Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Giants of Danceband Highlife, 1950s-1970s


Giants of Danceband Highlife (1990) is another great, hard-to-find Original Music compilation. This one features tracks by three of the most famous and prolific Ghanaian dance bands, E.T. Mensah's Tempos, the Ramblers, and Uhuru.

               Download it Here.

"The big dance bands flourished during the 1950s and 1960s in both Ghana and Nigeria. In Ghana, the leading bands played regularly in the major towns, now growing rapidly in population ... The large towns like Accra, Cape Coast, and Kumasi had prestigious ballroom orchestras which played waltzes, foxtrots, quicksteps, ragtimes, rumbas, and highlifes to a black elite audience in top hats and evening dress. The earliest of these was the Excelsior Orchestra formed in 1914. It was in this context of local melodies like the Osibisaba and Ashiko, being orchestrated for an upper class audience, that the term "highlife" was coined (Collins, Musicmakers of W. Africa).   

Comprising a typical line-up of brass, vocals, percussion, drums, double bass and electric guitar, the bands could play a bewildering variety of styles reflecting popular demand although highlife itself remained the staple affair. The lyrics were also delivered in a variety of languages including Twi, Fante, Ga, Efik, Ibo, Ewe, and Hausa (as well as English and Spanish).  

During the 1960s, many dance bands suffered at the hands of the state bands who, by offering a regular salary and stable employment, attracted many of the best musicians away from the private highlife bands. Many of the large state corporations, from the Cocoa Board and the Black Star line to the state hotels and the Builders Brigade, formed their own outfits.  By the 1970s, hard on the heels of economic decline and an increase in the demand for imported music, highlife dance bands were steadily declining in number and popularity.  The Tempos and the Uhurus staggered on but it was really only the Ramblers who survived as a viable musical unit (R. Graham, The Da Capo Guide)."

Note: Graham's description of Dance band stagnation seems somewhat inaccurate to me, as he fails to mention contrary trends such as the continuous popularity of King Bruce's dance bands, Uhuru's later successes (e.g. excursions into Afrobeat and fusion music with Oscar Sulley), and E.T. Mensah's '70s revival.

E.T. Mensah
Ramblers Dance Band
Stan Plange & Uhuru
Jerry Hansen of Ramblers

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