Ghana Special

13/05/2024Soundway Records Unveils Scintillating Collection Of Electronic 'Burger Highlife' Sounds From The Diaspora, 1980-93

As wonderful as it is to have such a broad selection of grooves on one record, it's admittedly tough to review 'various artists' compilations down to the very last detail. Instead of sharing in-depth background information on each and every artist involved, capturing the collective vibe and providing some necessary context usually suffice to point people in the right direction. That being said, Soundway Records just released the heavyweight second volume of its acclaimed "Ghana Special" compilation and it is jam-packed with a potent collection of burger highlife, electronic afrobeat and reggae tracks from the Ghanaian diaspora. 

"Ghana Special 2: Electronic Highlife & Afro Sounds In The Diaspora, 1980-93" is the long and eagerly awaited follow-up to the label's 2009-released "Ghana Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds & Ghanaian Blues 1968-81" selection. While the first volume focused on productions from Ghana itself, however, this latest edition shines a light on "the idiosyncracies of a rapidly changing postcolonial society, marked by increased migration and [thus] wider access to global sounds and modern technology." Succeeding the highlife-led and palm wine-induced 'golden age' of music in the 1960s and 1970s and the subsequent influential standing of artists in Ghanaian society, "the incoming military regime-imposed curfews and substantial import taxes on musical instruments in the early 1980s." That coupled with a "profound economic downturn" and "shifting musical preferences that saw DJs replacing large live bands" caused many musicians to leave their homeland and resettle across West Africa, Europe and North America with Germany at the heart of a new diasporic scene. 'Burger highlife' is actually derived from the word 'Bürger' meaning 'citizen in German. Either way, these artists abroad "were quick to engage with different styles, working disco, boogie and funk into their highlife melodies" and benefitting from "state-of-the-art studios" as well as "modern musical technologies."

This underlying experimental approach and exposure to global influences takes the retro highlife sound to new synth-fueled heights, imbuing it with an even more infectious dynamic and cutting-edge allure. "Drum machines and synthesisers appeared alongside lilting guitar lines and punchy horns, and the emerging Ghanaian diaspora began incorporating US disco and boogie, R&B, European new wave, and Caribbean zouk and soca into their music," the release notes detail. The result is a scintillating 18-track collection of sophisticated, groundbreaking dance tracks to bop with. And while a certain '80s vibe is prevalent throughout, these productions in their essence are timeless, radiating a joie-de-vivre that is no doubt universal yet also inherently Ghanaian.

AUTHOR: Lev Nordstrom