October 24, 2014
‘Akokoa Aye Bi Agu ’
from I’ve Found My Love: 1960s Guitar Band Highlife
(Original Music, 1993)
Before Soundway and Analog Africa were repressing African classics, the label Original Music had put together a number African music compilation. I’ve Found My Love: 1960s Guitar Band Highlife exhibits guitar band highlife tunes with the sovereign of ‘Guitar-band’ music King Onyina appearing on a number of tracks. ‘Akokoa Aye Bi Agu’ is an extremely beautiful track and much more chilled than some of the up-tempo, dancey music that appeared later in Ghana’s highlife scene. Just under 3 minutes, it finishes way too early and we are left wanting more sweet Onyina vocals.
‘Nzema Kotoko’ from The Power House
We’d rate this album purely for the artwork! Presumably the building is exploding because F Kenya is such a ‘power house’ in the Highlife scene. His songs are unique in that they are sung in Nzema (Kenya’s own language) rather than the dominant Asante Twi (generally the language of highlife). Choice track ‘Nzema Kotoko’ starts really quietly with some simple conga hits, then, after a bit of talking in Nzema, it explodes into a beating of the organ and drums. The rest of the track follows in a similar explosive fashion.
Victor Uwaifo is one of a handful of musicians who popularised highlife music in his native Nigeria. Hailing from Benin City this song tells the folklore story of ‘Joromi’, the warrior who fought in the underworld and never returned. Uwaifo remade this song with added synths and changed the backing vocal from male to female voices. Up until I‘d found the original 45 version I had no idea! Both versions do however retain the same charm that rightly places Victor Uwaifo as one of the premiere artists of highlife and this one of his most famous and revered tracks.
K. Frimpong And His Cubano Fiestas
‘Kyenkyen Bi Adi M’awu’ from K. Frimpong And His Cubano Fiestas
(Ofo Bros, 1976)
You can really hear the funk, rock and afrobeat influences on this track. It’s a far cry from the sweet melodies of I’ve Found My Love: 1960s Guitar Band Highlife. K Frimpong was supported by his Cubano Fiestas on this track but he also played with the band and a few other musicians under the moniker Vis-à-Vis. Everything on this song is stunning; the intro invites the listener in with a blend of twangy guitar riffs and snare hits, afrobeat-style horns then build the track further before Frimpong’s abrasive voice enters some two minutes later. It’s a definite dance-floor filler.
‘I Don’t Care’ from Highlife Safari
Eric Agyeman rose to prominence as the lead guitarist for Sweet Talks after the departure of original lead Smart Nkansah. ‘I Don’t Care’ is from his solo album Highlife Safari released in 1978. The album is jam-packed with highlife gold and is absolutely essential listening; it was deservedly re-released by Sterns Music in 1992. The concerned track builds with upbeat drums and a deep bassline before Latin-style horns complete the composition. The percussion on this track is infectious and exhibits a principal highlife music that is the combination of both a western drum-kit and hand percussion.