Posted in Music | By Richard Mellor
31/08 2009

Highlife – the real shit indeed

Most times I need a few listens to know if I like a song.  But every so often there comes along a tune that just blows my audio mind, and has me jigging around the room like a juked Jackie Stallone within mere seconds.  The last time that happened the delighter in question was Surprise Hotel by Fool’s Gold; and the most recent occurrence, earlier this yellow London afternoon, came courtesy of still another African-influenced track – F Kenya Rip, by Highlife – one that I heard on Dazed’s excellent August playlist

After some help from Pinglewood and NME, I’ve established that this Highlife is actually one Sleepy Doug Shaw, an occasional part of White Magic – themselves a folky, techno group from the same New York scene as Gang Gang Dance. Shaw dreams up jams around his drawling British vocals (to use The Fader‘s brilliant description, “his voice sounds like hot chocolate”). In an interview with NME he explained the genesis his pseudonym apon arriving in NYC: “I got heavily into African guitar music, especially the type known as highlife, and started listening to lots of awesome African bands, one of which was F. Kenya’s Guitar Band

Hence the name of this incredibly catchy slice of paradise pop, and its main lyric – “Madame Zehae Ala”, the name of an F. Kenya’s Guitar Band song that Shaw particularly adores.  The result is paradise pop: a warm plunge pool of lazy, cheerful guitar prangs, soulful female backing singers, a kicking little rhythm and a truly tropical feel.  Just try to stop your feet from tapping along…


Almost as perfect as the song is Shaw’s account of its conception: “I began to write the song on the island of Gaspar Grande, in the 15 miles of bocas between Venezuela and the most north-westerly point of Trinidad. The sun was so bright. Rum, Collee and Carib beer were good influences. I began to play in circles.”   As a comment after the NME feature so accurately concludes: “YES! THIS IS THE SHIT! THE REAL SHIT!”  It really is.

Highlife on MySpace

MP3: Highlife – F Kenya Rip (zSHARE)



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  1. 1/09 2009

    Great ! Thank you for info.