The origins of Ghanaian hip life goes back to the 1980s, when performers such as K.K. Kabobo and Gyedu Blay Ambolley as early as 1973 with Ambolley’s release of his first record, The SIMIGWADO …a “semi-rap in [fante language] style hi-life” to a small audience which showed him performing highlife variations with fast spoken, poetic lyrics. Ambolley would go on to be held the “father of rap” not only in Ghana but in the world. With time, Ghanaians became influenced by American hip hop, reggae, dance hall. There was an emerging underground hip hop culture  in the capital Accra

Hiplife’s history dates back to the early 1990s Jeff Tennyson Quaye better known around the world as Jay Q is one of the pioneers of Hiplife (in the mid 90s) and back bone of Ghana music as a whole and his own variation and introduction of Jama/kpanlogo to hiplife, makes writers refer to him as KING OF JAMA. Reggie Rockstone also began to craft this art form with producers Mike Cooke, Rab Bakari, Zapp Mallet and Coal house. Chief G and the Tribe was one of the first rap groups in Ghana consisting of Chief G (now known as Jay Ghatey), Abeeku and Kwaku T. After they broke up before Reggie’s foray into what is now termed hiplife, Talking Drums, consisting of Kwaku-T and Bayku, experimented with choruses and hooks in local languages. In Twi, Reggie would flow over hip-hop beats a style that had been used previously in Mahoney P’s debut album Kofi Babone. That same era Native Funk Lords group (NFL) came out with the pidgin rap; the originators of the genre, from the Kay’s Frequency camp: Tinniequaye, Cil, Jake & Eddy Blay; this group also took inspirations from bands like the osibisa and Ghanaba of Ghana. Rapper and producer Cavell was also part of the original NFL collective and is now known to many as The Mantis. Reggie rockstone has been described as the “Godfather of Hiplife” since he spawned a new music genre in the country, After his debut album Makaa Maka, with the hit single Choo boi, several hip life acts followed. Oddly enough, in several radio interviews in 2004, Reggie Rockstone stated that he does not perform hiplife this could be mainly attributed to the fact that he now prefers to rap in English. A new era was born late 1998 when a young producer hammer of last two emerged with original beats plus precision rap artistes. Hammer, born Edward Nana Poku Osei managed to fuse hip hop grooves with local tempo and sweet melody which caught up with both the elite and masses instantly. Known for his heavy drums and lead trumpets, Hammer’s originality elevated hiplife to greater heights and inspired and influenced a whole generation of producers like Richie, Kill Beats, Jayso,EL, etc. Hammer of last two groomed artiste line up also eventually became some of the biggest artiste in hiplife today.e.g. Kwaw Kesse, Ayibge Edem,odeshi, Obrafour, Tinny, sarkodie, Koo Wiase Other Ghanaian rappers like Lord Kenya, Obour, V.I.P, The Native Funk Lords (Rapping mainly in pidgin English), Castro Destroyer and MzBel continued the trend of hiplife music which is now one of the most popular forms of music in West Africa.

The most popular Hiplife musicians include Tic Tac, Sakodie, vision in progress, Asem, Obrafour, Ayigbe Edem,odeshi, D-Black, Koo Wiase and samini who won a Mobo awards for his contribution to hiplife in 2006. Since the rise of these popular musicians, hiplife has grown in popularity abroad.It must be said though artists like Ayibge Edem, Kwaw Kesse, D-plan, Richie, ASEM, Koo Wiase, Sarkodie, Yaa pono, Keps, Lil Pope, Dirgen, Bra Kevin Beats, Greenfield,Iscream.

In 2009 Ghanaian filmmaker, Mantse Aryeequaye, released a documentary focusing on the political history of the hip life movement in Ghana as well as hip-hop music amidst various political climates in the nation. In his film, Rhythm Rising, Aryeequaye also examines many famed Ghanaian artists such as Kwakese, Kwaku Tutu and Obrafour through their experiences within hip life or hip-hop movement. The film works to explore and expose the culture of the hip life movement against the backdrop of Ghana’s political environment.

Hip life in Ghana is sticking to a new trend of rhythm and this is mainly being influenced by great music engineers like Kill Beatz, Dj Dijoe Pie-Sie, Jay So looney, Richie Kaywa and Hammer of last. There is this confusion with classifying hip pop made in Ghana and Hip life but in all they bare the same qualities and share common rhythms.

