The evolution of Ghanaian music

For as long as I’ve lived, and let me tell you, it hasn’t been that long, music has been an integral part of the Ghanaian culture as well as dance. It has played a major role in festivals in the country and some even tell stories of how life has evolved, in the land of the ‘ote korkorso’. One of the few places where traditional Ghanaian music is ripe with flair is the Akwasidae, Bakatue in Elmina which is celebrated by the Fantes, the Gas have Homowo which is thrive with dancing and music, many other festivals follow the way of rhythm and great gyrating.

For people who are as tone deaf as I am, we find that there is music for artistic intent, that carries a wide range of vocal tones with respect to traditional music, there’s the G, the C sharp and the like. Artistically, it is believed that the Akans use a less intense tone as compared to the Frafra, while a near or true falsetto(whatever that means) oh! Wait, I know what that is, the long stretches at the end of most songs that threaten to make me deaf when people try out for positions on musical shows. Now, back to the matter, (eii isn’t that a line from one of the trending Nigerian songs?) can be noticed from several other ethnic groups. Even the “dirty” tones are not distortions but intentional in both vocal and instrumental sounds to as natural as possible. The intense rhythm of hand clapping could be as important as drums. In social discourse, the Akans have songs and drum rhythms for specific things some are aimed at curing enuresis as well as to shame a thief while he is paraded through town with whatever he stole in his hands.

In recent times, Ghanaians have evolved from the traditional drum beats alone to adding a bit of colour to their work by introducing the African drum sound beats with some engineering technology, usually created by mixing different octaves of rhythm, to create unique sounding music that is of danceable origin synonymous with the African way of life.

The pioneers of great Ghanaian and the never forgotten greats such as Ephraim Amu, whose songs sparked off patriotism and depth that moved many to fall in love with the piano, and what being Ghanaian meant, the ever calm musicologists, J.H.K. Nketia, who used academia and music to create a world evocative of bliss, found in the same annals are Kenneth Kafui, Kwesi Baiden, Entsua-Mensah, Otto Boateng, Gyimah Larbi and many more.

Deviating from the norm but staying true to the art sprang the newbies of the world, who were fed on classical music and contemporary Ghanaian music, they mixed and matched till they just had to burst with greatness and make international fame, Victor Dey, Chapman Nyaho, Steve Bedi who uses his trumpet to make one fall in love. The new crop of music lovers and makers had to come to light with the new age technology and developed dance form what we had of old. Transitioning from highlife, which has powerful names behind it such as Pat Thomas, Ben Brako and many more greats my small years never experienced. In came the Ghanaian man who had just come to bury his father and couldn’t make it back abroad because he had been denied a Visa, with the song, ‘ya bouncy wo Visa’ the Grandpapa of Hiplife, introducing the genre, which had rap and more rhythm, it caught on fast and has never let go of the Ghanaian whether young and old, many underground artistes were coming to the limelight and songs with the dances were being introduced in the clubs and pubs all over.

In my time as a child, we learnt to shoope, whine our bodies and then do the ‘ab3n wa ha’ dance. However, in 2013, along with the hit song ‘Azonto’, came the dance Azonto. the dance which originated from the Ga traditional dance called Kpanlogo, is a set of hand movements that mimic everyday activities while moving a step or two, bending at the knees and moving one hips and coming up with one’s hand in the air in a fist like manner. The song Azonto got everyone dancing and jumping all over. The term Azonto was originally a rude reference to wayward girls and stems from the word ‘Abontoa’ which means ugly girl but with the hit of the song, the word has since lost its sting.

The other songs in the new era that made our hearts beat harder were Efya’s Little things, Asem’s Give me blow, Buk Bak, Native Funk Lords which had Eddie Blay as a member. Rolling into the years, old changed into new and we had twi pop which DCryme brought with his music and then there are the love crooners such as Kwabena Kwabena, MR. Musicman, Kojo Antwi that have had the hearts of many women from the get go.

Women found ways to contend in the music industry and with their number rising, so are the genres, some young women are believed to be dancehall artistes with the rhythm that is added to their music and the use of the Jamaican patois or creole which is spoken in many Caribbean nations.

