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The College of Wooster

Publication Date

Fall 2011

Program Name

Ghana: Social Transformation and Cultural Expression


I lived in the cities of Accra and Kumasi for a total of 30 days during the month of November, 2011. To achieve my research objectives, I used a combination of formal and informal interviews, participant observation, and non-participant observation. I interviewed 7 musicians and 1 professor/musician in Accra, as well as 1 musician, 1 CD shop owner, and 1 DJ in Kumasi, making a total of 11 interviews most of which I recorded. For my participant observation, I observed 4 concerts total in Accra, all consisting of a mixture of genres including Highlife and Gospel. I participated in 2 Highlife keyboard lessons, 2 Palmwine guitar lessons, and 3 drum lessons, as well as playing a brief saxophone solo with a live band. For my non-participant observation, I observed a total of 4 live band shows in Accra, as well as casually listening to and often recording many other musical instances during my overall stay in Ghana.

My review of the socio-political, musical, and cultural history of Highlife revealed that the genre and its various offshoots are the product of a constant melding and reformation of cultural influences both foreign and domestic. This phenomenon was also related to Highlife’s effect on and influence from the broader socio-political and economic changes in Ghana’s history. The second part of my findings, consisting of my interview and observational data, shed light on the more recent historical changes in Ghana’s popular music such scene as the popularity of church music, economic instability in the late 1970’s, the explosion of synthesizer usage, and the influx of Westernized media via television, radio, CDs, and the internet. My data revealed that making a living through music in Ghanaian cities has many difficulties often depending on various middlemen, and requires musicians to be versatile. I also discovered that musicians regard classic Highlife as Ghana’s original popular art form and have complicated opinions regarding its continued preservation through factors including education, the impact of Western culture on the youth, and the promotion of live music.

I state that many of the forces influencing change in Ghana’s music scene have a complicated multitude of often contrasting effects. As history has proven, I assert that the tradition of Highlife and live music will continue to be culturally reinterpreted through a mixture of these forces, therefore not dying out but simply taking a new form.


African Studies | Music | Musicology | Place and Environment


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