Hiplife can cover a broad range of musical styles fused together. Artists such as Samini combine reggae/dancehall/ragga scat and patois-tinged sounds of Jamaica with Akan-language lyrics over reggae rhythms fused with Ghanaian melodies. His music is branded by the general populace as hiplife. Then there are artists such as K.K. Fosu, Ofori Amponsah and Richie who do not rap or ‘DJ’ per se; but sing with a heavy R&B influence. Verses; bridges and choruses may be in Twi, but the structure and the rhythm fusion is suspiciously based on American R&B.But he and other artiste like himself fall under contemporary highlife.

The majority of hiplife is recorded in a studio environment with heavy emphasis on computer-aided composition, arrangements and production. At this moment, hiplife artist are not known to use live instruments in their performances in front of audiences. Most performances are based on voicing over instrumentals and dubs on Compact Disc. This may be a leading reason why the latest incarnation of Ghanaian music has not reached the ears of World Music promoters or bridged the frontiers of countries across Africa such as Congolese music has done.

Famous hiplife artists include Reggie Rockstone, Kwaw Kese, , VIP, jaaklan, Okomfour Kwadee, Sarkodie,Ayigbe Edem, Okyeame Kwame, Bradez, Lord Kenya, Castro (D’Destroyer) Sydney, and J. Farrakhan. Producers include Jay So, Appietus, Ro-Q, Richie, Kaywa. MiD 9ite Rekordz, Hammer of last, Roro, Zapp Mallet, Nana Quame, Hitz Factory, Big Dave, Kwam1, Panji, Beatmenace, K-Rock, Kevin Beats, Lordy and Seven and Pie-Sie.

Also to be noticed is the emergence of Gh Rap which is mainly underground hip hop made in Ghana the artists in this genre mainly rap in English or pidgin English. Most notable of the Ghanaian rappers and producers are: Tinniequaye, keps (6side records), F.F.E (D-Plan, Dirgen, K-gee) The Skillions (Jayso, E.L.,Ball J, Jinx, Therapy, Midnight, J-Town), Ecxtreme, Nash, Nova. Evil Twin, Loonee, Pie-Sie, Kwam1, Nash Kevin beats,Greenfield (Ali & Jo Willy) Gemini, Kwaku-T, Kryptic, Illa Shaz,IsCream,Mic Wreckers (Lil Shaker, Joey, Killmatic), J town, Ko-Jo Cue, N-Dex, Keps, Peer Pressure crew, Ronny O, Scientific, Big Money Records (Big Money SL, Lil’ Pope) Tight Squeeze Family, Trigmatic, Wanlov, 24Seven (Lethal Lyrix and Kay-Ara), Lousika and more. Much of Ghanaian rappers emerged after moving from hiplife to specializing in just hip hop.


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1950’s Highlife, a musical genre that originated in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, fused African rhythms with western music. The sound, of which there were a few variations, generally combined multiple guitar rhythms with a brass band backing, as well as various percussion instruments.

Its roots can be traced back to the 1880s to the music of marching bands and sailors’ palm wine groups.

The term ‘highlife’, which was coined in the 1920s, is thought to be a reference to parties by the European upper-class.

Local bands played the musical accompaniment to the lavish events to which people aspired.

Two main forms of highlife had emerged by the middle of the 20th Century.

Dance orchestras played at the parties of the elite, while poor, rural musicians played a guitar-orientated version of the music.

The guitar-based style of music rose to prominence in the 1950s and became associated with a pre-independence sound as it came to incorporate elements of swing, jazz and Cuban rhythms with the emerging guitar styles of West Africa.

During World War II swing was introduced by UK and US servicemen based in Ghana, giving way to smaller highlife bands.

Describing this melting pot of sounds, Professor John Collins – a musicologist at the University of Ghana – wrote: “By combining…so-called high-class music with local street tunes, a totally different type of music was born – the highlife we know today.”

This music became the soundtrack to the birth of an independent nation in 1957.

During that time trumpeter E.T. Mensah became the most famous proponent of the sound – first with his band The Tempos and later as a solo artist.

