Living during a deeply marginalizing season in history, where the very stories and perceptions of women were mired, the Golden Voice grew in vitality and strength. In the exciting season of the first glimpses of highlife culture, the access afforded to women remained slim. The music performance scene allowed only a few spaces for women who were excluded from these spaces due to the attitudes which thrived in the performance space during the time. But even with such a backdrop of separation, Charlotte Dada burst into prominence in the highlife landscape.
With a title like the Golden Voice, one can only imagine the magnitude of the beauty listeners of Charlotte Dada experienced. Upon hearing her voice on songs like Eno Brebre and Don’t Let Me Down, listeners decades later begin to catch a glimpse of the treasure that people in Dada’s time enjoyed in real time. The thrill of this amazing voice shook listeners of her time, earning the title for which she is lauded today. Alongside musicians of her time, she used her voice to amplify the voices and experiences of women like her, artists and powerhouses in their own communities. By taking her place in notable highlife groups during these decades, including the Uhuru Dance Band, Franco and the Walking Shadows, working alongside Stan Plange of Stan’s Experimental Chorus, and finally featuring on the Cool Blaze Band line-up.
Charlotte’s sound is the feeling of warm sunshine. In genres, it could be categorized as afro-lypso, pidgin highlife, afro-soul, and afro-rock. Its themes were influenced by the experience of independence, as well as the creative musical experience of living through the 60s and into the 80s. The Ghanaian urge to engage with the world, especially the Western world, is evident in the genres to which Charlotte chose to lend her beautiful voice.
"Only in the music and in the artistry she dedicated her time to is there any possibility of grasping any understanding of Charlotte Dada."
Yet the life of the Golden Voice did not only exist in her capacity as an artist. Charlotte Dada’s life, like those of her Highlife contemporaries, extended beyond the borders of music. Yet, accounts that would highlight what her passions and ideals were are sparse. It is difficult to tell if Charlotte’s experience as a musician was one free of the burdens that lie on artists. Whether aspects of her upbringing led her to music or towards the creative life, these questions remain unanswered. If she had any misgivings about the path she’d chosen, Charlotte’s music doesn’t clue anyone in. Only in the music and in the artistry she dedicated her time to is there any possibility of grasping any understanding of Charlotte Dada. That’s where her being shines through most radiantly. Where public opinion did not smile too kindly on women who chose this profession and lifestyle, Charlotte bloomed into an artist of great strength.
Like many female highlife performers of her time, Charlotte lived in a day where the voices of women rarely came to the spotlight. The highlife performance scene of that time was dominated by the patriarchal ideas that blocked women from accessing a platform. Still, Charlotte continued her partnership with the various bands for which she is listed as a pivotal vocal artist. Little is known about Charlotte the person. However, as an artist, the clear image of a creative woman who had no fear of trying new things and expressing herself in a male-dominated sphere of the entertainment world. Charlotte poured her essence into the music she made; through the obstacles and heartbreaks of existing in the highlife scene of the 1960s, the girl with the Golden Voice was one of the lucky few to have more than a few songs, projects and bands credited to her.
"As the drums and percussions keep the heartbeat of the song dancing around the bassline, Charlotte confesses her hope for a kinder love. She embraces the idea of a love that could last throughout the ages."
Don’t Let Me Down by Charlotte Dada heralds a new understanding of rhythm and the cool, calm breeziness of the 60s. Her voice lulls us in warmth, luring the audience along with her crooning. Her range announces one thing: Charlotte’s melody might be mellow, but her strength is impressive in its own right. As the drums and percussions keep the heartbeat of the song dancing around the bassline, Charlotte confesses her hope for a kinder love. She embraces the idea of a love that could last throughout the ages. Whereas the Beatles took what could be called a blue-eyed blues approach to their song, the soul and the beauty of the lyrics bloom in the warmth of the Golden Voice. Reimagining music by one of the world’s most renowned bands is a bold move even today, but for Charlotte and other artists of her time, there were no limits. There was no music too sacred to be handled and made into something closer to home.
In one of her collaborations with the UK-based musicians, the Cool Blaze Band, Charlotte sings of her desire for the cool man she’s come to know. The sweet tremor of her voice describes a collected individual who she hopes can be the only man in her life. As her expression carries across this calm suave tempo, Charlotte is carried away with her visions of her man. Her voice rises in power and deepens in intensity, drumming the truth home: he’s the only man in her life. Singing about these themes in conservative society was a hallmark of Highlife women. They were not afraid to sing about love and lovers, about their aspirations outside of family life. Their expressions could not be cordoned off to more ‘respectable’ zones.
During her time with Stan’s Experimental Chorus, people could head to the dance floor, swaying with the catchy drums and guitar riffs. Towards the end of the 1960s, with this song’s simple rhythms, Charlotte inspired the revolutionary Jon K when he performed his own version of ‘Eno Brebre.’ It was released in the 80s, giving a modern and sounds reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.”
"Charlotte began to bloom the skills and wonderful vocals she would come to be known for. Still exulting in the newly-won independence of Ghana, the band echoed this sense of freedom, liberation and creative expression in their music."
The Uhuru Dance Band was a space where Charlotte exerted most of her influence. This was the band that broke her into the scene and with this group of unique individuals, Charlotte began to bloom the skills and wonderful vocals she would come to be known for. Still exulting in the newly-won independence of Ghana, the band echoed this sense of freedom, liberation and creative expression in their music. With their dance music deeply rooted in the culture, sounds and concerns of their time, this big band bent their music back towards these origins, continuing a legacy of music for Africans by Africans.
Even with these precious sounds, too little is known about the Golden Voice. It cannot be told what her aspirations outside of music were or what her ideals inspired within her. But, Charlotte Dada will always stand as one of the women who entered into Ghana’s Highlife music scene when it was not inviting to people like her. She pursued her dream and let her voice be heard, even when it would be frowned upon by a society that only made space for women in the home. Her penmanship, understanding of music, and the creative influence whose reach cannot be measured, these are the gifts Charlotte Dada shared. It is for these gifts that she will be remembered in Africa’s histories. The Golden Voice is a testament to the joy and courage that could not be held back.
Written & Researched by Gracia Olesta (2022)
Reviewed by the AOTH Team
About Gracia (Grey) Olesta,
Besides, people-watching and participating in the simulation, Grey Oletsa, the Nairobi-based filmmaker creates community through art. Grey Oletsa is a magician and words are their playground. When Grey isn't neck deep in birth-work, they bring stories to life through musical poetry and a sense of humor that functions against all odds.
Discogs. Charlotte Dada. [online] Available at: https://www.discogs.com/artist/1733471-Charlotte-Dada [Accessed 9 Aug. 2022].