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Don’t ‘dilute’ Highlife rhythms —Prof Owusu-Frempong

BY: Gifty Owusu-Amoah
Prof Owusu-Frempong foreign beats in Highlife rhythms
Prof Yaw Owusu-Frempong

A PROFESSOR at the Highlife Institute, Yaw Owusu-Frempong, has cautioned young artistes to stop introducing alien beats into Highlife music with the intention of making it sound contemporary.

According to him, the originality of Highlife is based on its rhythms, and as such the attempts to “dilute” it to satisfy modern sounds is detrimental to the origin and uniqueness of the genre.

Speaking with Graphic Showbiz on the sidelines of the Highlife Music Jamboree Night held at the Vivivi Studios in Accra on Saturday, March 5 to mark the country’s 65th Independence anniversary, Professor Owusu-Frempong, who is also an executive director at the Vivivi Studios, said the new trend was a threat to Highlife music.

“I want our contemporary artistes to know that there are components in music that define a genre and Highlife is not different.

"There’s this perception that Highlife is archaic so even the young acts who are doing it believe that they must change the rhythms or infiltrate it with other sounds to make it appealing to their kind of audience.

“That is quite unacceptable, especially when there are particular elements that define Highlife. For instance, I don’t think that a song can still be classified as Reggae music when it is infused with Highlife rhythms or Jazz.

“Obviously, the sound of the music which qualifies it to be Reggae will be lost or not felt but unfortunately that is what we are doing to our Highlife,” he said.

He pointed out that listing and safeguarding of Highlife music as an Intangible Cultural Heritage would require expertise not only from practitioners and technicians in music production but academia as well.

“It is unfortunate to note that over the years, Highlife music seems to be a genre predominantly played in the southern part of Ghana. The genre has lost its eclectic spirit despite the abundant musical talent that exists in the north.

“The Vivivi Music Studios is exploring new ways through which the music of West Africa, especially Highlife, can speak to the rest of the world and has started a project called “Kyinkyinga” Highlife Music Project.

“One of the objectives of the project is to create a new music format, using Northern Sahelian, string musical instruments such as Gonge, Kologo, Balafon, Wia, etc. alongside Western instruments - the guitar, bass guitar, violin, etc.

“In this context, African pianism, a technique that emphasises the percussive and melodic capabilities of the piano is also deployed and that led to the establishment of Highlife Music Institute in 2021,” he stated.

As an ardent promoter of Highlife music, Professor Owusu-Frempong believes that this generation has a duty to safeguard, protect and promote Highlife.

“The time has come for Highlife music to be treated as a raw material - a non-traditional export commodity that must be developed and exploited to create jobs for the youth and yield revenue to GDP,” he noted.

He said that the objective of the Highlife Institute is to, among other things, project Ghana as the birthplace and home of Highlife Music, and promote research into Highlife music and its relationship with culture, tradition, heritage and “world” music.