Thursday, January 29, 2015

Asante Kete Drumming: Music of Ghana

This 2007 release on Lyrichord Records is comprised of field recordings by musicologist Joseph S. Kaminski at a funeral in Kumase, Ghana in October 2001.  The ancient form of Asante kete drumming has unknown roots, but has flourished among the Asante political division of the broader Akan peoples.  The very informative liner notes includes good historical information about the Asante and Akan.

Kete drumming, which is said to have the power to attract good spirits, was used to accompany warriors to battle, as well as court ceremonies for state visits, funerals, and executions, among others, as well as rituals honoring ancestors.  These days, the form is used for funerals, at which dancing is encouraged to assist in the soul of the deceased as it goes to an ancestor heaven.  Gestures made by the dancers invoke symbolically proverbs among the Asante.

Of a large repertoire of fifteen kete pieces, this disc presents five, varying in length from just over 9 to about 14 minutes.  Percussion instruments include the petia, or small pegged drum which is struck with sticks; the kwadum or main drum, also hit with sticks and which is played to mimic speech; the apentema, or a pegged drum hit with the hands; the abrukua, another pegged drum struck with sticks; the donno or hour-glass shaped talking drum (this instrument, however, is not featured on the recording); the ntorowa, a gourd rattle; and the dawuro, a iron bell in the shape of a boat and which keeps strict time.  The five pieces vary in tempo, with some able to played slow or fast depending on the circumstances.

The ensemble performing on the recording is the Nsuase Kete Group, which performs in the Kumase area and consists of six members led by Isaac Nketia, who is also a professional dancer and plays the petia here.  Other identified musicians are Gabriel Ololai Martey on the kwadum; Yaw Damso on the apentena; and Richard Dwoomoh on the abrukua.  Performers on the dawuro and ntorowa were unknown.

The exciting polyrhythms of this drumming is something to behold, especially if the listener is particularly into percussion music.  For those not much into drumming or African music, a full hour or so is almost certainly too much, but, for this listener, the album is a fantastic example of the power of African drumming, particularly the rich history and tradition found in west African percussion.

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