A big player in the afro-pop scene, Julian Nicco-Annan – aka Juls – is a British-born Ghanaian producer whose discography includes work with Lauryn Hill, Burna Boy, Mr Eazi, Not3s and Kojo Funds. Born in Hackney, Juls moved to Ghana during his school years, and his sound champions music from across the African continent. He’s been integral to shaping the sound of contemporary African music, and in 2017 he made use of his contact book for his own album Leap of Faith.
For his Face mix, Juls teaches us a lesson on Ghanian highlife, a genre that originated in the early 20th century and has evolved over the decades. From the instant party starters to the Wizkid-inspiring tunes, get ready to submerge yourself in an hour of Ghana’s finest.
Juls’ forthcoming project will drop 26 July.
Listen to Juls’ mix in the player above.
Whats the vibe and direction of your Face Mix?
It’s a journey of the transitions that have taken place with the Ghanaian highlife genre. I start off with some classics that every single Ghanaian in this world must know! Each song is a memory in everyone’s heart and a classic. Then I take it back. We have given birth to a lot of legends in our country and I feel the world needs to hear some of these songs that have literally changed lives and brought so much happiness to people.
How would you describe highlife music?
Sonically it’s a genre full of feeling. You have to dance and sing along. The messages in most of the songs are hilarious and deep thoughts at the same time. The instrumentals set the pace most of the time and are guaranteed sing alongs. In the past, our forefathers didn’t have metronomes or anything to time their instruments all together, but it was spiritual. Thats exactly what highlife music is. Key elements that give highlife that amazing sonic sound and feel are the guitars, the drums and the keys.
Whats the difference between highlife and afrobeats?
Afrobeats merges popular genres of African popular music. Kuduro, afrobeat, highlife included. If you listen to afrobeats carefully the sounds are blended elements from different African genres including highlife. Afrobeats is more for the younger generation tapping into African genres of music in the past. For example, Wizkid and Mutay’s Manya or DJ Tunez and Wizkid’s Gbese records are regarded as afrobeats records but they got their inspiration from Ghanaian highlife with classic songs like ahomka wow by VIP and Fefenefee by Tictac and Tony Tetuila (songs you’ll hear in the mix).
Why do you think afrobeats has become so popular in the UK?
The UK is a very diverse cultural population – a lot of Africans are here and were raised the traditional African way by their parents, despite going through the UK system. So we are cultured and have a certain way of life. This is the music that our parents play in our houses. We hear this all the time at our family gatherings. There are so many of us! When we go out to parties this is the music we want to hear, and the records are dope. Everyone is in love with our culture and way of life. Everyone wants to be a part of it. And it’s influenced a lot of musicians worldwide. Every 10 – 15 years the world is looking for the next big thing sound-wise and that’s African music right now. Beyoncé, Drake, Goldlink, Bryson Tiller, they’ve all tapped into this. Afrobeats is not just popular in the UK, it’s worldwide now.
What upcoming musicians should we keep an eye out for?
I don’t know if I should call them upcoming musicians as they’re doing their thing in their own spaces and have their niche markets. Producer wise, Kel-P from Nigeria is doing amazing stuff with Burna Boy right now. Killer Tunes is doing amazing stuff for the afrobeats scene as well. Oxlade, Zamir, Tomi Agape all from Nigeria, Quamina MP from Ghana. There’s a lot of talent out there.
1. Kwabena Kwabena – ASO
“This song came out in the early 2000s when highlife and hiplife started blending. Hiplife is hip-hop and highlife mixed together. An instant party starter.”
2. Kofi Nti and Ofori Amponsah – ATWEETAN
“Their voices were so soft and warm on sweet highlife instrumentals and their collaborations were spiritual dancefloor classics.”
3. Nana Quame – ATIA DONKO
“This song was in every Ghanaian DJ’s set. The mothers love this song.”
4. KK Fosu – No 1
“KK Fosu is a Ghanaian favourite with so many hits. This brings back so many memories. I remember one Aunty with a moustache forcing me to dance with her to this song at a party once. THE HORROR.”
5. KK Fosu – Rakia
“Another KK Fosu classic. He really had the highlife game on lock in the 2000s.”
6. VIP – Ahomka Wom
“This song was a perfect blend of highlife and hip-life. Wizkid and Mutay interpolated this for their song Manya. This song is more youthful in the sense that it was for all ages.”
7. Tictac and Tony Tetuila – Fefeef
“Tictac was once dubbed Ghana’s Busta Rhymes once because of his rap style. Big tune this.”
8. Adane Best – Soja
“A popular Song for Ga parties. Ga is a Ghanaian tribe centralised in the capital Accra where my father is from. You would hear this song in every single restaurant on the street:.
9. Paapa Yankson – Show Your Love
“God bless the late Paapa Yankson. My mother loved this song. He was from the same area she grew up so it’s a special song for her and of course I heard this all the time.”
10. Pat Thomas – Momma Meka Bi
“Probably my favourite highlife song of all time.”
11. Ofori Amponsah – Otoolege
“Classic! Instant classic. A lot of memories with this song.”
12. George Jahraa – Ashikele
“This is where the showoffs come on the dance floor.”
13. Bisa Kdei – Jwe
“Yeah another song for the show-offs. This is new school highlife and Bisa Kdei definitely holds the flag for it currently.”
14. Marriott International Band – Ozim Zim
“This is old school. My grandpa introduced me to this song actually.”
15. Amakye Dede – Akwadoa Wesoa
“Banger!!! Old school banger! Amakye Dede is a highlife legend.”
16. Kofi B – Mmbrowa
“Mellow vibes. But still smooth highlife.”
17. Daasebre Gyamena – Kokooko
“I actually bought his tape because of this song. One of my favourite highlife records.”
18. Nana Acheampong – Na Anka Ebeye Den
“This song i think is the first highlife song I heard ever. It’s over 25-years-old.”
19. Kojo Antwi – Akuba
“Dem on-the-way-to-the-crib highlife vibes here man. Kojo Antwi is my favourite highlife musician of all time. I have all his records.”
20. Kofi Nti – Odo Nyom
“New school highlife here. Another party starter.”
21. Daddy Lumba – Eye Nnoa
“This has a little reggae vibe to it. Mellow vibes. This is the “waiting at the bar for a drink” vibe but still enjoying the party.”
22. Daddy Lumba – Aben Wo Ha
“You have to do the shoulder dance for this. Classic highlife riddim here.”
23. Terry bonchaka – Zoozey
“He was on a role and his dances were hilarious. This was a proper street highlife record.”