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Santrofi: Alewa review – a welcome return for Ghanaian highlife | Music


Thanks to the lasting influence of the late Fela Kuti, Nigerian Afrobeat has enjoyed a recent resurgence in the west while its close cousin, Ghanaian highlife, has slipped off the radar, despite dominating west Africa in the era following the second world war. Young Accra-based outfit Santrofi are determined to revive the fortunes of a music that offers a lighter, breezier alternative to Fela’s intense, funk-fuelled marathons. Highlife’s swift, skipping rhythms are here, albeit supercharged for modern times, along with nimble guitar codas and a slick horn duo of trumpet and trombone.

Last year the band blew European festival audiences away, allying precision instrumentation with crisp dance moves. You can’t hear the choreography on this debut, but the playing remains immaculate – a high-octane mix of punchy jazz horns and call-and-response vocals typified by Kwaa Kwaa and Adwuma. There are Afrobeat echoes on Konongo Kaya, but Santrofi’s message is joy rather than defiance. A winner.

Coincidentally, the long-lost 1981 debut album by another Ghanaian band, Edikanfo, is being rereleased. Produced by Brian Eno (ever the musical frontiersman), the funk-highlife fusion of The Pace Setters (Glitterbeat) still sounds remarkably fresh.

Watch Santrofi live at Womad UK, 2019.

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