various artists,
Electric Highlife: Sessions
from the Bokoor Studios

(Naxos, 2002)

Ghana is a small country that has a reputation as being one of the friendliest in West Africa (although recent violence in the North might change that opinion). Electric Highlife: Sessions from the Bokoor Studios has been released by Naxos World to share historic "highlife" recordings from Ghana that date back to the early 1980s when this form of Afropop was at the height of its popularity.

"Ghanaian highlife, like jazz and reggae, is a fusion of African and European music, but one that evolved in Africa." The promotional material further states that "the style started when Ghanaian musicians shaped Western dance-band sounds, brass orchestrations, and guitar licks to African tastes." The term "highlife" or high-class was coined by poor Ghanaians in the 1920s.

Electric Highlife has the work of eight bands spread out over 13 tracks. The bands include F. Kenya's Guitar Band, Happy Boys Guitar Band, George Adu's Guitar Band, the Guyoyo Guitar Band, the Black Beats Highlife Dance Band, Eddie Ansah's Guitar Band, the Bokoor Guitar Band and the Beach Scorpions Guitar Band.

As you might have deduced by the names of the bands, guitars are heavily used in this music. The guitar playing is a lot more upbeat and light compared to Western pop music. Highlife also incorporates horns, organs and lively vocals. Perhaps unknown to many Westerners, the "official" language in Ghana is English. While the majority of the songs are in a local dialect, there are a few selections performed in Pidgin English.

The term "bokoor" means "cool." This is, perhaps, an apt name for the studio that originally recorded the tracks presented on this CD back during a time when the military had taken over the government of Ghana in the early '80s. With a night curfew in place, bands did not have a lot of opportunities to perform. Bokoor Studio was one of only two operating recording studios in all of Ghana! One can only imagine the amount of music that was lost to the world during that time.

I think this CD was made for people who enjoy historic recordings. The quality is not as good as music that is coming out of Africa today. The style is a little dated. To the unfamiliar ear, most of the songs might sound repetitious since they are all representative of the same genre. Overall, Electric Highlife: Sessions From the Bokoor Studios might be a decent acquisition. Unfortunately, there are no individual tracks that scream for individual mention or make this a must-have CD.

[ by Wil Owen ]
Rambles: 24 August 2002

Buy it from