Sunday, November 20, 2011

Flood Disaster at John Collins' Bokoor House in Accra

Hello. Very sad news today from preeminent highlife scholar/musician John Collins, whose Bokoor House and BAPMAF highlife archives were recently damaged during severe flooding on October 26th, 2011. Please take some time to read the statement below by Collins, originally posted on Afropop Worldwide. Collins welcomes suggestions, letters of sympathy, and donations (a mailing address is listed below). Also, a short BBC news story about the aftermath of the flood damage HERE.

Dear colleagues, supporters, fans, friends and well wishers,

As you know I have been operating the BAPMAF music archives since 1990 which was partly opened at my Bokoor House to the public in 1996 and more fully in 2007. However, devastation struck in the middle of the night of 26th Oct, 2011 in the form of a flood. This occurred over many parts of Accra due to more and more people building in or blocking water ways - so that rivers could no longer easily run into the sea. In our particular Taifa-Ofankor area this was compounded by the construction of a 3 mile section of the Kumasi highway (from Achimota to Ofankor) without adequate gutters - and also saw-millers who have been dumping sawdust in rivers and wetlands.

We residents have complained to both the Ghana National Highways Authority and the Ga District Assembly (Council) over the years to no avail Indeed the National Highways Authority told us residents that they had to build the road first before constructing the drains and that these 2 projects even fell under 2 different ministries. Furthermore, the saw-millers in the MUUS next to us, who are relative newcomer to the area, did not allow space on their adjacent land to ours for a gutter. In fact, by dumping sawdust on the drainage river (Brenyah River) they re-directed part of this river though my house and garden – which broke my wall – they are even now claiming my garden is their ‘natural’ gutter.

The resulting flooding on the 26 Oct. was unprecedented with almost 6 feet of water entering our land and 5 feet into the downstairs house and premises where some of the BAPMAF archival holdings are kept. I was in Mali at the time at an African popular music conference organized by the French Institute in conjunction with and the Malian Ministry of Culture. On returning to Ghana on the 29th I met my family perched upstairs in the BAPMAF exhibition space. They had escaped drowning by 2 minutes due to a timely call from a neighbor upstream who noticed the water build up and got them to leave the house and flee upstairs.

Some of the losses are as follows:

• Approx 10-20% 0f BAPMAF archival holding lost. Some we are still
trying to dry and salvage.
• Loss of all electronic equipment including materials donated a few
years ago to the BAPMAF archives by the German Goethe Institute for a
digitization project.
• Loss of car, backup generator, various pumps, etc.

The house and area is now too dangerous for human habitation (i.e. residential purposes ). All this due to the short sightedness of the government in not insisting the National Highways Authority build storm gutters alongside the highway they have been constructing for seven years (which incidentally also went under water on the 26th Oct). And also the government’s inability to stop individuals or saw-millers etc from building on or blocking natural water flows.

As this is not likely to be resolved in the near future I have no recourse but to remove myself and my family from the house that myself and my father before me have been living since the 1970’s – and find rented property where we will not be drowned like rats.

Bokoor Band - Yaka Duru

So my immediate plans are as follows:

- Find temporary storage space for the BAPMAF archives so that at some point in the future these can become available again to myself and the general public.
- Find temporary accommodation relatively near the university at Legon.
- Build circa 200 feet of reinforced concrete wall with gravel embankment to protect the Bokoor/BAPMAF proper from future flooding – so I and the BAPMAF archives can move back to upstairs properties. This alone will cost around 7000$.
- To replace lost equipment, computers, car, scanners, cameras, digital record player, stabilizers, chargers and 12 volt battery backup system, slide projector, etc.
- At some point I will write to various individuals and organizations that donated general books, videos and DVD’s and music materials to BAPMAF to send me, if possible, copies.

- To replace the broken wall and add an embankment to it - or possibly even build a wall and embankment closer to my house and the BAPMAF premises. Even though I will lose my garden this will keep the building premises intact - so that in the future and the government demolishes obstacles to the water course, stops the saw-miller dumping saw dust in rivers and get the Highways Authority to build a storm drain alongside the Achimota-Ofankor Highway --I could at least use the BAPMAF premises again.

