Highlife Legend Samuel Owusu’s Social Philosophy Of Music 7

Sat, 17 Sep 2016 Source: Kwarteng, Francis


Even so, just look at Osofo Dadzie and the high level of social evangelism, moral awareness, and positive education the series promoted (Anyidoho & Gibbs) and compare that with the scripts for today’s films (Ghallywood and Kumawood).

The names “Ghallywood” and “Kumawood” stink to high heaven. Here are David Dontoh’s objections to these names:

“When we talk about wood, it is a dead tree. Why do we go for something that is dead? When you use ‘Nyamedua’ one would be curious to know what it is and that will sell the ‘industry’ better…

He went further:

“A movie industry is a huge conglomerate of so many aspects of the movie making process. What goes on before shooting the film, what goes on during and after, which is the marketing are what make up an industry. But we lack all these. In Ghana, we just piece things together to call industry but it doesn’t exist here…”

This is quite understandable. No wonder they all want to shun Ghallywood in favor of Hollywood!

Now, just compare Kwaw Ansah’s skillfully original cinematography spanning “Love Brewed in the African Pot,” “The Golden Stool, the Soul of the Asantes,” “Crossroads of People, Crossroads of Trade,” “Harvest at 17” to “Heritage Africa,” with Socrates Sarfo’s “Hot Fuck” or Shirley Frimpong-Manso’s Hollywood lookalike films, with her locally-acquired-foreign-accent casts and “potboiler” scripts, although we are equally elated for the simple reason that as a woman, a strong character for the matter, she has managed to break the glass ceiling with her artistic gifts and could there serve as a positive role model for girls and women in Ghana, Africa and across the world!

Shirley’s scripts are more American in their artistic and cultural outlooks than Ghanaian or African.

These “distanciation” scripts largely promote the spiritual, moral and cultural laziness and emptiness we have come to associate with cultural materialism.

Nevertheless, hers is a success story that must be told and told again without mincing words. And we also need to push our women as well to achieve the best they can offer society. The story of African-American NASA mathematician, physicist, and space scientist Katherine Johnson comes to mind (see Margot L. Shetterly’s book “Hidden Figures.” The book’s subtitle is “The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race”).

Shirley should make time to watch and study the biopic of the same name, “Hidden Figures.”

Still, Kwaw Ansah does not want to be associated with Ghallywood!

As a matter of fact which gifted, knowledgeable and technically sophisticated film-maker, director, screenwriter, and producer, like Ansah, in his or her right would?

That is how far Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana has come! Our attempt to join the popular culture through uncritical adoption of foreign ideas may have more to do with the falling standards in morality across the country.

With Wisa Greid and Wanlov da Kubolor unabashedly exposing their genitals in full glare of the public, we should know the country deserves a teachable moral revolution.

And yes, we watch music videos with suggestive and sexually explicit concepts and quickly extend uncritical props to our gifted music videographers thinking they have technologically and conceptually come of age, without so much as giving equal weight to how such suggestive images engenders and feeds moral pollution in the country in the first place.

We are presently also witnessing public backlash against the controversial X-rated “Awurama” music video featuring Lord Paper and the lady at the center of it all, reportedly called Nana Yaa.

Yet the song “Awurama” is just as beautiful as late Kojo Aquai’s “Anadwo Fa Yi” except, maybe, its accompanying soft-porn music video…granted also that the song has the general feel of the soul and R&B music of the 1960s covering the soulful repertoires of James Brown, Al Green, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Ben E. King, Curtis Mayfield…

As a matter of fact, Seal’s sixth studio album “Soul” offers eclectic cover versions of some of the greatest tunes of this particular era. The track “Awurama” itself offers a subtle glimpse into this era of profound soulful musicality.

Furthermore, readers can check out the beats/rhythm for James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s World” and compare that to that of Lord Paper’s “Awurama.” It is possible he sampled this song or that of any other song from that same era. We do not know for sure yet.

