The enchanting beauty of highlife music lies in its great rhythmic compositions, real life stories the musicians expertly craft, the soothing feel the music exude. These elements or properties end up pulling you, the listener, along. As you nod and do your one-two steps, you are also fed with profound life lessons.
Concerns have been expressed by some highlife veterans on how the current wave of Ghanaian artists are abandoning highlife for the new, fast tempo afrobeat sound. Those who proffer this argument are quick to indicate how the very foundation of our music is highlife; and any attempts at abandoning it would spell doom for all of us. That is, the musical heritage of Ghana, which is highlife, shall be lost.
Despite these legitimate concerns, there are some new artists channelling their inner highlife spirit – which they acquired as kids or fell in love with – into some of the music they create. Names such as Kwabena Kwabena, Bisa K’dei, Kyekyeku and Akwaboah readily come to mind as some of today’s music acts who reflect the tenets of traditional highlife.
Akwaboah is one of the gifted artists of his generation. Known for his excellent songwriting and pristine crooning, he has not been shy to reflect highlife elements in his songs, even if they are stewed in today’s afropop. This is due, in large part, to his background: he is the son of a famed highlife artist, Kwadwo Akwaboah Sr, known for his classic song, “Awerekyekyere”. (The song was a cover of Julio Iglesias 1988 single ‘Now That Love Is On Our Side).
Akwaboah Jnr. revisited his traditional highlife roots on his single, ‘M’afutusem’, which translate as “My Advice’. Like the title amply indicate, the song advises against greed, disrespect, death and abuse of power or position.
The song is drenched in vintage highlife instrumentation: the tapping of a beaded gourd, gong gong kicks, guitar (Yaa Amponsah), triumphant horns come together beautifully, evoking the feel highlife music of the 70s and 80s carried.
Akwaboah makes an entry with the following words to set the tone of the message to come: “How many days are you spending on earth thus making it difficult for you to love your fellow human?”
The horns on the song pave the way for Akwaboah’s pockets of advice. “You hate me, yet you’d shed tears when I die”, he intones, before admonishing against selfishness, conflicts, sickening pride and greediness. For Akwaboah, holding on to such cancerous behaviour would not amount to anything significant since in the end, death will come calling.
The thought of dying and leaving everything one has worked hard for should always dictate our social encounters. “When the day comes (death), you’ll leave with only the food you’ve eaten”. A simple yet loaded statement to drum home his point.
Not only does ”M’afutusem” reek of good old highlife musical elements, any lover of high life won’t fail noticing how the song reminds you of some very classic tunes. Akwaboah, choosing to begin the first verse with a monologue reminds me of Dr. Paa Bobo on ”Comfort”. One can also notice a subtle resemblance with the famous Nana Ampadu song ”Obra”. And the hook brings into sharp focus the bridge on Amakye Dede’s “Su Fr3 Wo Nyame”.
“M’afutusem” is a perfectly composed song. From the soothing rhythms, the thought- provoking themes and Akwaboah’s excellent delivery, the quality of work shines through. Now, I’m looking forward to a series of songs by Akwaboah that mirrors the highlife of the late 70s and mid-80s.