If you have any suggestions as how I could proceed – including any agencies, individuals, organizations who could assist financially or by replacing lost books and music this would be most appreciated. Letters of sympathy would also be most welcome.

Yours sincerely John Collins (Prof).
POSTAL ADDRESSP.0 Box LG 385,  Legon , Accra, GHANA

If money is sent to help rebuild please send it to my UK bank account at follows.
NATWEST, Tottenham Court Rd Branch
P.O.BOX 2EA 45 Tottenham Court Rd. London WIT 2EA
Reward Reserve Account of E .J. Collins
Account number 26592258
Sort Code 56-00-31
Swift code NWBK GB 2L
IBAN number GB16 NWBK 56003126 5922 58

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Atakora Manu - Pim No Bi (1981)

Composer, guitarist and sound engineer Atakora Manu released a large catalog of albums through the 1970s and 80s characterized by a sound that's best described as smooth, groovy, and certainly unique within the context of Ghanaian highlife. Manu's 1981 Pim No Bi is no exception. Here we have two medleys (each over 10 minutes in length) which feature interlocking guitar lines, playful synthesizers, and the distinctive singing of lead vocalist S.K. Amoako Agyeman. Below you'll find Atakora Manu's bio. Enjoy!  Download

Atakora Manu - Sunkwa (excerpt)

Mr. Atakora Manu was born at Toase in Ashanti in 1940. He had his Elementary School Education at both Toase Roman Catholic and Amoako Local Authority Middle Schools. After leaving school in 1956 he joined the Ministry of Agriculture as a Motorblow Machine Operator stationed at Brofoyedru in Adansi. The Gang Leader of his group was a good guitarist and the music instinct in him was roused and so became an ardent follower.

The Spraying Surerintendnt at the station, the late Mr. B.D. Prempeh who was also a brother, encouraged him with a promise that souuld he become perfect he would purchase a set of musical instrumnets for him. Before the promise could be realised, Mr. Prempeh died suddenly in a mortor accident in 1961 and his heart's desire was dashed.

Mr. Atakora Manu resigned and came back home where Mr. B.K. Amankwah of Toase bought a set of musical instruments for him to be based at Toase as resident band. He formed a Concert Party known as the Princess Trio and toured the whole country with a big bang. Between 1963 and 1966, he was a guitarist of the United Ghana Farmers Council Drama Troupe and with the staging of the 1966 Coup, the Troupe was disbanded and he came back home again.

In 1967, he together with Kakaiku formed KAKAIKU No.2 Band with him as the Lead guitarist. Some of their hits are: OHOHO BATANI, KOOKROKOO, AKWANTU MU NSEM, AKYINKYINA AKYINKYIN etc.

In 1970, he resigned from KAKAIKU No.2 Band and did not join any band until 1973 when he was employed as Studio Attendant by Ambassador Records. With the goodwill of Mr. A.K. Badu, Managing Director, he was encouraged to use the studio to enhance his ability with the hope of recording in the future. As a result of this good gesture, he regrouped his Princess Trio. The other members of the Trio are C.K. Mensah, S.K. Amoako Agyeman, Agyei Kyeremanteng and Atta Fofie. They are all from Toase with the same family base.     - by D.F. Boateng

Some great lps by Atakora Manu are already available online at Globalgroove and Afroslabs:

Afro Highlife
Disko Hi-Life
Bre Bre Na Eye

Monday, September 19, 2011

African Brothers Band - Have African Feeling

"Nana Ampadu wo he?" (Where is Nana Ampadu?) the Manager Rover Amo, asked Joe Dee. The time was exactly 7:45 a.m in that Summer morning. The recording was billed to commence at exactly 8 a.m., but Nana Ampadu I, the Leader, was not in the Studio. Rover Amo was wondering what had become of him. Donkor, Joe, Asare and others were discussing the issue. An unmistakable sign of dejection and consternation began to show up in their faces. The studio had been booked for only an hour and it was just a few minutes to 8 a.m. The studio manager had arrived, followed by the producer, Mr. Akie Dean. The instruments had been fixed and just as they were tunning their guitars, Nana strutted in, looking cheerful and feeling on top of the morning. 

