HIGHLIFE ON THE MOVE-SELECTED NIGERIAN AND GHANIAN RECORDINGS FROM LONDON AND LAGOS-1954-1966.

HIGHLIFE ON THE MOVE-SELECTED NIGERIAN AND GHANIAN RECORDINGS FROM LONDON AND LAGOS-1954-1966.

The importance of Highlife in modern Nigerian and Ghanian culture can’t be understated. It was, after all, the first genre of modern popular music in both countries. As such, it’s important to recognise and celebrate, the importance of Highlife in Nigeria and Ghana. After all, without Highlife what would modern music sound like in Nigeria and Ghana. However, Highlife’s influence stretches much further than just two countries. 

Highlife’s influence stretches far and wide. Across Africa, Highlife found an audience. Before long, it became a musical phenomenon. Its sound and influence reached Europe, and then Britain. Soon, London began to play an important part in Highlife’s development and history.

Indeed, it was in London, in 1958 that a young music student Fela Ransome-Kuti arrived to study music. Soon, Fela was introduced to London’s vibrant jazz and Caribbean music scenes by his friend and former piano teacher Wole Bucknor. Not long after that Fela Kuti and His High Rakers recorded his first songs, Fela’s Special and Aigana. Both these tracks feature on Highlife On The Move-Selected Nigerian and Ghanian Recordings From London and Lagos-1954-1966, which will be released by Soundway Records as a double CD or triple LP on 30th March 2015.

Highlife On The Move-Selected Nigerian and Ghanian Recordings From London and Lagos-1954-1966 celebrates not just the evolution of Highlife, but how it travelled from West Africa to London. During the period between 1954 and 1966, Highlife evolved, incorporating elements of jazz, mambo and calypso. By the end of this period, 1966, Highlife had changed, and reinvented itself. That ensured that it stayed relevant. 

Throughout that period, a new generation of musicians played their part in the development of Highlight. Many of these musicians feature on Highlife On The Move-Selected Nigerian and Ghanian Recordings From London and Lagos-1954-1966. The compilation also features lengthy and detailed sleeve-notes from Highlife historian Dr. Markus Coester. He tells the story of Highlife’s development during this period. Dr. Markus Coester are the perfect accompaniment to the music on Highlife On The Move-Selected Nigerian and Ghanian Recordings From London and Lagos-1954-1966. The story behind the music begins as the twentieth century dawned.

Highlife’s roots can be traced back to Ghana, at the turn of the twentieth century. This new genre, was a fusion of musical influences. Highlife incorporated the traditional harmonic 9th, and married them with the melodic and rhythmic structures of traditional Akan music, whose origins can be traced to the Gulf of Guinea. The other component of Highlife was Western ideas and instruments. Often, this included jazz-tinged horns and several guitars, which would drive the arrangements along. It was an irresistible musical fusion, which appealed to a cross section of society.

In the early days of Highlife, everyone from the local workers, through to the aristocracy and expats were won over by its sound. Regardless of their creed, colour or cultural background, Highlife caught people’s imagination. Even then, it was obvious that Highlife was going to become a musical phenomenon.

By the twenties, Highlife’s popularity begin to spread throughout West Africa. From Sierra Leone, to Gambia, Liberia and Nigeria Highlife’s popularity spread. Local musicians took Highlife and adapted its sound. Right through to the thirties, Highlife was providing the soundtrack to much of West Africa. However, Highlife’s popularity still had to peak. That would take another twenty years.

As the fifties dawned, Highlife was about to enter what was a golden era in Ghana and Nigeria. Highlife was hugely popular. It provided the soundtrack to many a nightclub. Patrons happily danced the night away to a local Highlife band. However, before long, Ghanians and Nigerians could listen to Highlife in the comfort of their home.

Unlike other countries in West Africa, Ghana and Nigerian had a fledgling recording industry. While it may not have been as sophisticated as those in Britain, Europe or America, it allowed local Highlife bands to record their music. This was a game-changer.

Previously, if a Highlife band wanted to have their music heard throughout Ghana or Nigeria, they had embark on an arduous tour. Not any more. Instead, they could enter the recording studio and record some of their music. This was then released on various record labels.

Some budding entrepreneurs setup record labels. This included many owners of recording studios. They quickly realised the benefits of vertical integration, and added a record label to their business portfolio. However, many British, European or American labels setup African subsidiaries. These subsidiaries would release the latest Highlife releases.

