Ghanaians listen to hiplife, highlife, Gospel, Raggae and other African music. Musical trends have reflected changes in Ghanaian society over the last half-century. (1950s – 2000s)

1950s

A musical genre that originated in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, fused African rhythms with western music. The sound, of which there were a few variations, generally combined multiple guitar rhythms with a brass band backing, as well as various percussion instruments.

Its roots can be traced back to the 1880s to the music of marching bands and sailors’ palm wine groups.

The term ‘highlife’, which was coined in the 1920s, is thought to be a reference to parties by the European upper-class. Local bands played the musical accompaniment to the lavish events to which people aspired.

Two main forms of highlife had emerged by the middle of the 20th Century. Dance orchestras played at the parties of the elite, while poor, rural musicians played a guitar-orientated version of the music.

The guitar-based style of music rose to prominence in the 1950s and became associated with a pre-independence sound as it came to incorporate elements of swing, jazz and Cuban rhythms with the emerging guitar styles of West Africa.

During World War II swing was introduced by UK and US servicemen based in Ghana, giving way to smaller highlife bands.

Describing this melting pot of sounds, Professor John Collins – a musicologist at the University of Ghana – wrote: “By combining…so-called high-class music with local street tunes, a totally different type of music was born – the highlife we know today.”

Professor John Collins “ a musicologist at the University of Ghana
Professor John Collins “ a musicologist at the University of Ghana

This music became the soundtrack to the birth of an independent nation in 1957. During that time trumpeter E.T. Mensah became the most famous proponent of the sound – first with his band The Tempos and later as a solo artist.

E. T. Mensah
E. T. Mensah

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