Ghana’s Heart Beats with Music
By J.K Acquandah
---------------Professor of Archeology, University of Ghana----------------
Ghana is par excellence a nation of music. Every sphere of our Ghanaian life-style throbs with music.
At the naming ceremony and puberty rites, at the betrothal and the wedding, at the market and on the farms, at the blacksmith’s and the potter’s factory and at he beach fishing scene, at the village story telling scene at night, at the chief’s durbar and the annual yam festival, at the traditional priest’s shrine and at the Christian church, at social gathering or at the night club music making is ubiquitous.
Ghana’s contemporary musical world is characterized by an array of foreign and indigenous music types, employing local and foreign styles, techniques and instruments. There are ancient traditional instruments some dating back to 500-000 years,such as the Seprewa, Adenkum, Dawuro, Akasa and the Ashiwa, the Nnawa, Odurugya ,and Atenteben, and there are foreign instruments such as guitars, trumpets, organs, pianos saxophones and clarinets which have been introduced recently into the country. Today the very imagination boggles at the fanatic array of music varieties produced by Ghanaian dance bands, coral groups, and church music groups.
During the last half century, Ghana’s creative composers have sought to identify the country’s unique qualities of indiginenous music and develop them. One such quality involves the technique known as musicologists as ‘’contrapuntal.’
In such a musical type each drum plays its own part and yet all the drums combine to form one unit, there is also a voice inter play of solo and chorus, with one calling and the other responding.
Ephraim Amu Ghana’s celebrated composer, in experimenting on the contrapuntal concept, married the Western type of harmony to the traditional Ghanaian rhythm and produced at least a dozen musical compositions which world musical critics have adjudged as master piece.
These include Adawurabome,Meda preko,Alegbegbe,Yaanom ebibirima, Momma yenkoso nfro, Tete wobikyere, Konakotutuw, Miva miva, and BonwereKente.
This article examines some of the rich traditional resources which Ghanaian music-makers have tapped in order to make such an important contribution to the world musical heritage.
Ghanaian traditional music can be grouped into two major families, first, music for entertainment or recreation, and second, institutional music performed as part of social, religious, cultural or royal political functions or celebrations. Recreational or entertainment music seems to have the greatest variety of musical types employing varied instruments and also, quite, naturally, has the most popular types of music.
The history of Ghanaian music reveals the creation, recreation and modification of successive recreational types of music in every ethnic group. Since the recreational type of music evolved out of contemporary and historical cultural situations, they have tended to change with the vicissitudes of socio-economic life in Ghanaian ethnic groups. An excellent example is seen in the Akan musical type called Sikabewuepere, meaning money’s death pangs. This musical piece evolved from Akan land in the mid 1920’s during the period of economic boom when the millionaires of the time appeared at performances of Sikabewuepere and engaged in a lavish competitive display of wealth involving open destruction of currency notes .When the boom ended of course, Sikabewuepere also went out of vogue.
The instrument used in recreational music, differ from one musical type to the other. But the instruments were in the past all made from local raw materials.
They range from idiophones such as iron gongs, iron hoe blades, castanets box drums and metal rattles, to Membranophones or drums such as the fontomfrom, Boma, Mpintim Paso, Atumpan, Mpebi, Asafotwene, Operenten and Ogyamma; then there are Aerophones such as the ivory and atelope horn trumpet, the cane flute (Odurugya)and the bomboo flute (Atenteben); there are also chordophones which include the lute-harp(Seperewa),the musical bow(Benta),and the hand piano(Prempensua).
The commonest instruments of course ate the human voices featured in solo or chorus, hand clapping, and slapping of the chest. In some musical types, even a sleeping pillow is employed as a musical instrument. Some instruments originated in one ethnic group in the past but have since spread all over the country. An example is the Akan Prempensua or hand piano which the kassena people call kono, the Dagomba call it Animgbo and the Congo call it Gyilgo. Then there is the Akan Atumpane which gas diffused to all Ghanaian ethnic groups and has even reached Ivory Coast and the Benin Republic.
The Ga Tambourine drum is another such defused musical trait, while the Dono hour-glass drum and the Lobi-Digarti Xylophone are legacies from Northern Ghana. Musical types are performed either by adult males only or females only, or by both males and females, and others are performed only by youths and children.
Ga Adangbe recreational music is a women’s affair. So are the Dagarti Nuru and Kare musical types, the Dagomba Tora and Lua, the Grunshi Lenle and the Frafra Singyale.
Recreational music in Ghana is dynamic. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that during the first half of the 20th century, over 30 different recreational musical types emerged in Akanland, most of them having a light-hearted character, sometimes bordering on frivolities and obscenity, among them Wompe, Sikyi, Ntan, Aways, Moses, Osibi, Akosua Tuntum, and Sikabewuepere. In Eweland, during the same period, Atseblaga, Dzidzomegbe, Akpalu, Gahu and Atsiagbekor, emerged while among the Ga Ayika, Gombe, Kolomashie, Tumatu, Tumbe and Kpanlogo musical types emerged in succession.