This allowed those that attended dances, to listen to the music at home. Even better, it allowed music lovers in far flung parts of Ghana and Nigeria to hear the same music as those who lived in towns and cities. Ghana and Nigeria’s nascent recording industry seemed to make music much more democratic. It also began to transform the lives of musicians.

Suddenly, musicians had another income stream. Previously, touring was the only way to make money. While they made some money out of touring, it was hard work and they were away from home for long periods of time. There were also limits to the amount of people they could play to. Releasing records changed this. Now, anyone who could afford the price of their records, could hear their music. Ghana and Nigeria’s music industry were transformed. However, another turning point came in 1957 and 1960.

1957 was the year that Ghana gained independence. All of a sudden, there was a sense of hope, hope for the future in Ghana. Now that Ghana was an independent country, it was as if the country had been revitalised. Suddenly, Ghana was in the throes of a social and cultural revolution. This newly independent country looked like it had a great future ahead of it. Part of this, was music, and specifically Highlife. Three years later, and Nigeria was also freed from the shackles of colonialism.

Just like Ghana before it, Nigeria became an independent country in 1960. Now free to make its own decisions regarding its future, the same sense of hope for future swept Nigeria. Anything seemed possible in this newly independent country. The Highlife coming out Nigeria was proof of this. However, Highlife’s influence was spreading much further afield.

Across West Africa, Highlife grew in popularity. However, not every every West African country was releasing the same amount of music as Ghana or Nigeria. Especially, some of the war torn countries. That’s partly why Ghana and Nigeria became centres of excellence for Highlife. By the, London had joined the Highlife map.

Ever since the early fifties, a generation of West Africans had arrived in Britain seeking a new, and better life. For many West Africans, they saw Britain as the land of opportunity. The Windrush Generation arrived with hope and optimism, for a brighter future. With them, The Windrush Generation brought with them their music, Highlife. It became an important part of the evolution of British cultural history.

Some of The Windrush Generation included a generation of aspiring musicians. They arrived dreaming of finding fame and fortune through their musical ability. Other Ghanian and Nigerians who arrived in Britain, didn’t intend to stay. Instead, they arrived to study, before returning home, to help revolutionise their newly independent country. 

One of the visitors to Britain arrived in 1958. He was a young music student, called Fela Ransome-Kuti, who arrived to study music. Soon, Fela was introduced to London’s vibrant jazz and Caribbean music scenes by his friend and former piano teacher Wole Bucknor. Two years later, in 1960, Fela Kuti and His High Rakers recorded the first songs of a long and illustrious career, Fela’s Special and Aigana. Both of these tracks feature on Highlife On The Move-Selected Nigerian and Ghanian Recordings From London and Lagos-1954-1966, which I’ll tell you about.

Disc One.

There’s a total of twenty tracks on disc one of Highlife On The Move-Selected Nigerian and Ghanian Recordings From London and Lagos-1954-1966. This includes Ginger Folorunso Johnson and His Afro-Cuban Band, Nigerian Union Rhythm Group, Steve Rhodes and His London Hi-lifers, Soundz Africana, The Black Star Band, Buddy Pipps Highlifers and The Quavers. There’s also contributions from Afro Rhythm Kings, Bobby Benson and His Orchestra  and Adams’ African Sky Rockets. Some groups feature twice. That’s fitting, given their contribution to the development of Highlife. However, choosing the highlights of disc one isn’t easy. It’s no exaggeration to say that Highlife On The Move-Selected Nigerian and Ghanian Recordings From London and Lagos-1954-1966 is full of quality music. It’s a case of all killer, and no filler. That’s not surprising when you study the track-listing. It  essentially features a whose who of Highlife. That’s also the case with disc two.

Disc Two.

Looking at the eighteen tracks on disc two of Highlife On The Move-Selected Nigerian and Ghanian Recordings From London and Lagos-1954-1966, it also oozes quality. No wonder. The great and good of Highlife showcase their considerable skills. This includes some of the artists on disc one. Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Highlife Rakers, Nigerian Union Rhythm Group, Ginger Folorunso Johnson and His Afro-Cuban Band, Buddy Pipp’s Highlifers, Nigerian Union Rhythm Group and The Black Star Band all make a welcome return. New names include Bobby Benson and His Combo, Rans Boi’s African Highlife Band, West African Swing Stars, T. Odueso’s Akesan Highlifers, Willie Payne & The Starlite Tempo and Victor Ola-Iya & His ‘Cool Cats. They’re just some of the names that make  disc two of Highlife On The Move-Selected Nigerian and Ghanian Recordings From London and Lagos-1954-1966 such a tantalising prospect. Just like on disc one, choosing a few of the highlights is almost impossible. So, what I’ve decided to do, is tell you about some of the artists on  the two discs of Highlife On The Move-Selected Nigerian and Ghanian Recordings From London and Lagos-1954-1966 and their music.

