Thomas Frempong - Aye Yi
THOMAS FREMPONG has been an integral part of the Ghana music scene for almost half a century. He’s played with countless line-ups, perhaps the most famous being The Noble Kings, who in the 60s introduced the sikyi highlife genre, which would define the ‘classic’ brass/woodwind/guitar highlife sound for decades to come.
Frempong left Ghana for the UK in 1985, almost immediately signing with Asona records and producing two superb Burger highlife albums- this being the first.
All four tracks develop the classic sikyi sound to fit modern dance sensibilities. Every track is a dancefloor powerhouse, although the title track is probably the best of a brilliant bunch.
HIGHLIFE MAGIC: AT THE BOTTOM OF THE GARDEN??
A couple of years back, UK-based House DJ Jerry Frempong’s wife Katie was doing a spring clean at the family home. At the bottom of the garden, amongst a pile of rusty garden tools, she discovered a couple of mysterious bin-bags. She was about to assign them to the skip with everything else, but a sixth sense persuaded her to check the contents. It was a huge pile of rare soul, funk, disco, boogie and- yes – Ghana Highlife records. Katie brought this to the attention of Jerry, who immediately understood the significance of the treasure trove.
Jerry’s Father, Anthony Roberts Frempong, who had passed away in 2011, was the founder of one of the most significant Ghanaian record and music companies anywhere in the world: Asona Records. Asona was founded in the mid-80s, with little fanfare, in Peckham, South East London. It was a label with a firm mission: Burger Highlife. No, not a swanky fast-food chain, nor a 5-star German hotel chain, but a record label devoted to the new African dance music genre that was sweeping Europe, North America and West Africa at the time – Electric Highlife.
BBE Music owner Pete Adarkwah caught wind of the serendipitous discovery and approached Jerry to discuss the reissue of this historic catalogue. Before long a catalogue deal was hammered out: and here you have it!
BURGER HIGHLIFE AND THE ‘DIASPORA LOOP’.
So: why Burger? Like many music stories, it started with money- or the shortage thereof. Classic Ghana Highlife has a star-studded history dating back to the early 1920s, with 20-plus piece orchestras playing nightly at hotels and ballrooms across the country. By the 60s, American soul, funk and pop records had become available in small quantities, and their electric-based sound started to inspire Ghanaian musicians of every stripe. As with the history of Afro Cuban music, here was African music doing its transatlantic ‘loop’- African rhythms go across the sea, inspire others, and return to Africa some years later, to be rebuilt and tweaked anew by African musicians.
This came to wide general public attention on March 6 1971, when a group of African American and Ghanaian musicians came together for a memorable concert in Accra’s Black Star Square. Tina Turner, Wilson Pickett, Carlos Santana and other African American artists performed head-to-head with the likes of Ghana jazz pioneer Guy Warren and funky highlife Basa Basa Soundz co-founder Amoah Azangeo.
Soon, Ghana Highlife spread across Europe and North America. But the honeymoon would soon be cut short. By the end of the 70s, Jerry Rawlings’ military government, desperate for funds in a sinking economy, imposed a 160% tax on imported musical instruments and equipment. The inevitable result was that artists and bands couldn’t make ends meet and had to go elsewhere: in this case, especially to North America, the UK- and Germany.
It’s generally accepted that the first major funky electronic disco/boogie Highlife tune was George Darko’s 1983 Hamburg-recorded Akoo Te Brofo – so, Burger Highlife – or sometimes, Borga Highlife. But the artists included in BBE’s Asona reissue series together span a panorama of Ghana’s music history, right back to the late 60s. It may be called Burger, but it’s also classic Highlife seen through a different lens: the lens of the Diaspora Loop.