When the history of highlife music’s revival from the early 1990s is being written, Obiba Sly Collins’ name will be mentioned not only for the music but how he also used that genre of music to educate and empower the youth of his generation.
Ghana’s history of the 1970s to 1990 reflected negatively on the music industry as many musicians, leading the musical bandwagon were forced to migrate. That seemed to be the end of that genre of music.
When it was time for the music to make a revival, the youth had already been conditioned to the foreign music varieties and it took the return of some of these musicians to rekindle the torch. Among them is multi-instrumentalist Obiba Sly Collins, who right away released a patriotic highlife Album Yemoa Ghana 1994 to the admiration of many connoisseurs of the traditional and original style of music.
Being truthful to his professional musical background, all the elements associated with highlife could be heard clearly in that song – the percussions and the proverbial Yaa Amponsah rhythm or what others call ‘palm wine guitar’ rhythm.
With the release of that album, he has not looked back: album after album such as ‘Total Unity’, ‘Odo Fantastic’ with some dance hall rhythms mix with highlife, ‘Don’t forget your culture’ ‘Voice of Reason’ with some gospel music and the ‘Reality’ album. As has always been the tradition of highlife music, he has used that medium to advise all who care to listen with words of wisdom extolling the virtues of living one’s life being true to the morals of society.
That has not only been what he has done within the past three decades he has returned to our shores to continue his musical odyssey from where he left it when he also migrated to continue his musical exploits in Nigeria especially playing live shows, as a session musician on other artistes’ recordings. Thus he garnered a lot of experience as a singer, songwriter and a performer.
This can be gleaned from his recordings where his experience shows through the message he intends to pass on. Most of the time, he ensures that his lyrics are philosophical, whether he is singing about love or just advising his fans and ordinary listeners about life and its vicissitudes.
Socially he has acquitted himself well especially when he single-handedly organised the countrywide pre-election violence-free 2016 Ghana+ Peace campaign which was endorsed by many prominent and eminent personalities including the Chief Imam Sheikh Osman Nuhu Sharabutu, Rev. Lawrence Tettey, Archbishop Palmer Buckle, diplomats, traditional rulers and other high profile Ghanaians.
That peace campaign was concluded with a massive concert on election eve at the Efua Sutherland Children’s Park, Accra where the cream of Ghana’s musicians including Amandzeba Nat Brew, Trigmatic, Jupiter, Agbeshie, Kamelyon, Superintendent of Police Kofi Sarpong, Weigewor, Ngozi Orji, Osomafo and others performed.
In One day, which many have christened as one his best, this evergreen enjoyed a lot of airplay and was on all the highlife playlists across the country. This song in which he featured the immensely talented international flutist Dela Botri gave a new meaning to highlife. Mixed with the borborbor rhythm and the eventual inclusion of songstress Mawunya radically changed things. The two experienced collaborators brought in their own magic as their combined strength of the three created a sobering sentimental influence on One day which reminded all of the inevitability of death therefore there is no need to feel superior, boasting of riches and the like rather we must love another and be each other’s keeper.
Still in that philosophical mood, Obiba recorded another single: Real love in which he explored the issue of real love versus money love, using some of our national leaders who married their spouses when fame and fortune has not smiled on them.
Unfortunately that has been replaced by money love, not the real love our parents experienced; love not based on materialism but compatibility; as the vows they exchanged said: for better for worse, for richer or poorer …
‘What we see now is money love which is frightening. Reality is dawning on us that a lot of people will live, grow in age but die as old bachelors and spinsters, they will never experience true love because they didn’t have the means to buy it. Many of today’s youth have given up on love as it is a commodity on sale to the highest bidder leaving the financially disadvantaged to stand aside, look and wonder.
‘That should not be the case; if you reflect on the lives of some of our leaders, you will discover that they married their spouses when they were not what they are today. Their relationships have lasted this long because it was built on pure love, not earthly possessions and titles. That is how love and marriage must be,’ he added.
He gave examples of many national icons who either married when they were ‘nobodies’ or across tribal lines and with those relationships still intact. They included the Asantehene Osei Tutu, an Ashanti, who married an Akyem long before he became the overlord. President Nana Akufo-Addo married a Ga among many others.
Interestingly, he renders some of these songs in multiple languages: Yoruba, Igbo, Twi and English just so that what he is preaching in the songs could be accessible to many across West Africa’s borders
Asked about his undying love for highlife his answer was “I always say highlife can never die, it is an African rhythm from the west coast, as he was reflecting on his penchant for this music such as Wonko menko, One Day, Love is the key, Real Love and E’JOO, in which he extolled some of Africa’s entrepreneur’s and leaders.
In Show Some Love for example which was rendered in Igbo, Yoruba, Akan and English, he mentioned prominent entrepreneur Elder Amo Tobin chairman of Tobinco Companies and his wife for their philanthropic activities especially towards the less privileged.
Thus Obiba Sly has been using music to educate African citizens to be caring and show some love to each and every one no matter the tribe or language barriers and religious conspiracies.
He wailed against the rampant corruption that has engulfed Africa in Why Africa? He wondered why in the midst of plenty especially natural resources the African is living in misery.
He questioned why the rich are getting richer and the poor getting poorer, describing it as shameful adding that on the day of death none of the riches will go into the grave concluding that we must remember the less privileged, empower them because a good name is better than riches, he concluded.
What he regards as his biggest moment just a week after the release of this epochal ‘Why Africa’ single, President Akufo-Addo in a comment agreed with Obiba that political colouration is not good for the body politic as it has turned former bosom friends against each other.
However, one distinctive aspect of his career is that he has featured new and upcoming artistes never heard of before on some his songs. That singular move has made some of them superstars like – Agbeshie, Kamelyon, Sherifat Gunu, Mawunya among others.
To conclude one can confidently say Obiba Sly has firmly planted his name on the Ghana highlife scene as even the president repeated his thoughts which he believes are necessary at this time to bring happiness into the heart of all citizens.