Sunday, March 02, 2008

Saluting the King of Highlife

If Fela Kuti is the Bob Marley of West African pop, then E. T. MENSAH is probably its Tommy McCook.
Marley and Kuti both made catchy, political music for dancing. McCook (and Don Drummond and Rolando Alphonso) and the Skatalites become synonymous with ska, the joyous sound of Jamaican independence.
Mensah his his band, The Tempos, likewise are forever linked with highlife, the bubbly sound of independent West Africa.
During our coldest days of winter (and there have been many), I have blanketed myself with West African pop. It can't help but warm a person, this buoyant music.
Multi-instrumentalist Mensah (1919-1996) was a pharmacist by trade who was among the many Ghanaian musicians who incorporated various Black American and West Indian styles, thanks to military men stationed in the Gold Coast during World War II.
By the 1950s, Mensah had turned to music full time as the leader of the Tempos, whose brassy danceable highlife sound soon spread to Nigeria and beyond.
For a taste of Mensah's greatness, click on YouTube and listen to his classic "Ghana Guinea Mali Union," a song celebrating cooperation between West African neighbors. Look for it here, and enjoy the King of Highlife.


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