Please wait a few moments while we process your request
Please wait...

Ghana's Highlife Music Collection

Ghanaian music album sleeves

Peter Legrand visitant le Gramophone Records Museum (2004)
Peter Legrand in the Gramophone Records Museum's exhibition hall (2004)

Ghanaian music album sleeves

Ebo Taylor, Aba Yaa & Kwabena Afadzie, Wongyae Me MuDr. K. Gyasi and his Noble Kings, Epono Hini MeAkwaboa, Fidie WuraDzadzeloi, Two Paddy Follow One Girl
Gapophone RecordsJim Rolling & Joe AmanquahAnonymousAnonymous

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.

1. Illustrators

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:

Kakaiku's Guitar Band, Adadam Paa Nie (ca 1973)K.K.'s No. 2 (Executive) BandJ.B. Boatey, Mema Mani So Makyere MmepoKakaiku's No. 2 Band, Akyinkyin
Guy Hayford AgametiGuy Hayford AgametiGuy Hayford AgametiGuy Hayford Agameti

2. Calligraphy

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.

Dzadzeloi, NapoliataOgyatanaa, Obra MuasemProfessional Uhuru Dance BandSweet Talks, Party Time in Hollywood
AnonymousAnonymousAnonymousEbo Prah

Ebo Taylor with Wuta Wazutu, Gotta take it coolUhuru, The Sound of AfricaThe Jewel, Sow in Tears & Reap in JoyOsansa, Obra Yi (ca 1970)
M. BampoeEbele & ChynieMeridian Art ServicesOsansa

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:

Vis a Vis, Top Hits (ca 1975)Kumapim Royal Band, Girl Bi Nti (1980)The Powerful Believers, Time for Highlife (1978)The Powerful Believers, Mena Owu (1978)
E.E. LampteyE.E. LampteyE.E. LampteyE.E. Lamptey

Kumapim Royals International Band, Pe Me Seyee (1983)K. Frimpong and his Cubano Fiestas [Self Titled] (1977)Happy Stars, Adwendwen Na Ema Menom NsaBrigadier Super OD, Woye Me Bone A Metu Wo Wig
E.E. LampteyE.E. LampteyE.E. LampteyE.E. Lamptey

4. Mantsefio Bampoe (and photographers Gerald Annan-Forson and Fred Attoh)

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. (

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.

Sweet Talks, Adam & Eve (1975)Sweet Talks, Mbesiafo Nto Nsa (1976)Sweet Talks, Spiritual Ghana (1976)Sweet Talks, The Kusum Beat (1974)
Mantsefio BampoeMantsefio BampoeMantsefio BampoeMantsefio Bampoe

Teacher and his Africana, Odo Gyae (1977)The Exciting Talkatives, Peace & Love (1977)Ashiedu Keteke, Gbo Ofo Mino (1978)African Brothers Band (International), Tribute to D.K. (1979)
G. Annan-ForsonG. Annan-ForsonFred AttohFred Attoh & Nana Bosompra

5. Willis E. Bell, photographer

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. (

Ashanti Brothers Band, Wo Yonko Da Ne Wo Da (1976)Andy Vans, Come Closer (1975)African Brothers International, Obiara Wo Nea Otumi No (1978)Ashanti Brothers Band, Kill Me and Fly (1978)
Willis E. BellWillis E. BellWillis E. Bell & Saka Acquaye Willis E. Bell & J.K. Taylor

6. Ghanaian Designers

Atakora Manu & His Sound Engineers, Yebeda Mpapa Dan Mu (1973)A.B. Crentsil and the Super Sweet Talks (International), Mewo Road (1979)City Boys Band (Obuoba J.A. Adofo), Georgina (ca 1977)Yamoah's Special, Volume 1 (ca 1970)
Mike Owusu-SiawMike Owusu-SiawKobina SmithDan A. Opoku

Ebo Taylor and the Pelikans, [Self Titled] (ca 1970)Tomi D., The World Changes (ca 1975)Dan Boadi and the African Internationals, Money is the Root of Evil (1978)Pepper Onion Ginger Salt, Bubuashie (1985)
Kofi LindsayKwasi KwartengNana PokuSlim Bentil & Edinam Kudowor

Alex Konadu, Odo Meko Ama Obiaba (ca 1977)Alex Konadu, Odo Meko Ama Obiaba (1977)Dr. K. Gyasi Noble Kings, African High Life Beat Goes Sky-High-U.S.A. (ca 1978)Dr. K. Gyasi presents B.B. Ossei with the Noble Kings Dance Band, Yako Aba (ca 1975)
Beeb KingGerhard AduMensah-Boamah AssociateB.B. Ossei & Eddie Donnor

E.K. Nyame, This Is E.K.'s Band No.1 (1973)Sankofa with E.K.'s Band No.1, Sankofa Volume 4 (ca 1977)The Ramblers Dance Band, The Hit Sound of (1968)Trans Africa Show Band (led by Elgran Koffie), The African Syndrome (1981)
Studio X 23PixBiodun SowunmiBiodun Sowunmi

Kwamena Ray Ellis, Keyboard Africa, Higlife'n'Piano (ca 1973)Ebo Taylor, [Self-titled] (1977)Rim Akandoh And His Prince Sparrows Band, Adee Akye Abia (1978)Yamoah's Band, Onantefo (ca 1975)
Deikor GbedemahGerhard Adu R.E.N.Y.S.Y.O. Safo

K.K.'s No. 2 Band, Heavy Mama (1979)Bob Pinodo, Sonobete  (1979)C.K. Mann & The Masters, Womma Yengor  (1979)K.K.'s Band, Onipa Nye (1979)
Big JerryBig JerryBig JerryBig 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:

Yamoah's Band, Onantefo (ca 1975)Dr. K. Gyasi & His Noble Kings, The Creation (1975)Black Satin, [Self-titled] (ca 1976)C.K. Mann, Big Band (1976)
Samuel BuabinSamuel BuabinSamuel BuabinSamuel Buabin

Official Town Presbyterian Singing  Band, Obra Akwantu (ca 1975)Pat Thomas and the Sweet Beans, False Lover (1974)Sam Derchie and the Juicy People, Peace of Mind (ca 1975)Papa Kofi Yankson, Osode In Perspective (ca 1975)
Augustus TaylorAugustus TaylorAugustus TaylorAugustus Taylor

African Brothers Band International, Have African Feeling (ca 1975)Bob Pinodo, Show Master Of Africa ‎ (1978)C.K. Mann & Kofi 'Papa' Yankson, Ko Ma Monko (1978)Dr. K. Gyasi & His Noble Kings, Akwaaba! (1977)
Augustus TaylorK. Setordji & K. FrimpongK. Setordji & K. FrimpongK. 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)

Kwame Sarpong © 2006 rev. 2014 FDL