Two things are poignant in the songs ace highlifer, Charles Amoah has created: first is the fusion or incorporation of electro funk and disco elements in his songs; and second, his love for improvisation. With the latter, Charles Amoah ‘sings’ the melodies reserved for either guitar or horn players.
Charles Amoah is one of the foremost pioneers of burger highlife, which became a popular subgenre in the 80s. Known for his dancing and singing abilities, the ponytail wearing veteran was introduced to music by another highlife great, Alex Konadu in 1974. Charles Amoah subsequently left the shores of Ghana to Germany where he released his debut album after playing with a couple of bands.
He first released his debut album in 1984. “Sweet Vibrations” boasted such songs like “Shake Your Body With Beat” and “Scratch My Back”. Spurred by the success of the album, Charles Amoah released his sophomore album, “Fre Me” (Call Me), which had singles like “Fre Me”, “Aposese” and “Me Ne Wo Begro” (Pearly Games) in 1985. “Me Ne Wo Begro” elevated him to national prominence. Like the saying ‘strike when the iron is hot’, Charles returned with another banger two years later. “Odo Asem” literally established him as one of the foremost burger hi-lifers around.
Across these songs were the mash-up of musical influences. One could hear disco, funk, electronic, soul elements in his compositions. This was not unique in the sense that it was an era when these genres were popular in Europe. Being in Germany afforded him and others like George Darko, the Lumba Brothers an opportunity to witnessing the impact these genres of music were having, especially in the clubs. So, it made sense for them to incorporate elements of these influences into highlife to enhance the genre’s appeal.
Explaining why this fusion was important, music producer and executive, Mark Okraku- Mantey revealed during a radio discussion that, highlife songs, prior to that era, were generally slow in tempo and this affected the vibe these up-tempo disco, funk songs had created for party goers. Local DJs therefore we’re hesitant to play highlife records with low BPMs. So, the new burger highlife sound came to bridge this gap.
In the mid-200s, Charles Amoah returned to the music scene after spending years producing and arranging records for the likes of Azigiza, Nana Tufour, Nana Acheampong among others. His song ”Medofo Pa” was the first single he released upon his return.
“Medofo Pa” carries his trademartk aesthetics: the disco, electronic funk feel. The song opens with a single piano note around which the up – tempo beat is built. Charles sings about the emptiness he’d have to endure due to the impending absence of his lover- who we learn has secured a job in another town. Caught up in this web, he further describes the two sides of love: the joy that comes with having her around and the discomfort associated with her leaving.
To give the listener a sense of how invaluable his lover is, he draws parallel between her and the proverbial ‘santrofi anoma’ – her presence invites trouble yet her absence is akin to losing a treasure. (Santrofi Anoma is a beautiful bird that brings both joy and doom). He also compares her to day and night, where each side brings in its wake a certain sense of fulfilment or agony.
The last time I saw Charles Amoah on stage was during the 2017 VGMAs when he came to show the young ones ‘how it was done back in the day’. His songs are still as sharp and radiate as ever, despite being released some two to three decades ago. And watching him on the VGMA stage, it was clear Mr. Charles Amoah hasn’t lost a bit of his dance moves. The veteran artist still got it.
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