Hip Hop "Highlife": A quick look at the Ghana music scene
Ghana has come a long way in modernization since gaining its independence from Britain as "British Gold Coast". Music has grown from its traditional African tribal folk tunes to an emerging international scene. Before we continue forward let’s take a quick look at the past. Once Ghana became, well you know, Ghana there was a mix of contrasting influences that hit the country once it was independent. Modern African music was born in a very board and general sense. Without losing sight of tribal music and its instruments artist started to incorporate their traditional music with the European style ballroom and big band music that their imperialist captives listened so often.
This mix of uniquely African sounds and complex African rhythms came to create a music style called Highlife. Highlifereceived its name mainly because of the new-found wealth that Ghana had because of its independence. It was known as a "street music" because the music where ever the music was played the crowd would follow from street to street. The American equivalent would be like New Orleans Mardi Gras music and with that image you can get a better understanding of the African influence on a lot of American traditions.
Now flash forward to modern times and Ghana is still on the forefront being on of Africa’s most modern and wealthy countries. There musical tradition still grows and much like its past they continue to incorporate current popular music styles to there already existing music and culture. This is where Hip Hop Highlife comes from. A term that is my own I obviously combined the name of there "older" modern musical style that emerged at there independence with the current African International music genre of hip hop. In Ghana this is there way of life. From the dancehalls to the streets and even their church there is a perfect mix of musical ideas happening.
One of the dominate music traits of Hip Hop Highlife is the mix of African rhythms but the us of American hip hop production. Also, they rap with the beat instead of over the beat which is more American than it is dancehall. Combine the lifestyle part which is the cloths, the girls and the cars you would almost think, without hearing the music, you where watching the newest west coast rap star. Artist like Criss Waddle, SK Orginaleand Ruff N Smooth are top contenders here.
There is still another aspect too. With the modernization of music women have become more present in their musical landscape and offer even more musical diversity. Usually, and I say that with a grain of salt, tend to mix their own Highlife music with more R&B style traits as well as being more focused on vocal virtuosity. Kafui Chordz is a young performer who uses her strong voice to create music. The western influence, especially from R&B, comes in the bass that plays very common Gospel style changes. This is a large change from the common African bass rhythms that you usually hear. It gives her music a modern tinge to it without losing her Ghanaian roots. The last artist I will talk about is Layla Fenton. You can tell that her music is straight from the dancehall, the beats, the words and the rhythms but where she takes her western influences is from her sing style. In this it is almost or is Afro-fusion and starts to elevate itself from local Ghana music to an international sensation.
I’m not trying to say that a country needs to shed its traditional folk music styles to become a major player in international music. What I am saying is that Ghana now more than every is currently making a musical move up the ladder as a play where music is blending old and new and without compromising. Now remember this music is still very much African and what we see is that Ghana is very becoming a globalized country we see who this influence their music and vice versa. All these artists and the ones I unfortunately didn’t list are all creating a beautiful sound that is unequal Ghanaian and becoming even more popular here in the west.
Jeffrey C. Yelverton, Jr.
Jeffrey is a life long lover of music starting young with everybody’s favorite Jazz album "Kind of Blue" by Miles Davis. Ever since then Jeff has been consuming and learning about all the music he can and engaging with it as well. With a Bachelor’s degree in French horn performance, a writing degree from Berklee School of Music and currently working on a Masters in Music History all he wants to do his share his next favorite album with you.