But, we are also making an indirect reference to something close to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up,” to Cameroonian jazz saxophonist Manu Dibango’s “Soul Makossa” (check out the Duala chant from Dibango’s classic which Michael Jackson appropriated for his song) on the one hand and on the other hand, Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Starin’ Something” (“Thriller” album) and Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” (“Good Girl Gone Bad” album), or to the copyright infringement allegations made or brought against hiplife rapper Guru.

And the last time we checked YouTube has taken the controversial “Awurama” music video. The irony is that unregulated artistic freedom in the country seems to be slowly killing the music (and movie) industry. Artistic or creative freedom has become an excuse for aesthetic decadence.

On the contrary, the last major music videos the legendary highlife musician Alex Konadu made before his death are just too visually beautiful in terms of the sheer power of aesthetic deontology and hortatory lyricism. Here, those ready pricking nakedness and semi-nakedness concepts which “universally” define the typical Western hip-hop music videography are totally absent.

Nevertheless having said that, the music video for Lord Paper’s “Awurama” is a typical example of what the late Alex Konadu called “sua tra,” a popular folk phraseology literally meaning “to copy blindly,” on one of his titular tracks, “Yensua Yo.”

In fact, the larger society and succeeding generations thereby become the ultimate recipients of the effects of these moral hazards.

We even celebrate these purveyors of moral hazards and moral pollution by calling them “celebrities,” men and women who may have a hard time securing a job as a boot polisher or shoeshiner in the home of a typical American celebrity.

Some persons among these clueless cultural Luddites and “distantiation” actors and actresses and bad singers, musicians, performers and songwriters have the nerve to call themselves “celebrity.”

The sad fact is that we have some “sua tra-fuo”—copycats—or Eurocentric villagers and village champions we have all along mistaken for “celebrities.”

These so-called copycat “celebrities” who feel so important may not have heard of Alex Konadu’s “Owuo Mpe Sika” (literally or loosely meaning “death does not respect money,” “death does not know money,” “death does not recognize money,” or “death does not acknowledge money”) and “Asaase Asa” (“no accommodating space in the earth”) and “Agyata Wuoye,” Daddy Lumba’s reggae-influenced highlife classic “Adaka Tea” (“coffin”), Adomako Nyemekye’s “Adwoa Penema”…

Oh Mother Ghana! What happened to Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana?

What a country?

Oftentimes when we copy negative ideas from others we turn to overdo them, to the extent that we eventually become the servile masters of these ideas and prisoners of others’ follies.

There is therefore an urgent need for a critical mass of moral revolutionaries to overturn this moral decay.

Where is Jewel Ackah’s golden voice in today’s Ghanaian music?

Or the exceptional guitar skills demonstrated by and on Nico Mbarga’s “Sweet Mother,” Sweet Talks on “Churisi,” as well as on Victor Uwaifo’s “Joromi” in contemporary Ghanaian music?

Or the Nii Adu Ofoliquaye’s rich polyrhythmic gome-drumming in contemporary Ghanaian music?

Indeed we have a long way to go as a country.

Simply put, our music (and movies) has deteriorated, namely retrogressed in many troubling ways than one: Cultural, spiritual and moral decadence.


When we talk about cultural consciousness or cultural “authenticity,” of course we are not talking about the idea of uncritically rejecting every cultural motif and meme of our contemporary civilization wholesale.

Rather, we are staking a claim to the philosophical and scientific analysis of culture as Ama Mazama, Kofi Kissi Dompere, Molefi Kete Asante, Cheikh Anta Diop, Kwame Nkrumah, Theophile Obenga or Ngugi wa Thiong’o understand it. We have gone over this many times.

Culture after all is an intrinsic measure of the management or oversight of its own motile transmutability, which also makes for eclectic dynamism in the operational logic of social relations and human psychology.

No quantum of mortal thought or of music evolves from cultural vacuum. For instance, the technically sophisticated poetic novelism of Wole Soyinka and Derek Walcott, of Shakespeare and Homer, and the deceptively simplistic poetic novelism of Ama Ata Aidoo, of Maya Angelou, are products of culture.

Culture is therefore linguistic, political, historical, religious, social, scientific, or even moralistic. Culture is fundamentally psychological, which then also breaks down into the national and the personal or the individual. In Ghana today the national psychology and character is completely divorced from the critical soul of music, very much unlike the days of the progressive and visionary Nkrumah.

