Old School Highlife

Your ancestors breathed life into your past, your present, and your future. Their genetic makeup forms not just the curve of your nose and the hue of your skin, but your cultural history and the texture of your daily life. It’s easy to forget this in the modernized society we find ourselves in. Technology,  immigration, displacement, language loss, religious shifts, the internet, and globalization have dramatically re-imagined the way each of us engages with our respective cultures. It can be hard to stay in touch with the past. But there is unimaginable value to being connected to one’s heritage, and being rooted in the language, spirituality, customs, and the music of the people you are descended from. As people of African descent, the aftermath of the transatlantic slave trade puts obstacles in the path of connecting to one’s culture. It can seem impossible to reach the past, but it’s not–it is necessary.

My older sister knows this with her entire spirit, and she uses social media to record her learning of our traditional Akan culture. She is the anthropologist, cultural historian, and classic music connoisseur of the family and as such, the first person I came to for guidance on this mixtape mash up, which samples the music that defines our family’s experience with Ghanian music, most notably High Life and Adowa. Although a lot of highlife is sung in Fante, Ewe and many other Ghanian languages, as well as Igbo, this selection of music is primarily by artists who sing in Twi, as that is my mother language.

As background on the song selections, think of Highlife as the musical throne of Ghana. It is a complex genre that has had a profound influence on African and world music over the last 70 years. Adowa is a style of dance accompanied by drumming and song that was originated by the Akan people of Ghana. Adowa is performed at cultural ceremonies like funerals, festivals etc with traditional musical arrangements.

1. Ghanaian Old School Highlife (Grandparents + Parents’ Generation) | Various Artists

During the 1920-30s in Ghana, Highlife emerged from the synthesis of calypso and jazz. It uses the melodic and rhythmic structures of traditional Akan music and is played with a fusion of African sounds such as trumpets, palm wine music, drumming, Congolese Sokous and choirs. Highlife is influenced by western instruments such as Cuban guitars, saxophone and synthesizers as well, which are heard most often in modern songs.  One of the genre’s most influential artists E.T. Mensah suggested that it was lower class outsiders who secretly enjoyed the music who gave it the name, stating, “people outside [the clubs] called it highlife as they did not reach the class of the couples going inside, who not only had to pay a relatively high entrance fee…but also had to wear full evening dress, including top-hats if they could afford it.” Today, Highlife has spread from Ghana into neighboring Nigeria, all over West Africa, and all around the world. This is a collection of some of the absolute classics that really enrich the Highlife genre.

2. Iron Boy Song | by Amakye Dede

Highlife artists like Amakye Dede influence all aspects of Ghanaian, African, and global music and culture (indie punk bands like Vampire Weekend draw from him as inspiration) and local contemporary artists use it as a source of Hiplife (which is West African hip-hop) as well as a number of beat derived musical expressions. My mother told us she went to an Amakye Dede concert in the 1980s. “Dabi dabi ebeye ye (the future, future will be well)” is her favorite song. When Loretta first translated the lyrics for us, she confused dabi (future) with debi (no) because it sounds the same but not really.

3. Daddy Lumba Mix | by Daddy Lumba

You can’t make an mixtape of Ghanian music without including Daddy Lumba. He is a highly prolific artist who has been emulated by almost every imaginable Highlife act, and has been active for over two decades. His music is the kind that can be sung word-for-word by your grandparents, your parents, and your youngest cousins or nephews, because he just makes endless hits, and his old music is still poppin’. Rather than one specific song, here is a sampling of his greatest jams — look out for “Dangerous” and “Poison”, my personal favorites.

4. Adom | by Mama Esther

Adom  is a throwback song from the legendary Mame Esther. We first heard it from our Auntie Mabena’s (our small mother who is married to our mother’s younger brother) CD player, when she told us the meaning of the song “Waaye Lucky”, and about the many ways God delivers blessings in times of adversity and, also in peace. She then bought us a copy of the album, also called Waaye Lucky (You are Lucky!) and we played it so much it began skipping. This is another song on the same album, about God’s grace and mercy.

5. Akwankwaa Hiani | by Abena Gyamfua

This song is a tribute to someone who the singer knew, and died recently, essentially giving acknowledgement that they’ve died: “The Lord who gave wisdom and strength to the land Nyame nkrabeah – God’s blessings, let’s give thanks to Kwatakye (old school nickname meaning the “Brave One” for some warrior centuries ago). He’s done something great for us. Ye dase bre. We give many thanks…He’s done much for us.” All translated excerpts by my sister LA: 0:50 – Hook: If I could turn into a ghost (samayn), I would take the journey to go and see what a wicked person Death is. Death’s Okyame (person in royal court who announces presence) is illness. His brother/sister in law is need (poverty). Sorrow and tears are twins. My sister, depression is just as bad. Death, when I hear your name, I shudder (??). Death, if I could see you here, I would fight you and take my mother back.

