Friday, December 31, 2010

"Miss African Brothers Band"

Interesting history about Ghana's legendary African Brothers Band from leader Nana Kwame Ampadu's personal website:

"Since 1969, the African Brothers Band organized a yearly “Miss African Brothers Band Int.” which was very highly patronized. The criteria for the competition was not so stringent but was limited to females who were not above 25 years only. Any contestant who won was crowned Miss African Brothers Band for that year, won a cash prize and records of the band, and was also privileged to attend any of the band commercials or private functions free of charge. The 1st and 2nd runner-ups were also given befitting prizes. The contestants prepared themselves well, especially with hairdo, make-ups and dresses where some were proudly sponsored by designers. The competition was carried on for 9 years from 1969-1978."

Emelia - African Brothers Band

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Vida Rose & the Cool Guys - 7" (Gapophone)

I am rather fascinated by old-time highlife music featuring female singers, perhaps because these recordings are so difficult to come across. Female highlife singers in Ghana were largely marginalized through the first half of the 20th century due to social taboos and public perceptions of sexual promiscuity and impropriety. To quote concert party pioneer Bob Johnson, "A girl on stage would be branded a girl without morals." So, male actors took on the role of the female impersonator in the concert parties, while male "treble singers" strained to reach high, female-like vocal ranges. The few female singers who did make successful careers for themselves in the 1950s, '60s and '70s included Julie Okine, Charlotte Dada, Adwoa Badu, and Janet Osei, and these women surely faced some tremendous adversities.
Here we have a 7" single by "Highlife Sister no. 1" Vida Rose, released on the Gapophone label. According to John Collins, Rose was a guitarist in addition to being a singer, setting up her own concert party group in the late sixties. I've been intrigued by Rose since Voodoo Funk's "Big Mama Unice" mix back in 2007, and I humbly offer these two additional songs by the very cool Vida Rose.

    Vida Rose Single

Note: Vida Rose photos kindly borrowed from Voodoo funk.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Funeral of Kakraba Lobi

Xylophone-shaped coffin of Kakraba Lobi

Kakraba Lobi was one of Ghana's truly great gyil (xylophone) players, introducing musical innovations while working within traditional, "highlife," and "art music" styles. Recently I've enjoyed watching a short 10-minute film entitled "A Great Man Has Gone Out" by ethnomusicologist Brian Hogan, which documents Kakraba's 2007 funeral. Here we see some fantastic xylophone performances by such artists as Aaron Bebe, Hewale Sounds, SK (Kakraba's son), and others, while learning about the cultural context surrounding Ghanaian funerals and the complex gyil music of Northern Ghana. If you have ten minutes to spare, take a moment to watch this nice film all the way through. Watch it HERE

Kakraba Lobi - Funeral for an Old Man (aka Gandayina)

"A Great Man Has Gone Out: The Funeral of Kakraba Lobi" by Brian Hogan

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Joe Mensah - "The Afrikan Hustle"

Here we have a classic album from "Bosueman" Joe Mensah. Recorded in Lagos, Nigeria, "The Afrikan Hustle" features Mensah's hit tune "Bonsue." This 17-minute long track incorporates elements of jazz, dance-band, and funk, all built over a Yaa Amponsah riff. I love this song for Mensah's rhythmically spoken outbursts (Bo Bo Bo Bo Bonsue!), but also for its unique opening. Here, each instrument enters one after the other, creating the effect of layers being built upon each other (a process which lasts for over two and a half minutes).

The other three songs on side two of this album are just as good, no surprise considering that Mensah is backed by none other than the Sweet Talks! Smark Nkansah & A.B. Crentsil appear here as guitarists, while providing backup vocals throughout the album. Who knew!

Joe Mensah - Rokpokpo

Here, we also have a rendition of "Bonsue" performed live by Ebo Taylor and Gyedu-Blay Ambolley, via Youtube. I think Ambolley is perfectly suited for this song, with his own interpretation of the tune's signature spoken sections (Bo Bo Bonsueee!).  This performance looks like it was a blast, and its a shame that this video ends prematurely as the group is about to launch into "Yaa Amponsah." Enjoy!


