Ghana is one of the most beautiful, unique and memorable destinations in Africa. For students who visit on their electives the place often goes on to hold a special place in their hearts forever. It is hard to summarise just what it is about Ghana that leaves such an impression, but certainly one of the coolest aspects of the country is its vibrant and active music scene.
Music has been central to the culture and social life of Ghanaian people throughout their history; both their traditional and modern 20th Century music has proven influential far beyond the borders of Ghana.
In the world of modern music, this stunning country is particularly known for originating the genre of Highlife, which was born in Ghana during the Second World War. Highlife takes influence from the pioneering jazz and swing musicians of ‘30s and ‘40s America, who essentially created the blueprint for modern pop and rock music in the West. Highlife is what became of those influences when it was mixed with traditional Ghanaian music instead, and it has become perhaps the most significant cultural export that this small West African country has ever produced.
If you want to discover some of the key artists and bands within the Highlife genre, a great starting point is E.T. Mensah – known as the King of Highlife and easily the most famous of the Highlife musicians. Have a listen to Weeya Weeya and Abele to get a feel for his sound.
More essential listening includes Ama Bonsu by Jerry Hansen and the Ramblers and Sunshine Day by Osibisa, which you might well recognise.
If you want to find out what a current take on Highlife sounds like, Daddy Lumba is perhaps the most famous Highlife influenced musician currently making music. Have a listen to Eye Nadom to hear how he has evolved the traditional Highlife sound into a more modern but clearly closely related style.
One of the biggest highlights in the cultural calendar for West Africa is Mali’s Festival au Désert (Festival in the Desert) which takes place each year, usually in January/ February. Many people travel to Mali from Ghana for this event and students taking part in one of our elective programmes in Ghana may well be lucky enough to attend the festival during their stay. As well as international performers, attendees get the chance to see the best of local modern and traditional musical forms, and it is a spectacular experience; not to be missed if you get the chance to go.
If you are heading out to Ghana this year, or you are considering Ghana as a possible destination for your elective, hopefully this post has got you excited for some of the musical delights the country has in store for you. Wherever you are heading for your programme, researching the music and other cultural history of your location is a great way to whet your appetite for the trip and get inspired to head out and see what is going on in the creative scenes surrounding the place that will be your home during your elective.