Track By Track: Borga Revolution! Ghanaian Dance Music In The Digital Age, 1983-1992
London-based reissue label Kalita Records have shared the inaugural release in a series of new compilations.
‘Borga Revolution! Ghanaian Dance Music In The Digital Age, 1983-1992’ is the first ever retrospective on the phenomenon of Burger highlife, a style of music that took over Ghanaian airwaves in the 1980s and beyond.
A fusion of traditional highlife with the contemporary Western sounds of disco and boogie, Burger highlife was a result of both the advent of new musical electronic technology and political and economic turmoil in Ghana at the time which had forced many musicians to leave the country in search of greener pastures in Europe and America.
This first volume collates 11 of the best and most sought-after Burger highlife recordings ever released, highlighting foundational artists such as George Darko and Thomas Frempong as well as lesser-known bands such as Aban and Uncle Joe’s Afri-Beat.
Following the release, which is a gatefold 2xLP accompanied by a 16-page full size booklet featuring never-before-seen photos and extensive liner notes based on interview with the artists included, Kalita Records boss Chris Webb guides us through the stories behind each track…
Uncle Joe’s Afri-Beat – Eshe Wo Kon Ho
The compilation opens with a focus on Amsterdam-based Joe Appiah of Uncle Joe’s Afri-Beat and his heavy jazz-inflected Burger highlife recording ‘Eshe Wo Kon Ho’. One of two recordings from his privately released 1988 album ‘Owo Odo’ (meaning ‘He/She Has Love’ in the Ghanaian language of Fante) to be showcased on ‘Borga Revolution!’, ‘Eshe Wo Kon Ho’ concerns Uncle Joe asking for his lover to be more open with their emotions and to embrace their love. A big favourite with Gilles Peterson!
Thomas Frempong – Mada Meho So
Originally released on London-based Asona Records, Thomas Frempong’s album ‘Aye Yi’ with its inclusion of ‘Mada Meho So’ was a massive success upon original release in 1985. Selling over 10,000 copies and receiving a North American release on Highlife World, the record helped shoot Thomas to solo fame (although he was already a star by virtue of being lead vocalist and drummer of Dr. K. Gyasi’s infamous Noble Kings band). This is one of our favourite Burger highlife recordings ever, and we hope you can see why!
Native Spirit – Odo San Bra Fie
Led by frontman and prolific session bassist Herman Asafo-Agyei (of Osibisa fame), Native Spirit were initially intended to be a backing band for Ghanaian musicians visiting the U.K. such as Thomas Frempong, Jewel Ackah and Pat Thomas. But it was whilst backing and warming up for the latter in America that the band were spotted by Canadian label Afronova, with whom they released their eponymous album in 1987, including the dancefloor focussed ‘Odo San Bra Fie’.
George Darko – Medo Menuanom (12″ Version)
Often hailed as one of – if not the – originator of Burger highlife, George spent his late teens in the Ghanaian army on a peace corps mission to Egypt, before returning to Ghana and then moving to Berlin in Germany. Here he teamed up with various other respected musicians such as Bob Fiscian and Lee Dodou to release the single ‘Akoo Te Brofo’ (generally seen as the first ever Burger highlife recording), before unveiling the ground-breaking album ‘Friends’ in 1983 to worldwide acclaim. The album revolutionised contemporary Ghanaian highlife music with its inclusion of synthesized horn sections and metronomic drum patterns. As George explains, ‘we wanted to create ‘our’ style of highlife. We were Ghanaians, but as we were in Europe we had also become Westernised to a certain extent and we wanted to celebrate this fact’. Here we include one of our favourite songs from the record, ‘Medo Menuanom’, in its 12” version.
