Saturday, April 2, 2011

Ghanaians Love Ghanaian Music, Obruni

Ghanaians Love Ghanaian Music, Obruni

Now that we’ve discussed what American or Western music Ghanaians liked, and what music I liked while I was in Ghana, I think it’s only fair to spend some time on Ghanaian music.

Though the Ghanaians have demonstrated a remarkable and surprising fondness for Kenny Rodgers and Dolly Parton, Ghanaian music bears no resemblance to that American musical genre.  “Highlife” is what most people would consider to be the defining music of Ghana.  “Highlife”, or “hi-life” as I recall it, is a sort of reggae, funky, poppy, fun musical style. When I first heard Highlife it reminded me somewhat of my “The Indestructible Beat of Soweto” CD that I had purchased at some point based on a “5-star” recommendation from Rolling Stone magazine, and which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Ghanaians love music, and dancing, and parties, and highlife suits them perfectly.

I’ve looked up a few you tube videos of Ghanaian highlife music which I think you will enjoy watching and hearing.  But before you sample the delights of the highlife, I must point out that although I frequently did hear this music in Ghana, there were two particular ways in which I heard this music that change the overall listening experience.  Consider them the yin and yang of highlife.

So by all means please enjoy these fine musical selections sitting in your living room or office, but in order to truly enjoy highlife music, I suggest one of the following two listening methods:

Method one:  The chop bar.


First of all, chop bars are awesome.  Probably the closest Western equivalent to a chop bar is a small German beer garden.  Not like one of those insanely huge Oktoberfest beer tents, but a nice small neighborhood beer garden.  Chop bars typically have a small shack that serves as a kitchen and bar, and a surrounding area with tables and chairs where the customers sit and enjoy beer and food.  Almost always the seating area is open to the outdoors.  Sometimes it is enclosed by a roof, like a veranda, and sometimes there is a portion that has a roof in case of rain.  And when the sun goes down, the beer and food is supplemented with highlife music.  But the music has to be played as loud as possible.  So loud, typically, that it has the affect of distorting this fine music into a fuzzed-out roar of bass and horns.  It is unfortunate, really, because the music is really fun, but loudness is an important part of the highlife experience.

To best simulate the authentic Chop Bar listening experience I recommend that you do the following things:  Get your friends and go outside.  Get some beers.  Large beers, specifically.  I recall most beers coming in “bomber” size bottles.  Large lager beers, even more specifically.  If you can find “Star” beer in the USA, obviously that would be the best.  But I think Miller “highlife” would also be appropriate, har har.  I think typically the beer was served into small glasses, so some small clear glasses would add to the authentic feel.  Like the kind of glasses in which you might get served fresh-squeezed orange juice at a restaurant.  Also make a dinner of rice, beans, and fried plantain (yummy!), and chicken, if you eat meat.  Find an old crappy stereo with huge busted speakers.  Then sit back, enjoy the sunny hot afternoon, drink your beer and eat your food, and be sure to crank that highlife to 11.  If you feel the urge to get up and dance, then by all means go get some of that!  And if your dancing is good, and the music is right, then your friends should get up and shout “ooooooohhh!” and make like they are fanning you with their arms, because your dancing is hot, obruni.  That is the best way to enjoy the highlife.

Method Two: The Lorry

This method is not as enjoyable.


You are probably not going to be able to find a true lorry in the USA, because they would be completely illegal, but you can make do with an old van or SUV with a bad suspension and a loud, but old and trashed out stereo.  Having acquired said vehicle, first take out all the seats and replace them with park benches or bleachers or some such seating arrangement.
On the hottest day of the year, get as many of your friends as you can find and cram everyone into the van.  You should be shoulder-to-shoulder, if not literally in each other’s laps.  Then find some 4-wheel drive roads and go for a 3 or 4 hour drive.  Do not turn on the air conditioning.  Do turn on the stereo, to 11 once again.  But pick one song and one song only to play, and play it over and over.  If possible, arrange yourself such that your head is as close as possible to one of the speakers.  This best simulates the other authentic highlife listening experience.

Such is the yin and yang of the highlife listening experience.  So I think you can understand why I came back from Ghana with a love-hate relationship to highlife.Now having demonstrated the two proper ways to listen to Ghanaian highlife, I now present some examples of the genre.  Feel free to enjoy them in which ever way you best see fit.  And by all means get up and dance if the spirit moves you!

Highlife for me starts with the master, Daddy Lumba!  This selection is a little light on the horns but is a good example of modern highlife music.  It certainly has a strong reggae back beat.

Nana Acheampong gives us something a little more modern here; he sings a little in English, nice touch.  It also demonstrates that in any culture, a short man with a guitar will always be able to successfully pick up pretty ladies.



Here now is some classic highlife.  The first half is a song from Nigeria by Rex Lawson.  The second song is from Ghana, from ET Mensah.  This is a more traditional style, equivalent to oldies for us.



And highlife continues to evolve and change with the times: this next song is considered "hiplife", that's right, a combination of hip-hop and highlife. I think its wonderful.



And if you're like me, you can't think of the term "highlife" without thinking of this song ;-) (Incidentally this was my high school class senior class song. I lobbied for "Pour Some Sugar on Me". Was out-voted quite heavily.)

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