Sounds of our Migration is a visual reflection of how Highlife music has woven itself into the stories of young Ghanaians who migrated from Ghana during the 60s to 90s. These unique archival stories will explore how Ghanaians were able to keep their identity, culture, and affection for home alive through the medium of Highlife while discovering a new way of life for themselves and their families in an unknown land. Highlife has always been foundational to the Motherland. Through its mixture of indigenous and contemporary sounds, alongside proverbial wisdom and reflections of everyday life, it continues to unite generations, from its birth through to its evolution of Afro-inspired sounds today.
The exhibition encompassed a mixture of archival portraits accompanied by short stories in September 2022 in the hallways of the Omnibus Theatre building, running alongside the latest production DRUM presented by @ourdaymedia and @omnibustheatre . Archival portrait in the exhibition has been cleared from rights use for AOTH archival content and exhibition.
Given Wings (Kwame Nkansah)
From the dance bands of his youth, an era of innovative rhythms and pulsating horns, Mr Kwame Nkansah was drawn to the new horizon beyond his hometown.
Kwame's migration story started around his 30’s, lead by a sound he describes as “influencer music.” For him the sound spoke to the idea of travel, adventure and the opportunity to make something of oneself. A sound
he further states to be Borgha Highlife, a sweet blend of lead & bass guitar-style highlife, funky melody with a striking undertone of the 808. As the bassline drove the ideal of travel and adventure deeper into his heart, by the early 80s Kwame found himself in France. While Highlife was the soil he’d been nurtured in as a young man, Kwame found hope and independence through other forms of African popular music of the time.
He found that he could appreciate the many forms of African music that permeated the culture he had then become a part of in France. Finding comfort from Malian and Congolese sounds, whilst building friendship with his francophone community.
Once Kwame reached the UK, it was again the sound of Highlife that enable him to build community, family and pass on his love for his home through music.
The Life of The Party (Odette Acquokoh)
For Odette Acquokoh, the sound of her favourite Highlife musicians is a treasure she has carried with her across the sea. She recalls the gatherings she loved to attend, essentially being the life of the party and although recalling the exact names of the musicians would prove elusive. It is clearly from conversation that she finds much warmth in these memories.
Like the many that had left Ghana between 60s and 80s, Highlife wasnt just a sound but a feeling that added to their travels. For a sound that spanned such an array of decades, even for the experts, it can be a mammoth task to recall every phase.
As Odette seeks out the names of herfavouritee artists, it seems like a thousand and one different names, bands, and artistic souls flood into her memory. With these details, the memories of those times, thoughts of back home surround her and the only way that she can describes such memories and time is “happiness.”
Anchored By Rhythm (Charles Obiri)
Charles Obiri never expected to carry ‘home’ with him to another land. But when short visits overseas became long-term stays, the idea of family became a priority. When the tempest of life didn’t seem to follow the tempo Charles had set in his mind, it drove him to form an anchor. Even in a setting where the culture was starkly different from that of the Motherland, listening to Highlife on British radio rooted him in a past he never wanted to forget.
It’s difficult to imagine the pain of losing one’s parents from across the world. But, Mr. Obiri’s outlook remained fixed on the blessings of life and the small wonders a person can experience wherever these are available to them. This is why seeing some of his most revered Highlife musicians live is a treat Mr. Obiri has come to cherish.
Upon realizing how fleeting these sweet moments are, the wise endeavor to be completely present, saving in whatever form they can, the goodness of every sound and sight. These archives of photo albums, cassettes and records were an essential part of their migration story; enabling them to carry the familiarity of Ghana and its sound Highlife along with them to a land unknown.
Even as Mr. Obiri longs fondly for a Highlife that sounds more like that which mesmerized and comforted him in the 80s, he has learned that home is not a fixed location. It is a treasure you can carry with you.
Exhibition curated by Paulina Nkansah
Stories are reimagined by Gracia Olesta
A big thank you to our elders for sharing their stories and photo adding to our growing archive. - An Ode to Highlife Team.