6. Ankwanobi | by City Boys International Band

Ankwanobi translates roughly to “Someone’s Left Behind.” The heart of the song is about missing a lover. More like a lover leaving. The singer lists all their potential names (ie Abewoo, Yaya, Rebecca, Angelina, Diana, Jessica (pronounces as “Yessica”) Akobiawaa, Gladys, Elena, Akos, Georgina, Oba Maggie (Lady Maggie), Gifty, + whoever I missed…), and sings, “What did I do to you so you left? Odo en ma, me wou. If love doesn’t come back, I’ll die.” His lovers keep leaving. He thinks it might be because he did something bad. They tell him, “I’m going somewhere. I won’t be with anyone else. I’ll spend like two weeks and will be back in a month (bosomeh). ” He sends someone to get her to come back. The messenger returns and tells him: “It doesn’t look like she wants to get back into the marriage.” My sister thinks the women are leaving because of the singer’s infidelity, but hey you be the judge.

7. Brother Brother | by Bisa Kdei

Brother Brother, with its chords and melodious hook reminiscent of another time was massive in 2015 when it was released in Ghana– and it still is. It is not old school, traditional highlife, in the strict  sense that your elders grew up listening to this song.  But Brother Brother, and most of Bisa Kdei’s body of work is a perfect example of the persistence of tradition, of how when the younger generation really listens to and loves the music of a past era, it can be built upon, remixed, and in some cases, resurrected into the present.

8. Oman Bo Adwo | by Nana Kwame Ampedu 

Nana Kwame Ampedu, often considered the king of highlife music is the last track on this extended playlist. Loretta: “I genuinely can’t know if he’s the all time greatest because I don’t understand any Nigerian languages or any other Ghanaian languages. But for me, Nana Ampedu is the very best when it comes to Ghanaian Twi Highlife.” He’s Kwahu so the dialect of Twi he sings in is Akwapem. Here’s an old school Igbo/Twi collabo. Very first line: “If you’re someone who tells the truth, people don’t like you.” LA: I love how Nana introduced his friend later on: “The song, I’m singing, my friend – an Igbo person – brought it to me. And he’s here. I’ll let him to sing this part in the Igbo language for you. Ogana, make you go.”

Okay, before we dey leave you to spend time with all of this musical treasure, we talked about Adowa in the beginning of this article, and wanted to share some Contemporary Adwoa to close out.  Adwoa originates in the court of the Asantehene – Mankya Palace. With changes in Ghanaian spiritually, more contemporary Adowa has incorporated Gospel music. Prior, Adwoa told stories of the royal family. The third song on this list, Manhyia Tete Nwomkoro Kuo- Funeral Dirge speaks on the passing of the late Asantehene (Asante King) Otumfou Nana Opoku Ware. Many of the lines – metaphors and phrases – are ancient but still relevant for when he passed in 1999. Currently, Adwoa is often used during Asante funerals along with more contemporary highlife and Western music.

Abena Gyamfua — Hu Me Mmobo 

Abena Fosuaa — Meye Tire

Manhyia Tete Nwomkoro Kuo — Funeral Dirge

*all song translations and commentary by Lore Abena.

This I Know

I know enough about you

Barely enough about you

To rub two nickels together.

It seems

That would be enough

About You

to last small Lifetimes

held closely—

Guarded—but I can’t help

Bauble and spill over

towards anyone

Even you and so it guzzles over


I’ve made such ordinary mistakes

Extraordinary in their repercussions

Almost like looking out

And seeing the catacombs

The shameless manner

through which

I’ve leveled life

It’s staggering

Image that I’ve dragged

Full tilt

into the sun

I thought we would meet there

I was waiting, panting, at every corner

I fully believed in things that

I couldn’t see

And had no reassurance of

Fully compelled myself into you

Without your attention


I’ve traveled towards the city on so many

Nameless occasions that

the day

I severed

it was routine.

Tar black because it is always that night

Before the city lit up only with the

Mobile glow

I reached more times than I could remember,

And everything was panic, anxiety. All of these

Words mean separate things to me now

And I couldn’t remember how it triggered

But within the silence I found myself

Babbling and sobbing and beaten

Because I knew that you were lost,

Even beyond me,

My grieving

Because you said you would protect yourself

And I, inadequate, tried to do it for you

How is it possible to spiral so completely

Away from you

In what seems like two days

I am on orbit

And centered

No longer revolving around you

That is simply revolving around I

Let me know if you are in orbit

Whenever I leave it feels like breaking

Splintering, something stuck in my soles

Behind me but I can only go forward

With one behind me

Remembering that

When you think of turning round

Reminded that

You found what you’re looking for

Something so small it was

Almost invisible

But I saw it,

Every time.

My Name in Arabic (First Edition)


  • Graduating from Carnegie Mellon University, one of the nation’s top schools, with two majors and university honors, while simultaneously juggling two part time jobs was a great accomplishment in my life.
  • My time at school was life changing and I’m looking forward to continuing my education by getting a MFA.
  • Education for young women is something I’m extremely passionate about.


Receiving my diploma from Jon Carson, former Dean of the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University.


Screen Shot 2019-09-14 at 11.02.52 AM

Life has given you so much, you wanted to throw it away.