"Me ma mo Akye ooh" Nana said, 
meaning (Good morning). Exhiliration filled in them and hilarious smile began to steal up in their faces. Nana strapped his guitar and fixed the wah-wah peddle. Rover Amo then whispered to Nana Ampadu, "Just give me a meddley LP, and give me the best, Okey?"

"Right, Amo" Nana Ampadu whispered back. Nana Ampadu turned to the Guys and enunciated,  

"You all know we are Africans, play with an African feeling, Okey?"

Mr. Akie Dean took his mic and the electronic device  b o o m e d .........

D o w n l o a d

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Koo Nimo Interview with Christopher Lydon & Radio Open Source

I've been on a bit of a Koo Nimo kick lately! If you have a chance, check out this fascinating 2010 interview with Koo Nimo by Christopher Lydon for Radio Open Source. The recording was made at "7:30 a.m. on the last Saturday in January, a warm winter morning in Ghana, and we are privileged to be hanging out for an hour of music and a few well-chosen words with a aristocrat of sound and four accompanists in his studio in Kumasi, the old Ashanti capital." Here, Lydon and Agya Koo discuss the history of highlife/palm wine music, jazz, globalization, the African diaspora, and musical cross-fertilization among other things. In addition, Koo Nimo offers some beautiful (although short) musical performances throughout the interview. I've made the performances alone available for download below.

Koo Nimo - Nwomkro Song

   Okomfo Anokye
Koo Nimo - Akomfo Anokye (Odonson)

Download interview performances

Friday, September 9, 2011

Sunsum Band - Disco Spiritual

Here we have a short religious themed album by the great Sunsum Band entitled Disco Spiritual, released in 1981 on Gapophone records. The heart of the Sunsum Band consisted of guitarist, composer & singer Smart Nkansah (pictured on left) and treble singer Agyaaku (on right), who met while both were members of Yamoah's band in the 1960s. You can read more about Sunsum at this earlier post.

Sunsum Band - Ahoboa

I've also included a Youtube video featuring a "sermon" of sorts by none other than Smart Nkansah at the Pentecostal Baptist Church in London. Here, Smart discusses some of his religious themed compositions with the Sweet Talks (Spiritual Ghana), as well as the song "Ahoboa" off the Disco Spiritual Album. This song states: "In case you are called, or you die today, what preparation have you made for yourself? How was your judgement?" Nkansah describes "Ahoboa" as the "number one track" of his career, a song that "speaks to you direct anytime you play it."

On a side note, I'm frustrated by the preacher who introduces Smart Nkansah at the beginning of this video. He states: "You [Smart] were populating the kingdom of hell with your music. Now thank God you've met the Lord on the way to Damascus and you've changed." I like PREKESEMedia's reaction to this type of attitude on the Youtube page:

"I dont agree with the Pastor's assertion that U were leading people to Hell. No, your music was more than about what he is saying. You educated and promoted social virtues and NEVER promoted vices. Ghanaians need to change their mentality where they stereotype every secular musician as someone who is a SINNER. Who is perfect in this world? Ask the pastor to listen to some of your music to know whether u were promoting SIN as he said."                
                                                     Download Disco Spiritual

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Palm Wine Music: Koo Nimo and Osei Korankye at Afrikafestival Hertme

This great 2008 performance by Koo Nimo at Afrikafestival Hertme in the Netherlands has been around Youtube for a while, and now we have another recently posted Youtube video which presents a more complete version of this performance. The always incredible Koo Nimo is joined here by members of his Adadam Agofomma group as well as the seprewa virtuoso Osei Korankye (whose collaboration album with Koo Nimo is available on this blog). The set begins with a seprewa/guitar piece "Abube ne atebe" that features Osei, followed by a beautiful song entitled "Death is everybody's business." The performance concludes with a version of the Ghanaian standard "Yaa Amponsah" that quickly turns into Koo Nimo's own tune "Aburokyire Abrabo" (Overseas Life). In case you're interested, I've posted a full recording of this tune below, along with a translation by Joe Latham from the booklet Ashanti Ballads of Koo Nimo.

