MUSC 116 Ghanaian Popular Music


Highlife music has emerged as one of the most popular world music genres from West Africa in the last century. The music tradition's success on the world stage is closely associated with its Trans-Atlantic influences and the impact of African traditional and imported Western and Black Diasporic performance norms. The present proliferation and popularization of various musical styles marketed as 'highlife' or Ghanaian popular music point to the fact that Ghanaian musical expressions draw their musical characteristics from indigenous Ghanaian music heritage juxtaposed with ideas borrowed from the West. Styles are differentiated according to time, place, and cultural influences concerning embellishment, language choice, vocal timbres, and instrumental resources. This course analyses the musical varieties within genres marketed as Ghanaian 'popular' or "highlife" music. It offers broader political, economic, and socio-historical perspectives on various factors rooted in ethnicity, gender, identity, Pan-Africanism, and generational class relations that have contributed to contemporary understandings of Ghanaian ‘popular’ and highlife music. Our exploration of Highlife will range from the relationships between Ghanaian and West African music research to the marketing of highlife music today, from ethnographic approaches to Ghanaian performance to the philosophical and ethical considerations involved in studying it. Throughout the course, we will consider how Ghanaian 'popular' musicians and related groups have created a range of sound worlds under considerable social, political, and commercial pressure.