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Visually-impaired Fulbright Scholar sees wealth in highlife music, African identity


Dr. Richard Smith is a Fulbright scholar and lectures in the music department of the United Nations University in New York, United States of America. Teaching inter-disciplinary arts and cross-cultural education, he has carried out advanced research works as he takes students in African classical music. 

He expresses a dedicated love for what he is doing, even though he is visually impaired. Having a chat with him at Dr. Victor Olaiya’s Stadium Hotel in Surulere, Lagos, I met a man with very appealing disposition, and of great importance to him is documenting information for academic and historic purposes.

What has particularly been of interest to you in some of the African countries you have visited?

I must say to you that I have visited a number of African countries for the purpose of my research works, but mostly frequented Ghana and Nigeria. My interest has actually been about the varieties of rich-flavoured highlife music that have been played for over five decades. I also can’t hide my impression of such initiatives as one by the ‘All -Stars Highlife Club’ to revive highlife music in Nigeria for the entertainment and cultural benefit of the younger generations.
You seem to be doing a lot in Nigeria, what have your works been about specifically?
For many years that I have been coming to Nigeria, I have always served as guest lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, teaching in the music department. I have been doing a lot of research, and in Nigerian popular music, not strictly highlife music. I am also interested in African hip-hop music and the varieties that have emerged from creative mixes.

From your research, how well do you consider highlife music as showcasing African culture?

Beyond entertainment, I look at the cultural relevance of highlife music in Nigeria as one that I can compare to what jazz music is in the United States of America. If I must make particular reference to Emmanuel Tettey Mensah’s works, you find that the music is played to reflect a lot about their roots, and not only for entertainment.

I sincerely appreciate the fact that highlife musicians in Nigeria sing both in the local languages and in English language. This is good because those who sing in the local languages can pass on the importance of language as an aspect of culture, while those who sing in English language would be relating to the West. I also consider it important that those who sing in English could infuse some of their culture into what they are doing, in order to give a bigger exposure of their culture to the world through their music.



How much of cultural revival can highlife music help to achieve among youths in Africa?
Fostering cultural revival in young people through highlife music would achieve something only if parents have taught
their children about their culture at some point. That will mean using highlife music to build on an existing substance. Considering my own experience that I do classical and modern music, but I will never forget when my family would be
together and sing Rhythm and Blues which is native to us as African Americans.  It is a fact that if you get
a touch of this as a child, no matter what you go through you will still have a feel of that in which you were brought up.

I will continue to monitor the trend and document the facts about an identity through highlife music.








  1. Eya Ayambem says

    The image just refuses to open. I have to see it before commenting. Lol!

  2. onepageafrica says

    So sory about it, but that has been taken care of now. Thanks a lot.

  3. Megan says

    What an interesting interview – now I want to listen to some Nigerian music!

  4. onepageafrica says

    Thanks Megan and am sure you'll appreciate doing so.

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