On the subject of Koo Nimo, you might like to check out this beautiful, handmade book honoring Agya Koo that was recently acquired by the Smithsonian.  The book is called Listen, listen : Adadam Agofomma : honoring the legacy of Koo Nimo, a collaboration between artists Mary Hark, Atta Kwami, and Koo Nimo himself. An article about the book is on the Smithsonian site here.

Koo Nimo - Aburokyire Abrabo

Aburokyire Abrabo (Overseas Life)

Mother, Oh Mother, your son has made a terrible journey.
Now I am stranded overseas.
Darkness has encircled me.
There can be no witness to what I endure alone.

An unsuccesful mission is a disgrace,
So how can we come hone?
If you fail, no child is named after you.
Death is preferable to shame.

Everyone has reasons for leaving his native land.
Some travel to study, or to marry.
Some go as tourists, some look for jobs.
Some seek medical treatment.

Some return, but others die overseas.
What a tragedy that is.
Why should this be?
It is our individual destiny.
Life has its bad times we have to pass through.

The cold weather gets so bitter men lose their senses.
Poverty, family problems, illness and accidents
All aggravate the stranger's sad state.
Married or single, life is not pleasant in a foreign land.

Bad company, gossip, rumours, misunderstandings,
So many troubles could be settled by speaking to the family.
There is but one consolation:
Namely that travel brings wisdom to men.

Spirits of our Ancestors,
Gods of our Ancestors,
Watch over our brothers abroad.
Let them return home safely.
To live in Europe is to understand this lament.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Uhuru Dance Band - The Sound of Africa (Agoro, 1975)

The Uhuru Dance Band's rare, 1975 album The Sound of Africa was recently posted in full by an ebay seller last month. Released on Kwadwo Donkoh's Agoro label, this unique album blends funk, American soul/jazz, highlife, and dance-band music much in the same vein as the Ogyatanaa Show Band (you may recongnize the Uhuru's "Yahiya Mu" which was featured on the Ghana Special compilation). Accordingly, this unique sound was largely driven by saxophonist George Amissah (Uhuru's then band leader) and Kwadwo Donkoh, who worked as a composer, arranger, and musician on this album as well as Ogyatanaa's Yerefrefre and Obra Mu Asem. At the same time, much of the lead singing on The Sound of Africa (as well as the two Ogyatanaa albums) is recognizably performed by the same individual (see "I Know My Mission" for an example). Unfortunately this singer's name remains a mystery, as does the actual relationship between this album, Kwadwo Donkoh, and the Ogyatanaa Show Band. Of course, any additional information would be greatly appreciated.

Considering the high prices that old, rare & funky Ghanaian records routinely fetch on websites like ebay (anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars), these low-quality sample recordings may very well represent the only opportunity for most of us to hear albums like the Uhuru's The Sound of Africa. Here, I've posted the album in full for your downloading convenience as offered on ebay, with track titles added and problematic clicks/skips cleaned up. However, some questions remain. For one thing, what is the correct order of the eleven tracks? Secondly, are any readers able/willing to submit a photo of the album's back cover? This would certainly clear up the question of the track order and potentially provide some additional background info.

In the meantime, take some time to enjoy this unique and diverse album.

Update: Thanks to Akwaboa, here's a scan of this album's back cover. Track order is now revealed, along with song translations and background info about Kwadwo Donkoh/Uhuru. Excellent!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Alex Konadu - Mewu Ama Wo

More great music from one of my favorites, legendary highlife musician Alex Konadu AKA "One Man Thousand," who passed away earlier this year.  Beautiful singing, intricate guitar work, and deep Akan harmonies here on Mewu Ama Wo. You can read more about Konadu's life and music HERE at

Alex Konadu - Nsem Nyinaa Nyame

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wulomei - Walatu Walasa (Agoro, 1974)

Top from left to right: Leader Nii Tei Ashitey with osrama drum, lead singer Maa Amanua, and Nii Adu "Big Boy" on gome drum.

