As soon as her voice reaches your ears, one thing will be clear: Christie Azumah was passionate about her music. Her voice carries emotion within it that radiates with the pride and confidence of a woman who knew where she was rooted. Her place was in her community and yet, this didn’t limit her from becoming intensely involved with the music that would live on in the heart of Highlife for decades after she was gone.
Christie Azumah courageously used her voice throughout an era of music when women like her were not guaranteed critical success or even the love of the masses. Still, she forged on, working her creative muscle with all she had, to receive the title that would live on, The Lady of Africa.
In a hostile landscape where women were often heckled off stage or told that their menstrual cycle and domestic responsibilities forbade them from being involved in the world of music, choosing to create was a feat. Christie Azumah carried her title like a legend and this pleasant, playful confidence infuses every second of her music. Naam rises to the top time after time as her greatest hit and her talent is plain throughout this jam. It has also been featured in the soundtrack of multiple films. The track was created in collaboration with her band, the Uppers International. The name of this band alone echoes the message of Christie Azumah's life: we are here and we will be heard.
"Even the existence of the band came about through this push towards creating a name for themselves. Highlife music has been a site of inspiration towards social change. "
This boldness came from the depths of their souls. Hailing from what was known as The Upper region, the band knew intimately what it meant to be written off. Before its development and modernization, Bolgatanga was not regarded as an inviting region of Ghana to exist in. Even the existence of the band came about through this push towards creating a name for themselves. Highlife music has been a site of inspiration towards social change. And for Christie and the Uppers International, this inspiration was drawn from their right to exist as artists in a world where no one knew their names.
The members of the Upper Region wanted to transform their home and invite people from the world over to come and party with them. To enjoy life in Bolgatanga, they needed art and music, singing and dancing. The soul of the Upper Region longed to have its expression in the same way other regions of Ghana seemed to be flourishing. In this way, Christie wasn’t just a performer and The Uppers International wasn’t just a band; they were the voice of a people longing to create something new and beautiful in what had been a dark and distant land.
To be heard loud and clear, Christie's skills of communication were honed to perfection. The life she led allowed her to become a masterful communicator. As a teacher by day, Christie gained the tools she needed to captivate a crowd. Being around learners most of the time taught her a lot about people. With these tools and the strength of her voice, no one who listened to her would be left unmoved. Beyond her profession as a teacher, Christie’s birthplace and personal life remained outside of the public view. Little information remains about her family or who she was outside of her work and the soulful music she created to bring light to the Upper Region. It is unfortunate that, for such a legendary performer, whose voice and aura brought an entire region into the limelight, so much of her story is suspended in the past.
Thankfully, in the cover art for Din Ya Sugri, the Uppers International debut album, a glimpse of this magnetic soul can be found. It is a joy that her face was the one the band chose as their own. In her signature yellow dress and an Afro framing her gorgeous face, Christie stands as a queen. Perhaps this is why she came to be known as the Lady of Africa. She is framed by a map of Africa in which Ghana is highlighted. In this way, Christie and the Uppers International could rest assured that anyone who enjoyed their music would always be able to tie it back to the continent and their country. The words, Uppers, stand out in red, grabbing attention, not unlike the captivating sounds of this breakout band. The art indicates that the music demands that attention flows not only to the continent; Christie and her band were determined to point to their exact place of origin, Bolgatanga, with pride.
"Hers was a powerful sound that resonated with the Ghanaian Highlife music movement that grew from the 60s all the way to the 90s."
Fans of the Lady of Africa fondly remember her from Ghanaian national television where she would lend her voice. As a hallmark of 70s entertainment, the dance shows of her time would become familiar with Christie and the strength of her performances. Hers was a powerful sound that resonated with the Ghanaian Highlife music movement that grew from the 60s all the way to the 90s. African funk and psychedelia came together in part because of the great work of Christie Azumah and the Uppers International who described their sound as African funk.
Christie Azumah’s impact cannot be overstated. With the enormous feat of introducing the world to Bolgatanga and the sounds of 1970s Ghanaian Highlife, she embraced her role and shone brightly as The Upper International’s lead vocalist. With her voice and star-power, she earned a title and a place in the hearts and minds of partygoers throughout those decades. Throughout her career as a performer and a teacher, Christie made it evident that she didn’t need to have a big name to make it in the industry or even to come from the right neighborhood. The Lady of Africa could come from the farthest shore and in the end, everyone would recognize her majesty.
Christie Azumah put to shame the notion that one must be a man or exempt from domestic life in order to become a star. She embraced the pride of her homeland, exceeding even the shows of other Highlife musicians in the way she smiled, confident that Bolgatanga was part of her magic. Without allowing herself or her band to be pigeonholed as performers from the middle of nowhere, they named themselves International. And that is where the talent of Christie Azumah took them.
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.
www.discogs.com. (n.d.). Christie Azumah And The Uppers International - Din Ya Sugri. [online] Available at: https://www.discogs.com/release/4922709-Christie-Azumah-And-The-Uppers-International-Din-Ya-Sugri [Accessed 12 Aug. 2022].
Christie Azumah and the uppers international dance band - unsung legend of our time [online] Available at https://harmattangh.com/christie-azumah-and-the-uppers-international-dance-band-unsung-legend-of-our-time/ [Accessed 12 Aug. 2022].