One of such acts that set tongues wagging with her manner of dressing was Ebony, who caught the Ghanaian music lovers hard and fast and got them dancing and thinking a lot of life. Enam, one of the ardent fans says, you should listen to Ebony she makes a lot of sense with her music.

So whether you love classical music, highlife, hiplife, twipop, afropop, dancehall, reggae, or just plain old traditional music, take a minute to soak in the songs that caught your heart before all the noise, as my father puts it, came to stay.

Music has, and always will play a huge part in Ghanaian society and can be linked to many ancient traditions throughout history. Today there is a huge following for the “Afrobeats” genre and for many younger generations in the western world, this is the first real opportunity to experience and embrace music from Africa.

The music we listen to today has evolved from a mix of the traditional Yoruba Instruments and chanting. Some of these ancient musical instruments and styles are still used in Ghana in conjunction with traditional dancers.

Yoruba Instruments

Ghana has many varied styles of traditional music due to the large variety of tribes and ethnic groups across the country.

Those from the Ga region are associated with the Kpanlogo which is a drum played with the hands.


The Ewe tribe are known for their traditional style of music called Borborbor. It links traditional drumming rhythms with proverbial lyrics, that are often about religion . There is also a Borborbor dance which women do whilst dancing, singing and you’ll often find women waving white handkerchiefs in the air!

The northern region of Ghana can also be linked to the Kologo, which is easiest described as a guitar with one or two strings.

Some of the instruments the Akan region is known for include the Prepensua, a box Piano with three to five notes made of bamboo or metal.


The Seperewa, which is a harp like instrument was used long before the acoustic guitar.

One of my personal favorites is the Atumpan, also known as the talking drum of the Akan people. It is the favoured instrument to play the bass section of any musical arrangement and is played using two sticks. Atumpan drummers are also highly respected within the community.

It is almost impossible to discuss the musical sounds from Ghana without mentioning “High Life”. The best way to describe “High Life” music is African sounds fused with jazz, calypso, lovers rock, classical, soul and church music. The name “High Life” is said to have been formed because originally, this style of music was performed for the then ruling British Elite at lavish functions and for those enjoying the “high life”.

A classic “High Life” artist is Daddy Lumba:

Daddy Lumba’s – Aben wo ha

In the early 1990’s the emergence of a new musical style evolved called “Hip-Life”. The best way to describe “Hip Life” is “High life” mixed with American Rap or Hip Hop. This style came about at a time where American rap music and culture was heavily influencing West Africa.

This genre appealed primarily for the youth and was not just a musical style, more like a cultural statement, a form of expression similar to the Hip Hop movement. The elders disliked the majority of these songs and complained that they advocate open sexuality, drug use, gang culture and materialism.

Reggie Rockstone was the pioneer of the “Hip Life” movement. Other popular “Hip Life” Artists include Tic Tac, Batman, Praye & Lord Kenya.

Reggie Rockstone – “Ah”

Today “AfroBeats” is making a big impact on the music scene and is enjoying recognition not only in Ghana, but theUk and the world over! Homage needs to be paid to the late Nigerian Legend Fela Kuti for creating this new musical genre whilst in Ghana back in 1967. It took off in the 1970s when Fela began touring the US with his band‘Africa 70’. Back then, a large band would create a unique fusion of Jazz, Funk, High Life, blues, traditional drums and vocals of up to 30 backing singers! (most of them his wives!)

Fela Kuti & Africa 70 Perform Live (Berlin 1978)

Fast forward 40 years and we have the New Era of “Afrobeats”. Think African Dance music merged with sounds of Pop, Dancehall, and Highlife. Some argue its attraction to the mainstream will lead to a loss of authenticity in order for it to go commercial. Those more positive are just enjoying the fact that the world is embracing it and absorbing African culture at the same time.

Some of the musicians really ‘killing it on the scene’ include:

Dbanj, E.L, Sarkodie, Fuse ODG, Davido, Wizkid, Iyanya, Burna Boy, Brymo and Atumpan

A Club Favorite:

Fuse ODG Ft. Wyclef Jean – Antenna T.I.N.A (This Is New Africa)

Additional materials Ghanadatabase

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