Highlife Saturday Night

Highlife Saturday Night

Popular Music and Social Change in Urban Ghana
Nathan Plageman
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 12/19/2012
Format: Hardback 32 b&w illus., 22 audio
ISBN: 978-0-253-00725-4
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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.

Author Bio

Nate Plageman is Assistant Professor of History at Wake Forest University.


“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.”

“Going beyond a mere account of highlife's origins and development, it offers a history of popular music and its relationship to the cultural, gendered, political, and social fabric of urban Ghana.”
 — Stephan F. Miescher, University of California, Santa Barbara

“Explores a relatively unknown period of an important social and cultural institution—highlife music—and brings new insights and signficance to popular expressive forms.”
 — Suzanne Gott, University of British Columbia, Okanagan

Highlife Saturday Night is an excellent read for scholars and students interested in the complex dynamics of social and cultural change in urbanizing 20th-century West Africa, as well as for those focused on the performative nature of identities and popular culture more broadly. The subject of “Saturday Night” may also appeal to general readers curious about the lives and everyday experiences of ordinary West Africans during this intense time of political, economic, and cultural transformation. ”
 — Ghana Studies

“Highlife Saturday Night is an impressive monograph that should remind scholars of the porous nature of disciplinary boundaries, and reaffirm the important perspective symbolic-aesthetic forms like music offer the humanities and social sciences, and in this case, the construction of West African social history. ”
 — Journal of West African History

“This book is well-written and will appeal to those interested in Ghanaian urban history and highlife music, as well as those wanting to know more about youth and popular culture in general. The analysis of the history and organization of the social and literary clubs is some of the most insightful in the book. Plageman also excels in his portrayal of highlife music, musicians, and middle-class men. This book makes significant contributions to the history of highlife music and successfully weaves highlife musical culture into the wider social and political net of urban Ghana.”
 — American Historical Review

“Dr. Plageman has written an excellent book. . . . [T]his publication does more than merely document the features of highlife music in urban Ghana: it also investigates the material basis and the political import of this genre of music. . . . As a document of urban history, this book is brilliant. It is a major addition to the small collection of books on the history of urban Ghana. . . . [I]t significantly extends existing work because it takes an urban-wide view and substantially analyses youth culture in terms of its political, historical, social and even economic dynamics.”
 — African Review of Economics and Finance

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Table of Contents

Ethnomusicology Multimedia Series Preface
Introduction: The Historical Importance of Urban Ghana’s Saturday Nights
1. Popular Music, Political Authority, and Social Possibilities in the Southern Gold Coast, 1890-1940
2. The Making of a Middle Class: Urban Social Clubs and the Evolution of Highlife Music, 1915-1940
3. The Friction on the Floor: Negotiating Nightlife in Accra, 1940-1960
4. "The Highlife was Born in Ghana": Politics, Culture, and the Making of a National Music, 1950-1965
5. "We Were the Ones Who Composed the Songs": The Promises and Pitfalls of Being a Bandsman, 1945-1970