HEAVY ON THE HIGHLIFE!
A mention at the end of Christgau's review of Contra has led me stumble upon a record called Electric Highlife: Sessions from the Bokoor Studios.
Spotify it if you can; it is truly sublime, especially the three tracks by Francis Kenya and the Riches Big Band. I can't find much reference to Kenya on the internet, but it seems remarkable that he produced music of such ambiguous joy during such a turbulent period of Ghanaian history, a time of military crackdowns and hyper-inflation under the rule of Jerry Rawlings.
The sound, recorded in John Collins's Bokoor Studios (still one of the biggest concerns in Ghanaian music) is of mediocre quality - the swoopingly imaginative bass lines come across like another layer of guitar, and Kenya's vocals (reminiscent of a very young Youssou N'Dour) are sometimes a little too bare. But I guess the lack of production values make the music more unmediated - the suspended melodies (where major keys sound sad, and minor keys sound inspirational) and heads-down traditional themes (elders worrying that the youth is going down the wrong path, warnings against gossips, old Liberian folktunes) become transcendental.
Other Ghanaian and Nigerian compilations lay guiltily in my playlists and favourites sections. They wait to be loved, hope to be my favourites, but are resigned to never being heard. The Nigeria 70 comp (on Afrostrut) came with all the sumptuous sleevenotes and big names (Tony Allen, Fela Kuti, Sir Victor Uwaifo) that makes such a package undeniable. But I've never got on with it at all. But the Bokoor CD is something different - much as I try to catch up on the year's releases so far, this is the one I keep coming back to.