Ghana's Highlife Music Collection
Kwaa Mensah (1920-1991)
Kwaa Mensah was born in Lagos (Nigeria) in September, 1920. He was brought up in Cape Coast. His uncle was the first highlife guitarist in Ghana, Jacob Sam, “Sam” or Kwame Asare, a goldsmith from Cape Coast. Sam taught Kwaa the guitar, and during the 1930’s, Kwaa played in a Cape-Coast adaha band, adaha being a type of highlife played on flutes, fifes, and brass band drums. Then in the 1940’s, Kwaa joined up with a konkoma group, a popular highlife style of those days which specialised in complex drill-like dances performed in fancy dress. Finally, in 1950, Kwaa formed his own guitar-band, Kwaa Mensah’s Band, and in 1952 cut his first single for His Master’s Voice.
In 1955, Kwaa followed E.K. Nyame’s example and added concert party to his band’s repertoire, with Kwaa playing the lady. He called his group the Fanti Trio, and it was so popular with the less westernised and more rural fans that by the early 1960s he had released two hundred records. In 1975, Kwaa recorded an L.P. for Ambassador Records of Ghana and went on a tour of the United States with Wulomei. Kwaa Mensah taught the guitar at the Music Department of the University of Cape Coast and at the School of Performing Arts at the University of Legon. In 1990, he was given an award at the “Highlife Awards Night” organised by the National Commission on Culture. Kwaa Mensah died on February 22, 1991.
Source: J. Collins, 1994, pp. 1-6