Building “A Home Away from Home”

Musical Spaces and Diasporic “Feedback” from London to Accra, 1950s–1980s

Alison Okuda


In studies of twentieth-century Ghanaian popular music, writers have focused on changes to the genre of highlife. The temporal breadth of John Collins work on the influences of the African diaspora on Ghanaian music can be seen in his work on West Indian soldiers and their musical instruments in the nineteenth century Gold Coast and on tours by Louis Armstrong and other African American artists in the mid-twentieth century. Although several scholars have commented on the importance of Ghanaian highlife musicians traveling overseas, they have not considered how these artists created “homes” for a larger community of Ghanaians and black migrants while they spent time in London. This article addresses the role that musical “homes,” secure and comforting spaces, served in the development of Ghanaian popular music from the 1950s through the 1980s. By examining nightclubs, cultural centers, and music shops that were frequented by Ghanaians and people from other African and Caribbean countries, I demonstrate how Ghanaians shaped and used these spaces while adapting to life in London. Evidence in newspapers, archival collections, and interviews also shows that Ghanaians sought to create new “homes” for music after returning to Ghana and settling in Accra. Although musical “homes” took on different forms depending on the needs of artist and consumer, they reveal that Ghanaians’ experiences in diaspora, where they interacted with a range of Caribbean and African communities in musical spaces, ultimately shaped perspectives on Ghanaian national culture and the African diaspora within Ghana.

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