Perhaps culture is the single most indispensable driver of human psychology, of national character and psychology, of how humans respond creatively or otherwise to their environments, spiritual and material. It is a sort of immanent thermometer that gives birth to and controls, manages and operates the homeostatic chaperonage of social relations and human psychology.

Roots reggae international superstar Burning Spear’s “Identity” captures the ideological, cultural, philosophical, spiritual and moral tensions between traditional highlife (and palm-wine music) and hiplife, with these presumed tensions having already eaten so deep into the emotional aesthetics of the critical appreciation of music.

These tensions are borne out of a culture of consumerism, commercialization of the creative arts, excessive mechanization of music, lack of musical talent in the creative arts and “mass production” of music, artistic disregard for mores and public decency, uncritical idolization of artistes and moral decadence, and so on.

Given all the above observations, then, one cannot say that highlife (and palm-wine music) may, after all, not be how Wole Soyinka intended to title one of his polemic books, “The Open Sore of a Continent.”

What is the point here?

First, we shall make the outrageous claim that music is not defined by a repertoire of vocal registers, instrumentation, and lyrical organization of music, but rather fundamentally by culture (as well as time and place. Science and technology also do as they are somehow tied to time). And yet ironically, music, an imaginative expression, is itself an intrinsic expression of culture.

Second, the idea is that Nkrumah’s progressive thinking and larger political vision for this continent of continents had already, perhaps unbeknownst to Soyinka, pre-empted the imposed crisis of Eurocentrism on the continent long before he, Soyinka, conceptualized his recrudescent “open sore.”

To make a long story short, we shall call for the enthronement of Nkrumah’s “consciencism” and “the African Personality” and “the African Genius” as well as an uncompromising rejection of what Bob Marley had aptly referred to in general terms on “One Drop” as “devil philosophy.”


We should make it clear that it is not everything of the old order that must be retained in our contemporary civilization, even if changing or modernizing it would have enormous positive implications for the present generation which, in the first place, are the model intentions behind our central arguments.

Culture is dynamic and therefore its negative features should be resisted on the basis of objective science, sound educational policies and consensus.

Of course, we do not have to throw away everything from our culture. All we need is a cultural and moral reference for our artistic undertakings.

And that reference is a meeting place for engaging the best of our cultural traditions and those of the present dispensation.

This inter-generational conversation or dialogue is what the country needs at this moment.

We also need some originality/creativity in our music (and movie) industry.

Unfortunately, much of what we get from hiplife and dancehall artistes in terms of lyrical delivery, musical language (fake patois), and gesticulations are generally diluted imitations from the Jamaican and African-American communities. Not that we have any uncompromising objections to this.

After all, the hip hop community is a global one with a shared culture and philosophy of artistic mannerisms, language, dress codes, beat production, and so on.

Azonto, an interesting communicative dance formula, is a creative reflection of that originality we are talking about, even though that terpsichorean rhythm and its spatial gesticulatory coordinates have long been part of our traditional dance repertoires such as kpanlogo and Adowa, and merely given a captivating gloss of modernity. Azonto is a music genre as well.

In one sense, Azonto as a bold communication dance challenged the stylistic and spatial authority of hip-hop dance and its accompanying rich plumage of hand gestures in a way many observers, including music critics and journalists and this author, could not have anticipated.

Granted all the above, an impression exists that artistic freedom (and consumerism and commercialism) may be the evil force behind falling standards in our moral and spiritual culture.

In other words, what should have been a boon for the performing arts/entertainment industry—the creative economy—has rather constituted itself into a bane that has this once-promising industry in a critical state of wobbling paralysis.

The mental enslavement of the African collective mind and the unstinted drive of the African to become someone else but himself are partly to blame for our intellectual paralysis as a people.

“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds,” Bob Marley reminds us on “Redemption Song.”

Finally, and this point is also rather extremely important, which is that making room for the progressive aspects of one’s culture in this age of globalization does not mean rejecting the world outside one’s own.