One of the areas in Ghana most notable for its rich variety of recreational types of music is the Fante coastland stretching from Saltpond to Elmina. The villages and towns of that area including Kormatin, Bandai, Anomabu, Biriwa, Moree, Ekwan and Cape Coast are mainly fishing communities. But above all, they are music- making communities. They sing as they mend their nets or dye them. They sing as they carve, launch and row their boats, or as they draw in their nets filled with fish, and they make music as they smoke fish or when they relax and tell their stories in the night in their homes.
Although they also engage in institutional music such as Akom religious band music, Asafo cult, royal durbar and festival music, it is in the entertainment musical field that they excel. They have made male, female and youth bands which engage in recreational music.
Their “musical instruments” are usually drums, castanets, empty bottles, handclapping, and beating of the bare chest.
The concern with music and entertainment is partly psychological and is meant to take their minds off the risks and hazards which deep sea fishing life involves. Musical types like Bosoe, Abele, Akrodo, Bonkutu and Tusker dwell on themes of fish, finance, marriage, disputes and death.
One of the songs says:
“We who go to Twuyi dragnet fishing. We three penny pieces. We have no respect for anybody”
“Good herrings are coming. They are from the south East. They will come to the North-West”
A third song runs thus:
“Alas, alas, we shan’t sleep tonight. Do not deceive me and go to Obuase, or else I will query you. You will of course, argue. And your sister will support you. We shan’t sleep tonight, Alas! To be alone is miserable.”
From coastal Ghana to the hinterland Akan, among the Asante, Brong Ahafo and Akyem peoples, there is a popular recreational musical type called the Nnwonkoro which is mainly for adult women who are related by kinship. The group meets at night in street under the moonlight to sing in praise or honour of deceased loved one. Using instruments such as castanets, hoe-blade or gong, and hand-clapping, they stand in a circle and sing in solo in turns, all the time making dramatic gestures reflecting their feelings. One piece from Wenchi Nnwokoro repertoire is in honour of Nana Kusi, a departed Brong Omanhene.
“Akwanansowaa Nana Kusi. You have made your contribution. Son of Prempeh and Akwawua of Asafo; like the black Mamba, himself the Great old Hunter, The Leopard, Known to all mankind. Akwanansowaa Nana Kusi. You have played your part.”
Another recreational musical type for adult women which is commonly performed in the Asante, Akuapem as well as the Ga areas, Fanteland and Winneba, is the Adenkum ensemble, and it is common to Adenkum bands every where. The Adenkum gourd has a long neck with a bulb and is held by the neck in the left hand, the bulb end facing downward.
Using a castanet, Dono or hourglass they entertain crowds at festivals like Winneba Aboakyer, Elmina Bakatue, and Otuam Yam festival celebrations. Their song themes vary from love, to marriage, religion, philosophy and praise of great persons such as the one performed when President Nkrumah visited Elmina:
“You have done well. Congratulations for a successful fight. Nkrumah, we bid you welcome. Nkrumah, you have fought and saved Ghana. Kwame Nkrumah has done great thing for Africa”
Ghana has a great variety of institutional types of music featuring specific musical organizations which perform on social or cultural occasions. The most outstanding examples are the Royal court ensembles like the Kete, Fontomfrom and Mpintin. Music-makers if these ensembles are recruited from many households to play for the Royal court at durbars and festivals. They combine drums, trumpets, bells, gongs and stringed instruments. There are also Asafo warrior organizations or political pressure groups in Akanland which have their own marital musical types.
There are various religious associations attached to shrines such as the Akonnedi shrine of Larteh. They have their own musical type. Many ethnic groups in Ghana such as the Dangme, Ewe and Akan celebrate female puberty rites whiles some in Northern Ghana celebrate male puberty rites. There are musical types associated with these celebrations. One of them is Bragoro, a musical type performed in Asante during female puberty rites. The Bragoro group is a female group which employs the Dondo, the castanet, the double gong, the gourd rattle and the hoe-blade. Their songs are performed in solo and chorus and they dance through the town and by the riverside where the girls receive the purification bath.
The Ghanaian extended family system and beliefs in ancestor worship and life after death have created an insatiable desire for elaborate funeral celebrations in the country. In this aspect of traditional culture also, many musical types have been evolved. An example is the Kurunku. This is a small organization which one encounters in Fanteland, Swedru, Winneba, Apam and mining towns of Asante and the Western Region. Kurunku is believed to have originated in the 1870s when the Gold Coast Company opened gold mines at Tarkwa , Aboso, Obuasi, Akrokerri and konongo.
It is said that when mines were flooded, people died in the underground shafts. It was during the funerals of such mines victims that the Kurunku originated and evolved. Kurunku is performed by spontaneous bands. Their instruments include the rattle, gong, castanets, Ampaa drum, ogyamaa drum and the sleeping pillow and they perform in solo and chorus to mourn the dead.
One of their songs reflects their grief on such occasions:
“I love working in the mines. But I have had too much of it; Let somebody go and see my mother. And say to her, alas, I have descended into the grave, Let somebody come to see my present state, let somebody come. And visit me.”
Ghana Culture Magazine Issue No. 3/2010