                        "The Afrikan Hustle"

Friday, November 26, 2010

African Brothers Band - Odo Paa Nie

"This album "ODO PAA NIE" produced in London is symbolic fact that besides highlife music which the band is the "tops" in Ghana, it has a wider and a larger repertoire of songs and space-age tempos and melodies. This is the 10th album of the band and it sends to its listeners one big message "LOVERS MUST LOVE"."


I've also uploaded another selection from the Repercussions documentary "Africa Come Back," this one featuring a live performance of "Agatha" by Nana Kwame Ampadu and his African Brothers Band. Enjoy it!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Greatest Mix of Dr. Paa Bobo

Paa Bobo is an older musician I don't know too much about. Back in the day (in the '70s & '80s) he released several albums including Osobrokyee, Ehye Wo Bo, and Enye M'ania, and more recently he's put out remixed versions of some of his classic old songs. Here, the songs have been updated and given a more modern treatment (I actually prefer these newer versions for the most part). This album, The Greatest Mix of Dr. Paa Bobo, features these newer arrangements. This music is actually quite popular in Ghana today, and one may hear these songs on the radio or playing from stereos in the street.

Enjoy the music of this "highlife doctor."

Aba Saa - Paa Bobo

Monday, November 22, 2010

It's Highlife Time, Kids! : Junior LTJBM Live Gospel Band

This video has been around for a while, but I'm still blown away each time I listen to this incredibly talented all-children gospel/highlife group. The video is well made, the song itself is beautiful, and these kids have some serious skills! The group also has a rather unique sound, emphasizing traditional Ghanaian instruments like the Seprewa harp, Gome drum, Atenteben flutes, and Gyile (xylophones) over electronic instruments.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ogyatanaa Show Band - Obra Mu Asem

Here we have a second album by the Ogyatanaa Show Band, the group responsible for the legendary Yerefrefre (or "African Fire") album. Tracks from that record like "Yaa Amponsah" and "Mmobrowa" have appeared on the Ghana Soundz compilations, as well as the Agoro Records compilation I've posted here some time back (Agoro Nkoaa). Obra Mu Asem hasn't received the same kind of attention that Yerefrefre has (the cover is rather bland...), but in my book it's a great overlooked album that deserves some listening.

As with their other releases, this record from Ogyatanaa showcases the group's unique fusion sound. At its core Ogyatanaa is a dance-band in the tradition of Uhuru, Ramblers, E.T. Mensah, etc., yet elements of funk and soul have also been added. The classic dance-band sound has undergone development here with the integration of the other sounds of '70s Ghana. Just listen to the heavy organ throughout and that soulful singing!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

K.K.'s no. 2 Band - Heavy Mama (Essiebons, 1979)

Here we have an album of four sweet, upbeat tunes from K.K.'s no. 2 Band, with a soukous-style track at the end. The title track "Heavy Mama" is one of my all time favorites. This humorous, feel-good pidgen song has a soukous/highlife flavor to it and will definitely get stuck in your head in no time ("Heavy mama, heavy mama, ohhhh heavy mama!"). Here, the singer laments the sad position in which his lady (his "heavy mama") has left him. He buys her everything she desires, gives her money to send back to her papa in the village, yet she only comes to visit him when it's payday! As in many other highlife songs, conflict between the sexes (especially relating to money and women) is highlighted as a major theme.

Also, I would like to note this album's interesting cover artwork which I find appealing and idiosyncratic. I would be curious to hear other folks' interpretation of this album cover. What do you think?

Every album by K.K.'s No. 2 Band is a treat to hear, but it's a shame that there isn't much information available about this group and its leader/singer A.K. Yeboah (Anthony King Yeboah, or sometimes "King" Yeboah). We know that Yeboah received his musical training under the legendary highlife musician and concert party performer Kakaiku (Moses Oppong). Yeboah went on to perform with Kakaiku's no. 2 band, which I would guess was the group out of which K.K.'s no. 2 Band evolved. According to John Collins, Yeboah and his K.K.'s no. 2 went on to perform as a concert party troupe, surely a successful one considering Yeboah's early training in Kakaiku's band. In case you're unfamiliar with the "concert party," here's a brief description from Collins:

