Like every country in Africa, Ghana has a rich musical heritage that stretches way back in time, long before any white man set foot on Ghanaian soil. Music is an intrinsic part of life from the day you are born to the day you die. Literally hundreds of indigenous drumming styles and rhythms exist in Ghana, marking tribal and linguistic boundaries and identities.
The implementation of western military and religious practice that arrived with the British in the early twentieth century brought with it the new musical styles of hymn singing and experimented in their own time with music that was closer to the heart of the average African; fusing and uniting traditional African rhythms and styles of singing with the big sound of the military march and the church choir. Suddenly, West African musicians had a whole new array of instruments with which to express themselves, most notably the instruments already present.
But of course, not every musician had access to expensive brass instruments. In rural areas away from the colonial presence the guitar was a cheaper and more practical instrument with which to entertain, keeping al less westernized and portable feel to the music. The Liberian sailors who frequented coastal bars in Ghana brought sea shanties with them, and it was these songs, that when mixed with local styles, produced a style known as Palm Wine music, so called because of the association the music had with drinking spots serving this African brew. By the twenties and thirties these different styles of music had become known collectively as Highlife, a style originating solely in the area of Modern Ghana.
The purpose of this compilation is not, however, to explore the complexities of Highlife music, which, as you see, was itself a fusion of many different influences. Instead we must fast-forward in time to the late sixties, where this particular story begins. By this time Highlife was the staple musical diet of most urban-based Ghanaians, whether it was the brass big-band style with it's roots in the coastal ballrooms of the twenties and thirties, or the more down-to-earth, less big names of Ghanaian Highlife were ruling supreme - E.T. Mensah and The Tempos, The Stargazers, The Broadway Dance Band, The Republicans, E.K's, and The Ramblers to name a few. All these bands could be seen throughout Ghana and in neighbouring countries - especially Nigeria which also had it's own thriving Highlife scene with the likes of Victor Olaiya, Bobby Benson, Celestine Ukwu, Roy Chicago and the infamous Rex Lawson. These were swinging times. In contrast, the West was letting it all hang out - psychedelia, soul, and rock and roll were blaring from the sound systems of America and Europe, and urban Africa soon wanted a piece of the action.
Jazz had long been popular amongst certain sections of Ghanaian society. George Amissah remembers his bands, The Uhuru and Broadway Dance bands, playing jazz all the time amongst the highlifes and rhymbas that crowds requested. One extremely influencial figure of the time was the originator of Afro-jazz, Kofi Ghanaba, aka Guy Warren of Ghana, Ghanaba had been a percussionist in the legendary Tempos band led by E.T. Mensah and had brought a whole new dimension to the group with his poly-rhythmic knowledge. After this he headed for America, and throughout the fifties played with many of the true jazz legends of the time, Dizzy Gillespie and Lester Young among them.