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Last Updated: Friday, 24 September, 2004, 14:46 GMT 15:46 UK
Are we still living the highlife?
Nigerian highlife and arts personality Jimi solanke
Jimi Solanke joined other Nigerian highlifers for the BBC concert

Highlife plays a key part in the musical heritage of Africa and its influence can be heard in a variety of modern-day styles.

In Ghana, they have added rap and called it Hiplife. In Nigeria, you have Afrobeat or Juju, in Sierra Leone, Palm-wine music and, of course, there is Congolese rhumba and soukous.

All have their roots in "hilife".

But essentially Highlife is associated with a pre-independence sound that arose in the 1950s incorporating elements of swing, jazz and Cuban rhythms with the emerging guitar styles of West Africa.

Its roots, according to Ghanaian musicologist John Collins, are in the small portable instruments carried by sea-farers like the Liberian "Kru" mariners.

The BBC celebrates West African music

The Kru travelled the West African coast even before Europeans arrived and were later employed on British and American steam-ships.

They played accordion, concertina, harmonica, penny whistle, banjo, mandolin and especially the Spanish guitar with which they developed the oppositional thumb and finger-plucking style.

By the 1950s elite dance orchestras lead to a rapid expansion of bands. Names such as the great ET Mensah of Ghana rose up.

Now the BBC is staging a special concert in Nigeria bringing some of the big names of the 1950s and 1960s onto one stage.

It seems that Highlife is as popular as ever. What do you think?

BBC Africa Live is asking:

Is Highlife still the ultimate pan-African music?

Or is it giving way to better and more modern rhythms?

Join the debate this Wednesday 29 September at 1630 GMT and 1830 GMT.

Use the form to send us your comments - some of which will be published below.

If you would like to take part in the discussion, e-mail us with your telephone number, which will not be published.


Your comments:

Highlife is music that will not go die because it has it's roots in Africa unlike others.
Olumuyiwa Onabanjo, Ikorodu, Lagos, Nigeria

Have you all forgotten how Osibisa used highlife to blend with elements of swing and jazz. Well, the ratings on the well recognised billboard will never forget that.
Sosa Presby, Rejgikavik, Iceland

Highlife has been the precursor of many of today's varied musical styles. It celebrated our rich musical and cultural heritage. It is a shame that it is no longer vibrant in most parts of West Africa.
Nixon Winter, Dallas TX USA

Highlife is a cool and soul uplifting music that can not be over-emphasised. I have attended so many parties, but once an African music is put on you will feel an unprecedented joy inside of you that can actually not be compared to what you have been hearing all along.
Ambrose Benard, Holland, Deventer

Highlife music is the bond that brings all black people together,its time for all black people to come together and celebrate HIGH LIFE MUSIC. Long live Africa.
Abu Awokoya, Brooklyn, New York

West African Highlife gave birth to Makossa and ultimately to MJ's "makossa" lyrics in Thriller - the World's all-time best selling record. Thanks to the legendary Manu Dibango of Cameroon. West Africans are music wizzards.
Aku Martin, New York, USA

Hi-Life is the basic infusional sounds of palmwine style of music coming from West Africa especially Ghana. And because it is the tree, all nowadays music are the branches of the Hi-Life tree and we are going to still live it untill there is no West Africa.
Gyedu-Blay Ambolley, Palmdale, California

What we romanticise as the hilife of 'yester years' was a combo of Western and Latin American music, so we should be careful when we castigate hiplife, in 50 years, it will be the good old music of 'yester years' too.

Ogya, Ghana - New Jersey

Highlife is clearly revived in forms of JuJu, Soukous, Afrobeat. People like Fela come to mind.
Samuel I Akough, Adikpo Mbaagwa Nigeria

Excuse my ignorance but as a 25 year old Zambian woman I know nothing of this type of music. Its a mistake often made to analyse Africa as if it comprises of one common culture and heritage. One has to be a bit more specific especially when it comes to a subject as varied as African music. Africa is the sum of many parts and cultures. From what I've gathered highlife is a style of music associated with Western and parts of Central Africa. The rest of us dont know what the fuss is all about.
Chibale , Kitwe, Zambia

Highlife plays a key part in the musical heritage of Africa and I would be happy if this heritage is preserved. Modifying hi-life to so called hip-life is in right direction but musicians should mindful about the selected lyrics.
Theophilus Asante, Greensboro, NC. USA

Yes, I feel that hilife is still popular. It is the music that we as Africans enjoyed and still do. The styles that we have now, hilife music paved the way.
Kimemia M, Kenyan in US

Are we still living the highlife? NO!! Highlife has just been reborn and its now everyones baby in africa,its uniting Africa too despite ploitical diffrences, Camerounian highlife played in state banquet in Nigeria,Congo highlife played in parties all over Africa,Highlife is everywhere,NO party is Great among Africans here in the USA without soukous,rhumba,Afrobeat and juju.
Paul Bonanza Eguabor, Toledo ,ohio ,USA

Hilife music never left Africa. Africans left Hilife. In other words; it has always, and will always be in our blood. As long as African like dancing to rythms hilife music will be there to provide it.
Michael, Minneapolis, USA

Yes we are still living in the highlife way
Henry Ugo Okeke, Omuma/Nigerian

Highlife will live side by side with innovations be they rai, rap or R & B but it will always be vintage. One thing we must not forget. The ryhtm of music depicts the state of affairs in the world.
Earnshaw Palmer, Essex, Uk

