DESCRIPTION

When the legendary E.T. Mensah put together the Tempos Dance Band in the wake of World War II, West Africa’s Gold Coast was in the midst of a major political and social upheaval. Leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, the brilliant Pan-Africanist who throughout the 1950’s fought tirelessly for independence from colonial rule until becoming Ghana’s first president in 1960, promoted cultural and regional pride. Mensah had earned a reputation amongst the colony’s elite playing in big band ensembles at European clubs during the war, but when the soldiers left the Gold Coast E.T. Mensah and the Tempos turned to a more traditional African sound. Fusing swing-influenced arrangements with elements of the rural highlife style, the Tempos quickly became the undisputed monarchs of West Africa’s most influential genre of music.

Highlife developed from the musical fusion of the Gold Coast military bands, which brought local songs and rhythms to European repertoires. Coastal musicians also picked up new techniques from the Kru sailors of Liberia and Sierra Leone, who first introduced the guitar to the region. The three styles of highlife that emerged in the 1920’s were the ballroom dance variety, the village brass band style, and the rural guitar highlife style, which was the least Westernized of the three. While the brassier highlife varieties initially dominated the scene, in the 1950’s rural guitar bands became increasingly popular, with bands such as Nana Ampadu and the African Brothers bringing dramatic highlife concert parties to audiences in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. Before long highlife had become ubiquitous in West Africa, extending its influence as far as London and Hamburg.