Igbo HighLife Ghana HighLife Yoruba HighLife

History of Highlife Music

history of highlife music
history of highlife music

Highlife Music is a very popular west African music and dance that originated from Ghana in the late 19th century, and later spread to the western Nigeria, and flourished in both countries in the 1950s. The oldest form of highlife music was performed primarily by brass bands along the Ghanaian coast. By early 20th century these bands had already incorporated a broader array of instruments (primarily of European origin), a vocal component, and stylistic elements both of local music traditions and of jazz. Highlife thus emerged as a unique synthesis of African, African American, and European musical aesthetics.

As at 1930s the popularity of highlife genre was able to win the hearts of many and thus stretched inland and eastward along the coast, garnering huge followers in Nigeria. Nigerian highlife never remained the same after it experienced an important transformation: asymmetrical drum rhythms derived from traditional drumming practices of the Igbo and Yoruba people were combined with syncopated (displaced-accent) guitar melodies to accompany songs sung in either Igbo, Yoruba or English.

By the mid-1960s, however, highlife had lost much of its audience to primarily guitar-based music. Unlike Jazz, Igbo highlife is a contemporary musical genre which combines highlife and Igbo traditional music. It first started off in the southeast region of Nigeria, during the 1950s. The genre is primarily guitar-based music, with rare characteristic blend of horns and vocal rhythms. Igbo highlife lyrics are sung mostly in Igbo with occasional infusion of Pidgin English.

One of the most influential composers and performers of the music is Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe whose career spanned over 40 years. Osadebe’s discography comprises numerous popular songs including the 1984 hit “Osondi Owendi” which launched him on the world stage as a pioneer of the Igbo highlife genre.

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Highlife, so far have gained widespread international recognition in the 1980s and remained popular in Nigerian “hotels,” or nightclubs, into the 21st century.

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