MIX: Nigeria and Ghana Highlife Music of the 60s and 70s

MIX: Nigeria and Ghana Highlife Music of the 60s and 70s

 Here’s one of those times where I tell you a lengthy, overly complicated story that could be much simpler. This one is about how this mix came to be featured today. So, as I mentioned before, I “met” minimumrockandroll (who wrote the incredible reviews of Pulp’s This Is Hardcore and The Gun Club’s Fire Of Love) via reddit. We got to talking about musical tastes and what we’d each been listening to as of late. He mentioned a genre I had never heard before: Nigerian highlife. He told me to check out a compilation by Portland, Oregon’s Mississippi Records and the mix you can hear below. I loved it and so rather than just post a link to someone else’s hard work I thought I’d reach out to the creator and ask if they’d say a few words about it. Kevin Obasuyi aka DJ Headquake turned out to be a super friendly guy and was knowledgeable about a wide variety of music, highlife just being one of those styles. He’s a DJ based out of Nigeria and as far as I can tell just does these sort of online mixes for fun. Anyhow, this mix is fantastic and will likely be the soundtrack to my summer (and many summer’s to come). I want to say thanks again to Kevin for taking the time to bring us up to speed on a genre that seems critically underrated. Here he is on his mix, “Nigeria and Ghana Highlife Music of the 60s and 70s”: 

The first music genre I ever knew in my life was Highlife Music. Each time I reminisce about my childhood, the soundtrack is always Highlife Music.

Highlife music originated from Ghana in west Africa at the turn of the 20th century, and later spread to most English speaking countries in the region like Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Gambia via Ghanaian workers who migrated to these countries in the 1930s. The actual origin of Highlife music is not known to me, but it seems to have a blend of the traditional “Akan” (a nation and indigenous ethic group residing on the Gulf of Guinea in the southern regions of the Ghana  and Ivory Coast in West Africa) music using western instrument and a lot of Afro-Cuban “guajeo” influence. In the 60s and 70s, Highlife music was the most popular genre in these countries, associated with all parties and events, be it high or low profiled.

The lyrics of Highlife music usually tell the story of everyday life’s struggle of the people in these countries, be it Political, Economic, Romance or to Eulogize popular personalities in the communities or just to tell folklores. With the influx of western musical genre like Disco, Funk, R&B, Hip-hop etc, in the 80s, Highlife lost its popularity with the younger generation, though night clubs which were highly westernized in these countries would not play Highlife music because it was seen as “local” and “uncivilized”, Highlife still remained the main genre of music in traditional events like Marriage ceremonies, Burials and High profile Birthday Parties.

In Nigeria, Highlife Music has influenced every genre being performed today by indigenous artists, be it Reggae, Rock, Hip-hop, you can find its influence in the sound. To me, what most artists from these countries call “Afro-pop” today is actually a fusion of Highlife music with any other genre of western music.

1. Cardinal Rex Lawson – So Ala Tamen
2. Cardinal Rex Lawson – Jolly Papa
3. Peacock’s Guitar Band – Eddie Quansa
4. Prince Nico Mbarga – Sweet Mother
5. Sir Victor Uwaifo – Joromi
6. Cardinal Rex Lawson – Yellow Sisi
7. Eddie Okwedi & His Maymores Dance Band – Happy Survival
8. Cardinal Rex Lawson – Ibi na bo

You can check out other videos, mixes and music from DJ Headquake over on his Vimeo and YouTube channels.