b. 1920, Lagos, Nigeria, d. 1991, Ghana. Alternatively known as either ‘the godfather of palm-wine highlife’ or simply ‘the king of palm-wine’, Mensah was instructed on the guitar by his uncle, Kwame (Sam) Asare. Asare had been among the very first practitioners of palm-wine music, which grew in Ghana’s ports as a hybrid of several influences, notably the two-finger guitar style of Kru fishermen. Arare became the first Ghanaian musician to record (for Zonophone) after travelling to London in 1928. Kwaa Mensah soon inherited his position as palm-wine’s most celebrated guitarist. He spent much of his youth in Cape Coast, initially supporting his uncle’s performances. He was initially responsible for introducing the guitar to the kon komba style, where previously brass has occupied the leading position. Afterwards he became synonymous with palm-wine. His first own-name band was formed in 1951, and quickly amassed a discography of over 500 78s. These made him a household name throughout Ghana and neighbouring territories, though his popularity dipped during the 60s and early 70s when electric guitar dominated. He underwent something of a renaissance in 1975, however, with the release of his debut album, Wawo Christo. This led to USA support slots with Wulomei, and several high profile showcases back in Ghana. Numerous cassette albums were released, but when Mensah died in 1991 there remained a dearth of more orthodox releases to document his career, which has been instrumental in introducing a musical form once again enjoying popularity throughout the region.
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