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HIGHLIFE   Music from the New African Nations

recorded  April 1963 
Webster Hall  New York  USA
LP  1963  Colpix  CP 456

        CD  2003  Mosaic                  004
        CD  1990  Capitol/Roulette   CDP 7945102

real | wm |

liner notes

Randy Weston piano
Ray Copeland
  trumpet, flugelhorn
Aaron Bell
Quentin Jackson
Julius Watkins
Booker Ervin
tenor sax
Budd Johnson
soprano sax, tenor sax
Peck Morrison
Charlie Persip
Frankie Dunlop
Archie Lee
George Young

Melba Liston 
Jack Lewis  producer

  1   Caban Bamboo Highlife  (Weston)
  2   Niger Mambo
(Bobby Benson)
  3   Zulu
  4   In Memory of
  5   Congolese Children
  6   Blues to Africa
  7   Mystery of Love
(Guy Warren)


The highlife may be considered the national and traditional rhythm of West Africa. It was popularized in the newly-independent African Nation of Ghana, though it is now highly popular all along the West African coast in such nations as Sierra Leone, Dahomey, Guinea, Gabon, Liberia, the Republic of Togo and Nigeria.

Starting as a tribal type of music, the highlife is now heard in all of the major cities in West Africa. In Ghana it is danced at most social functions. Some compare the highlife in tempo and accent to both the calypso and samba, and both of these may be danced to a highlife rhythm.

It is possible that it was introduced to the United States by African students who often perform it at parties and dances. In recent years African records with highlife music -though hard to come by- have also been available in the United States.

Pianist Randy Weston is one of the first American artists to present an album of highlife music. As often happens, when rhythms or music from foreign countries are assimilated into American music, some of the original elements are lost However, Randy's treatments of the highlife with special rhythm effects brings the selections in this album closer to the native highlife rhythms than many of the current, so-called highlife albums on the market.

Randy's hobby is African culture and music, so he has been acquainted with the highlife for several years, having heard it on records made in Africa. When he was in Lagos, Nigeria for a series of concerts, sponsored by the American Society of African Culture in 1961, he had an opportunity to hear the highlife in an authentic setting. He became even more interested in African music and its intriguing rhythm patterns. On his return to the United States, he began writing music in the highlife medium.

Caban Bamboo Highlife, which was written by Weston, is dedicated to Bobby Benson, who owns a nightclub in Lagos, called the Caban Bamboo, and to several friends that Randy met in the Caban Bamboo. Randy often sat in with African musicians at the club. It is the most authentic highlife in this LP.

Niger Mambo is a composition of Bobby Benson, a Nigerian. Randy met Benson on his African tour. Benson is one of the top entertainers in his country as well as one of its outstanding composers.

Zulu is a new version of a former Weston piece, rewritten in highlife style. Randy was once told by a woman anthropologist that he had the head of a Zulu. That comment led to his cleffing Zulu.

In Memory Of is a funeral song dedicated to the many great musicians who have died and whom Randy feels should have been commemorated when they passed away by an old-time marching band blowing through the streets. This custom may possibly be traced to African tribal ritual.

Congolese Children is Randy's adaptation of a traditional African folk song of the Bashai tribe. The treatment was inspired by a group of Bashai boys from a mission school near Kasheke on Lake Kivu in the Congo.

Blues to Africa is a tribute to the nations that are the real source of the blues. It is dedicated to Miriam Makeba and Michael Olatunji, two African artists who are currently in America and are doing much to make the American people aware of African music.

Mystery of Love was written by Guy Warren, a contemporary Ghanaian composer and percussionist, who has done a great deal of work in the United States. It was written forepart of a show some years ago for the African Room in New York. It portrays a youth and a maid brought together for the first time by the mysterious forces of love.

About his original songs for this album, Randy states that, "In composing these songs I have been very aware of drawing upon my own heritage, an invaluable part of which is the uniqueness, variety and beauty of indigenous African music. They express my conviction that there is a living, vital relation between the blues-based music of American and authentic African music. I am also paying tribute to the not-always-recognized fact that African music has been a source of inspiration to and an important influence on many other kinds of musicians and composers throughout the world."

Melba Liston, one of the few women to have gained distinction in the field of arranging and as a trombonist, has done the orchestral settings for the album. She has come up with versions of highlife that offer no compromises to the native highlife.

She and Randy chose from the best for their instrumental personnel. Players include Budd Johnson, soprano sax; Booker Ervin, tenor sax; Ray Copeland, trumpet; Jimmy Cleveland and Quentin Jackson, trombones; Julius Watkins, french-horn; and Aaron Bell, tuba. Ervin accompanied Weston on his African tour.

Rhythm sections are composed of Peck Morrison, bass; Charlie Persip or Frankie Dunlop, conventional percussion; and Frankie Dunlop, Archie Lee and George Young on special percussion. The special percussion includes a variety of instruments such as wrist bells, timbales, tympani, marimbas, bongos, congas, a gourd, a shakera (a rounded instrument with beads inside and outside that is shaken) and a bottle that is played by hitting it with a metal rod.


1963  unsigned

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