E.K. Nyame's Akan Trio
"Ghanaian concert parties are professional groups of itinerant artists  who stage vernacular shows for the rural and urban audiences that combine slapstick musical comedies, folk stories, acrobatics, moral sermons, magical displays and dance-music sessions. The appeared just after the First World War and since then have acted as a cultural vortex in Ghana, for besides drawing on the indigenous and imported, old and new, they have accreted to themselves local highlife music and dance, sign painting [large adverts called concert 'cartoons'], comic literature and the film/video format. Furthermore, since the 1960's the concert party and its associated guitar band has been one of Ghana's most important influences on and avenues for contemporary popular performers."

The influence of the concert party is present in A.K. Yeboah's music itself. Like the guitar band highlife of other Akan concert party performers (E.K. Nyame's Akan Trio, for instance), group singing is structured in the format of a trio. Middle-range and bass singers are present, and the "treble singer" stands out above the others with his high falsetto and "warbly" vibrato (these "treble singers" play female roles in concert parties, typically all male performances!). This phenomenon of female impersonation and treble singers is an interesting one (Yeboah serves as K.K.'s treble singer), as female highlife singers were a small minority during this time period and met some considerable difficulties. The few female singers who did perform, like Charlotte Dada and Vida Rose, were often considered loose and immoral (as a child, a Ghanaian friend of mine recalls his parents speaking about Charlotte Dada as if she were a prostitute!).

In terms of the structure of these songs, singers may alternate between long, declamatory solo sections, returning to group refrains sung in harmony. These refrains have a unique musical texture, as each singer adds his own variations and improvisations to the basic melody. The resultant texture is one of offset rhythms, musical interjections, and embellishments, the things that make the music sweet. Enjoy!

Download Heavy Mama

Note: If you're not already aware, two other albums by K.K.'s no. 2 are available over at Global Groove.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Adowa Music - Onyame Nkrabea Nwomkro

Moving away from popular music for the moment, I would like to present "Adowa," a traditional genre/dance of the Asante of Ghana.  Like other traditional music genres, Adowa combines drumming and percussion with dancing and call-and-response style singing. This music serves a profound social function, as Adowa is a dance that is performed at and often associated with funerals. Accordingly, song texts are frequently philosophical in nature, meditations on life, death, and humankind itself.

This particular recording by Onyame Nkrabea Nwomkro features three twenty-minute long tracks in medley style. The drummers maintain a minimal presence throughout, allowing the powerful chorus of singers to take the forefront. This music is beautiful and stunning, and I find myself totally absorbed in the complex melodic lines sung by the lead singers and the lead drummer's varied Atumpan phrases.

Please read below for some more detailed information on Adowa:

"The [Ensemble] includes one or two bells - dawuro (boat-shaped) or slit-type called adawuraa; one or two hourglass drums called donno; one sonorous drum played by the hand called apentemma; one tenor drum played with stick called petia; and a talking drum called atumpan.

With the exception of the bells which may be played by women, the rest of the instruments are played by men, while women form the chorus. Normally one of the bells is regarded as the 'primary' bell while the other bell functions as 'the bell that crosses.'

The hourglass drum plays something in simple duple thyrhms. Where there are two, the second one plays cross rhythm. The main function of the apentemma drums is to suply recurring high-pitched tones. The drummer works in patterns of low and high pitches. The basic rhythm of the peti is a simple 5-note phrase made up of alternating simple and duple rhythmic motif rather like the primary bell.

The atumpan is the most important of all the instruments in the ensemble. When the music starts, the drummer may first make an announcement of drums or give a short message of sympathy. Immediately after this, he may begin with first, the introductory rhythms, and then other rhythms follow, to give the dancer the opportunity to find his bearing or time. This could be followed by other rhythmic motifs, all these go to animate the dance."
- "African Music: Traditional & Contemporary," Alexander Akorlie Agordoh

The meaning of the word "Adowa" is interesting in itself. Adowa is the Asante name for the Royal Antelope (pictured right), one of the rarest and smallest of the antelope species (about the size of a house cat). This tiny animal is considered exceedingly graceful in its movements, and it is this type of graceful movement that Adowa dancers must imitate and express. The Adowa genre, then, is named after this small antelope.