In the early years of Ghanaian independence the popularity of highlife was maintained.

A number of guitar highlife outfits formed following the success of The Tempos, including Nana Ampadu and his band the African Brothers and A.B. Crentsil.

E.T. Mensah continued to perform, as did other highlife bands such as Ramblers International and the Professional Uhuru Dance Band.

The rise of Congolese music in the 1960s resulted in a decline in the popularity of the genre.

President Kwame Nkrumah, who led Ghana into independence, was overthrown by a military coup in 1966.

The upheaval saw many Ghanaian musicians that had flourished in the 60s emigrating.

Many moved to the US, UK, Nigeria and Germany, among other countries.

By the end of the decade pop music from the US and, to a lesser extent Europe, had come to dominate Ghana’s music scene.

By the start of the 1970s, highlife had been overtaken by pop music and electric guitar bands.

The music produced by African Americans began to exert a heightened influence over Ghanaian music.

In 1971 a musical festival called Soul to Soul was held in Accra featuring performances from a number of US artists, such as Wilson Pickett as well as Ike and Tina Turner.

Subsequently, US-inspired musicians such as the Ashanti Brothers and the City Boys rose to prominence.

Afro-pop band Osibisa, became the country’s biggest export.

The band, whose name means “criss-cross rhythms that translate with happiness”, was formed in London in 1969 by three Ghanaian musicians and the same number of Caribbean artists.

The Ghanaian band members were highlife artists in Accra before moving to London after Nkrumah’s regime was overthrown.

Osibisa originally produced instrumentals which were interlaced with African chanting amidst a backdrop of percussion instruments and a horn section.

The band’s rise to prominence created an interest in African music among European and American listeners, raising the profile of Ghanaian music worldwide in the process.

Speaking about Osibisa’s success, the band’s keyboard player Kiki Djan once told the BBC: “We travelled round the world, flew first class, slept in the best hotels and had the best girls. Man, life was good, too good.”

Political instability and an economic downturn prompted a surge in religious activity in Ghana.

Music resources and artists shifted from nightclubs to churches.

Gospel music became increasingly popular, with the Genesis Gospel Singers the most popular band of the decade.

The gospel cassette market flourished and developed into a sector which continues to play a significant role in the nation’s pop music scene to this day.

Reggae also grew steadily more popular during this decade, prompting some highlife acts to crossover.

Highlife did not disappear during this decade with many acts, such as Daddy Lumba, remaining popular.

Meanwhile, the heightened interest in ‘World’ music in the UK and the US saw the focus of Ghanaian music spread away from Africa.

Much of this was due to Ghanaian musicians emigrating in large numbers.

Hi-Life International was probably the most influential band produced by the country in the 80s.

Other notable acts included Jon K, Dade Krama, Orchestra Jazira and Ben Brako.

A musical change of direction in the middle of the decade arose as a consequence of changes to British immigration laws which meant Germany became the focus of Ghanaian emigration.

The Ghanaian-German community created a form of highlife called burgher highlife.

This sound, which used synthesizers and drum machine beats instead of the percussion instruments traditionally used in highlife, became extremely popular in Ghana.


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Ghana has many styles of traditional and  modern music, due to its cosmopolitan geographic position on the African continent.The best known modern genre that originated in Ghana is High life. For many years, High life was the preferred music genre until the introduction of Hip Life and many others.The traditional musicology of Ghana may be divided geographically between north Ghana, and the fertile, forested southern coastal Ghana, inhabited by Ghanaian  speaking languages such as akan

The north music is a mix melodic composition on stringed instrument  such as the kologo and the gonjey, wind instrument and voice, with poly-rhythms clapped or played on the talking drums, gourd drums or brekete. The tradition of gyil music  is also common. Music in the northern styles is mostly set to a minor pentatonic scale and melisma plays an important part in melodic and vocal styles, along with a long history of griot praise-singing traditions.

ImageThe music of the coast is associated with social functions, and relies on complex polyrethemic patterns played by drums and bells as well as harmonized song. An exception to this rule is the Akan tradition of singing with the Seperewa harp lutes, a now laxed genre which had its origins from traditions of the north.

These series of articles on Ghanaian music is aimed at providing comprehensive information on Ghanaian music and its development over the years.

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