Ga cultural highlife emerged during the 1970s as an urban, neo-traditional popular music form.  The Gas are an ethnic minority in Ghana (where Akans dominate over forty percent of the population) yet they remain the majority in Ghana’s capital Accra, as they are the city’s oldest, original inhabitants.  This ethnic group is primarily bound to the costal and the urban realms, as the sea (in particular fishing) has played a central role in livelihood up until the present.  Ga musicians were involved in dance-band highlife since the early 20th century (this variety of highlife accordingly reflects influences from Ga traditional music), yet it was not until the cultural highlife of the 1970s that Gas put forth their own style of guitar-band music.  This new music represented a desire to go “back to roots” and revive tradition.
Ga cultural highlife was largely the creation of drummer Nii Tei Ashitey, who founded the pioneering Ga highlife group Wulomei in 1973.  Both a traditional and dance-band drummer, Ashitey founded Wulomei as a reactionary move against the influx of foreign music into Ghana.  He states his objective as “To bring something out for the youth to progress and to forget foreign music and do their own thing” (Collis, Musicmakers 142).  Inspired by the proto-highlife Ga konkoma groups of the 1940s, the music of Ashitey’s Wulomei encorporates influences from Ga traditional music, Kru sea shanties, work songs, and Akan guitar-band music.  Wulomei’s original sparse lineup consisted of traditional percussion instruments (bells, rattles, drums), a single guitar, and a chorus of several male and female singers.  Here, the percussion section is emphasized heavily, while singing is modeled after the group call and response singing of a traditional dance/drum ensemble both in terms of form and vocal technique.  Accompanying the chorus of singers is the guitar, adding a highlife dimension to a style which might otherwise sound very much like traditional music.   

Nii Adu (AKA "Big Boy") playing Gome
The term “Wulomei” itself refers to traditional Ga priests, and the band members of Wulomei self-consciously dress in the same white cloth/hats of Wulomei priests. In this way, the band’s name and dress are strategically used to represent deep roots in the Ga community and connections with traditional music/life.  In the same manner, quintessentially Ga drums are used in cultural highlife as a means to signify ethnic ties and connections with tradition.  The gome drum is a central instrument in the ensemble, a large bass frame drum which is sat upon while played.  The musician is able to change the tone of the drum by moving his feet across the drum’s head.  In addition, the osrama drum appears frequently in Ga cultural highlife.  This skinny, high-pitched stick drum may by found in the courts of Ga kings (Mantse), where it is used as a “talking drum.” 
Wulomei - Menye Menye

Walatu Walasa (1974) is Wulomei's second album, following Mibe Shi Dinn released earlier that same year.  Released on Kwadwo Donkoh's Agoro records label, Walatu Walasa features many of Wulomei's biggest hits, including "Akrowa," "Kaafo," and the title track. John Collins writes: "Walatu Walasa means in Twi that 'you are digging and then shoveling it away,' implying that only an idiot would do both. Walatu Walasa has become a popular phrase at a time when large numbers of workers have been employed by the government to build drains in Accra. To greet a laborer with this term is to insult him, for it demeans manual labor" ("Ghanaian Highlife" p. 67). These Wulomei songs (and those of other Ga groups like Dzadzeloi, Suku Troupe, Ashiedu Keteke, Abladei, etc.) continue to be relevant and popular in Ghana today, where they may be heard playing over the radio and from street-side speakers in Accra.  At the same time, Wulomei remains in existence with a lineup of all new members, now lead by Ashitey's daughter and son.

Download Walatu Walasa

Female singers of Wulomei

Monday, June 27, 2011

Time Changes

Photo by Nana Kofi Acquah (

I really like this short essay by writer Nana Awere Damoah about the personal significance he found as a child in the highlife song "Time Changes" by Akwasi Ampofo Adjei and his Kumapim Royals Band. This song tells the story of a teacher giving a lesson to his students on the topic of life, its theme: "time changes."

