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Ghana Music

The Hipnotic Sounds of
the Ghana Music Scene

On this page we’re going to look at the funky and vibrant Ghana music scene – history, tradition and of course, highlife.

Traditional Ghana Music

Traditional Ghanaian music is basically music practiced by indigenous Ghanaians- forming an integral part of the life of their every day lives.

As well as entertainment purposes, music functions as an accompaniment to all sorts of activities. Such performances are usually held in the open and in most cases there isn’t a clear-cut separation between audiences and artists.

Music as Part of Community Life

Traditional Ghanaian music is a social event and there are a lot of social activities that require its use. For example birth, puberty, marriage, and death are all celebrated with music.

There are other activities that also require the use of music and
these include:

Political: This kind of music is normally performed in the chief’s palace for his entertainment. Also, it is played during the various events on the state calendar.

Religious: Performed to the general public. However,
some are restricted to its members only when they are performing their rites.

Domestic: Normally done by the women when they are performing their household chores.

Economic: The talented singers do so for money.

Entertainment: Music being the main source of entertainment in the traditional setting.

Festivals: All the various types of music that are performed at festivals.

Classification of Traditional Ghana Music

Recreational Music:
Purely for entertainment or pleasure, this type of music has no ritual implications.It’s performed
at social gatherings, festivals and funerals. Exmaples of this are kpaalogo, gome, adowa, agbadza, bamba and the fantastically named borborbor.

Incidental Music:
These are performed simultaneously with an activity- starting and ending with the activity. Although the activity can be done without music, the music certainly helps to boost it’s pace/intensity or enjoyment. Examples are cradle songs children’s playing/game songs, wedding songs and communal labour.

Ceremonial Music
This type of music is only performed at special occasions and is normally associated with specific ceremonies and rites. The music inevitably ends the event. Examples are music for puberty rites, circumcision rites and songs for festivals such as homowo – this harvest festival which literally means ‘hooting at hunger’ is
celebrated by the Ga people from the Greater Accra Region of Ghana.

Highlife

Big in West Africa – particularly among the English speaking countries Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, the history of highlife dates back to the era of the First World War. In Ghana, it was firmly rooted in the 1920’s.

The music takes its root from the advent of brass instruments which Ghanaian musicians learnt from the old Europeans armies who played at dancing clubs for the high class in the society then.

The term was therefore coined by the indigenous people who gathered outside the dancing clubs to watch the expatriate couples enjoy ‘highlife’.

They called it highlife because they were not up to that class by their standard in the sense that they could not afford the expensive entrance fees of around seven shillings and six pence and also they did not have the dress code of full evening-dress and top hats for the men. That kind of lifestyle was higher compared to theirs.

However, according to E.T. Mensah, who was one of the pioneers of the genre, the term was used to describe their type of music which was music of free expression founded on the native tunes picked from the streets.

Nevertheless the music is divided into two; guitar and dance bands. The guitar band makes general use of acoustic guitar with traditional instruments like ‘gome, gnogno, etc.’ the dance band uses horns as the front liner and it has calypso and western flavor sometimes.

When it comes to Ghana music, highlife is champion!

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