Ghana, on the West African coast between Ivory Coast and Togo, took its name from an ancient empire, even though that empire was located well to the north and west of the present-day country. When Europeans began angling for territory in West Africa, another empire, the Asante, reigned in what is now Ghana. Since the late 15th century, Portuguese merchants had been trading slaves and other goods for gold dust, one of many local sources of natural riches. When the British eventually consolidated control over the territory, they called it the Gold Coast.
In their quest for spoils, the Portuguese introduced firearms and fueled conflicts among the Akan, Ewe, Ga, Hausa and other peoples. Men captured in the fighting were apt to wind up as slaves bound for the Americas. The slave trade dramatically altered the economy and inter-ethnic power relationships. When European powers began moving away from slavery in the 19th century, power fell to the Asante, who controlled the gold trade. The British, ostensibly out to normalize the local economy and move it away from slavery, began fighting with the Asante early in century. By 1850, England had established control over much of the area, although they would continue fighting the Asante leading up to the burning of the Asante capital, Kumasi, in 1874. Having broken the most powerful force in the region, the British went on fighting other groups until 1910. The British were more interested in mining the country's riches than in settling or developing it.
Nationalist forces began to organize in the 1920s and turned to violence in the 1940s. Political parties emerged, largely along ethnic lines, and in 1951, a young populist and activist Kwame Nkrumah left prison to become the first prime minister of the colony. In 1957, Nkrumah took the helm in one of Africa's first independent nations. Despite admirable idealism, Nkrumah proved an autocratic leader whose socialist leanings led to economic stagnation. Between 1969 and 1979, Ghana endured a series of military governments, culminating in the rise of Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings. Rawlings has remained in power to this day and has steered the nation towards democracy and relative economic health. Through all of this, Ghana has produced rich and influential pop music. It's most significant innovation was the music called highlife, which set the tone for 1940s and 50s Afropop, prior to the rise of Congo music. Highlife's illustrious star shone on well into the 1980s.
The glory days of highlife gave many Ghanaian musicians opportunities to move abroad. In the late '60s, the band Osibisa took their "Afro-rock" pop/highlife fusion to a warm reception in England, a harbinger of the world music phenomenon that would explode there a decade later. Highlife stars like Pat Thomas, George Darko, and C.K. Mann have all made the journey from country to city to foreign port-of-call. In Germany, a young singer called Daddy Lumba made his name in the German burgher scene, but now spends half his time in Ghana where his blend of highlife, hip-hop and dancehall reggae has earned him a strong youth following. Today Accra moves mostly to the sounds of gospel highlife, local reggae and American black pop, while guitar highlife enjoys something of a resurgence. Hard economic times and political instability in the '80s engendered a surge of religious activity, and both resources and artists shifted from nightclubs to churches. Banning Eyre, Courtesy Afropop Worldwide: www.afropop.org