A sudden rain threatened to disrupt the opening activity of the Made in Germany- a Celebration of Burger Highlife programme last Wednesday but participants gathered at the Goethe-Institute in Accra were determined to pull it through and they did.

Burger highlife refers to the brand of highlife championed by Ghanaian musicians based in Germany and prevalent in this country in the 1980s.

The first activity of the month-long programme, a symposium, was to put the whole celebration in an appropriate context by exploring the historical perspectives of the music.

Among the speakers were ethnomusicologist, historian and musician Prof John Collins, music producer and promoter Faisal Helwani, editor of Graphic Showbiz Nana Banyin Dadson and former arts editor of The Spectator, Enimil Ashong.

Prof Collins spoke on the topic, From Highlife The Burger Highlife. He did a good job of compressing the his¬tory of highlife into a 2Q-minute presentation aided by slides. He explained how the impact of military brass bands, Liberian Kru sailors and Westernised ballroom dance orchestras culminated in the popular local music’ generally referred to as highlife.

Though not able to go into details the way he would have loved due to time constraint, he touched on some salient developments in the evolution of highlife. These included how the late Kwame Asare was introduced to the guitar and his subsequent recording of the famous Yaa Amponsah song in 1928, the first appearance of women with a popular music band in this country around 1957 and how highlife gave birth to Afro-beat and Afro-rock.

“Ghanaian musicians started leaving the country in the 1970s and not during the curfew days of the Rawlings era as generally believed. Some went to Nigeria but many of those who decided on Europe settled in Germany instead of England because Margaret Thatcher’s policies made it more difficult for foreigners to enter whilst Germany’s immigration laws were easier to beat,” he said.

Faisal Helwani looked at the exodus of Ghanaian musicians and the impact of German technology on the Ghanaian music industry. Nobody can rein in that man whenever he decides to go to town on matters affecting music in Ghana. As expected, he was very caustic in his remarks.

He said the current music scene is characterised by mediocrity and is ruled by greedy fellows unconcerned for the welfare of musicians. He even insisted there is no music industry in Ghana and that musicians left because they could not see any future for themselves in this country.

He said the first computerised recording equipment in Ghana were brought in from Germany and that it was German industrialist, Heinz Rottenpeler who introduced top quality CD and cassette production to the Ghanaian market.

He also produced Ghanaian musicians and generally did a lot to advance the music scene here. Sounding very pessimistic, Faisal Helwani said: “Highlife or no highlife, burger highlife or no burger highlife, I don’t see where the so called music industry is going in this country.”

Nana Banyin Dadson who was the arts writer for The Mirror at the height of the burger highlife phenomenon dealt with Presenting Burger Highlife to Ghanaian Audiences.

He said though he wrote about nearly every burger highlife musician who came to town between 1984 and 1990, radio was better placed as the medium to introduce the music to the general populace because it is immediate, accessible and affordable.

Source: Graphic Showbiz