Undoubtably, there’s few bigger names in African music than Fela Ransome-Kuti. Even those with just a passing interest in Highlife know his name and reputation. Fela features three times on Highlife On The Move-Selected Nigerian and Ghanian Recordings From London and Lagos-1954-1966. This includes his two earliest recordings, Fela’s Special and the joyous Aigana (Let Us Go Home). They were recorded in 1960 but have passed many people by since then. They were released on Melodisc in either January or February 1960. Back then, Fela was just an aspiring musician. He had never been in a recording studio before. However, it doesn’t show. It’s an assured and polished performance from Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Highlife Rakers, who had a great future ahead of him. Little did he realise it. Nowadays, he’s one of the giants of West African music. His other contribution is Nigerian Independence, a collaboration between Fela Ransome-Kuti and Koola Lobitos. Nigerian Independence was released as a single on Fela’s RK label in 1960. Its celebratory sound is full of hope for Fela’s newly independent home country.

With Highlife having made the journey from West Africa to London, it’s not surprising that many multicultural bands were formed. This included Kwamalah Quaye Sextetto Africana. Augustus Kwamalah Quaye was a London born singer and musician. His parents were from the Gold Coast. He had been making a living as a musician for some time. Then when Highlife grew in popularity, Augustus rediscovered his African roots and formed a Highlife band. It included Cardiff born guitarist Laurie Denitz. His father was from Cape Verde. Frank Holder, who had arrived in Britain to join the R.A.F., played bongos. Along with Chris Ajilo on claves, they recorded two tracks for London based label Melodic around 1954. This included Sons Of Africa, the first London Highlife track. Its understated, percussive sound was a trendsetting track, that piqued Melodisc’s interest in this new musical genre, Highlife. 

The West African Rhythm Brothers were founded in the forties by Brewster Hughes and Ambrose Campbell. Soon, they had established a reputation as the top African band in Britain. Their theme tune was Egbe Mi, which was recorded for Melodisc, but never released. Belatedly, Egbe Mi makes a welcome debut Highlife On The Move-Selected Nigerian and Ghanian Recordings From London and Lagos-1954-1966.  Iwa D’Arekere is the other contributions The West African Rhythm Brothers. It was the B-Side of Ero Ya Kewawo, which was written by Ambrose Campbell. Just like Egbe Mi, Iwa D’Arekere shows just why The West African Rhythm Brothers were Britain’s best African band of that time.

Originally, Willie Payne was an actor. That’s how he first found fame. Then Willie became a Highlife bandleader in Lagos. This became Willie’s second career. Then he moved to London. Willie found life in London tough. So, he recorded a song that told the folks back home how tough life was. This was Wa Sise, which Willie Payne and The Starlite Tempo recorded in 1957, for Melodisc. His fiery proto-rap is accompanied by some of London’s top Highlife musicians, including Brewster Hughes. Together, they’re a potent combination, and a reminder of Nigeria’s pre-independence days.

Without doubt, one of the highlights of Highlife On The Move-Selected Nigerian and Ghanian Recordings From London and Lagos-1954-1966 is Oju Rere (Merciful Eye), one of two tracks from Steve Rhodes and His London Hi-lifers. It was written by none other than Chris Ajilo, and recorded by Steve Rhodes and His London Hi-lifers around 1958. They were a band Steve put together in London, during his second spell at Melodisc. Oju Rere is sometimes described as Gospel Highlife. Steve Rhodes and His London Hi-lifers’ other contribution is the jazzy Drink A Tea. It’s a sultry sounding track, that shows another side to Steve Rhodes and His London Hi-lifers, and indeed Highlife.

Apart from penning Oju Rere, Chris Ajilo was also enjoying a successful recording career. Chris Ajilo and His Cubanos recorded Afro Mood in the early sixties. It’s one of the most complex and polished tracks on Highlife On The Move-Selected Nigerian and Ghanian Recordings From London and Lagos-1954-1966.

When John Santos Martins recorded Maggie and Fancy Baby, he was fortunate enough to be accompanied By Zeal Onyia and His Band. It featured much travelled drummer Bobby Martins. He was a vastly experienced drummer, who had played across West Africa, from the Gold Coast to Ghana and Nigeria. Then when Bobby moved to London, he won the BBC taken competition What Makes A Star. That’s not surprising, given Bobby’s vast experience and the fact that he was training at London’s Central School Of Dance music. Here, John Santos Martins Accompanied By Zeal Onyia and His Band, which featured Bobby Martins, are responsible for two highly accomplished West African Highlife calypsos. 

