Ghanian Highlife

So after reading about how the Westerners thought that the Ghanian music culture was primitive and tribal, I decided to focus on the complexities of Ghanian music in order to further prove that they are wrong. I focused on the specific ensembles of Ghanian Highlife. I also found some humor in this too that I will reveal later. I also found some social disparities between men and women in this that was interesting¬† But basically, Ghanaian highlife music is traditional Akan music played with Western instruments but also local instruments like the “Pati” or the local drum (Geest).

So the first thing that I noticed is that Ghanian Highlife music is broken down into three major components. The first ensemble consists of the brass bands made in the provincial cities in Ghana. The type of Highlife that was performed in Ghana was called “Adaha”. And what’s very interesting and amusing about this is that there is a a type of Highlife called “KonKomba” which is actually considered a poor man’s HighLife music. So I guess if you’re Highlife rendition wasn’t up to par it would be considered a poor man’s rendition which I thought was kind of funny and brutal. Highlife is ultimately “a blend of¬† traditional Akan melodies with European musical elements (Geest).

The second ensemble was the coolest thing I read about so far because of how it shows the socio-political factions within Ghana. So this second ensemble was performed in cinema’s with silent movies as the introduction. It was ten shilling for admission and was usually only attended by educated and higher class Ghanaians. These performances incorporated woodwinds, the Swanee whistle and played waltzes, rumbas, foxtrots, and quicksteps (Collins).

The third were guitar bands that were not as interesting to me as the second ensembles but they focused on a cool interment called the Apremprensema which was a “giant bass hand piano” (Geest. I tried to look it up and find out what it exactly looks like but i couldn’t find any.

So looking at all this really shows that Ghanain music is very complex and has a lot of components to it. It is also really intelligent and refreshing of them to use European instruments in order to create new music. The charismatic wonder of this reminds me of when we listened to Fela in class. But I also think that this reveals something darker. In Fela’s performances, it showed women in a very submissive light. Watching Fela’s performances. Women were usually backup singers and the women dancer’s were on their knees for most of the time. This showed the chauvinistic side of Africa and Ghanaian Highlife shows that too. Singing, playing, and composing highlife was usually a male affair (Collins). Women were given the short end of the stick. Female performers were very rare and male singers usually played the role of men and women. Here’s an excerpt from a song called “Asiko” by Eddie Dankor:

Uncle Kwasi, I shall tell you a story. There were two eo-wives. The youngest of them was the senior wife. A quarrel broke out between them. The younger one said to the older one: ‘I win the husband through the delicious soup I make.’ (twice) You know, when women quarrel they want to insult each other. So the younger wife said that she pleased the husband most because of her soup. The older wife replied: ‘Eei, you win him with soup? Then I shall win him with love-making, haha.’ 9 Good soup or love-making … over to you (Collins).

The lyrics show how they over sexualize and mock women in highlife music which shows the enforcing of male supremacy in Africa including Ghana which we also talked about in class in regards to music in Nigeria. It’s crazy how music can reveal about social status and gender hierarchy.


Collins, E.J. “Ghanian Highlife” UCLA . African Arts. 1976

Darko – Asante, Nimrod and Geest, Sjaak Van Der “Male Chauvinism: Men and Women in Ghanian Highlife Songs


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