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Living the Hiplife

Distributed by Third World Newsreel, 545 Eighth Avenue, 10th Floor, New York, NY 10018; 212-947-9277
Produced by Jesse Weaver Shipley, Evidence Films, Coltan Media
Directed by Jesse Weaver Shipley
DVD, color, 63 min.
Sr. High - Adult
Music, African Studies

Reviewed by Martha Kelehan, Binghamton University

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 1/14/2008

This highly-engaging documentary looks at the development of the Ghanaian popular music known as Hiplife. A mixture of Ghanaian Highlife music and American Hip Hop, Hiplife is thought to have started with the return of Reggie “Rockstone” Ossei to Accra in the mid-1990s. He is thought to be the first Ghanaian to rap in Twi and on topics related to Ghanaian life, earning himself the moniker “the Godfather of Hiplife.”

While much of the film focuses on Reggie Rockstone and his attempts to foster the career of three young artists known as the Mobile Boys, the documentary does an admirable job of showcasing the diversity of ideas and talent in the movement. One newer current is for artists to draw from Ghanaian parables and incantations, or to use more “African” beats rather than beats coming out of London or New York. Also briefly addressed is the commercialization of the culture, with many Hiplife stars doing advertisements for major European multinationals. A short interview with one of Hiplife’s premier female artists, Abrewa Nana is included, but it is just enough to whet one’s appetite for more on the fascinating topic of gender in Hiplife.

Directed by Bard Professor of Anthropology and Africana Studies, Jesse Shipley, the credits also list Reggie Rockstone as consultant on the film. The production quality is high, with judicious use of archival footage from Ghana’s history interspersed with contemporary concert footage, music video clips, shots from the recording studio, and interviews at home with Rockstone and the Mobile Boys.

Living the Hiplife could be used in classes to discuss topics such as syncretization, popular/youth culture, the globalization of hip hop, Africa’s relationship to the Diaspora, and music history in Ghana. Highly recommended