Mar(k): Travel, Hiking, and "Doing Good"

musings on our life of travel and volunteering

Sweet Sounds of Ghana

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The Sweet Sounds of Ghana is Music to my Ears

By Mar Knox

Ghana is blessed to have a wonderfully rich, diverse and vibrant music scene.  In addition to the ever popular highlife music, locals and visitors alike can enjoy a variety of grooves and sounds ranging from traditional to reggae; gospel to hip hop.

The wide ranging styles of music, both traditional and modern, available to keen listeners in Ghana, is due in part to our diverse ethnic groups and our geographic position in West Africa.

Traditional Sounds

Traditional music can be broken down into two main musical styles, which have developed in the North and the South of the country.

In the South, the music is strongly associated with spiritual or social aspects of daily life.  This music relies on complex, multi-rhythm patterns played by drums and bells.  There is also a strong emphasis on harmonies.

In the Northern regions, the music comes under the broader Sahelian-West African umbrella, which includes musicians hailing from Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, northern Nigeria and Niger. The similar sounds arise due to a long history of migrations and intermingling of cultures which has occurred in this region    In addition to the drums and bells heard in the south, these musicians also include stringed and wind instruments in their repertoire.   Another distinctive characteristic of the northern musicians is the long history of griot praise-singing.  If you are fortunate enough to witness some Dagoma drummers, it is quite a spectacle, with their flowing tunics fanning out as, hands flying, they dance the Takai.

Some traditional music is exclusive to royalty and is performed only on state occasions, such as installation ceremonies and royal funerals or simply for the entertainment of the chief.

More Modern Moods

In more modern times, the highlife sound has been the one associated with contemporary Ghanaian music.  The genre of highlife originated in Ghana, and is one that has influenced entire generations of musicians in West and Central Africa.

E.T. Mensah – the King of Highlife

Highlife began in the 1920’s and was originally a fusion of traditional percussion and melodies.  This genre evolved around World War II, when Ghanaians were exposed to jazz and swing sounds that came with the arrival of servicemen and women from the United States and Britain.  The King of Highlife was E.T. Mensah (1919-96) who formed Ghana’s first professional dance band in 1948 called the Tempos and became the influence for literally hundreds of bands that followed in this style.  Over the years, highlife has remained popular and has picked up on other influences, including the rhythms and sounds coming from places like Trinidad and the Congo.

During the 1970’s, a group called Wulomei gained popularity, and led to a Ga cultural revival, which encouraged Ghanaian youths to support their own countrymen’s music.  In the 80’s the sounds of reggae and gospel become increasingly heard, while the 1990’s heralded the discovery of the “hip-life”; a blend of Hip-Hop intermingled with the highlife sound.

Music Festivals in Ghana

Music festivals in the country have long been a source of inspiration.  Back in 1971 the Soul to Soul music festival was held in Accra and had a number of legendary, mostly black, American musicians headlining.  They included Wilson Pickett and Ike and Tina Turner.  This concert was seen as legitimising Ghanaian music and catalysed the subsequent roots revival in the country.

This past November, the highlife genre was celebrated at the inaugural “High Vibes festival” in Accra, which took place over four days.  Another cultural event which takes place every second year is Panafest, which celebrates the ideals of Pan-Africanism and the development of the African continent.  This festival includes African dance, music as well as other performing arts.

The many diverse genres of music are recognised each year at the Ghana Music Awards Festival.  2010 will mark the 11th anniversary of this event, and it has now grown to include 14 public categories and 10 industry categories of musical excellence.   The awards are organised by Charter House and all interested stakeholders are encouraged to send in entries of songs and albums that were released between 30 November 2008 and 30 November 2009.


Written by Mar(k)

February 17, 2010 at 2:32 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I’m a Australian born Ghanaian
    I Think it’s great that you guys are so involved about ghana
    Keep in touch,


    April 10, 2012 at 11:17 am

    • thanks so much for your feedback, and for following us maameafrique! Indeed, we loved our year in Ghana, and want to continue to spread the word about the beauty of the people in Ghana! all the best to you, from Mar(k)


      April 10, 2012 at 11:50 am

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