Landon Donovan’s tears were a bit much, but fair play, America – you won the group, and you sent England spiralling into an absolutely horrific World Cup knockout run that, from what I can see, will see us playing Germany, then Argentina, then Brazil, then Spain (providing we win even one of those games). Your attentions, on the other hand, can now turn to Ghana. You lucky, lucky bastards.
Actually, that’s pretty harsh on the best African team at the tournament – they looked impressive against Germany even in defeat, and they’ve certainly got the ability and the organisation to cause all manner of problems. They’ll basically have a home crowd, too – Africa expects. This game, my friends, could be an absolute doozey. So as the sides are pretty evenly matched, I think it’s only fair that my incredibly effeminate picture of Landon Donovan is also matched. With that in mind….
The major genre in Ghana is highlife, a blissed-out, jazz-influenced sound that is also one of the definitive genres for the entire continent, with a proud, storied history of over 100 years. There’s no shortage of big names – Sir Victor Uwaifo, Bobby Benson, Dr. Victor Olaiya, even some very early Fela Kuti – but for now we’ll focus on E.T. Mensah, a flautist, saxophonist, organist, and trumpeter who has achieved some international notoriety recently with a series of re-issues celebrating both his life and music, and that of West Africa in general.
Highlife’s dominance is such that it can lay claim to several spin-off and hybrid genres, the most notable of which are hiplife (essentially, highlife meets rap) and joromi. A topical one here, though, is the amusingly named burger-highlife, a German-Ghanian hybrid that makes for an excellent celebration of both the qualifiers from Group D. The genre was birhted by Ghanian immigrants moving to Germany in the mid-20th century (particuarly the ’70s), and collaborating with the native musicians to create a Euro-centric vision of highlife – reggae was also a huge influence, as it was on much highlife with the ’70s rolled around. The impossibly well-named George Darko started the genre, and you can hear the fusion at work here in “Jungle Boy” – although the rhythms are still clearly African, keep an ear for the guitar, which pulls off some decidedly rockist solos and flits around the rhythm in a way that isn’t a million miles away from Krautrock. There’s a much more strict structure to the melody, too, something that betrays the influence of Germany’s rich classical history.
Want something outside of highlife? Okay, let’s head directly to my personal favourite Ghanaian band of them all -the unfortunately named African Head Charge. Don’t expect some really dodgy nu-metal, though (I bet this is the first time you’ve all thought about American Head Charge in years, right?), the original AHC – formed in 1981 – are Africa’s principal dub act, with a strikingly deep, minimal sound that you could easily connect to the post-punk going on in the UK at the same time. Indeed, they once boasted Public Image Ltd’s Jah Wobble among their ranks. Comparing this to Jamaican dub is fascinating; while both are the same thing in spirit, looking at which elements were kept intact and which were deconstructed when the technology arrived says a lot about how the countrymen of the two nations saw their own pop music.