It would be lovely to see highlife music regain the kind of popularity that it had back in the 60s and 70s. It is very good music that is truly African in its spirit and is well-played and composed unlike some of the music produced today in Africa that tries (poorly) to imitate hip-hop, pop and RnB music as they are done in the UK and the US. We should be 1st class originals and not 2nd rate imitators.
Ayoola Somolu, Boston, USA

Highlife music is an integral part of african heritage. we as africans should preserve it as much as possible.
Osagie Usoh, Houston, Texas. U.S.A

I think Highlife initially had its own set of intruments that gave it its peculiar form, character and style.With the discovery of more modern musical instruments musicians are therefore compelled to include all sorts irrespective of whether they fit in or not, therefore deviating from the original Highlife style.As a result they produce something different leading to rename.Modern musicians should therefore restudy the original Highlife style very well before composing.
Michael Ansah- Peprah, Kmasi,Ghana

For us in Sierra Leone I don't think that there is much of Highlife here but I think our musicians are doing better than before.
Murtala, Sierra Leone

Highlife is part of African culture, innovations can only make it more appealing to the present generation.
Kayode, Manchester, UK

A stitch in time saves nine. Something should be done to restore highlife back to our memories,this can be done by burning those songs from LPs to CDs
Eugene Che Che, Buea-Cameroon.

Look at what the youth have done with Hiplife in Ghana. I mean no one booked them when they first started; I thank God they were not destracted and today we are having more than fun with it. It has opened doors for the youth in Ghana for instance. Instead of the populace asking what is R. Kelly's new one you will catch them mesmerised in a local tune humming away.
Abubakar Ibrahim, Accra, Ghana

Hip hop and other western type of music have taken over the land threatening to wipe away our ways. But highlife is still appreciated by many all over Africa and worshipped because they address crucial issues affecting the people. Fela Kuti is an icon in Nigeria. The west should let others be heard too. Their ways is threatening ours, the developing nations
George Onmonya Daniel, Lagos, Nigeria

Music is the opium of Africa. Whether high life or the other versions. This high life music varies from one state to the other. Take Zambia for instance, this kind of music was mainly featured during the struggle for independence and the songs consisted of words and lyrics that depicted the sorrows of the Zambians.
Shuttie F.N.Libuta, Kitwe/Zambia,Central Africa

Highlife, hardlife or lowlife, the beat goes on. Highlife beat is what helps most Africans forget the obstacles they face on a daily basis. Highlife helps keep hope alive.
Victor Abiodun Abiona, Rockville, MD USA

I grew up listening to the music of "Cardinal Rex Lawson" and the elegance of graceful moves dancing to highlife music. Highlife music was a statement of West African oppulence and sophistication; however, the throes of making a living in Africa has made this particular genre of music fade away.It will re-emerge with better days ahead.
O'Dada Dueh Chieh, Monrovia, Liberia

Yes, I think highlife is a pan- african music. It is different because , you can hear unique African sounds with a blend of modern music. I still listen to afro-beat in my dorm room in college. Even though, I have the choice of listening to hip-pop and R&B. Nothing can be compared to Afro-beat.
Sade, Madison, USA

When it comes to Highlife, I am a conservative. I refused to listen to hiplife untill this year when I noticed a change in style. They have gone back to traditional rythm using cowbells and brass band music.
Isaac Kusi, Bronx. New York

I am a Liberian-born American, who finally went back to my African musical roots several years ago. I can honestly tell you that there is NO better music.
James, Arizona-USA

Hilife is an oral history beside letting the African know and understand myth and environment it also teaches morals. Let's revisit the original. Hiplife is just a noisy exhibition of raw talent.
Freeman Tettey, Accra,Ghana

The greatest asset West Africans and for that matter Africans will have is the hilife music and must do everything possible to preserve it as it is a known secret that the roots of all music can be traced to 'hilife'
Akwasi, London & U.K

During the heydays of highlife, we had our stars and there was nothing like ethnic prejudice because the music was a great rallying point. Highlife is the music of Africa's hope that was dashed after independence.
Osagie Ayanru, Charleston,WV, USA

There is a need to preserve Highlife through re-recording CDs of old songs.
Senikehinde, Boston/USA

The beat is still much around. There are daily innovations and fusions with modern instruments and styles.
Samson, Lagos/Nigeria

Yes, at last the rhythm is getting back the sweet memories of pre- independence Africa. Highlife is not high at the moment, but it has a special place in the musical life of Africa.
Ngobei L.Shamata, Arusha/Tanzania

Highlife is and will still be popular in Africa, especially Ghana. Both old and young enjoy it. The lyrics are about everyday life and the stories are interesting to listen to. No matter what modernisation brings to highlife, it will still be the best and most popular music in Africa.
John Pastor Ansah, Norway

One thing that I know about almost every African is that we are very quick to forget about what we are identified with.
Stephen S. M. Benah, Liberia/ Ghana

I really enjoy listening to hilife specially the voice of E.T Mensah. It captures the culture and the ups and downs of life. A great tradition not only for the West African but to all music lovers around the world.
Behzad, Washington, DC

It is high time Africans embrace some of their much envied heritage and stand proud to do so. Highlife will remain. It can be revived to suit the present taste of our youths as well as the adult folks.
Christian Merenini, Lagos Nigeria

There is a need to preserve Highlife through re-recording CDs of old songs.
Senikehinde, Boston/USA




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