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Highlife Saturday Night

Popular Music and Social Change in Urban Ghana

Nate Plageman

Publication Year: 2012

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.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: African Expressive Cultures

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This book, like every other, has a history. As I remember, it was born alongside a pair of speakers playing highlife music at a funeral in Ghana in 1998, gained salience in a library cafeteria in Bloomington, Indiana, and then began to travel—in words, thoughts, and computer hard drives— with me over many years and countless miles. ...

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Ethnomusicology Multimedia Series Preface

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pp. xiii-xvi

Each of the audio, video, or still image media examples listed below is associated with specific passages in this book, and each example has been assigned a unique persistent uniform resource identifier, or PURL. The PURL points to the location of a specific audio, video, or still image media example on the Ethnomusicology Multimedia website, ...

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Introduction: The Historical Importance of Urban Ghana’s Saturday Nights

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pp. 1-30

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 ...

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1. Popular Music, Political Authority, and Social Possibilities in the Southern Gold Coast, 1890–1940

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pp. 31-66

In January 1909, W. C. Robertson, the Gold Coast’s secretary for native affairs, wrote a letter to Taki Obili, Accra’s recently appointed Ga mantse,1 regarding two dances that had become popular among the city’s young men and women. The letter insisted that the styles in question, osibisaaba and ashiko, were immoral ...

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2. The Making of a Middle Class: Urban Social Clubs and the Evolution of Highlife Music, 1915–1940

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pp. 67-99

In January 1916, Joseph William de Graft-Johnson, a prominent Cape Coast citizen and school headmaster, contacted the commissioner of the Central Province about a group of educated men’s recent effort to “try and raise a public subscription band.” The band, de Graft-Johnson explained, had the backing of Reverend Kowfi at Richmond College ...

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3. The Friction on the Floor: Negotiating Nightlife in Accra, 1940–1960

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pp. 100-146

On Saturday Nights in the mid-1950s, a young Alex Moffatt would sneak out of his family house so that he could go to the Tip-Toe, Seaview, or another of Accra’s many nightclubs. To prepare for these excursions, Moffatt would raid his uncle’s closet, select a suit, tie, and pair of black shoes, and inform the other members of his family that he was retiring to bed. ...

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4. “The Highlife Was Born in Ghana”: Politics, Culture, and the Making of a National Music, 1950–1965

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pp. 147-182

On July 1, 1960, the independent nation of Ghana became a republic, enshrined with a new draft constitution and office of the president, which was assumed by the prime minister and leader of the CPP, Kwame Nkrumah. That same day, his government made two important announcements concerning dance band highlife. ...

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5. “We Were the Ones Who Composed the Songs”: The Promises and Pitfalls of Being a Bandsman, 1945–1970

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pp. 183-223

In 1950, a young Charles Kofi Mann left his hometown of Cape Coast for Takoradi, a rapidly growing city that served as the locus of the colony’s rail and harbor works. Like a number of young men before and after, he made the move in hopes of finding employment, earning money, and charting a future.1 ...

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pp. 224-230

On July 2, 2005, the Apex-Dansoman Keep Fit Dancing Club held a Ballroom Dancing Soiree at Osu Presbyterian Church in Accra. The club, which aimed to “promote and popularize the art of ballroom dance,” had formed nine years earlier and attracted a small but dedicated membership. ...


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pp. 231-232


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pp. 233-278


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pp. 279-288


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pp. 289-310


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pp. 311-318

E-ISBN-13: 9780253007339
E-ISBN-10: 025300733X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253007254

Page Count: 336
Illustrations: 32 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: African Expressive Cultures