It means making commonsense compromises with that world outside one’s own using one’s progressive culture as a backdrop for weighing those compromises in the interest of humanism.

The Ghanaian hiplife and dancehall worlds have failed to engage globalization the way we see it.


As a matter of fact, highlife (and palm-wine music) is a serious business but the funnymen A.B. Crentsil and senior Eddie Donkor made it light for and accessible to lovers of the genre through humor.

There exists an anecdote, if we remember correctly, that Senior Eddie Donkor never made songs with intelligent lyrics bearing hortatory messages, a dogging concern he allegedly addressed by reminding his critics that his fans were already intelligent and therefore it was not his place or duty to teach them how to become intelligent through his music. It simply did not make sense.

Moreover, it was not as if his critics were even advocating or hoping for a situation where they wished he made music that made his “intelligent” fans more intelligent, whatever that meant. In other words a poor man cannot teach an already rich person how to become rich. Perhaps the poor man could teach his rich fellow how he could become richer instead. This is common sense.

A better question is: Why is the poor man poor in the first place? After all, can’t the poor man teach himself how he could become rich and then teach himself how to become richer? Senior Eddie Donkor may have seen through their tempting gimmicks, hence his unnerving riposte. He also had a powerful signature rhythm to accompany his teachable humorous lyrics and messages. It was for this he was called “The King of Rhythm Power.”

But we learned as we came of age that those critics missed the point of his music: Humor (and wit). Oh yes, humor has a place in music. Humor is therapeutic and that its potential to de-stress holds some of the answers to frustrations borne out of economic and social-political hardships.

A humorous song like A.B. Crentsil’s “Atia” for instance, though derogatorily objectionable, still subtly raises important questions about regional underdevelopment, social justice, privation, ethnic nationalism, alcohol dependence and alcoholism, unemployment, urbanization and modernity, frustration and death, political correctness, and historical injustice in the Ghanaian political economy.

That is, “Atia” represents more than just a nominal address for a person of northern extraction. It also represents the political history of the Gold Coast, now Ghana, and the severely underdeveloped political economy of the northern section of the Ghanaian body politic. We have therefore understood the ethnic slur “Atia” to be a political metaphor or euphemism of sorts.

This is what artistic license (artistic freedom) does. Then again his “Anyen,” a profound song with witty lyrics challenges our deeply ingrained perceptions about the so-called crab mentality (the “pull-him-down” syndrome), solidarity (brotherhood), sharing, philanthropy (altruism) and misanthropy, patriotism, industrialization (science and technology), hard work (industry), and so on.

Bob Marley covered aspects of “Anyen” on “Zimbabwe” and “Africa Unite” and “One Love,” rapper KRS-1 on “Self-Destruction,” Culture on “Tribal War,” Wiyaala on “Africa,” Ben Brako on “Anokum”…Nkrumah also discussed these ideas philosophically and scientifically through what he called “consciencism,” the African Personality, African Union (unification), the African Genius, and African-centered humanism (Nelson Mandela/Desmond Tutu called this idea “ubuntu”).

We can now understand both the songs and music videos for Alex Konadu’s “Good One” and Nana Boro’s “Ahayede” employ humor in subtle ways to lift people’s spirits, just as we may understand how on the track “Agyata Wuo” Alex Konadu used allegorical humor to question the economic and moral basis of the avunculate in Ghanaian society. The late Bob Cole, a prominent cast member of the comedy film “I Told You So” used allegorical humor on his classic song “Edwen De Ere Ye Me” to draw attention to the ominous fates that befell those who refused or rejected good advice.

Another example was when A.B. Crenstil used humor on “Ye Wo Ade Oye” to explore ethno-regional differences in the romantic behaviors of women through their culinary skills, and how they rely on psychological manipulation techniques to court men and to acquire certain things they desire in life from men. Nana Ampadu, E.K. Nyame, Koo Nimo, Dr. K. Gyasi…all used various forms of humor in one way or another to draw attention to social, familial, and moral issues.

On the other hand humor must not always directly come from the lyrics of a song per se. Music videos can answer that question. The music video for Nigeria’s Kcee’s “Pull Over,” a song featuring Wizkid, and the music video for Ghana’s own Lilwin’s “Choices” are good examples.

