It is not uncommon for African musicians to use the adjective sweet to characterize a positive musical experience. Ewe-speakers may characterize singing and drumming that is performed expertly as vivi (sweet)—generating strong feeling and conveying a meaningful message.
Not a quality of cloying sentimentality, “sweet music” has a presence that moves a listener, often in a profound way. Listeners feel musical beauty through the interplay of the phenomenal surface of musical sound and the theoretical underneath of musical syntax.
African musicians are aware of the expressive opportunities afforded by musical syntax, and intentionally create music within known systems. The evaluative term sweet can open a path towards the scholarly articulation of musical syntax and culturally relevant statements about aesthetic judgment in Ewe agbadza.
This according to “Sweetness in agbadza music: Expressiveness in an item of agbadza singing and drumming” by David Locke, an essay included in Discourses in African musicology: J.H. Kwabena Nketia Festschrift (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2015, pp. 98–123).
Above and below, agbadza music and dancing.
Related article: Traditional Ghanaian sampling
Jùjú, a type of popular music that combines indigenous Yorùbá musical practices with Christian hymnody, was first popular in Lagos in the 1930s.
The tambourine, introduced in Lagos in 1920 by missionaries, was integrated into jùjú because of its musical and symbolic associations. The spiritual dimension of this instrument is partly responsible for the name jùjú, which is an extension of the term used by colonialists to describe the various African traditional belief practices. Other stylistic resources of jùjú include the samba of the Brazilian community of Lagos and songs and musical instruments of the Liberian Kru sailors.
In the 1940s jùjú bands began to experiment with new musical instruments such as gangan (talking drum), pennywhistle, organ, and mandolin. The projection of Yorùbá elements and the introduction of accordion and harmonica are identified with Isaiah Kehinde Dairo (above). The rapid changes in social and political structures of the 1960s and 1970s in Nigeria were reflected in further developments.
This according to “A diachronic study of change in jùjú music” by Afolabi Alaja-Browne (Popular music VIII/3 [October 1989] pp. 231–42).
Below, King Sunny Adé, one of the performers discussed in the article.
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.