- 20 Dec 19
Back In The Highlife Again
Highlife music, lest you were unaware, takes the melodies and rhythms of Southern Ghana, known as the Gold Coast back in the days when Europeans were busy digging anything worthwhile out of the place, and plays them on instruments familiar to Western ears, usually more than one guitar and prominent horns. Fela Kuti’s brand of afrobeat would be an off-shoot from the genre.
Adding a distinct James Brown influence – and proto-raps – to the mix, Gyedu-Blay Ambolley released his debut, Simigwa, in 1975, and it’s quite rightly considered a classic, from the tight groove of ‘This Hustling World’ to the irresistible horn and organ gumbo of ‘Fa No Dem Ara’. A multi-instrumentalist of no little ability, it’s Ambolley’s tenor sax you hear on the opening track of 11th Street, Sekondi, his twelfth album, named after the area in West Ghana he came out of. ‘Black Woman’ would have an arthritic statue up throwing shapes, and they’d stay out on the floor for ‘Brokos’ too as the horn section gives way to a magical guitar solo that seems to have sunshine in it.
‘I No Dey Talk I Do Dey Lie’ is the sound of a blaxploitation movie if Shaft really had ended up in Africa, ‘Ignorance’ starts off with a blast of gobble-de-gook before the band kick in and our man encourages the taking back of Africa from those who would hold her down, with call and response backing vocals. The message might be aimed at your head, but he keeps the music pointed where it belongs, at your feet and hips. Actually, it’s difficult typing this, as I have to get up from the desk when tracks like ‘Sunkwa’ or ‘Little Small Girl’ come out of the speakers, to cut a bit of rug.
Ambolley might risk falling foul of the PC brigade with the lyrics of ‘Who Made Your Body Like Dat’ – the bass line on its own would get you arrested in some countries – but he at least wants to make an honest woman of the object of his affections, and he plans on giving her a house in the closing ‘Woman Treatment’, so everyone’s a winner.
Never mind all that though, it is the complex cross rhythms of the guitars and drums, decorated by the horn blasts that make this such a winner. If you’re having a party over the holidays, forget all that seasonal mush and put this on instead. Your guests will thank you for it.