Finally, Fela Kuti was probably one of the few known philosopher-musicians who effectively used humor and wit his educative musical repertoire for social and political ends. Bob Marley on the other hand did not necessarily have a sense of musical humor but used word power and powerful imagery to put his message across.

Unlike highlife (and palm-wine music), hiplife generally lacks humor! Hiplife is more dry than lifeless.


We should not ignore contributions of Ewes to Ghanaian music in general including highlife, hiplife, and gospel highlife/hiplife. One prominent name that immediately comes to us by way of reminder is the eclectic singer Israel Nanevi-Mawueta (and his Sena Group). Israel blends traditional musical instruments and modern ones to create a unique sound pleasant to the ear.

Philip Gbeho and Ephraim Amu are the others. Many are those who are not even aware of the fact the latter’s “Yen Ara Asase Ni,” a highly acclaimed patriotic song came from its original composition in Ewe, “Amewo Dzife Nyigba.” The compositions of these men also came with traditional and Western accompaniment. They also identified with what some call “art music.”

(“Note: There are those who have claimed an Akan ethnicity for Dr. Ephraim Amu. We could not care less. All we care about for the most part was that he, together with Philip Gbeho, should be celebrated as national heroes).


This author’s first cousin on his father’s side, Prince (this author also has a younger brother called Prince; see Part 8 for more information), was an influential guitarist in Rex Omar’s band when the latter exploded on the musical scene.

Prince has been in the United States since the early 2000s, and the last time we checked or heard he had left the rich soundscape of highlife to pursue his newly developed passion for gospel music.


The entire repertoires of highlife and palm-wine music can provide magnificent backgrounds, of powerful story lines, for radio and television programs and screenplays (“scripts”) for the music industry, rather than feeding an entire nation the anti-culture telenovelas imported from without.

Movie producers and directors can make use of them insofar as soundtracks are concerned. Novels can be made out of them.

School children and university students should be encouraged to study them and to write research papers, even theses and dissertations, on them.

Hiplife artistes (and their songwriters and music producers) should understudy the surviving members of this generation of highlife and palm-wine musicians.

Parents and their children should study them.

Churches and mosques (and other religious bodies in the country) should study them in addition their Bible and Quran.

Our politicians should study them too.

Our cultural and educational institutions (the School of Performing Arts/the Institute of African Studies) should promote highlife and palm-wine music.

The Musicians Union of Ghana (MUSIGA) and the Ghana Music Rights Organization (GHAMRO) all have a role to play in promoting and preserving these music genres outside their primary mandates.

Perhaps we need our own version of Reggae Sunsplash here in this country, say Highlife/Palm-Wine Music Sunsplash or Highlife/Palm-Wine Music Get Together, to celebrate the two genres and their musical representatives…the likes of which includes traditional highlife legend A.K. Yeboah…and to showcase raw talents in the field…the likes of which includes A.K. Yeboah’s son Kwame Yeboah…

That aside, the Ageing Musicians Welfare Fund (AMWeF) needs to do more. Have we not said enough already?


We shall return with Part 8!


Kofi Anyidoho & James Gibbs. “FonTomFrom: Contemporary Ghanaian Literature: Theatre and Film.”

Ghanaweb. “Call The Ghana Movie Industry ‘Nyamedua’—David Dontoh.” September 30, 2013.

Tom Breihan. “Manu Dibango Sues Rihanna, Michael Jackson.” Retrieved from http://pitchfork.com/news/34533-pitchforks-show-no-mercy-series-pulverizes-brooklyn/ (Note: Also take a look at the Sean Michael’s article “Rihanna And Michael Jackson Sued by African Singer” on www.theguardian.com (February 4, 2009).

“MUSIGA Organizes Health Screening Exercise For AMWeF Beneficiaries.” Retrieved from http://www.firstdigitalghana.com/musiga-organizes-health-screening-exercise-for-amwef-beneficiaries/

Kofi Agamu. “The Amu Legacy: Ephraim Amu 1899-1995.” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 66 (2), 1966. pp. 274-279

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis