Tuesday, January 7, 8200

Ghana to Ghana (c. 1200) - Polyrhythms

"Ghana" means "Warrior King," and was the source of the name "Guinea" (via French Guinoye) to refer to the West African coast (as in Gulf of...).

Ghana was inhabited in pre-colonial times by a number of ancient kingdoms, including the Ga Adangbes on the eastern coast, inland Empire of Ashanti, and various Fante states along the coast and inland.

The Ashanti or Asante are a major ethnic group in Ghana. They were a powerful, militaristic, and highly disciplined people of West Africa.

[Ghana (or Wagadou) Empire, c. 750-1076, located in what is now southeastern Mauritania, Western Mali, and Eastern Senegal -- not to be confused with the later region now known as Ghana, which shares no territory with the earlier entity.]

The ancient Ashanti migrated from the vicinity of the northwestern Niger River after the fall of the Ghana Empire in the 1200's. Evidence of this lies in the royal courts of the Akan kings reflected by that of the Ashanti kings whose processions and ceremonies show remnants of ancient Ghana ceremonies. Ethno linguists have substantiated the migration by tracing word usage and speech patterns along West Africa.

[Akosombo Dam in southeastern Ghana, at the Akosombo gorge, on the Volta River]

Around the 13th century AD, the Ashanti and various other Akan peoples migrated into the forest belt of present-day Ghana and established small states in the hilly country around present-day Kumasi.

[Elephant near Ndutu, near Ngorongo Crater, Olduvai Gorge, and the Serengeti (Tanzania)]

Ghana - Elephant Ear Drums

Polyrhythm is the simultaneous sounding of two or more independent rhythms. Polyrhythms can be distinguished from irrational rhythms, which can occur within the context of a single part; polyrhythms require at least two rhythms to be played concurrently, one of which is typically an irrational rhythm.

A simple example of a polyrhythm is 3 evenly-spaced notes against 2, with the 3-beat pattern being faster than the 2-beat pattern, so that they both take the same amount of time. Other simple polyrhythms are 5-2, 5-4, etc. Where one of the parts involves an irrational rhythm, the resulting rhythm could be said to be an "irrational polyrhythm."

Another form of polyrhythm, which might also be termed polymeter, would be phrasing to suggest a different meter than the one being played by the rest of the ensemble. A common example of this would be phrasing quarter notes in groupings of 3 to suggest 3/4 time while the ensemble plays in 4/4.

[Takada drumming of the Ewe people of the island town of Anyako off the coast of Southeastern Ghana]

Traditional African music, particularly that of West Africa, is known for its highly complex polyrhythms, often with downbeats that do not usually coincide. Rhythms and counter rhythms evidence the common African cultural tradition of call and response, with different drum lines, other musical instruments, bodies and voices contributing rhythmic elements that complement and communicate with one another.

The Ewe have developed a complex culture around drumming. Ewe believe that if someone is a good drummer, it is because they inherited a spirit of an ancestor who was a good drummer. Music and dance are a force in cementing social feeling among members of an Agbekor society.

In general, Ewe drums are constructed like barrels with wooden staves and metal rings. It is also possible to obtain fine drums that are carved from a single block of wood. They are played with sticks and hands, and often fulfill roles that are traditional to the family. The 'child' or 'baby brother' drum, kagan, usually plays on the weak beats in a repeated pattern that links directly with the bell and shaker ostinatos. The 'mother' drum, kidi, usually has a more active role in the accompaniment. It responds to the larger sogo or 'father' drum. The entire ensemble is led by the atsimevu or 'grandfather' drum, largest of the group.

Lyrical songs are more prevalent in the southern region. In the north, flutes and drums generally take the place of the singer's voice.

The Dagomba are a people of Northern Ghana. They inhabit the sparse West African savanna region below the Sahel belt, known as the Sudan (not to be confused with the country). They speak the Dagbani language which belongs to the More-Dagbani sub-group of Gur languages. The More/Mossi now have their homeland in present day Burkina Faso, while the Dagbani sub-group today has broken up into three ethnic groups: The Dagbamba, the Mamprusi and the Nanumba. Even though these groups today constitute three apparently distinct ethnic groups, their people still identify with each other and the bond is strongest among the Dagbamba and Nanumba. The homeland of the Dagbamba is called Dagbon and covers about 8,000 sq. miles in area and has a total population of about 650, 000. The area constitutes seven administrative districts in present day Ghana. These are Tamale Municipality, Tolon/Kumbungu, Savelugu/Nantong, Yendi, Gushegu/Karaga, Zabzugu/Tatali and Saboba/Cheriponi. The overlord the Dagbon Traditional Kingdom is the Ya- Na, whose court and administrative capital is at Yendi. Yendi is reputed to be the largest village in West Africa. The Dagbon Kingdom has traditional administrative responsibilities for hitherto acephalous groups like the Konkomba, the Bimoba, the Chekosi, the Basaari, the Chamba, and the Zantasi. Though ethnic Dagbamba are in the majority, the people of the subject ethnic groups have equal citizenship rights in the Kingdom. The seat of the Ya Na literally translated as King of Absolute Power, is a collection of cow skins. Thus when we talk of the political history of Dagbon, we often refer to it as the Yendi Skin.

Na Gbewaa is regarded as the founder of Greater Dagbon (Present day Dagbon, Mamprugu and Nanung). Lacking in a writing culture, Dagbamba are one of the cultural groups with a very sophisticated oral culture woven around drums and other musical instruments. Thus most of its history, until quite recently, has been based on oral tradition with drummers as professional historians.

Dagomba - Talking Drum in Ensemble

[8200 Java / 8200 Ghana Polyrhythms / 8200 Fulani Nigeria]