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Highlife Bands (Dance, Guitar and Concert Party Bands)


It is very easy to associate Dance bands to the more urban and elite classes in the Gold Coast and Ghana. Dance Bands were very elaborate groups that played at huge events and had between 14 to 20 musicians at a time. Dance bands also had a large repertoire of instruments. Instruments ranged from saxophones, trumpets, trombones, flutes, guitars, keyboards, a number of vocalists and many more. By the 1960s Dance Bands began to incorporate more indigenous instruments such as the percussion, flutes etc. This gave variety to their sound. The Dance Bands can trace their structure from the Brass Bands and Orchestras set up by the colonial rulers that trained Ghanaians to play. Brass Bands and Orchestras maintained the very foreign sounds and set up until the evolution of Dance Bands that explored different sounds such as jazz and blues mixed with traditional music such as palm wine music. Dance Bands would gain global attention and inspire musicians across West Africa in Nigeria such as Ebenezer Obey, Fela Kuti and many more. Many Ghanaian musicians from the 60s and early 70s Dance Bands will also travel and take their influences to start new sounds like Simigwa, Burger Highlife, High Tension Fusion and Afro-Rock.


Guitar bands were small band groups that typically played acoustic instruments at least until the early 60s. The Guitar band highlife took inspiration from traditional music such as Adaha, Palmwine music etc. All these music styles were incorporated into the guitar. While in general, all highlife music evolved from traditional sounds, the Guitar bands were unique in the sense that they maintained a lot of the core traditional music elements. Simply put, Guitar bands were simple and easy-going without all the glam and sophistication that other types of bands carried on. The kind of music guitar bands did was also very popular with the everyday people. Guitar bands maintained a trio rule for groups until the 1940s when they began to expand. Guitar bands later expanded to have more percussion indigenous instruments from other parts of the world. By the 1950s, they had expanded to have concert party groups.


The Concert Party bands were birthed out of the Concert Party and Guitar bands merging. E.K Nyame is acknowledged for doing this in Ghanaian music in the 1950s. Concert Party Bands trace their roots to the start of Concert Part in Ghana and the evolution of Guitar Bands. The Concert Party performances like many pop culture entertainment started from inspiration from the films that were being shown at the Cinemas for the Ghanaian elites as well as colonizers. Places like the Palladium Cinema showed the black face minstrels and comedians' silent movies inspired Ghanaian comedians to start similar events. This was as early as the 1900s. By the 1930s Concert Party groups existed and put on shows, however, they were still feeding a specific client and did many of their shows in English.

Meanwhile, Guitar bands were also evolving in terms of numbers and instruments. With more Indigenous instruments from across Africa, the Caribbean and South America, the sounds of the Guitar bands began to expand.

Concert party bands finally came to life when the concert party and guitar bands were merged such that one could not do without the other when performing. This merge also led to more localization of the content which appealed to the masses like wildfire. A typical Concert Party band had instruments like the guitar, conga, bongos, jazz drums and fiddle bass with between 5 to as many as 14 actors and actresses. This was a great development from guitar bands that were limited to a trio and concert parties that had 3 to 4 actors including men who impersonated women characters as and when necessary. To a large extent, it can be said that this genre paved the way for a new style of Theater in Ghana.

Written and Research by Elizabeth Johnson


Plageman, N., 2013. Highlife Saturday Night: Popular Music and Social Change in Urban Ghana. Indiana University Press.

Nikoi, Nii Kotei, "Hiplife Music in Ghana: Postcolonial Performances of Modernity" (2019). Doctoral Dissertations.

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