Songs for the Road No. 16: Highlife Brings Me Home

by Ekua on March 6, 2012 in Ghana,race/culture/identity,songs for the road

When you’re the daughter of immigrants and when you move around a lot as a kid, the idea of “home” can be an elusive thing. It’s not necessarily a stationary location. Home is where you create it or maybe a state of mind. But still, your deepest roots can remain in one place.

I remember when I was 17, visiting Ghana for the first time in a decade and a half; the first time I was old enough to almost grasp the magnitude of it. I remember how foreign it felt at times, and yet there was this underlying beautiful feeling that I was home.

We’d get caught up in markets and streets that were crowded beyond belief. We’d leave the city for a dense tropical landscape I had yet to see before visiting Ghana. The heftiest rain I’d ever experienced would pelt us for an hour before the clouds made way for brilliant sunshine. Rules seemed to be at the discretion of whoever happened to be enforcing them at the moment. Cars made their own lanes and pedestrians walked everywhere but on the crosswalk. The little old women in the village sung and danced around us and all claimed to be an aunt or grandma though few were actually related to us.

How far it was from the places I’d grown up in, and how much the culture toyed with my comfort zone. Yet how much it felt like I am created of that place, and in some indiscernible way, it will always be home.

Highlife music is my Ghana away from Ghana. The syncopated and improvised drum beats take me to the hectic streets; chaotic, but rhythmic. The steady melody of the guitars and familiar chord progressions surround me with thick tropical air and sea breezes and vivid textiles. The lyrics lead me back to a past of struggle and continued struggle that always intermingles with an ability to look on the bright side and celebrate. Highlife’s musical influences from beyond Ghana like calypso, Cuban son, and  jazz speak of leaving the continent, being altered, and eventually returning  to create something unique. Highlife music takes me through my history and never fails to bring me home.

I was inspired to write this post because today is an important day in Ghana. 55 years ago, on March 6, 1957, Ghana became the first Sub-Saharan African country to gain independence. This song, “Ghana Freedom” by E.T. Mensah, was created especially for that day.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Herbster March 7, 2012 at 3:24 am

I always find your post enlightening. May Ghana’s freedom sun never set.

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Ekua March 7, 2012 at 10:02 pm

Thanks, Herb. It’s so crazy to think about how Ghana led the way for independence in Sub-Saharan Africa yet it’s still so young. Definitely something to keep in mind when thinking about Africa and its potential!

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Phil March 8, 2012 at 1:03 am

Ahh, Ekua, love your words and great track!! Next time I’m in SF or we meet elsewhere, we are going to have a big music share, deal?

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Ekua March 8, 2012 at 11:53 pm

Deal 😛

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hannahinhanoi March 11, 2012 at 1:05 am

Great song and happy (belated) Ghana independence day!

You put into words exactly what I have always felt. I moved around the US as a kid (8 states) and I find that none of the places I lived is quite “home” but each of the is home in some way, Minneapolis in particular, perhaps because it’s an amazing, quirky city; perhaps because it was the first place I chose to live; or because it is the last place I lived in the US before moving to Hanoi. I imagine that had my parents been immigrants, the feelings would have been more acute.

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Ekua March 18, 2012 at 8:49 pm

Yeah, I feel like the days of the bulk of people having one concrete place to call home are dwindling. I think this kind of thing used to get to me as a kid, but now I’ve come to appreciate all the different kinds of experiences I’ve had.

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