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Ghana's Highlife Music Collection

About the Museum

The Gramophone Records Museum and Research Centre (GRMRC)
The Gramophone Records Museum and Research Centre (GRMRC) The Gramophone Records Museum and Research Centre (GRMRC) The Gramophone Records Museum and Research Centre (GRMRC)
The Gramophone Records Museum and Research Centre of Ghana (GRMRC)

The GRMRC was officially established in Cape Coast by Mr. Kwame Sarpong in 1994, inside the premises of the Regional Centre for National Culture.

Mr. Sarpong’s uncles and an elder brother, who hailed from Mampong in the Ashanti Region, but domiciled in Tamale in the 1940’s, were avid collectors of both the Ghanaian Highlife music and traditional music, and when the uncles passed away, their records collections were kept in the family. Mr. Sarpong himself began collecting in the early 1960’s. He had always wanted these collections to be available to others to hear, and in 1994 he started setting up the museum. The GRMRC houses a unique collection of several thousands of 78rpm shellac discs, 45rpm vinyl records and some reel to reel tapes, all of which were collected in Ghana (formerly known as Gold Coast until 1957). Ghanaian popular music makes up the majority of the museum’s holdings, with additional materials from other African countries, the Americas, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia.

The core of the Ghanaian Highlife music collection, numbering around 18,000 shellac discs as well as 2,500 vinyl discs, represents the works of over 700 Ghanaian recording artists, starting with the seminal "Yaa Amponsah" recorded in 1928 by Jacob Sam.

In 2002 the museum was turned into an NGO (Non-governmental organization) with these collections of sound recordings and a few musical instruments. It has a six-member advisory board including Prof. Carmelle Begin, curator at the Canadian Museum of Civilization (now Canadian Museum of History) in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada. The Gramophone Records Museum and Research Centre of Ghana is the only institution of its kind in tropical Africa. The oldest African items date as far back as the turn of the century, the early 1900’s. There are also various models of gramophones as well as other locally made ones. The museum has embarked on an intensive collection of all the different musical instruments from the entire ethnic groups in Ghana.

In 1997, during the celebrations of Ghana’s 40th independence anniversary, the museum published a compact disc and an audio-cassette from these collections. These releases were the speeches of Ghana’s first president, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, and some vintage Ghanaian highlife music of the 1960’s.

Among the earliest recordings in Ghana on the 78rpm shellacs held at the museum are chorals using voice, organ and castanets. Recordings of such notable artists like Ben Simmons, George Williams Aingo, J.S.H. Ahumah, John Kwesi Biney, and Daniel H. Acquaah, recorded on the Zonophone Label. Also in the collection are discs by Ben Simmons and his Native Chorus recorded on the Broadcast label in the early 1900’s. The collection features an historical narrative by the group titled "Kromantse and Abandze" that narrates the conflict between two nearby coastal towns in the Central Region. Also in the collection, a well known recording by Harry Quashie, "Hyia Mangoase and Hwe Akropong" (Zonophone EZ25), tells the story of the towns in the eastern region (Mangoase, Akropong and other nearby villages). There are also a few rare recordings of Ghanaian traditional, historical and folk music, highlighting on events such as the influenza epidemic in the Gold Coast, social events, and famous personalities.

A typical example of historical recording, "Kumasi Ohene" by Ben Simmons, narrates pleadings by the local opinion leaders of the Gold Coast to the British colonials for the release of The Asantehene, King Prempeh I, who was being held captive at the Elmina Castle in 1900, prior to his deportation to Sierra Leone, and finally to the Seychelles Islands. Another historical recording at the museum is "Elmina Blues", a musical narrative by the Gold Coast Police Band about the 1945 Elmina ritual murder of an 8 year old girl named Ama Kakraba (HMV’s JZ Series No. JZ286, recorded in 1946).

Kwame Sarpong © 2006 rev. 2014 FDL

More information about the Museum:

Gramophone Records Museum and Research Centre of Ghana
P.O. Box 35, University of Cape Coast
Cape Coast, Ghana
Tel.: (233) 26-916-2462
Dr. Carmelle Bégin: carmelle.begin @ gmail . com

About the Daniel Langlois Foundation grant

This project was supported by the Daniel Langlois Foundation and involved the selection and digitization by the GRMRC of 78rpm Shellac records from the 30s to the 60s, as well as various related documents, in order to provide easier access to archival material that would otherwise be difficult in the context of Ghana and West Africa. (1)

By securing the collaboration of the National Library of Canada to this project, the Daniel Langlois Foundation received the technical assistance and expertise of the Library's Audio Conservator, a welcome help when choosing the digitizing equipment. The Foundation then coordinated the trip to Ghana of the Audio Conservator, in order to instruct the Museum staff on the use of the equipment, and on the processes involved in digitizing sound and image. (2)

To disseminate the result of this documentation and conservation project, M. Sarpong and the Foundation, with the help of the Ghana Music Rights Organization, were able to locate the rights owners of 10 Ghanaian musicians like Jacob Sam, Kakaiku, and E.K. Nyame, in order to publish online a selection of Highlife songs.

Mrs. Carmelle Bégin, ethnomusicologist working at the Canadian Museum of Civilization (now Canadian Museum of History), helped us in every step of this project since 2004, and has written the general Introduction.

We were very sad to learn that Mr. Kwame Sarpong died July 15, 2015, in Cape Coast, Ghana. He was 72 years old.

© 2015 FDL

(1) Ghana’s Highlife Music: Supporting the World’s Cultural Heritage. — Great Grant Stories, Philanthropic Foundations Canada (November 2003). http://www.fondation-langlois.org/pdf/e/ggs-langlois-en.pdf

(2) Clayton, Trevor . — "Restoring Ghana’s Highlife". — Bulletin Library and Archives Canada. — Vol. 35, no. 4 (July/August 2003). http://www.fondation-langlois.org/pdf/e/trevor_clayton_restoring_ghanas_highlife.pdf

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