Highlife Saturday Night: Popular Music and Social Change in Urban Ghana

Highlife Saturday Night: Popular Music and Social Change in Urban Ghana

Highlife Saturday Night: Popular Music and Social Change in Urban Ghana

Highlife Saturday Night: Popular Music and Social Change in Urban Ghana


Highlife Saturday Night captures the vibrancy of Saturday nights in Ghana--when musicians took to the stage and dancers took to the floor--in this penetrating look at musical leisure during a time of social, political, and cultural change. Framing dance band "highlife" music as a central medium through which Ghanaians negotiated gendered and generational social relations, Nate Plageman shows how popular music was central to the rhythm of daily life in a West African nation. He traces the history of highlife in urban Ghana during much of the 20th century and documents a range of figures that fueled the music's emergence, evolution, and explosive popularity. This book is generously enhanced by audiovisual material on the Ethnomusicology Multimedia website.


Everybody likes Saturday night, at least here in Ghana.

DAILY GRAPHIC, January 31, 1959

There used to be a song, “Everybody Likes Saturday Night.”
It was one of the very early highlife songs. In fact, it was
one of the very popular songs of the time.

—KWADWO DONKOH, September 16, 2005

Shortly after the sun set on March 2, 1957, men and women throughout the West African colony of the Gold Coast changed into a set of fashionable clothes, left their homes, and met up with their friends for an evening out on the town. After all, it was a Saturday night. At roughly eight o’ clock, cities throughout the colony came alive with the sounds of dance band highlife, the urban Gold Coast’s most prominent form of popular music. For the next five to six hours, eager crowds made their way to a nearby nightclub, bar, hotel, or community center, where they claimed a table, purchased refreshments, and reveled in the sounds of one of their favorite dance bands. Patrons of various ages, occupations, and ethnicities spent parts of the evening engrossed in conversation or relaxing with a drink in hand, but nearly everyone spent as much time as possible on the dance floor, where they moved, either alone or with a partner, to the band’s unique blend of local rhythms, jazz influences, ballroom standards, and calypso flair.

Yet this was no ordinary Saturday night. In a few short days, at midnight on March 6, the Gold Coast would become Ghana, sub-Saharan Africa’s first European colony to gain political sovereignty and national independence. Since this was the last weekend evening before that monumental transfer, the assembled audiences were particularly large and especially jubilant. For those lucky enough to get inside their venue of choice, the palpable energy made it easy to forget that tables were hard to come . . .

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