Highlife Giants: West African Dance Band Pioneers – Hardcover


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‘Highlife is the only music in this country that has stood and will continue to stand the test of time.’ – Victor Olaiya

As West Africa’s oldest form of popular music, highlife was the soundtrack of the independence era. Its influence still resonates today.

Highlife Giants is an intimate portrait of the pioneering artistes of West Africa’s music scene from the 1920s onwards. It contains interviews with stars such as E.T Mensah, Kofi Ghanaba, King Bruce, Bobby Benson, Victor Uwaifo, and Ignace De Souza revealing priceless behind-the-scenes moments such as Louis Armstrong giving Eddie Okonta a trumpet with a golden mouthpiece after seeing him perform. Highlife Giants charts the development of this rich and varied popular form which is hugely influential on contemporary West African music from Afrobeat to hiplife.

Blending European and African-American styles with traditional African patterns, highlife music contributed to the development of post-independence national identity in both Ghana and Nigeria. As such, highlife remains crucial in generating social commentary, protest and contributing to the formation of a pan-African musical identity.

For those who lived through the era, Highlife Giants will be a compendium that invokes treasured memories. For their children and grandchildren, this book will inspire an interest in the rich musical history of West Africa.

Author Picture

John Collins

John Collins is a naturalised Ghanaian of British decent who has been active in the Ghanaian/West African music scene since 1969 as a guitarist, band leader, music union activist, journalist, writer, music teacher and archivist. In the 1970s he operated his Bokoor Highlife band and over the years has worked, recorded and played with numerous Ghanaian and Nigerian artists and bands such as the Jaguar Jokers, Francis Kenya, E.T. Mensah, Abladei, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Koo Nimo, Kwaa Mensah, Victor Uwaifo, Bob Pinodo, the Bunzus, the Black Berets, T.O. Jazz, Atongo Zimba and Aaron Bebe Sukura. He has published ten books and scores of journalistic and academic papers on African popular music and been involved with many films on Ghanaian popular, art and traditional music.

He obtained his first degree from the University of Ghana in 1972 and his Doctorate in Ethnomusicology at the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1994. In 1982 he opened his Bokoor Recording Studio and in 1987 was made an honorary life-member of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM). During the 1990s, Collins was Technical Director of the three-year joint Universities of Ghana/Mainz African Music Re-documentation Project, and for seven years was with the Ghana National Folklore Board of Trustees/Copyright Administration. Between 1997 and 2013, he was co-leader of the Local Dimension highlife band.

He is currently a Patron of the Musicians Union of Ghana (MUSIGA) and a Full Professor of the Music Department at the University of Ghana at Legon, where he has been teaching since 1995. He is also Chairman of the BAPMAF African Popular Music Archives NGO.

More information about the author and the book can be found at http://highlifetime.com/.

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