The 1930’s saw the spread of highlife to Sierra Leone, Liberia, Gambia, and Nigeria. In its earliest form, highlife was played mainly by brass bands along the Ghanaian coast. It’s continued popularity stretched inland and eastward along the coast, crossing into Nigeria. By the 1950’s and 1960’s, the genre reached far inland to the smallest coastal towns.
The most popular historical period for highlife music in Nigeria was from the 1950’s to the 1970’s. Hundreds of bands performed across the country filling nightclubs and dance halls with people dancing to live music. Ghanaian E. T. Mensah donned as the “King of Highlife” along with his Tempos Band, were the most popular highlife performers of the 1950’s. Bobby Benson & His Combo were the first Nigerian highlife band to be successful in Ghana. Following after Benson was Jim Lawson & the Mayor’s Dance Band, who achieved national fame in the mid ‘70s. Other popular highlife musicians were Prince Nico Mbarga and his band Rocafil Jazz and African Brothers Band.
Today, highlife music is still played in Ghana and Nigeria as well as other African countries and owing to the internet, the music is readily available anywhere in the world. In western Nigeria, highlife music is being looked upon with historical affection in contrast to eastern Nigeria, who enjoy highlife music for festivities such as weddings and funerals. Though Lagos city has the reputation throughout Africa of being the hotbed of Nigerian highlife music, other cities including Port Harcourt in Rivers State, Onitsha in Anambra State and Benin City in Edo State, also indulge in Highlife music.
Currently leading the way in highlife music are Femi Kuti, Sound Sultan, Korede Bello, and King Oge Nwanne. Flavour N’abania is also a prominent artist in the highlife community and one of Africa’s most sought after artists. He has released four albums (2005, 2010, 2012, and 2014) ever since emerging onto the Nigerian music scene and it was his 2012 album titled Blessed that has brought his the most commercial success so far. Though his songs feature modern beats, his incorporation of ‘Old time highlife’ songs brings much substance to his songs setting him apart from every other artists.
Highlife is undoubtedly on the rise especially with songs and videos like the ‘Ada Ada’, which won Flavour the ‘Nigerian Music Video Award‘ (NMVA) for ‘Best High Life Video’ in 2013 among others. Today, the international music community are finding out more and more about this cultural and melodic music genre via concert performances by Ghanaian and Nigerian highlife artists across the globe. With their regional and national success, it is encouraging to note that most Nigerian highlife artists are giving back to their communities through charitable work with organizations that focus on breast cancer treatment and prevention, youth empowerment and orphanage maintenance across Nigeria.