Growing up in the Niger Delta meant that I was surrounded by highlife sound as it was a definitive sound during my growing up years. The sound that has come to be known as Highlife originated in Ghana and was at its peak between the 50s and 80s.
This book chronicles the history of the sound and the heavyweights who left an indelible mark in the sands of the sound. The book is a crisscrossing journey from Ghana to Nigeria, back to Ghana with almost negligible stops in neighbouring West African countries. Of all the giants none towers higher than E.T. Mensah.
The history of highlife music in Nigeria actually takes off after E.T. Mensah and his pioneering band, The Tempos, toured Nigeria for three months in 1953. That and subsequent tours of The Tempos band marked the beginning of a symbiotic relationship between the highlife music community in both countries. Musicians moved from one band in Ghana to a newly formed one in Nigeria with ease. Most of the Nigerian highlight heavyweights (like Bobby Benson and Victor Olaiya) had extensive collaborations and sabbaticals in Ghana with their Ghanaian counterparts.
A critical juncture in the highlife trajectory in Nigeria was the 67-70 Biafra civil war. Most leading band members of the best bands in Lagos were from the east of the country. As they left for home during the exodus that occurred just before the war, most highlife bands were incomplete and could not function adequately. This marked the ascendency of Juju and Fuji music in western Nigeria because nature abhorred a vacuum.
This book is good and well-researched, and in the process highlights in clear perspective, the significance of the household names of the highlife gene and in the process heightens the nostalgia that highlife music breeds within me.