I've already introduced the Atumpan drums briefly in this post. Played in pairs of two differently pitched drums, the Atumpan is used to express verbal phrases, proverbs, and appellations.  The experienced player is able to translate these speech patterns (many of which are set phrases) onto the Atumpan based upon the different tones of the Twi language.  In Adowa another layer of complexity is added. Here, the lead drummer plays set Adowa phrases on the Atumpan that correspond to specific dance actions. In effect, this drummer controls the dancers' steps and motions by playing through a commonly recognized repertoire of drum proverbs/phrases.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Lets Do the Highlife!: George Danquah - Hot and Jumpy

"The music of this album, like the product of a wandering minstrel, is colored by the travels and adventures of the performer. These are not the songs of the jungle, nor are they work tunes. They are urban interpretation that leap with the rhythms of the modern day cities. But at their root they are pure African strain of daily life."

Why worry baby, lets do the Highlife!

Araba Soso Wo Ndzema

Saturday, October 16, 2010

T.O. Jazz - Agyeman Baidoo & Bonus Single

The highlife musician T.O. Jazz remains a bit of a mystery to me, but I've thoroughly enjoyed getting to know some of his old-time (sometimes palmwine-style) music through songs recorded & released by John Collins and also the few  albums I've been able to listen to. Any track by the late T.O. Jazz just seems special. Below you can listen to "Agyeman Baidoo," recorded at Collins' classic, now-defunct Bokoor Studio. I've also included some biography information, and a bonus single from T.O. Jazz at the bottom of the page. This one features T.O.'s long-time female singer Adjoa Badu, pictured below.

T.O. Jazz - Agyeman Baidoo. Download

Thomas Osei ‘Jazz”  Ampoumah comes from the town of Obomeng in the mountainous Akan Kwahu region between Accra and Kumasi.  Born in 1932 he started learning guitar when he was fifteen years old in the town of Nkawkaw. T.O began playing in public with friends in 1950 when he was just eighteen years old. He formed his Ampoumah’s guitar band Mpraeso in 1952 with Kwabena  Amoah (vocals), Kwaku Gyima (second guitar) and  Edmond Kye (congas).  T.O. made his  his first recordings  with a Ghana Broadcasting mobile van unit in 1954 and then with the UAC (United Africa Company) that had a small recording studio in Accra. In those days he was paid eight pounds per recording (i.e. two songs)

In 1957/8 his guitar band was on tour in Burkina Faso (then called Upper Volta) where he met the Congolese band the Bantus Africana  – who invited T.O. and his three musicians to Zaire where they played highlife numbers for the Bantus who were fascinated by this music but could not play it. The Bantus in turn taught the Ghanaians to play  local lingala rumbas, chachacha’s, meringues, pachanga and boleros  T.O. also met Franco the leader of Zaire’s top band O.K. and so changed the name of his Ampoumah’s guitar band to ‘T.O. Jazz’. When T.O. Jazz returned to Ghana in 1961 they introduced the chachacha to the country.

Back in Ghana he set the newly named T.O. Jazz band that specialized in highlifes and Akan renditions of the rumba.   It was with this band that T.O. recorded  in 1968 the hit song ‘Aware Bone Asu Manim Ase’ (Bad Marriage  Has Disgraced Me) that was released as a 45 RPM  on the Phillips label. For this T.O.  (together with Victor Uwaifo of Nigeria)  was awarded in  1970 the first Phillips West African Golden Discs – and went  to record a total of 127 songs. So by the mid 70’s T.O. Jazz was a household name in Ghana.  In 1996 T.O. began  teaching ‘palmwine highlife’ at  the Music Department of the University of Ghana, where he also played and sang with John Collins' Local Dimension Band.  T.O died after a short illness in 2001.


       1. Kasabrofo
       2. Ye Bewu Asee

Beware! This single is seriously crackly. Loud, scratchy sounds are consistent throughout, but I still find this music very enjoyable.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sunsum Band - "Emmaa Bekum Mmarima" & Live Performance Footage

Here we have an album from the Sunsum Band. Formed in 1981, this group was a collaboration between guitarist Smart Nkansah (right, of Sweet Talks fame) and the tremendous singer Agyaaku (left), who achieved notoriety singing with Yamoah's Band. Nkansah left the Sweet Talks in 1976 to form the short lived Black Hustlers Band with Agyaaku, and it is this group which eventually evolved into the Sunsum Band.

