The thought of interviewing one of Ghana’s great highlife musicians brought back sudden nostalgia. One imagined how, as children, we’d often play near drinking bars with blurring highlife music and the bubble of voices of men, some of whom had closed from work and had stopped over for the local brew. Ghanaian highlife music has come a long way and most Ghanaians born in the ’80s are all too familiar with the songs of Ben Brako.
Known for timeless tunes like meko mekrom, mawie, ntsaase, anokum among others, the highlife beagle said he felt blessed anytime he heard his songs being played. “Sometimes I’m amazed myself at the songs and I don’t understand how I came by them. My songs are gifts from God only channeling through me,” he disclosed humbly. The 62 year old highlife musician further hinted that he may have been too young to understand the pearls of wisdom hidden in his lyrics when he first composed them.
Typical of most Ghanaian highlife songs, the lyrics are sang in the local dialect and most of Ben Brako’s songs are rendered in Fante. Talking about how he got the inspiration to record his songs, he reminisced how, while in London, he got the idea to record Meko Mekrom, a song meaning I shall return to my homeland. Inspired by American singer Judy Collins and Canadian musician Leonard Cohen, Ben set out to compose and record Meko Mekrom. “Initially I wrote my lyrics in English and went to the studio and I sang in English. Later when I sang the song to a friend and asked his opinion, he thought the song would be better expressed in Fante”, he revealed. With these words of wisdom Ben Brako went back to the studio and produced a song that would live on several years later.
Any creative work has a source of inspiration and artists are inspired in different ways. Asked what his motivation was, the highlife great said “I’m motivated by genuine love for people around me and people in general. I have great interest in culture and I try to interpret so many things from a cultural context. What I see about some of the problems we have for a place like Ghana has cultural dimensions. I always try to point people towards what I believe is our heritage.”
Although deeply rooted in Ghanaian culture, Ben Brako has travelled extensively and has lived in England for a long time. His opinions on Ghanaian highlife music would therefore merit some attention. He believes highlife music hasn’t reached its full potential and that the genre deserves better recognition. “In a way, highlife has only gained recognition in bits and pieces, but highlife as a whole hasn’t gained the breakthrough it deserves,” he reflected.
It is his opinion that the Ghanaian music industry hasn’t developed in the right ways, and that it has been challenging attaining the levels of excellence and professionalism that other music industries abroad had achieved. “Where people have been able to attain excellence in production, I think they have had a breath through…I can mention Osibisa and a few others. We have to focus on the technical production of our music and the professionalism,” he noted. The highlife musician further explained that American musician, Paul Simon, had been able to popularize Southern African music by given the indigenous songs a professional twist and high technical production.
Away from music, Ben Brako, a father of 5 children, admits he’s been blessed with wonderful family.“I have 5 children…the last one is just about going to university. The rest have graduated and some are married. I have four grandchildren, and have a very special relationship with my children…they can talk to me almost about anything at anytime. My wife is in London taking care of the family, and we visit each other every now and then” he said contently.
Concluding the interview, Ben Brako was asked what many artists may consider the most dreaded question. How do you want to be remembered was the question. After bursting out with laughter and saying he hardly thought of that, he said “I’m already enjoying a lot of love and respect from people…everybody wants to talk to me as if they know me personally. That is reward enough for me. I just want to be remembered as a good guy.”