Peter Legrand in the Gramophone Records Museum's exhibition hall (2004)
Ghanaian music album sleeves
|Gapophone Records||Jim Rolling & Joe Amanquah||Anonymous||Anonymous|
The Gramophone Records Museum and Research Centre of Ghana recognizes music album sleeves in Ghana as art. Many talented Ghanaian graphic artists contributed to the popularity of highlife sound both locally and abroad.
The music on the shellac discs from the 1920's were recorded by European companies such as Zonophone, Decca, His Master's Voice, Senafone, Queenophone, Opika and Philips. The album sleeves at that time were presented in blank brown paper jackets depicting only the label of the recording company. Attractive communicative music album designs were therefore needed to complement the feelings of these times of modernity as against those music album sleeves of the earlier years.
Between the 1950's and 1970's, the drab brown jackets begun to see colour. Illustrations, photographs and graphic art appeared in addition to the labels. Originally the artists who were commissioned to do the drawings and paintings or take photographs for the jacket covers or to design them were self-trained artists or sign writers. They acquired their skills through self-training by copying portrait examples from textbooks, illustrations, photographs, foreign magazines and local newspapers. From this point they later learnt to draw by imagination. However many of the drawings and paintings they did was not controlled by strict duplication of the exactness of nature.
These artists often sought to express the idea important to them in an object and not the photographic image of the object itself. This objectivity offered the Ghanaian artist more dynamism and versatility in his art. He could therefore express in the abstract, realistic or naturalistic styles.
The exhibition Ghanaian Album Covers as Art
The ongoing exhibition Ghanaian Album Covers as Art
(2004-) presents the work of Ghanaian artists who created album covers from the 1960’s to the 1980’s. The visual impact of their design combined with the music of well known performers has given many album sleeves a status of icon.
The Ghanaian album designers used photography, graphic design and typography to show a recording artist’s persona or to represent social interests, moral messages and aesthetic values adopted by the artists and the public in general. The front covers of the albums were designed to satisfy the local consumers and used as a primary marketing tool by recording companies.
In the 1960’s, illustrations depict the content of highlife songs which are concerned with everyday life, male-female relationships, popular beliefs, religious convictions, folk tales or traditional saying. During the second half of the 1960’s and early 1970’s illustration became the dominant fashion in album sleeves released by the major recording companies. Guy Hayford Agameti is an artist painter based in Kumasi. His designs illustrate songs drawn from concert party performances or choir music:
|Guy Hayford Agameti||Guy Hayford Agameti||Guy Hayford Agameti||Guy Hayford Agameti|
The tradition of illustration issued from the 1950’s is continued in the 1960’s while adding an inventive use of typography. The utilitarian lettering used to identify an album evolved to a more adventurous design and typography.
|M. Bampoe||Ebele & Chynie||Meridian Art Services||Osansa|
Ebele & Chynie are also known for the design of the album jacket of Fela Ransome Kuti and his Africa 70, titled “Fela Fela Fela” produced by EMI Nigeria, 1969.
3. E.E. Lamptey
Lamptey’ skill in photography and his inventive designs were very successful and his name can be found on hundreds of album sleeves. His portraits of musicians are intended to enhance the identity of the artists, hence suggesting in a “snap shot” the character of the music recorded on the albums:
|E.E. Lamptey||E.E. Lamptey||E.E. Lamptey||E.E. Lamptey|
4. Mantsefio Bampoe (and photographers Gerald Annan-Forson and Fred Attoh)
|E.E. Lamptey||E.E. Lamptey||E.E. Lamptey||E.E. Lamptey|
Art designer Mantsefio Bampoe has worked in collaboration with many outstanding photographers. The exceptional quality of his artwork is demonstrated on albums produced by artists such as the Sweet Talk, the Exciting Talkative, Wulomei and many others - which present good examples of “branding”, a strategy that ensures a visual continuity from one album sleeve to the next.
Gerald L. Annan-Forson is an independent photographer born in London in 1947. He studies photography by correspondence course and, later goes to California to study criminology and civil engineering. Returning to Ghana in 1976, he worked as a freelance photographer and taught photography at the National Film and Television Institute. He currently lectures in Photojournalism at the Ghana Institute of Journalism. (www.sudplanete.net)
Fred Attoh is a Ghanaian photographer and author of a book entitled Clay figures used in funeral ceremonies, published by Ghana Museum and Monument Board in 1970.
|Mantsefio Bampoe||Mantsefio Bampoe||Mantsefio Bampoe||Mantsefio Bampoe|
5. Willis E. Bell, photographer
|G. Annan-Forson||G. Annan-Forson||Fred Attoh||Fred Attoh & Nana Bosompra|
Willis Bell was born in India in 1923. In 1956, he came to Ghana to work on a film project on the Ashanti war. He never left the country and died in Ghana in 1999. Willis Bell was one of the great official photographers during Independence in Ghana. In 1972, he took part in setting up the first Ghanaian publishing house, African Publications. “My work entails showing the spirit of the times through my photography.”
The African Brothers’ album design was the work of Saka Acquaye in collaboration with photographer Willis Bell. A painter, sculptor, textile designer and musician, Saka Acquaye was born in Accra in 1923. He studied art, music and craft at Achimota Art School and studied in the USA in Philadelphia and Los Angeles in the 1950’s. He died in Accra on February 27th, 2007. (www.modernghana.com)
6. Ghanaian Designers
|Willis E. Bell||Willis E. Bell||Willis E. Bell & Saka Acquaye ||Willis E. Bell & J.K. Taylor|
|Mike Owusu-Siaw||Mike Owusu-Siaw||Kobina Smith||Dan A. Opoku|
|Kofi Lindsay||Kwasi Kwarteng||Nana Poku||Slim Bentil & Edinam Kudowor|
|Beeb King||Gerhard Adu||Mensah-Boamah Associate||B.B. Ossei & Eddie Donnor|
|Studio X 23||Pix||Biodun Sowunmi||Biodun Sowunmi|
|Deikor Gbedemah||Gerhard Adu ||R.E.N.Y.||S.Y.O. Safo|
|Big Jerry||Big Jerry||Big Jerry||Big Jerry|
Samuel K. Buabin’s album cover designs use typography, cartoon style of drawing, illustrations and a mixture of all these techniques. The title of the album Black Satin refers to an album recorded by jazz musician Miles Davis in New York in 1972:
|Samuel Buabin||Samuel Buabin||Samuel Buabin||Samuel Buabin|
|Augustus Taylor||Augustus Taylor||Augustus Taylor||Augustus Taylor|
|Augustus Taylor||K. Setordji & K. Frimpong||K. Setordji & K. Frimpong||K. Setordji & K. Frimpong|
The artist Kofi Setordji and the photographer K Frimpong worked as a team on many album cover designs. Born in 1957, Kofi Setordji is established in Accra where he spent some time working with Ghanaian sculptor and folklorist Saka Acquaye in the late 1980’s. Setordji is the founder of an “Art Haus” in Accra. (Ghana, Yesterday and Today, Editions Dapper, 2003)