The Ewe of Ghana have a long history of incorporating musical elements from other cultures into their traditions.
Recent developments among the Tagborlo family in the master drumming for agbadza funeral dancing (above), influenced to some extent by contacts with Western popular music, involve humor (including graphic sexual jokes), taunts, and quotations from popular songs in a manner resembling sampling procedures in rap music. These innovations are entirely within the tradition—the basic rhythmic structure, cultural context, and instrumentation remain the same.
This according to “’My mother has a television, does yours?’ Transformation and secularization in an Ewe funeral drum tradition” by James Burns (Oral tradition XX/2 [October 2005] pp. 300–319). Below, agbadza drumming and dancing at a funeral in Atsiekpui, Ghana; the master drummer on the far left conveys verbal messages through references to speech rhythms and tones.
Related post: Dagomba dance-drumming
Filed under Africa, Humor
Ever since the publication of his African Music in Ghana (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1963), Joseph Hanson Kwabena Nketia (b.1921) has been reknowned among ethnomusicologists. His distinguished career has included many fine publications on music in Africa and its diaspora. The first volume of his collected papers, Ethnomusicology and African music: Modes of inquiry and interpretation, was issued by Afram Publications in 2005.
Nketia’s extensive background in musicology gave him the tools to revolutionize the analysis of African drumming, and since the 1980s he has produced landmark articles on more general aspects of ethnomusicological theory. He is also a composer—he studied with Henry Cowell in the late 1950s—who has written works for both Western and African instruments.
This post is part of our series celebrating Black History Month. Throughout February we will be posting about resources and landmark writings in black studies. Click here or on the Black studies category on the right to see a continuously updated page of links to all of our posts in this category.
Below, a performance of Nketia’s Monna n’ase (1942).
Created by the ethnomusicologist David Locke, Dagomba dance-drumming presents sound recordings, staff notation, and text materials on the dance drumming of the Dagomba people of northern Ghana.
The recordings and historical narratives—including a personal narrative of training in drumming—were collected from Alhaji Abubakari Lunna, an expert on Dagomba performing arts and culture. The story of Lunna’s life conveys the scope of the knowledge that a great drummer learns, the way this heritage is transmitted, and a glimpse into the Dagomba drumming scene during the second half of the twentieth century. The website is hosted by Tufts University.
This is the first in our series of posts celebrating Black History Month. Throughout February we will be posting about resources and landmark writings in black studies. Click here or on the Black studies category on the right to see a continuously updated page of links to all of our posts in this category.
Below, an excerpt from a performance of Takai, a Dagomba dance that involves the striking of metal rods in the dancers’ hands and swirling movements that are enhanced by their flaring costumes.
Related post: Traditional Ghanaian sampling
Established in 1990 by the journalist, writer, and musician John Collins, the Bokoor African Popular Music Archives is a Ghanaian NGO that aims to preserve, promote, and disseminate Ghanaian and African popular and traditional performance, and to act as a facilitator, consultant, and resource center for various African arts projects in Ghana and the international African community. It also maintains a database and archive of contemporary African arts and performance traditions, and assists and networks with other collectors and organizations doing similar cultural, educational, and archival work. The Archives include freely accessible books, articles, and sound and video recordings.