Ga Music

Ga Music

Traditional Ga vocal music can be with or without instrumental accompaniment. Best known are the songs from the kple religion. The songs are sung by women and regularly accompanied by a double bell for the time line or for the basic beat. The subject of those songs is the history of the Ga. The texts of the songs are most of the time in proverbs, which makes them difficult to understand for outsiders. Children learn to sing those songs by imitating their mothers. Usually women gather together in the evening to sing the songs.

According to Nketia, among the vocal music of the Ga, there are two main groups of musical types:

(a) Those based on some kind of pentatonic foundation, which include the cult music of

kple and kpa (performed in Labadi) and the ceremonial music of ofi (bleble),

performed during the homowo festival for the chief and elders

(b) Musical types based on a heptatonic foundation. They include the music of the court,

recreational music, the music of traditional popular bands, warrior associations, and so

on (Nketia 1965:  276).

The songs of the Ga are often sung by a group, alternately by a cantor or a number of cantors and chorus (Nketia 1958: 82). The language of Ga songs may be Ga, Akan (Twi/Fante) or a mixture of the two. The use of Twi words, phrases and sentences in the course of songs, which are mainly in Ga, is also fashionable in modern popular music (Nketia 1958: 82).

Besides this vocal music, much traditional instrumental music can be found among the Ga. The emphasis in Ga instrumental music is on drums and idiophones. Sometimes a horn is used in the music for the chief (probably originally an Akan tradition), but there does not appear to be any traditional stringed or wind instruments (Nketia 1958: 76). Of the idiophones used in Ga society, gongs (nono) are the most common. These are used both as ‘time keepers’ and accompanying instruments. In the first case each gong plays an unchanging rhythm pattern, maintaining a steady tempo throughout the entire performance. If the gong player

falters, he throws everybody off. The bell as a time keeper is seen in traditional drum ensembles like gome and oge. The second method of using gongs emphasises their function as accompanying instruments. One or both of the gongs may play a number of rhythm patterns in much the same way as drums may be used, while maintaining a steady tempo. This treatment of gongs is commonly found in the music of Kple (Nketia 1958: 76).

The main musical instruments of Ghanaians and other West Africans are drums. In Ga society, hourglass drums and closed cylindrical drums are used in traditional musical types performed for chiefs. Apart from these, all the drums of the Ga are single headed open drums. They include heavy drums (obonu), and talking drums (atumpan) found at the courts of chiefs as well as medium (e.g. kpanlogo) and small drums used in cult music and music for entertainment (Nketia 1958: 78).

According to Nketia (Nketia 1958: 80), three forms of drumming can be distinguished in Ga music:

  1. signal mode
  2. speech mode
  3. dance mode

In signal mode of drumming, a short rhythm pattern or a restricted number of such patterns are played by a single drummer. These rhythms are not intended for dancing. The rhythms are played over and over again for about a minute, after which the drummer has to wait until some considerable time has elapsed. The drums used in this manner are called tsoisin and are found only at the courts of Ga chiefs.

In the second mode of drumming, attempts are made to imitate speech by reproducing the rhythm an intonation of verbal texts. To be able to interpret the rhythms, one has to learn it as a ‘restricted’ language. Many people are able to only interpret a few rhythm patterns, usually those used in the dancing arena as a joke or for congratulating people. Any drum capable of pitch variation such as oblente and the master drum of asafo can be used. The drums most commonly employed for this mode, are the atumpan drums. The language that is used for these rhythms is Akan, there is no established tradition of drum language based on Ga.

The third mode of drumming is the dance mode of drumming. This is by far the most frequently used. In this mode of drumming, single drums and idiophones may be used for playing the required dance rhythms, as for example in adowa, bawa and dzigboo music and dancing, or the music performed at story telling sessions at wake keeping. The usual ensemble for performing dance music consists of three drums that vary in pitch, the tuning of the drums is not absolute. Supporting rhythms are played on the drums with low pitch, the

master drummer plays on the high pitched drum. The drummers are accompanied by a bell, or a rattle and a bell.

The instrumental music of the Ga is a composite of Ga and Akan derived forms each of which is associated with a particular institution or a social organisation. The Akan forms are commonly linked with the traditional political organisation, and later cults, while the indigenous forms are associated with worship, festivals and other aspects of Ga social life. There is, however, a common meeting ground of Akan and Ga forms in the music of recreation (Nketia 1958: 79-81).(http://musicology.nl/WM/scripties/rentink.pdf)

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