                 Read the essay HERE

Time changes - Mr. AAA  (A remake of the original song)

Time Changes  (The original song from the 1980s. Unfortunately this is only a short selection)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ghanaian PSAs

Ghanaian song texts, whether popular or traditional, are often concerned with didactic, educational matters. Traditional/highlife songs may extol particular morals and values, while storytelling serves to impress various lessons upon listeners. In more recent times, traditional groups (such as Adowa/Nwomkro ensembles) have integrated songs into their repertoire which deal with such current topics as HIV/AIDS awareness and the dangers of reckless driving. In this same vein, hiplife (Ghana's ruling popular music) may be used as a platform for a variety of public service announcements, whether advertising politicians or raising awareness about any number of issues. 

The four very catchy, sometimes amusing videos I've posted here represent hiplife/highlife PSAs broadcast over radio and television. These songs are rather unusual, and most are incredibly catchy. First (above) is a popular commercial from 2007, which explains in musical form the logistics of the currency change which occurred that same year. Unfortunately the artist is unknown. This is also one of the catchiest songs ever!

Keep the Money Clean - Akoo Nana & Castro

Second is "Keep the Money Clean" by hiplifers Akoo Nana and Castro. As demonstrated in the video, these artists urge Ghanaians to "keep our Cedi clean" by using wallets and avoiding crumpling bills.

    Efinye - Lucky Mensah

Third, Lucky Mensah (a somewhat older highlife musician) appears in "Efinye" dressed as a sanitation worker, telling listeners to keep Ghana's cities clean.

Ntom Tom Be Wu (Aha Yede Remix) - Nana Boroo

Finally, we have a remix of Nana Boroo's popular song "Aha Yede." In "Ntom Tom Be Wu," Boroo discusses ways in which Ghanaians may avoid malaria.  Highlights include a dance party in a giant mosquito net!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Kyeremateng Stars - Owuo See Fie

Here we have a short album by Kyeremateng Atwede and his Kyeremateng Stars entitled Owuo See Fie.  "Owuo sei fie" is an Akan proverb which concerns the far reaching effects that a death may have on the family, roughly translated as "death spoils a house" or "death destroys a home."  Accordingly, the "O" of the word Owuo (death) is filled in here with an ominous image of a skull.  On this album, Kyeremateng Atwede and his group present three beautiful & deep Akan guitar-band style songs, with a counterbalance of two upbeat highlife tunes sung in Pidgin English ("Every Work Na Work" and "Yellow Woman").


Kyeremateng Stars - Eno Benewa

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Akwaboa's Band - Fidie Wura

Fidie Wura by Akwaboa's Band is a beautiful, laid-back gem of an album.  The songs featured on this record are smooth and effortless, with rootsy harmonies, acoustic guitar playing, and singing characteristic of traditional Akan music and palm wine highlife.  All of Akwaboa's recordings are excellent, but this album really wonderfully demonstrates the intimate relationships which exist between electric guitar-band highlife, palm wine, and traditional Akan music.  And what a great album cover too!


Akwaboa's Band - Fidie wura ba na wo be hunu

Friday, April 22, 2011

Funeral Dirges from Ghana: Atenteben & Odurugya Flutes

Several posts back, I briefly mentioned a rendition of a traditional flute dirge played on the organ on a track from the African Brothers' album Tribute to D.K.  In light of that comment I thought that I would take some time here to discuss the genre of funeral dirges for flute.  Traditional flute music in Ghana is exceptionally beautiful, and dirges in particular are especially soulful and stirring.  I've selected three videos from youtube which feature different performances of flute dirges.  These performances occur in the context of funerals and mourning.

In the first two videos, dirges are played on the atenteben, a diatonic bamboo flute which was developed by composer/professor Dr. Ephraim Amu in the 1920/30s. The atenteben also appears in highlife music, from '70s bands Wulomei and Hedzoleh Soundz to modern groups like Hewale Sounds and the Pan-African Orchestra.

The third video features Nana Yaw Opoku Mensah, once a flautist in the court of the Asantehene, playing the traditional Akan odurugya flute.  In contrast to the atenteben, the odurugya is a notched flute with a deep bass tone, built from the inner cane of the bamboo stalk.  Like the Akan atumpan drums, flute dirges imitate the tonal contours of the Twi language.  In this way, flute dirges may be conceived of as a musical recitation of a spoken text.  Read more about the atenteben and odurugya in this short writing by Professor J.H. Kwabena Nketia  HERE.

