The highlife may be considered the national and traditional rhythm of West
Africa. It was popularized in the newly-independent African Nation of
Ghana, though it is now highly popular all along the West African coast in
such nations as Sierra Leone, Dahomey, Guinea, Gabon, Liberia, the
Republic of Togo and Nigeria.
Starting as a tribal type of music, the highlife is now heard in all of
the major cities in West Africa. In Ghana it is danced at most social
functions. Some compare the highlife in tempo and accent to both the
calypso and samba, and both of these may be danced to a highlife rhythm.
It is possible that it was introduced to the United States by African
students who often perform it at parties and dances. In recent years
African records with highlife music -though hard to come by- have also
been available in the United States.
Pianist Randy Weston is one of the first American artists to present an
album of highlife music. As often happens, when rhythms or music from
foreign countries are assimilated into American music, some of the
original elements are lost However, Randy's treatments of the highlife
with special rhythm effects brings the selections in this album closer to
the native highlife rhythms than many of the current, so-called highlife
albums on the market.
Randy's hobby is African culture and music, so he has been acquainted with
the highlife for several years, having heard it on records made in Africa.
When he was in Lagos, Nigeria for a series of concerts, sponsored by the
American Society of African Culture in 1961, he had an opportunity to hear
the highlife in an authentic setting. He became even more interested in
African music and its intriguing rhythm patterns. On his return to the
United States, he began writing music in the highlife medium.
Caban Bamboo Highlife, which was written by Weston, is dedicated to
Bobby Benson, who owns a nightclub in Lagos, called the Caban Bamboo, and
to several friends that Randy met in the Caban Bamboo. Randy often sat in
with African musicians at the club. It is the most authentic highlife in
Niger Mambo is a composition of Bobby Benson, a Nigerian. Randy met
Benson on his African tour. Benson is one of the top entertainers in his
country as well as one of its outstanding composers.
Zulu is a new version of a former Weston piece, rewritten in
highlife style. Randy was once told by a woman anthropologist that he had
the head of a Zulu. That comment led to his cleffing Zulu.
In Memory Of is a funeral song dedicated to the many great
musicians who have died and whom Randy feels should have been commemorated
when they passed away by an old-time marching band blowing through the
streets. This custom may possibly be traced to African tribal ritual.
Congolese Children is Randy's adaptation of a traditional African
folk song of the Bashai tribe. The treatment was inspired by a group of
Bashai boys from a mission school near Kasheke on Lake Kivu in the Congo.
Blues to Africa is a tribute to the nations that are the real
source of the blues. It is dedicated to Miriam Makeba and Michael
Olatunji, two African artists who are currently in America and are doing
much to make the American people aware of African music.
Mystery of Love was written by Guy Warren, a contemporary Ghanaian
composer and percussionist, who has done a great deal of work in the
United States. It was written forepart of a show some years ago for the
African Room in New York. It portrays a youth and a maid brought together
for the first time by the mysterious forces of love.
About his original songs for this album, Randy states that, "In composing
these songs I have been very aware of drawing upon my own heritage, an
invaluable part of which is the uniqueness, variety and beauty of
indigenous African music. They express my conviction that there is a
living, vital relation between the blues-based music of American and
authentic African music. I am also paying tribute to the
not-always-recognized fact that African music has been a source of
inspiration to and an important influence on many other kinds of musicians
and composers throughout the world."
Melba Liston, one of the few women to have gained distinction in the
field of arranging and as a trombonist, has done the orchestral settings
for the album. She has come up with versions of highlife that offer no
compromises to the native highlife.
She and Randy chose from the best for their instrumental personnel.
Players include Budd Johnson, soprano sax; Booker Ervin, tenor sax; Ray
Copeland, trumpet; Jimmy Cleveland and Quentin Jackson, trombones; Julius
Watkins, french-horn; and Aaron Bell, tuba. Ervin accompanied Weston on
his African tour.
Rhythm sections are composed of Peck Morrison, bass; Charlie Persip or
Frankie Dunlop, conventional percussion; and Frankie Dunlop, Archie Lee
and George Young on special percussion. The special percussion includes a
variety of instruments such as wrist bells, timbales, tympani, marimbas,
bongos, congas, a gourd, a shakera (a rounded instrument with beads inside
and outside that is shaken) and a bottle that is played by hitting it with
a metal rod.