Special Feature

Guitar-bands – Ghana From the 1930s to1970s

In the 1930s, Sam’s Trio, led by Jacob Sam, was the most influential of the high-life guitar-bands. Their “Yaa Amponsah”, three versions of which were recorded in 1928 for Zonophone, was a major hit that remains a popular staple of numerous high-life bands. The next major guitar-band leader was E. K. Nyame, who sang in Twi. Nyame also added the double bass and more elements of the Western hemisphere, including jazz and Cuban music on the recommendation of his producer and manager E. Newman-Adjiri. In the 1960s, dance high-life was more popular than guitar-band high-life; most of the guitar bands began using the electric guitar until a roots revival in the mid-1970s.

After the Second World War, guitar bands playing highlife music became very popular. By the late 1940’s and early 1950’s there was a rather big market for this type of music produced by musicians such as Otoo Lartey, E.K. Nyame (E.K.’S Band), Appiah Adzekum, Yebua, Kwaa Mensah, Obiba T.K. and featured mandolins and guitars. The Appiah Adzekum’s instrumental ensemble consisted of bass, treble and tenor frame drums (known also as Gombe or Gome drums), finger gong-gong, two acoustic guitars and an accordion. Kwaa Mensah in addition of all these by Appiah Adzekum added the piano.

The most popular highlife style with all these groups was the Akan “Odonson” or Ashanti Blues, Konkoma and the Ga Kolomashie. Konkoma was a local dance and drumming craze that swept the Gold Coast in the 1930’s and 40’s that evolved from the local syncopated brass band tradition.

Other concert groups that followed suite and led by Kakaiku, Kwaa Mensah, etc., were based along the coastal area of Ghana, while Kwabena Onyina and others were in Kumasi in the Ashanti Region. The concert party form was loosely woven and readily incorporated current social events, gossips, exclamations by spectators and improvisational inspirations of individual actors. During Ghana’s cocoa boom in the 1930’s through the depression, the Second World War, the pre-independence riots in 1948, the arrest of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and the advent of Ghana’s independence, concert parties dramatized the tensions and situations of everyday life among the intermediate classes who struggled daily to provide their basic needs.

The highlife music played by the guitar bands also became closely linked with the concert parties. The first artist to combine these two distinct forms that is highlife and stage acting or concert was E. K. Nyame. Born in 1927, E. K. Nyame, the leader of the E.K’s Band, began his career with Appiah Adjekum. He formed his concert trio in 1952 and later merged it with his guitar band and named this new group the Akan Trio.

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