Funky Highlife came out of the Essiebons label run by Dick Essilfe Bondzie. According to Dick, this album could have been a massive hit in Ghana but the vinyl factories ran out of stock because of Ghana’s economic downturn, so the demand for the record could not be met. The album is a fusion of highlife and soul. The best-known track ‘Asafo beesuon’ is a multi-layered, drum heavy, funk medley and is over 13 minutes long.
In the late 90s hip hop producers started hearing about Afrobeat through the sounds of Fela Kuti. Steinski, one of the most influential early producers in hip hop, sampled Asafo Beesoun and suddenly all the hip hop collectors wanted a copy. Hence, the original LP is a hard-to-find and sought-after collectors item.
C.K. Mann first rose to fame I'm the early 60s playing guitars in Ghana with Moses Kweku Oppong I'm the Kakaikus Guitar Band before moving to lead the band Ocean's Strings until 1966. Funky Highlife is the latest re-release in Mr Bongo's never ending pursuit of gems from the past, coming as part of the Classic African Recordings Series.
Funky Highlife was originally released through the Essiebons label but according to the manager of that label, Dick Essilfe Bondzie, the album never reached the audience it could have due to an economic downturn in Ghana which subsequently lead to a lack of vinyl for vinyl factories. Bad times.
African music has often influence mainstream music, with regular growths in popularity and influence over the past few decades. Whether the post punk experimentations of the early 80s or the influence on hip-hop and soul in the late 90s or the subsequent re-influence on noughties indie via post punks revival. Funky Highlife is a fusion of African sounds, Latin American music & style and soul.
This re-release comes in two flavours - the original on vinyl, which features two extended medleys, and an extended CD with and extra 40-minutes of music across eight songs. It's hard to deny that this sounds richer, more authentic and ultimately better on LP, and since the vinyl release also includes a download code it is clearly the version to get.
The actual music is hard not to love - laid back Highlife fused to Latin-jazz elements and soul. The 'Asafo Beesuon' medley is gently strummed and hummed, an infectious and joyful patter. Melodies are plucked out in a relaxed way and the music and vocals create a laid-back mood. 'Beebi A Odo Wo' is a little less horizontal, a snappy and soulful track with sharper rhythms, jazz-influenced guitar and some well timed brass.
Highlife is a style of music originating in Ghana influenced by jazz, with horns and layered guitars commonly featuring. These days it's perhaps a little less common to hear it called out than Afrobeat, Nigeria's equivalent - and it lacks the kind of attention that Fela Kuti's success brought to the latter. It has still had periods of larger success as a genre though, rising to popularity in the in the 60s.
Funky Highlife, either in its original or extended forms, is music to embrace and cherish, to chase the blues and cloud away. It comes together to make something bigger than any individual moment - instead its a record to leave to unfurl whilst business of life goes on around you.
Trawling through the Urban Essence promos mailbox can, at times, be a tedious task. While we’re blessed with receiving a lot of exciting new music that’s fresh off the press, one sometimes feels bombarded by the deluge of uninteresting, formulaic and imitatory sounds that come hand-in-hand with it.
The Beebi a odo wo medley continues in blissfully sun-kissed fashion, its organ and big band backing track gelling seamlessly with Mann’s crooning, exhibiting that most classically appealing feature of Highlife music; the ability to be so powerfully emotive despite remaining so nonchalantly easygoing.