I consider Sunsum Band within a category that includes similar musicians like Jewel Ackah, Amakye Dede and Pozo Hayes, artists I would describe as "transitional." I am interested in this genre of transitional highlife, straddling the old and the new through the '80s and '90s. Artists of this generation received their musical training from the "old masters" of highlife (Nkansah & Agyaaku started out with Yamoah, Dede with the Kumapim Royals, and Jewel Ackah was a pupil of Ebo Taylor and C.K. Mann).

Yet these musicians came into their own and began their own solo careers when foreign influences like disco music and synthesizers were the coolest things on the planet. So, I think this style of transitional highlife interestingly combines the synth-driven disco sound with the character and musical elements of classic highlife. To me, this is what is so appealing and unique about the Sunsum Band's highlife/disco sound.

Here I've also included some great old footage of the Sunsum Band performing "Susuka" at the famed Tip-Toe Gardens night club, taken from the rather hard-to-find documentary Africa Come Back in the "Repercussions" series. We have Smart Nkansah here on lead vocals, backed by Agyaaku and Becky B (who is featured on the "Odo (Love)" album). It's a treat to see these guys in action, so I consider this type of performance footage to be a real treasure.

Also, be sure to check out the Sunsum Band's magnum opus (at least in my opinion) "Odo (Love)," available over at Global Groove. "Mansee Madwen," the 15-minute last track, will blow your mind. I'm sure. You can also find the Black Hustlers album there.

Download 1982's "Emmaa Bekum Mmarima" Here.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Hollywood Icons, Local Demons: Ghanaian Popular Paintings by Mark Anthony

I've only recently become aware of an interesting exhibition of Ghanaian paintings, "Hollwood Icons, Local Demons," that has appeared at several museums since the early 2000s (it will be exhibited again at Marquette University in Wisconsin in 2011).  The show features some fantastically bizarre posters painted as advertisements for concert parties (a Ghanaian popular theater form combining vaudeville-type antics with ananse-like characters and guitar-band highlife music).

The Bizarre: A monster from a Kakaiku "concert."

Here we have posters of three bands, A.B. Crentsil's Ahenfo Band (formed after Sweet Talks), the City Boys Band, and Super Yaw Ofori's Band (which I don't know much about).  Below is a short excerpt of a nice review from the journal American Anthropologist that provides some more background information.  I encourage reading the full article, which you may download here as a PDF.  Click "Read More" to look at more of the paintings and listen to Super Yaw Ofori's Band.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Highlife Clarinet

Maybe the clarinet isn't exactly what we think of when we talk about highlife, but this instrument tends to appear in many, sometimes unexpected places. From the high-class dance music of E.T. Mensah to the rootsy guitar-band style of E.K. Nyame and the concert party, the clarinet adds something unique and quite out of the ordinary.

Here are three old recordings featuring the clarinet played in highlife style. Perhaps my favorite here is the second selection by the Osu Selected Union, in which the clarinet maneuvers dexterously in step with the melody while a playful argument is acted out between "Sowah" and his girlfriend "Ese" (drama ensues when Ese announces she is going out to attend the Homowo festival). You can find this recording on the collection "Ghana Popular Music, 1931-1957."

The Ga Quartet - Paulina

Osu Selected Union - Homowo Ese

E.K.'s Band - Agya Nyame Nka Wo Ho

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

More Danceband: Telephone Lobi

On the heels of the previous post, here's the other Original Music compilation featuring Ghanaian "Dance band" music, Telephone Lobi (1995).  This album offers some more variety, as a greater selection of bands have been chosen by the OM folks. This broader representation of the Ghanaian "dance band" scene in turn reflects a greater diversity of individual styles and sounds. Be sure to check out these great tunes, including some of my favorites like the Ramblers' "Agbo Ayee" and "Me Ye Fun" by the Police Band #1.

Mbra Nimfo Quist - Builders Brigade