Ghana Special - Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds & Ghanaian Blues 1968-1981
5LP Box Set
+ 2 more tracks previously only available on the CD version of the Ghana Soundz compilation: 37 tracks on 5 LPs, plus a 12 page booklet with rare photos and history:
Basically a bunch of african tunes, ranging from latin-tinged afrojazz to Kuti-esque afropop, and even some hip-hop accented tracks.
During a period of exile, Nigerian Afrobeat king Fela Kuti sheltered in Ghana, and many of Ghana's musicians did stints in Lagos and other Nigerian cities. The horn-heavy dance band highlife sound that developed in Ghana was easily exported by E.T. Mensah to Nigeria in the 50s, and the two countries keep up their musical dialogue even today.
Anywhere you set down the needle on this set will land on a winner. Bokoor Band’s “You Can Go” and “You Monopolize Me” by Ogyatanaa Show Band are personal favorites.
1. The Mercury Dance Band – Kai Wawa [Mono Version]
2. T. O. Jazz – Owuo Adaadaa Me [Mono Version]
3. Christy Azuma & Uppers International – Din Ya Sugri
4. Asaase Ase – Ohiani Sua Efir [Mono Version]
5. The Cutlass Dance Band – HweHwe Mu Yi Mpena
6. Dr. K. Gyasi & His Noble Kings – Sei Nazo
7. Hedzoleh Soundz – Edinya Benya City Boys Band – Nya Asem Hwe
8. City Boys Band - Nya Asem Hwe
9. St. Peter & The Holymen – Bofoo Beye Abowa Den [Mono Version]
10. Vis a Vis – Obi Agye Me Dofo
11. The Big Beats – Mi Nsumõõ Bo Dõnn
12. The Barbecues – Aaya Lolo [Mono Version]
13. Kyeremateng Atwede & The Kyeremateng Stars – I Go Die For You
14. Ebo Taylor – Twer Nyame (excerpt)
15. Pa Steele's African Brothers – Odo Mmera
16. The Ogyatanaa Show Band – You Monopolise Me
17 The African Brothers International Band – Wompe Masem
18. Gyedu-Blay Ambolley & His Creations – Akoko Ba
19 The Sweet Talks – Akampanye
20 Houghas Sorowonko – Enuanom Adofo
21 Oscar Sulley's Nzele Soundz – Bukom
22 Bokoor Band – You Can Go
23 K. Frimpong & His Cubanos Fiestas – Kyenkyen Bi Adi M’Awu
24 Basa Basa Soundz feat. Fela Anikulapo Kuti – Dr. Solutsu
24 Hedzolleh Soundz – Omusus Da Fe M'musu
25 Boombaya – Boombaya
26 Dr. K. Gyasi & His Noble Kings – Noble Kings (Yako Aba)
27 The Wellis Band – Bindiga
28 Pagadeja – Tamale
29 The Uhuru Dance Band – Yahyia Mu
30 The Cutlass Dance Band – Them Go Talk Of You
31 Honny & The Bees Band – Sisi Mbon
32 Sawaaba Soundz – Owuo
33 Honny and the Bees Band - Psychedelic Women
34 The Black Star Sound - Nite Safari
35 T.O. Jazz - Osaman Bar
Joe Mensah - Cry Laughter
So now Soundway gives us Ghana Special,
5LP 33-track companion to the Nigerian volume and a successor to the label's two Ghana Soundz compilations from several years ago.
Where Ghana Soundz focused on heavy funk and Afrobeat, this draws from a much wider spectrum, providing a panorama of the country's pop music. The influences range from local rhythms and age-old songs and the divergent palm-wine and big band highlife styles of Ghana itself to American blues, soul, and funk, European and American rock and psych (the Barbecues quote "Black Magic Woman" in the organ solo of "Aaya Lolo"), Cuban pachanga, and Nigerian Afrobeat.
The cycling guitars of highlife are sometimes tinged with a bit of wah pedal, and wild analog synthesizers rub shoulders with hand drums whose design hasn't changed in centuries.
Highlife's two strains-- the upper class big bands with their horn sections and lower-class palm-wine with its simple guitars and socially observant lyrics-- essentially merged during this period, as record players became widespread, economic decline made it tough to keep the big bands together, and technology changed everything.
Some names are familiar. Collectors of these compilations will recognize the African Brothers, TO Jazz, the Sweet Talks, K. Frimpong, Ebo Taylor, Mercury Dance Band, Uhuru Dance Band, Gyedu-Blay Ambolley, and others (including a guest shot on sax by Fela Kuti backing Basa Basa Soundz),
but there are plenty of other names that will be new even to the well-versed. The Barbecues, Boombaya, Pagadeja, the Wellis Band, St. Peter & the Holymen and Houghas Sorowonko aren't exactly well known, even to enthusiasts. The liner notes are stuffed with biographical and collector wonk information, shedding light on just how extensive the music industry was in Ghana before its collapse in 1981.
For a collector, it's a treasure trove of backstory-- I've had K. Gyasi and Kyeremateng Atwede albums for years, and now I finally know who these people were.
It's hard to put a foot wrong when stepping into the tracklisting. Christy Azuma & Uppers International supply ethereal Afrobeat on "Din Ya Sugri", the Sweet Talks get sweetly funky on "Akampanye", the members of Pagadeja have fun imitating animal noises on "Tamale", and we get to hear Hedzoleh Sounds, known in the West primarily for the record they cut backing South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, on their own, laying down a couple of mean grooves and getting crazy with a Jew's harp. "Bukom", by Oscar Sulley's Nezele Sounds, brilliantly showcases Sulley's arranging skills, pitting an army of traditional drums against thundering brass--
if I ran a good college marching band program, I'd be slipping this in to the repertoire to blow some minds at half-time. Soundway's Miles Cleret also includes K. Frimpong's stone classic "Kyenkyen Bi Adi M'Awu", which here sounds far more cleaned up and clear than any remastering I've previously heard, be it on a cassette from Ghana or Kona's excellent 2002 Afro-Rock, Vol.1 compilation, where it made its Western debut.
The long instrumental intro to Vis-A-Vis's "Obi Agye Me Dofo" is very nearly a cover of "Kyenkyen", and they share a type of syncopated, hopping beat that seems unique to Ghanaian records-- it's heard several times here, including on Ebo Taylor's "Twer Nyame".
Though no two songs handle it exactly the same way, it's something of a national rhythmic stamp that's instantly addictive. And that's one reason that Soundway had to make a Ghanaian companion to Nigeria Special: As intertwined as the countries' music could be, neither scene was subordinate to the other, and this music is distinctly Ghanaian. In any event, Ghana Special offers a spoil of riches you can dance to in any language.
— Joe Tangari, November 9, 2009