"The flute is often used in songs of lamenting or grief. This piece is more of a recitation than a song, for the odurugya is a 'talking' instrument, which means that the Akan of antiquity developed a system of encoding their language into the range of sounds/tones the odurugya makes. One must be immeresed in the 'deep structures' of Akan society in order to learn the method of 'decoding' the flute language."

- kbee,

In conclusion, I offer a short recording of an odurugya dirge from Ephraim Amu's University of Ghana Chorus record.  Thank you to the individuals who posted these wonderful videos of traditional flute music from Ghana.

Flute Prelude - Dr. Ephraim Amu

Saturday, April 16, 2011

F. Kenya - The Power House (Essiebons, 1975)

The music of F. Kenya is (in my humble opinion) some of the most stunning Ghanaian highlife ever recorded, music with a unique sound characterized by deep Akan harmonies, sweet organs, and heartbreakingly beautiful vocals. The Power House, released on Essiebons in 1975, is Francis Kenya's first full length record. Like Kenya's other work, these songs are beautifully arranged, with rich musical textures that feature an interplay between interlocking guitar parts and organ lines. In addition, these songs are unique in that they are sung in Nzema (Kenya's own language) rather than the dominant Asante Twi (generally the language of highlife). The Nzema are an Akan ethnic group found on both sides of the Southern Ghana/Côte d'Ivoire border.  As in the context of other African countries, boundaries imposed by European colonizers frequently divided ethnically similar groups across arbitrary national borders.

F. Kenya - Mmamya Bie Mmamma

Below is a brief biography of F. Kenya from the back of this album:

Prof. John Collins of the University of Ghana, Legon shared a close relationship with F. Kenya, living in his home during the 1970s and travelling with Kenya's concert party troupe for some time. In addition, Collins recorded F. Kenya & his band at his Bokoor Studio.  Seven of these tracks may be found on the great compilations The Guitar and the Gun and Electric Highlife.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tribute To D.K. at Bentleyfunk

I would like to direct you to the blog "Bentleyfunk," which recently posted a copy of the African Brothers' album Tribute to D.K last week. This album has been on my mind recently, and I figured many readers might not be aware of its availability online. Founder of such Ghanaian record labels as Obobua, Aduana, and Happy Bird, D.K. Nyarko served as the producer of the African Brothers Band starting in 1967. This album was recorded after Mr. Nyarko's death, and features four subdued & emotional songs dedicated to him. Of particular note is the deep "Kyeremirekuku" and an unusual rendition of a traditional flute dirge played on the organ at the beginning of the third tack. Please enjoy this absolutely wonderful album.

African Brothers Band - Ma Me Nsu Ma Wo

D.K. Nyarko

Update: As Moos has kindly pointed out, the blog Bentleyfunk seems to no longer exist. I've uploaded the original download from this now defunct blog.  Download Tribute to D.K.  HERE.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Opambuo Internationals - Show Me your Love (1981)

Lately I just can't get enough of this "Nigerian-ized" Ghanaian highlife music.  Many great highlife albums were recorded in the 1970s and '80s by Ghanaian bands either living in Nigeria (such as Okukuseku) or aiming to target West African markets outside of Ghana.  The music that these types of groups created has a particular feel and sound; it is practically unique enough to be categorized within its own genre.  Rhythms, guitar riffs, and melodies reflect influences from within, as well as outside of Ghana.  At the same time, many songs are sung in Pidgin English in addition to local Ghanaian languages (like the title track on this album).  In this way songs were made intelligible to Nigerian listeners. 

The guitar riff on this track just kills me!
Opambuo Internationals - Hu Anim Ase Nkyene

Enjoy this album by the Opambuo Internationals, 
lead by Nana Agyeman Opambuo

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Ogyatanaa Show Band - Yerefrefre (1975)

Hello there! I apologize for the long gaps between posts around here lately.  To make up for this, I offer one of my favorite highlife albums, Ogyatanaa's Yerefrefre (this record also might just have one of the best covers ever!). 

