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High Life and Palm Wine Music

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Highlife Lecture - Slides/Foils and notes from a highlife music lecture given at the State University of New York (Purchase) by Alisdair MacRae-Birch


High Life is the dance music of Ghana and Eastern Nigeria. The first real high life bands began in the 1920's. They were large dance band orchestras fronted by horn sections, some of the more well known bands were:

bulletAccra Orchestra
bulletCape Coast Sugar Babies
bulletJazz Kings

Highlife music derived from the blend of European foxtrots and Caribbean kaiso, with African rhythms of Liberia (dagomba), Sierra Leone (ashiko and goombe) and Fante (osibisaba). To satisfy the needs of society two main streams of highlife emerged:

bulletDance band highlife played at society and elite functions, such as ET (Emmanel Tettey) Mensah's Tempo,  Ramblers International and Uhuru Dance Band
bulletGuitar band highlife played commonly in clubs and bars,  Nana Kwame Ampadu's African Brothers, Bobby Benson, Alex Konadu, Dr. K. Gyasi and his Noble Kings and C.K. Mann.

Notz High Life Recommended Listening

HighLife Safari - Eric Agyeman. Real Audio rafile.gif (1198 bytes)
This album is one of the all time classic high life albums. Originally released in 1978, Eric mixes old and new Ghanaian and Zairean guitar styles, guitar band and dance band sounds. Eric made his name as guitarist with Dr. K Gyasi and His Noble Kings. Earlier in his career Eric developed a new form of music called Sikyi High Life. Developed from the Ashanti practice of singing medleys of traditional songs accompanied by acoustic guitar, calabash, finger bells and premprensua - a large wooden box with metal or bamboo keys. Eric modernised the sound by replacing the premprensua with electric base, added keyboards and wind instruments.This album was a big seller on the West Coast.

Highlife In The Air - George Darko.
In the late 70's many Ghanian musicians made their way to Germany to produce a very sophisticated, hi-tech variety of highlife which was eventually dubbed "Burgher Highlife". George has had many hits including "Akoo Te Brofo" which was reworked in English as "Highlife Time". This is one of the few albums available in the USA.

1927-Roots of Highlife - George Williams Aingo.
Recorded originally in the years 1927-1928 in Hayes, Middx, UK on the Zonophone label. These recording present one of Zonophones premier artists. Aingo sings in Fanti and is accompanied by guitars, castanets, corcertina, percussion and bottle and coin. Get it while it is still available.
Hollywood High Life Party - Sweets Talk and AB Crentsil.
Sweets Talk were the band in the early 1970s that gave highlife a new start. As Joe Mensah says: " Sweets Talk was like a college for the musicians, most of them are stars and leaders now in their own groups". Recorded in 1978 whilst on tour in the USA this was thge final ( and finest ? ) album released by this great band
The Hit Sounds Of The Ramblers The Ramblers.
They were one of Ghana's longest running and most popular dance bands, lead by Tenor Sax player Jerry Hansen. This album was originally released in 1975 after Jerry Hansen was elected first president of the musicians union in Ghana.
Aki Special - Prince Nico Mbarga

Prince Nico ImageIf you forget your mother, you have lost your life," croons Nigeria highlife star Nico Mbarga in one of African music's biggest hits, the classic 10-minute midtempo dance rave "Sweet Mother." Mbarga was the most successful translator of West African horn-driven rumba to a guitar band.

Fire Dombolo - Abdul Tee Jay Rokoto

From Sierra Leonne to the UK, one of the top new stars of African Music

Palm Wine Music

Palm Wine music, or as it's know in Sierra Leone, Maringa, dates back to the days when Portuguese sailors introduced guitars to West Africa. Early African guitarists played at gatherings where revelers drank palm wine,  the naturally fermented sap juice of the oil palm. The music with it's origins in the Kru-speaking people of Liberia combined elements from Trinidadian calypso with local melodies and rhythms. The music was first made internationally famous by Ebenezer Calender and his Maringar Band. He recorded dozens of records in the 1950 and early 1960's sadly none of which are available on CD. Palm wine guitarists had a tremendous impact on most of the West African music and their influence can be heard in both High Life and Soukous guitar players. The songs were were mainly sung in Krio, the creole English spoken in Freetown. Unfortunately, Palm wine music is on the decline, the last well known exponent Sooliman ( S. E. ) Roogie died in 1994. The music has been kept alive by a number of expatriate muscians living in London ( where S.E. Rogie  died ), such as Super Combo and Abdul T-Jay, although the excellent music they have recorded is not maringa and Ghanian Daniel "Koo Nimo" Amponsah.

Notz Palm Wine Recommended Listening

Dead Men Don't Smoke Marijuana - S.E. Rogie.

SE Rogie Album ImageThis album was recorded when S.E. Roogie was 68, just weeks before his sudden death. recorded in  London in 1994, and features British Acoustic Bass player Danny Thompson. A historic recording of Palm Wine music, really excellent.

Various Sierra Leonne
A great album featuring the roots of Sierra Leonnean music.
African Bar Image

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