225

Saka Acquaye and His African Ensemble: Ghana: High-Life And Other Popular Music

AAJ Staff By

Sign in to view read count
Saka Acquaye and His African Ensemble: Ghana: High-Life And Other Popular Music With all the sophistication that accompanied highlife's ascendancy as the popular music of West Africa, its roots remain somewhat obscured. Highlife, born in Ghana, incorporates rhythmic styles and instruments from Cuba and the Caribbean, jazz styles from America, and traditional music from West Africa. In the '50s, it was a revolutionary mix. By the '60s, highlife was rapidly becoming an institution.

This record offers an unusual snapshot of highlife in its rawest form. Saka Acquaye, a multi-instrumentalist who formed his African Ensemble in the '50s, leads the group of eleven musicians featured on this reissue from 1969. Up to five players are busy at the drums at any given time, which imbues the music with an assertive polyrhythmic texture. "Drum Festival," a percussion-only piece, showcases the ways this group can assemble a vehicle from moving parts.

While the styles and approaches vary from piece to piece, the common theme is elaboration of images, moods, and morals through song. The opening track, "Sugar Soup," digs deep into West African folk music to tell the story of a girl who goes overboard preparing a soup for her lover. The vocals here betray their West African roots, with distinctive call-and-response units based around a simple repeated theme. "Saturday Night" opens with a horn fanfare, bringing Cuban drums and the unusual voice of the vibraphone to the fore. A popular tune at the time, it has a very catchy swing feel.

"Concomba" highlights the cultural collisions that resulted in highlife: basically a calypso tune, the piece features chord changes and a nice vibraphone solo, plus (of course) a richly textured rhythmic foundation. As a reflection of highlife's origins, it also points toward the direction the music would subsequently head.

Saka Acquaye's ensemble does a nice job of tying things together. This music has a raw feel, unlike a lot of the highlife that was coming out of Nigeria at the time. It's simpler, more organic, and—significantly—more African. Its back-to-roots approach might make it difficult for Western ears to appreciate, but if you're open to raw culture this record is a fun ride.

Visit Nonesuch on the web.

Track Listing: 1. Sugar Soup 2. Down the Congo 3. Saturday Night 4. Drum Festival 5. Concomba 6. Beyond Africa 7. Congo Beat 8. Echoes of the African Forest 9. Bus Conductor 10. Ebony 11. Kenya Sunset 12. Awuben 13. Akudonno

Personnel: Saka Acquaye: drums, flute, and tenor saxophone; Garvine Masseaux: vibes & drums; George Brooks: double-bass; Edward Cooper: trumpet and mellophone; Wilfred Letman: trumpet; Charles Earland: tenor saxophone; Walter Miller: guitar; Robert Crowder, Joseph Acquaye, Benny Parkes, Sunny Morgan: drums.

Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: Nonesuch Records | Style: Beyond Jazz


Shop

More Articles

Read Nightfall CD/LP/Track Review Nightfall
by John Kelman
Published: May 22, 2017
Read Pekka CD/LP/Track Review Pekka
by Roger Farbey
Published: May 22, 2017
Read In the Still of the Night CD/LP/Track Review In the Still of the Night
by Nicholas F. Mondello
Published: May 22, 2017
Read Zea CD/LP/Track Review Zea
by Glenn Astarita
Published: May 22, 2017
Read Asian Fields Variations CD/LP/Track Review Asian Fields Variations
by John Kelman
Published: May 21, 2017
Read Left Right Left CD/LP/Track Review Left Right Left
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: May 21, 2017
Read "Sanguinaria (Hopeful Songs)" CD/LP/Track Review Sanguinaria (Hopeful Songs)
by Roger Farbey
Published: January 24, 2017
Read "Rivers" CD/LP/Track Review Rivers
by James Nadal
Published: June 13, 2016
Read "The Core Trio Live, featuring Matthew Shipp" CD/LP/Track Review The Core Trio Live, featuring Matthew Shipp
by Karl Ackermann
Published: October 20, 2016
Read "Empty The Headbin" CD/LP/Track Review Empty The Headbin
by Mark Corroto
Published: July 15, 2016
Read "Time/Life:Songs For The Whales And Other Beings" CD/LP/Track Review Time/Life:Songs For The Whales And Other Beings
by Ian Patterson
Published: May 17, 2017
Read "Revolution Before Lunch" CD/LP/Track Review Revolution Before Lunch
by Mark Corroto
Published: June 2, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Why wait?

Support All About Jazz and we'll deliver exclusive content, hide ads, and provide read access to our future articles.