The Ogyatanaa (or "burning torch") Show Band was founded in 1971 by Kwadwo Donkoh, a former diplomat turned highlife musician and record producer.  I don't have much information about Donkoh, yet I consider him one of the big names in Ghanaian highlife, a behind-the-scenes figure and master arranger/composer.  In addition to his work with Ogyatanaa, Donkoh founded Agoro records in the early 1970s.  Agoro released diverse popular and traditional records, and later it would introduce the first albums by Ga cultural groups like Wulomei.

On this first album by the Ogyatanaa Show Band, we have classic tracks like "Mmobrowa" and a funky "Yaa Amponsah," yet my absolute favorite here is the "Yerefrefre" medley on side one, a twenty minute long track which pays tribute to Ghana's highlife greats.  Musicians like E.K. Nyame, C.K. Mann, King Onyina, E.T. Mensah, Nana Ampadu, and K. Gyasi are acknowledged, while hit songs by these artists are also "quoted" throughout the medley.  The group switches rapidly between songs, offering snippets of such tunes as E.T. Mensah's "All for you" and the Black Beats' "Lai momo."

See how many songs you can identify!

On March 6, 1957 Kwame Nkrumah announced Ghana's independence at the stroke of midnight.
Happy Independence Day, Ghana!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Alex Konadu - Dua Ayi Me

In honor of "One Man Thousand" Alex Konadu who passed away last month (see obituary in previous post), I offer you this 1983 album Dua Ayi Me. Here we have Konadu at his finest, joined by B.B. Collins Marfo of "Powerful Believers" fame on lead guitar and backing vocals. 

Also, be sure to check out Alex Konadu's first album Nsa Dwa Se, which was recently posted over at Global Groove. Enjoy!

Alex Konadu - Track 6 (title unknown)

Download Dua Ayi Me

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Alex Konadu Obituary

According to several online sources, highlife musician Alex Konadu passed away some weeks ago on the eighteenth of this month. Below is an obituary written by George Ernest Asare, which may be found here.

Alex Kwabena Konadu, the man who hit the limelight in the late 1970’s with his brand of highlife songs such as Asaase Asa, Agya Ata Wuo, Aweie and Asem Bi Adi Bone has died. He died in Kumasi on January 18, 2011 at the age of 63.

Popularly known as One Man Thousand, Alex Konadu died at a time he and his bosom friend, Professor Kofi Abraham, had accepted an invitation to rock the Sunyani municipality with a highlife and gospel music concert at the end of January. Barely two weeks before the ‘D’ day, Konadu was taken ill, and with support from Kofi Abraham, he sought medical care at various health care institutions in Kumasi. Just as he was gradually recovering, he suddenly relapsed and was taken to Bomso Clinic in Kumasi by Kofi Abraham but as if to say that enough was enough, he gave up the ghost a few hours later.

“His death is a great loss to me. This is because he was more than a friend, and we have totally become inseparable over the years. We were a great pair at this stage of our lives, and did almost every thing together," a wet-eyed Prof Abraham told Showbiz. When asked to describe Kwabena Konadu, Professor Abraham said, “ he was in a class of his own in terms of highlife music. This is because he did not only use his music to comfort mourners at funeral grounds, but also succeeded in encouraging the downtrodden to appreciate their values in society. He also used highlife music to entertain all classes of people at drinking spots, festivals and marriage ceremonies among other programmes to make life more meaningful to them”.

Stressing, Professor Abraham noted, “What endeared him most to music lovers was his desire to entertain his fans by honouring all manner of programmes. He was down to earth, and easily socialized with all classes of people, so his death is a huge loss, not only to me, but many lovers of highlife music, especially our generation, who were completely consumed in highlife music” he said.

According to family sources, the ace highlife musician left behind a wife, Adwoa Fordjour, and 12 children.

Alex Konadu - Asem Adibone

This song says:
I prepared breakfast,
thinking my lover will come and eat it,
I expected her; she did not come.
My lover has gone away,
and died somewhere on the road.