Highlife - The music

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Created by Destin A. Dopwell (2015)
Language: English

HighlifeHighlife is a musical form that originated in Ghana around the late 1800s and early 1900s. It then spread to Sierra Leone, Nigeria and other West African countries in the 1920s. It has influenced all subsequent music borne of Africa. High life is a fusion of indigenous dance rhythms and melodies with Western sounds such as brass bands, hymns, European foxtrots sprinkled with some Caribbean “kaiso” and Liberian rhythms. However, before the great influence of the Western styles, rural guitarist played high life and the genre then grew from there.

The variety of different musical styles that helped evolved high life music encouraged a vast range of instruments to be used in this multifaceted genre. African drums, Trumpets, Saxophones, Guitars, Claves and many many other instruments along with a lead singer, a group of singers or both can be all found during a performance. The rise of Congolese music in the 1960s halted highlife’s golden era, however before this, it ruled all the dance floors across much of West Africa because of its catchy groove and up tempo beat.

One of the major influences on high life was during The World War II era. This introduced American swing to the highlife mix, which was already a blend of Trinidadian calypso, military brass-band music, Cuban son and older African song forms.

MensahIn 1948, a high life pioneer, Emmanuel Tettey Mensah more commonly known as E.T Mensah, formed the a highlife band called the Tempos. Mensah was a trumpeter and played many instrumentals with his band like the one you are hearing now, however their songs, with lyrics in many different languages including English and languages of West Africa, seduced admirers as far away as England. Hundreds of bands were subsequently formed in the Tempos footsteps continuing to revolutionize highlife.

Today, highlife may not be as popular as it once was, however a lot of it lives on as a result of its strong jazz, Latin and calypso connections. In this highlife piece, you can hear a walking bass as found in Jazz, congas as found in Latin, and call and response brass lines as found in Calypso.  

Sources:
African Pages at Alisdair.com
African High Life Music Hubpages.com
High Life Music by Banning Eyre on Afropop Worldwide at afropop.org
High Life Music in West Africa by Sonny Oti

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