of the Ewe, or for a rite such as marriage, as in “Ooi yaada ” of the Dagomba. Liner notes include introductions to age– and gender–specific Ghanaian music, and detailed track notes. You can read more about it at folkways.

Ghana's Highlife Music yields immense power & cuts across different Geographic and Ideologic spaces. This has contributed to it's mystery and beauty that is seemingly uncorrupted and almost godly. Click To Tweet

Sample video of Ghanaian traditional music from The Ghana Project 2013:

Ga Traditional Songs (Live Music From Ghana) – Part 1

Working with Ghanaian musician Ko Nimo, our aim is to help preserve some of the important cultural musical traditions from Ghana, West Africa.

This first video is a short sample of traditional music recorded in Ghana 2013/14 as part of a self funded, self initiated project.

The project came about largely in response to Ko Nimo lamenting the loss of traditional music as the old people pass on, or as he puts it ‘the libraries are burning’. Ko Nimo is Uncle, mentor and friend to us and we all owe him enormously.

This video is great to show students in school settings. It has captured the imagination of many age groups, from 4 years up!

There is much unique footage here that would be new to many. We will be continuing to post further videos of the artists we worked with.

The GHANA SINGER of TRADITIONAL MUSIC in ACCRA | AFRICASIAEURO

Ghana traditional music female singer in Accra singing high life music. Ghana Indigenous Music artists are excelling all over the global music scene.

This Artist is a native of Ghana, Ewe tribe, with her roots in Ghana s Eastern parts bordering to Togo. Her style of indigenous music is amazing to say the least.

Evolution of Music in Ghana: From Traditional Akan to Highlife and Hiplife Music:

The Ghanaian music industry has evolved over the years and has become very attractive for a lot of young Ghanaians who want to make a living out of making music.

Many other genres of music like Trap, EDM, Dancehall etc. as compared to Traditional Ghanaian ‘HighLife’ music and it’s cousin ‘HipLife’ which was originated by Reggie Rockstone.

They have managed to find their audience and this has enabled Ghanaian music to reach unimaginable heights and international appeal.

Ghanaian Music – Struggles of Upcoming Musicians:

Musicians in the country are hardly paid Royalties and some may have never received any their entire music career even though they invest large amounts of money for music promotion and shooting videos.

Almost all Ghanaian musicians make a living from performing at shows and tend to charge huge amounts to perform.

It’s in recent years that some business brands in trade and communication have merged with some musicians to have Endorsement Deals which have been very beneficial to these musicians.

Musicians in the country are hardly paid Royalties and some may have never received any their entire music career even though they invest large amounts of money for music promotion and shooting videos. Click To Tweet

For the upcoming musician in Ghana, pursuing music without a Record label, enough personal funding or some connects can be very challenging. The only thing that has been super beneficial has been Social Media and some of its tools that have been tailored to get information across to all parts of the world.

Young creatives across the world and not only in Ghana, have taken advantage of this to make their music heard. One of such platforms is Soundcloud which has played a big role in the success of some musicians in Ghana like myself Akwesi.

Ghana's Highlife Music - Does the Nigerian Music Industry have an influence on Ghana’s Music Industry?

Ghana’s Highlife Music – Does the Nigerian Music Industry have an influence on Ghana’s Music Industry?

Does the Nigerian Music Industry have an influence on Ghana’s Music Industry?

Copying has always been our culture, the Ghanaian culture. The moment one artiste takes a bold step, takes a risk and comes up with something innovative and it is successful – it is a surety that a thousand other artistes would copy the same process to attain the same success.

Back in January 9, 2014, Entertainment Ghana put up an opinion piece about The Nigerian influence on Ghana Music.

It said: “Nigerian music is flourishing and the Nigerian artistes are responsible for such a feat. It is implicitly normal for anybody to copy anything that is positive, especially when the copying is done well – but is disheartening and sickening to realize that the new generation of Ghanaian musicians are feverishly singing or trying to sing like their overly successful Nigerian counterparts.”

The Nigerian Music Industry has definitely had an influence on Ghana's Music Industry. But is Ghana copying Nigeria's musical style and loosing hers? Click To Tweet

Is Ghana Borrowing Nigeria’s Musical Sound?

“Artists like R2Bees, Sarkodie, 5five, Echo, Fresh Prince, 4X4, Bradez, Rana and many upcoming Ghanaian artistes have songs with lines and choruses that sound like that of 2Face, D’Banj, PSqaure among others.

It is exasperating to hear these Ghanaians try frantically to sing their choruses in that Nigeria style, that ‘pidgin’ mode and as if by design, some of them would always want to mention the name ‘Naija’ in their songs…”

70s Highlife Music of Ghana and Nigeria

The Evolution of Traditional Ghanaian Music and Influence from Western Society:

Ghana is a country rich in ancient culture, tradition, history, and music. A research took place during January and February of 2005. It consisted of studying the role of traditional music in contemporary Ghanaian society as well as its use in rural and urban areas. Project methodology included various interviews, travel to rural communities, archival research, and audio recordings of traditional music.

Project goals included an understanding of how traditional music is used in contemporary Ghanaian society, why traditional music is fading, how Ghanaians feel about this loss, and any significant differences between its use in rural and urban areas.

Wherever you go, this is the music you will hear blaring from homes, taxis, and markets. Because of this exposure to Western music, interest in traditional music is dying dramatically among the youth. Click To Tweet

Exposure to Western music has had a serious impact in Ghana and it can easily be observed on any average day in Accra and everywhere in Ghana for that matter.

The popular music in Ghana today is American hip-hop, pop, rock, country, and gospel as well as Ghanaian highlife and hiplife, a combination of African and Western elements, and music from other African countries.

Wherever you go, this is the music you will hear blaring from homes, taxis, and markets. Because of this exposure to Western music, interest in traditional music and in some cases exposure to it is dying, most dramatically among the youth.

Further Reading and Research on Ghana’s Highlife Music

  1. The Evolution of Traditional Ghanaian Music and Influence from. Western Society. Lindsay Albright. Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Bridget Teboh, History Department.
  2. Ghana and the World Music Boom. John Collins, School of Performing Arts, University of Ghana.
Ghana's Highlife Music About the Author - Hughes Kwesi Williams

Ghana’s Highlife Music About the Author – Hughes Kwesi Williams

About the Author – Hughes Kwesi Williams

Hughes Kwesi Williams, known in the Ghanaian music scene as Akwesi – a Ghanaian name for a person born on Sunday.

He is the first of 5 siblings. A Graduate of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology, Kumasi, Ghana where he studied Publishing.

Besides music, he  is a professional Graphic Designer & Illustrator. His music is geared towards having a positive impact on everyone who listens to it. Check out links to his social media accounts here – Hughes Kwesi Williams.

He has a new EP called “This is AKWESI.” which features songs like JULOR & MORE. It is available here on iTunes and Apple Music.