“It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest than I go to than I have ever known.” Sydney Carton, A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

Vanessa German Quotes

“Here dead we lie, because we did not choose to live and shame the land from which we sprung. Life, to be sure, is nothing much to loose, But young men think it is, and we were young.” – A.e. Housman

“To fear love is to fear life, and those who fear life are already three parts dead.” – Bertrand Russell

“Should we give in to our impulses to hurt or kill any who anger us, to take whatever we want from those who are weaker, and in general, to disregard the feelings of others? We are made imperfect and must guard against our flaws least they destroy us.” – Eragon, Eldest pg 444

“Life has to end. Love doesn’t.” – Marguerite, The 5 People you meet in Heaven

“You are sheep among wolves, be wise as serpents, yet innocent as doves.”

“Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once.” -Caesar


Tricksters, or the Bullshit Artist

“Salesmen, neat, deadly, small intent eyes looking for weakness.” – Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck

“What freedom men and women could have, were they not constantly tricked and enslaved by their sexuality!” – Steinbeck 

“Fella in business got to lie an’ cheat, but he calls it somepin else…You go steal that tire an’ your a thief, but he tried to steal your four dollars for a busted tire. They call that sound business.” – Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck

“…they got to live before they can afford to die.” – ex. Rev. Casy, The Grapes of Wrath

“I think the difference between a lie and a story is that a story utilizes the trappings and appearance of truth for the interest of the listener as well as the teller. A story has in it neither gain nor loss. But a lie is a device for profit or escape. I suppose that if the definition is strictly adhered to, than a writer of stories is a liar, if he is financially fortunate….Most liars are tripped up either because they forgot what they have told or because the lie is faced with an incontrovertible truth.” – East of Eden, Steinbeck

“Speak softly and carry a big stick [and] you will go far.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain: Temptation shall not come in this kind again.The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.” – T.S. Eliot

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

“All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.” – Mark Twain

“Alright, then, I’ll go to hell.” – Huck Finn on not telling Watson where Jim Is 

“You can’t pray a lie-that’s what I found out.” – Huck Finn

Continue reading “Tricksters, or the Bullshit Artist”



“As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our life will be filled with anguish and shame. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson — ‘When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.’

Martin Luther King, Jr.: ‘Only in the darkness can you see the stars.’






The Blacker The Berry / Why is the snow white?

“Lelouch, do you know why snow is white? Snow is white, because it’s forgotten what color it’s supposed to be.”  – C.C., Code Geass

Andy Warhol‘s words “In the future, everyone will be world-famous…” which appeared in the program for a 1968 exhibition of his work at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden.

“Every nigger is a star…” Borris Gardner 

Mutt Cart, Jenny Soracco Lin

A Look at D.S. Kinsel, an entrepreneur and agitational artist whose work transcends genres and is inspirational, past the point of imitation (@dskinsel).




We Live In Public Discussion Guide

Sexism and Misogyny: Who Takes the Rap?

Never forget where you came from.

Sometimes, I miss the “old” Trevor. Still I absolutely love the new” Trevor, too.

Freedom Songs

Rest in power Castro Destroyer.

“Now, no matter what the mullah teaches, there is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is only a variation of theft…when you kill a man, you steal his life. You steal his wife’s right to a husband and rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness…”

-Baba, The Kite Runner, Khalid Hussein

“For you a thousand times over.”

-Hassan, The Kite Runner, Khalid Hussein

“Walk softly, and always with God beside you.”

“God is what’s good in me.” Johnny, Death be Not Proud (Gunther) 

“I really do believe that God will never let you fall too far.”

Condoleezza Rice, Walking In Faith

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”

-Jimi Hendrix

“Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”

-General George S. Patton

“This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.”

-Abraham Lincoln

“Let justice roll down like water, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”


“Sons will adore their fathers through even the worst behavior. Its how they learn devotion. Before he an devote himself to God or a woman, a boy will devote himself to his father, even foolishly, beyond explanation.”

Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven

“Give me an hour and I’ll give you your dreams.”

-Frou Frou, Shhhhhh

“If music be the food of love, play on.”

-William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

“For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings/ That then I scorn to change my state with Kings.”

-William Shakespeare, Sonnet 29

“Curiosity is one of the many masks of love.”

Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman.”

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

alis volat propRiis. She flies with her own wings”

esto perpetua. It Endures Forever.”

“The spirit never perishes. Only the body decays.”


“The God of Loss. The God of Small Things. He left no footprints in the sand, no ripples in the water, no image in mirrors.”

The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy

“Only after the great awakening will we realize that this is the great dream.”


“Remember to let her into your heart.”

-Hey Jude, John Lennon and Paul McCartney

“…a man has a false heart in his mouth for the world to see, another in his breast to show his very special friends and family, and the real one, the secret one, which is never known to anyone except himself alone, hidden only God Knows where.”

-Japanese proverb, Shogun by James Clavell


The Children, David Halberstam – https://books.google.com/books?id=Rv-8E76FZWkC&q

“There are people who will go after your humanity. They tell you that the light in your heart is a weakness. Don’t believe it. Its an old tactic of cruel people to kill kindness in the name of virtue. There’s nothing wrong with love.”

-Father Flynn, Doubt