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The Gramophone Records Museum of Ghana

Ghana's Highlife Music: A Digital Repertoire of Recordings and Pop Art

(Cape Coast, Ghana)

E.T. Mensah, The King of Highlife Is Back Again (1976)
Kakaiku's Guitar Band, Adadam Paa Nie Vol. 3 (ca 1974) Pochette du disque The Voice Of Kwame Nkrumah of Africa (1974) Broadway Dance Band, Happy Highlife (1960)
Onyina's Guitar Band, Adwuma ye fuo kuo (1958) (audio)
E.T. Mensah and His Tempo Band,Nkae (1958) (audio)
S.S. Ahima Band, Osagyefo Nti (1958) (audio)
Joss Aikins and the Envoys, Mbra Nimfo Quist (1959) (audio)
The Gramophone Records Museum and Research Centre of Ghana (GRMRC) was officially launched in 1994. Its goal is to facilitate access to the documents and audio-visual materials of its collection.

Onyina's Guitar Band, Adwuma ye fuo kuo (1958) (audio) E.T. Mensah and His Tempo Band,Nkae (1958) (audio) S.S. Ahima Band, Osagyefo Nti (1958) (audio) Joss Aikins and the Envoys, Mbra Nimfo Quist (1959) (audio)

The GRMRC houses a unique collection of over 18,000 78 rpm records, 2,500 45 rpm records and several reel-to-reel oral history recordings, all of which were collected in Ghana. The collection is the result of field research conducted by Kwame Sarpong, the Museum Director, over the last thirty years. The core of the collection is the Ghanaian Highlife music records.

What is "Highlife" music?

Highlife music is a unique style of dance music whose roots go back to the 19th and early-20th centuries. The collection of the Gramophone Records Museum reflects a substantial part of the history and development of the style, which stems from Ghanaian folk music intermixed with Caribbean Calypso and American Jazz. The first Highlife releases were made by Jacob Sam and his band, the Kumasi Trio, in 1928 on Zonophone Records in London. Highlife is Ghana's most important form of modern dance music.

There are two standards forms of Highlife: fast tempo, which is the standard one and slow Highlife, usually referred to as Blues because of its tempo; however, these are blues without the blue notes and are often different in rhythmic form. Highlife is essentially a vocal music. The songs sung in Ghanaian languages are based on a variety of subjects. There are topical songs, songs about individuals, moral songs, songs about death, political songs and humorous songs. The tunes are usually catchy, sentimental or gay, though simple enough in form to be readily grasped by the ordinary man about town.

The Project 

Ghana's Highlife Music: A Digital Repertoire of Recordings and Pop Art is based on the GRMRC collection. Through this project, the GRMRC will develop an interactive multimedia program to provide better access to its collection to a larger number of people.

Among the objectives of the project are the development of an interactive research tool based on the records in the collection, the inclusion of textual information, recorded music, and images from record sleeves (1) and labels. It also seeks to make this information accessible to musicologists, musicians, students, researchers, and all those interested in intangible culture via the Internet. In addition, it will create opportunities for young Ghanaian post-graduate students to become involved in a national and international project. Finally, the project will help to preserve the collection by limiting the use and handling of its historic documents.

The first phase of the project, extending from January 2003 to June 2004, involves the selection of 500 disks (1,000 song titles): the digitizing of the songs, labels and selected album sleeves, and the writing of discographies and biographies of artists and groups. Integrating information technologies into the database will provide access to archival material that would otherwise be difficult in the context of Ghana and West Africa.

In addition to supporting the project financially, the Foundation was involved in purchasing-with the help of the Audio Conservator of the National Library of Canada (Music Division)-the audio and conservation equipment for the Museum, and in coordinating the trip to Ghana by the Audio Conservator, whose services were lent by the Library in order to instruct the GRMRC staff on the use of the equipment, and on the processes involved in digitizing sound and images. The Foundation will post the results of this project in its Web site later in 2014.

Dominique Fontaine © 2003 rev. 2014 FDL

(1) "The recording companies and Highlife music groups promoted the sales of their recordings using colourful record sleeves, which became very popular as a form of pop art over the years. The graphic art was closely related to the style of the musical era, and was also used as social criticism. The music sleeves were to become popular collectible items." This information originates from the proposal submitted to the Foundation.