Wilson Boateng – Mabre Agu
We could never overstate how ecstatic we were to finally find Wilson after our two-year search. After endless dead ends, to locate Wilson living just thirty minutes away from us in south London was a bit of a dream! And what a killer tune ‘Mabre Agu’ is! Top burger highlife, featuring Thomas Frempong on backing vocals, Wilson’s privately released album ‘Highlife Rock’ sadly failed to make headway upon its initial release in 1988. Now, with last year’s 12” single (featuring Amsterdam-based Mendel on remix duties) and his music showcased on ‘Borga Revolution!’, we hope that the tide has turned for Wilson and his phenomenal music!
Paa Jude – Odo Refre Wo
What more can we say about this track than that it’s truly one of the heaviest Burger highlife recordings ever put to wax. Similarly to Thomas Frempong’s ‘Mada Meho So’, Paa Jude’s ‘Odo Refre Wo’, taken from his ‘Seaman Jolly’ album, was also originally released on Anthony Roberts-Frempong’s London-based Asona Records, here in 1992. Do your ears a favour and give this banger a listen!
Aban – Efie Nnye
Almost venturing into the realm of proto-house, Houston, Texas-based Aban’s ‘Efie Nnye’ is one of our favourite tracks on the compilation. Encapsulating the emotions of those musicians who had had to move out of Ghana in order to succeed (summed up by ‘Efie Nnye’ being translated as ‘Home Is No Good’), Kwame Osei-Bonsu and his fellow bandmembers Adwoa Bonsu, John Amponsah and Jermaine Nkrumah privately recorded and released the album ‘Efie Ne Fie’ in 1987 to unfortunately little reception. Nevertheless, ‘Efie Nnye’ is phenomenal, especially for a band that never even had to chance to perform live together, disbanding soon after the album’s release!
Wilson Boateng – Asew Watchman
Here we have the second of Wilson’s tracks to be compiled on ‘Borga Revolution!’, namely the euphoric ‘Asew Watchman’. Telling the story of an in-law who has become a watchman, hiding her daughter’s infidelities from her husband, the track is an absolute stormer. If you like it, why not check out Mendel’s ‘Extended Mix’ too (included on Wilson’s ‘Asew Watchman’ single, released last year on Kalita)!
Uncle Joe’s Afri-Beat – Mr. D.J.
If you enjoyed ‘Eshe Wo Kon Ho’, Uncle Joe makes a celebratory return with the funk-fuelled Burger highlife tune ‘Mr. D.J.’, a rallying cry to all DJs to support his release and play his album on their airwaves. As Joe recalls, ‘it was to ask them not to keep it under their table, but to play my music for people to enjoy’. Well, we’re super happy to be able to bring these two recordings back and to satisfy Joe’s demand, albeit thirty-five years after initial release!
George Darko – Obi Abayewa
Released three years after his revolutionary ‘Friends’ album, and following the departure of vocalist Lee Dodou, George Darko’s 1986 title ‘Moni Palava’ was his first chance to showcase his own vocal talents. The album also charted his continual adoption of Western pop styles, with his catchy boogie-infused ‘Obi Abayewa’ (translated as ‘Someone’s Daughter’ in Akan) a particular personal highlight on ‘Borga Revolution!’.
Dr. K. Gyasi’s Noble Kings – Damfo Agoo / David Akofo / Obegyaa Nowa / Okwantuni Moboro (Medley)
Last but by certainly no means least, we have Dr. K. Gyasi’s epic 11-minute medley ‘Damfo Agoo / David Akofo / Obegyaa Nowa / Okwantuni Moboro’, selected from his 1992 release ‘1992 Sikyi Highlife’. A household name throughout Ghana, K. Gyasi had already made waves in the Ghanaian music scene with his 1974 release ‘Sikyi Highlife’, revolutionising highlife with the introduction of the ‘sikyi’ style of guitar playing. He had also already shown his willingness to embrace new musical technology by being the first Ghanaian musician to feature the electric organ in his recordings, and ‘1992 Sikyi Highlife’ took this to the next level with its completely synthesized drum and horn arrangements. Heavy heavy heavy!
Borga Revolution! Ghanaian Dance Music In The Digital Age, 1983-1992 (Volume 1) is out now on Kalita Records.