The Quavers were a group of musicians from the Gold Coast, whose leader was  Joe Meneza. He lead the group as they recorded a track by the little known composer and musician Mathola, Money Money. Mathola plays bongos and piano, and takes charge of the lead vocal, delivering an impassioned, pensive vocal. The result is a powerful track, where Mathola ruminates about “all this money.”

It’s no exaggeration to describe The Ghana Black Star Band, as an all-star band. They featured several talented songwriters ande musicians. Among their number were Oscar More, Eddie Quansah and and Eddie Davis. Often, members came and went. So, their numbers were augmented musicians from Nigeria and Sierra Leone. This resulted in The Ghana Black Star Band becoming one of the top Highlife bands in England between 1962 and 1966. Abrokyri Awo Yi and Ekuona Rhythm feature The Ghana Black Star Band at the peak of their powers. Both tracks are real rarities, and as such, a very welcome addition to Highlife On The Move-Selected Nigerian and Ghanian Recordings From London and Lagos-1954-1966.

The final track I’ve chosen from Highlife On The Move-Selected Nigerian and Ghanian Recordings From London and Lagos-1954-1966 is The African Messenger’ Highlife Piccadilly. It’s a glorious fusion of jazz and Highlife, that shows just what’s possible when talented and innovative musicians, push musical boundaries to their limits.

Highlife On The Move-Selected Nigerian and Ghanian Recordings From London and Lagos-1954-1966, which will be released by Soundway Records, on 30th March 2015, is without doubt, the perfect introduction to Highlife. It’ll be available as double CD or a triple LP, which features thirty-eight tracks. That’s not all. The compilation also features lengthy and detailed sleeve-notes from Highlife historian Dr. Markus Coester. He tells the story of Highlife’s development during this period. Dr. Markus Coester sleeve-notes are the perfect accompaniment to the music on Highlife On The Move-Selected Nigerian and Ghanian Recordings From London and Lagos-1954-1966, which charts the evolution of Highlife.

Between 1954 and 1966, Highlife, like all good music, evolved. Elements of Afro-Cuban, calypso, Caribbean, jazz, mambo and soul found its way into Highlife. Constantly, Highlife was evolving. That was the case in Ghana, Nigeria and London, the three Highlife capitals featured on Highlife On The Move-Selected Nigerian and Ghanian Recordings From London and Lagos-1954-1966,. By 1966, Highlife was a very different musical genre than it was in 1954. This evolution was crucial. 

If a musical genre fails to evolve, it risks becoming irrelevant. That never happened to Highlife. It remained relevant between 1954 and 1966, the period that Highlife On The Move-Selected Nigerian and Ghanian Recordings From London and Lagos-1954-1966 covers.

Nearly fifty years later, and Highlife is still relevant and influencing yet another new generation of musicians, like it influenced previous generations of musicians. However, Highlife also documented one of the most important period in Ghanian and Nigerian history.

Highlife documented the pre and post independence period in Ghana and Nigeria. Musicians provided a voice for the people of Ghana and Nigeria, voicing their fears and hopes, hopes for the future of countries newly reborn. This can be heard on Highlife On The Move-Selected Nigerian and Ghanian Recordings From London and Lagos-1954-1966, which covers the  pre and post independence periods in Ghana and Nigeria. However, there’s much more to the music on Highlife On The Move-Selected Nigerian and Ghanian Recordings From London and Lagos-1954-1966.

The music on Highlife On The Move-Selected Nigerian and Ghanian Recordings From London and Lagos-1954-1966 is also celebratory joyous, pensive and uplifting. It features songs about hardship, hope, love and religion. There’s songs from the Windrush Generation, telling of their new life. Meanwhile, Steve Rhodes and His London Hi-lifers take Highlife in the direction of gospel, which shows yet another side to Highlife. That’s why Highlife On The Move-Selected Nigerian and Ghanian Recordings From London and Lagos-1954-1966 is best described as a lovingly compiled, and eclectic compilation, that charts the development of Highlife between 1954 and 1966, and is the perfect introduction to Highlife.

HIGHLIFE ON THE MOVE-SELECTED NIGERIAN AND GHANIAN RECORDINGS FROM LONDON AND LAGOS-1954-1966.

91IUpHa5svL._AA1500_

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: