Vous l’avez sans doute déjà repéré : sur la plateforme OpenEdition Books, une nouvelle interface vient d’être mise en ligne.
En cas d’anomalies au cours de votre navigation, vous pouvez nous les signaler par mail à l’adresse feedback[at]openedition[point]org.

Précédent Suivant

8. Art Music in Ghana: An Introduction

p. 149-164

Texte intégral

1The historical development of modern Ghanaian Art Music is very similar to that of Nigeria. As in Nigeria, the activities of British colonial administrators, missionaries and teachers helped to introduce and consolidate the practice and consumption of European liturgical Christian music as well as European classical music — the two musical genres — which provided the foundations for the emergence of modern Ghanaian Art music. As in Nigeria, the most significant factor in the growth of European music and indeed European culture in Ghana was the Christian Church. As J.H.K. Nketia has observed, this growth was:

encouraged and strengthened by the activities of the church, which preached against African cultural practices while promoting western cultural values and usages. It adopted a hostile attitude to African music... because (it) was associated with ‘pagan’ practices. Moreover, this music did not appear to be suitable for the form of Christian worship that westerners were accustomed to...1

2Although, European church music was used almost exclusively in the early Ghanaian Christian liturgy, events which would usher in the use of Ghanaian music in the Church began to take place by the beginning of this century. As a result of the need to make Christianity a more widely accepted religion in Ghana, and in view of the limitations of European music for reflecting the semantic and poetic potency of indigenous Ghanaian languages adequately, it became necessary for Ghanaian music to be composed for use in the emerging Ghanaian churches. One individual whose life illustrates the musico-historical process which modern Ghanaian church music and classical music have undergone is Ephraim Amu, who is regarded as the ‘father’ of contemporary Ghanaian Art Music.

The Pioneering Works of Ephraim Amu

3Amu was born in 1899, in Peki, in the Volta Region of Ghana. His father, a drummer and singer, provided the earliest form of musical influence from which the young Amu derived strong motivation to pursue a professional career in music. He later enrolled at the Pesbyterian Middle School where he was formally introduced to Western music by the music teacher, Mr. Theodore Karl Ntem. Mr. Ntem did not only teach music, he also directed a church choir and was a very proficient organist. By the time Amu left the school in 1919, he had started to play the organ.

4Amu continued his music education at the Basel Mission Seminary at Kwahu Abetifi, where he had gone to train as a mission school teacher in January 1916. Of particular significance to his musical career were the activities of one Reverend Gershon Stern, whose love for and knowledge of the music of Handel, Bach and Mozart as well as of other Western composers became a source of inspiration and enlightenment for the young Amu. By the end of his course at the teacher training school in 1919, Amu had acquired enough musical skill to become a music teacher at Peki Blengo Middle Boarding School. In Peki, he continued his own lessons, this time from Reverend Allotey Pappoe. In an interview, Reverend Pappoe recalled that:

Mr. Amu came to take music lessons — theory — with me. Amu at the time could play the harmonium, but not much, and he also knew a bit of the theory of music. I started to teach him the rudiments of music and composition, wading through the syllabus of the advanced course of the Victoria College of Music, London.2

5It is significant that even at such a relatively early stage in his musical career, Amu developed an interest in composition. His teacher, Reverend Pappoe, provided one of the first opportunities for Amu to produce a composition. His piece, Fare Thee Well, was written in 1923 and dedicated to Reverend Pappoe to mark his transfer from Peki to Accra. At about the same time, between 1921 and 1923, Amu also wrote such choral works as Mawo do Iesu in Ewe and Meye Adwuma Ama Iesu in Twi. Other songs include Nkwagye Dwom (A song of salvation), Dwonto and Yetu.

6Amu later moved to Akropong where he continued to teach music. During his stay there, in response to a challenge by the principal, the Reverend William Fergusson, he arranged a popular Ghanaian tune, Yaa Amponsa. The significance of this work to Amu’s career is aptly described by Fred Agyemang:

Ya Amponsa was clearly the curtain raiser to Amu’s wider interest and deeper work in indigenous African music: rhythm, flutes, drums, time, idiom and words. His new words Nnonan Ne Fa set to the well known tune soon gained popularity in many schools and colleges.3

7In addition:

Amu held and maintained his students’ interest... by teaching them simple African tunes, (and) rhythms which he was himself studying and adapting from popular as well as traditional African dance, song.4

8Amu, however, never stopped his study of Western music.

Whilst he was studying and developing the indigenous traditional African Music... he maintained his study of European Music and never lost his love for the music of Bach, Mozart, Hadyn and the other great Masters.5

9By 1937, when Amu proceeded to the Royal College of Music, London for further studies, he had had a solid foundation in the theory and practice of music. He took courses in harmony and counterpoint, orchestration, piano and composition under such great musicians as Herbert Howells and Gordon Jacob. As Agyemang noted, Amu’s ‘musical studies in Europe prepared him for the type of musical career he was to pursue back in the Gold Coast (now Ghana)’6 In 1940, and for the next fifty years, Amu dominated contemporary Ghanaian Art Music. Amu, who is now ninety-six years old, has led an active musical life in Ghana. He established a famous Government Music School at Achimota and later became a Faculty member of the University of Science and Technology, Kumasi. In addition, he helped to establish the Music Department of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana at Legon, where he later worked as Senior Research Fellow from 1962 to 1971, when he retired. A glowing tribute to Amu’s successful musical career in Ghana is the Ghana National Orchestra, which is still the forum for the promotion of classical music in Ghana. This author was privileged to attend a special concert held on September 30th, 1994 at the National Theatre, Accra by the Ghana National Choir to honour Ephraim Amu, on the occasion of his ninety- fifth birthday. The Choir, which was conducted by Mrs. Dinah Reindorf, mostly performed works by Amu.

Stylistic Classification of Amu’s Music

10Amu’s music has been classified into three distinct stylistic periods7 comprising the early period (1920-1937), middle period (1937-1951), and third period (1952-present). His early works are generally simple in character, making use of simple and diatonic chords.

Ex. 1

Image img01.jpg

11Some of the songs also highlight the use of duple and triple effects as well as call and response patterns. Examples of works from this first period are Biakoye (Unity), Israel Hene (King of Israel), Abibirimma (Sons of Africa), and Akwaabadwon (Welcome Song — Hail to the Victors).

12Works from the middle period reveal more complex artistry, notably in the use of simple polyrhythmic and polyphonic textures. Works in this category have been described as having the character of Fine Art Music. It is in these works that Amu began to experiment with the use of polyphonie textures in setting traditional Ghanaian tonal languages. Such works provide the foundation for the more detailed experiments in polyphonie writing of his later works; examples are Adawura Bome (Play for Me) and Akyede Pa Mafo (Giver of Good Things).

13In the third period, J.H.K. Nketia noted that Amu’s works are characterised by more complex polyrhythmic and contrapuntal textures (Ex. 2).8 A general feature of these works is the tendency to imitate the melo-rhythmic idiom of Ghanaian traditional instrumental music. Corroborating this point, Amu himself remarked that:

Contrapuntal treatment is (at this stage) most desirable. It is, from my experience, the only way to achieve effective results in writing songs in any language which is markedly tonal.9

14Thus, although the works are vocal compositions, they tend to evoke instrumental textures. Adawura Bome (S.A.T.B.) (Play For Me) for example, is a beautiful fughetta ‘which imitates the percussion rhythm of the gong and the drum, through the use of such nonsensical sounds as kon kon kon and pete pete pete’. Other works which highlight similar features include Hyiawu based on a traditional hunters’ song and Alegbegbe... (For God so Loved the World). The polyphonie and melo-rhythmic features of Amu’s music described above are similar to those employed in the works of such Nigerian composers as Okechukwu Ndubuisi and Lazarus Ekwueme earlier discussed. Thus, whether in Ghana or Nigeria, African composers of vocal music are often aware of the need to preserve and reflect the linguo-musical dialect of their traditional music in their works. In making his works culturally relevant to the Ghanaian situation, Amu relied on a profound and intimate knowledge of his traditional music. He took time to collect and study traditional Ghanaian songs.


Image img02.jpg

Ex. 2 cont’d

Image img03.jpg

15Amu also plays such traditional flutes as seprewa and atenteben, (an instrument which he later developed and standardised), as well as Akan drums such as atumpan and fontomfrom. He has made use of these instruments in some of his works. His Agyinamoa Wno (The demise of a cat), for example, is scored for an ail bamboo flute ensemble while his Atenteben Prelude is written for piano and atenteben.

Other Ghanaian Composers

16The pioneering effort of Ephraim Amu has helped to provide the foundation for the emergence of younger Ghanaian composers who have, in different ways through their works, contributed to the growth and sustenance of Ghanaian Art Music. As in Nigeria, many of these composers are trained within a predominantly European system of music education and are musicologists or ethnomusicologists who have combined a career in composition with a strong academic interest in music. Examples include J.H.K. Nketia (the reknowned African ethnomusicologist), Ata Annan Mensah, N.Z. Nayo, Gyimah Labi, Otto-Boateng, Entsua-Mensah, Kwesi Baiden, A. Amissah, Eric Nyarko, Kenneth Kafui, Willie Auku and, one of the youngest of them, Emmanuel Boamah.

17In terms of style and direction, Amu’s vision continues to influence the works of these composers, notably in the integration of European and African musical elements.

18J.H.K. Nketia has been described as the natural successor to Amu as the leading Ghanaian composer. His musical career is distinguished by a desire to compose anchored on a thorough study and investigation of traditional African music. As he explained to me in an interview, it was because of his desire to compose works culturally relevant to Africa that he developed an interest in ethnomusicology, with a view to understanding the principles of African music. His initial interest in African music was to develop one of the most distinguished careers in this study. After an initial interest in linguistics as a student of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Nketia studied music at the Birkbeck College, also of the University of London. He continued his musical studies at the Trinity College of Music London, and then the Julliard School of Music, New York and Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. His teachers included Henry Cowell (composition), Cari Sachs (ethnomusicology), Alan Merriam and Melville Herskovits (anthropology and ethnomusicology). He has taught music in such institutions as the University of Legon, Ghana and the University of California, Los Angeles. He currently heads the International Centre for African Music and Dance, Legon.

19Nketia has written vocal and instrumental works. His choral works include Adanse Kronkron (Divine Testimony) Mokamfo No (Praise Him) and Wose Aseda (You Deserve to be Thanked). While his first work, Adanse Kronkron is similar to the early works of Amu in its hymn-like charactec, contrapuntal writing is featured in works like Mokamfo No and Wose Aseda. According to Nketia, the use of counterpoint ‘gives room for imagination and invention’. Nketia has also written substantially for the piano. His works for the piano include Playtime, At the Crossroads, Libation, Meditation, Dagarti Work Song, Builsa Work Song, Volta Fantasy and Contemplation. These are short quasi-programmatic works in which Nketia evokes the melo-rhythmic and textual features of Ghanaian instrumental music. Generally simple in their tonal and formal character, the most significant element of these pieces lies in their dynamic rhythmic character, notably in the use of vertical and horizontal hemiola (Ex. 3).

Ex. 3

Image img04.jpg

20The pieces are pedagogical in conception, as Nketia has himself explained. They were conceived to introduce students of African music to some of the basic features of Ghanaian music.

21Other Ghanaian composers of piano music include Ata Annan Mensah (Divine Presence), Kenneth Kafui (Pentanata in which the composer uses a five note scale in a work conceived along the lines of a European piano sonata), Emmanuel Boamah (The African Fantasy), and Gyimah Labi (Dialectics — 1 and 2, op. 18 and op. 21). Of all these, Labi’s works are the most radical and invigorating. Labi’s often sophisticated handling of musical materials is not surprising, considering his academic background. After his initial studies at the University of Ghana, Labi attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he obtained his Master’s degree in music theory and composition. He carried out his doctoral studies at the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio. In addition to the works cited above, he has written five orchestral compositons, four duets for violin and piano, a string quartet, a trio for flute, bass clarinet and piano. Labi’s works, notably his piano compositions, are typified by the use of quartal harmony (harmonies built on fourths), excessive chromaticism — a feature which often obscures tonal areas — rhythmic ostinati, polyrhythmic textures and assymetric rhythmic phrases (Ex. 4).

Ex. 4 Dialectics-2 for pianoforte op.21, 1987 Gyimah Labi

Image img05.jpg

22Some of these features are also common to Ghanaian traditional music as Labi rightly observes.10 The nature of their use in his works is, however, more reminiscent of the music of composers like Bartok and Stravinsky than of Ghanaian traditional music.

23In spite of the efforts of such composers as Nketia, Kafui, Labi and Boamah at forging a tradition of Ghanaian piano music, the mainstay of Ghanaian Art Music is a rich tradition of choral music. It can be safely asserted that Ghanaian Art Music is predominantly vocal music. As in Nigeria and despite the existence of a National Orchestra in Ghana, it is a lot easier to perform vocal works in Ghana — and composers would rather write works that can be easily performed. In order to identify some of the major stylistic tendencies of Ghanaian music, therefore, we shall briefly discuss some features of Ghanaian choral music.

Style in Ghanaian Choral Music

24Nketia has classified Ghanaian choral music into three stylistic categories. These are the choral anthem model, the traditional model and the Highlife model. The choral anthem model is typified essentially by the use of European four-part harmony conceived along the tradition of protestant church hymns, but which also make use of Ghanaian derived rhythms like this one.

Image img06.jpg

25Pieces in this category include: Aman Beyi W’aye(God, Nations Shall Praise Thee) by Otto-Boateng, Nketia’s Adanse Kronkron (Divine Testimony), Amissah’s Ayeyi and Amu’s Sam Befa (Go Back and Collect What You Left Behind).

26The traditional model is characterised by songs which are adapted from traditional Ghanaian choral music. Although pieces in this category also make use of European derived harmony, their formal outline often reflects traditional Ghanaian practices, notably in the use of the call and response pattern and improvisations. In addition, they often re-create, or allude to, traditional Ghanaian extra-musical social or ritual occasions. Examples here include Agor’s Dowolae Dua Nu (The Hard Worker Eats) and Nayo’s Mazu Atimedide both of which are conceived along the tradition of Northern Eweland recreational music; and Amu’s Asafo— a work conceived to evoke traditional Ghanaian war music. Also in this category are the lyrics, set to Fante tunes, which are often used spontaneously during worship in the church.

27The Highlife model consists of pieces conceived in the tradition of Highlife music and popular West African music whose origins are rooted in Ghana. Characteristic features of this model include the use of European- derived diatonic harmonics with emphasis on a colouristic use of the raised supertonic and the minor seventh, a single modulation to the dominant, as well as African rhythmic tradition. Examples of works in this category are Otto-Boateng’s YeyeAhene Baasa, Entsua Mensah’s Mmere (Time) and Kwesi Baiden’s Meye Den Me Kamfo Me Nyame (How do I praise my Lord?).

28Other features of Ghanaian choral music are the use of percussive rhythm, the use of parallel harmonics especially in thirds and sixths; the use of melodic lines which reflect the inflectionary pattern of texts and the employment of non-lexical syllables for harmonic and rhythmic effects (Ex. 5).


Image img07.jpg

Ex. 5 cont’d

Image img08.jpg

29As the discussion in this chapter has shown, Ghanaian composers are, like many of their Nigerian counterparts, nationalistic musicians, who in their bid to forge a modern tradition of Art Music in Ghana, have utilised elements of their native culture in association with those from European culture. It must be pointed out here that the discussion in this chapter is far from being exhaustive of the musical experiments by Ghanaian nationalist composers. This discussion therefore merely serves as an introduction to the very dynamic musical situation in Ghana — a tradition which is anchored on a more coherent national policy on music education than what obtains in Nigeria.

A Selection of Works by Ghanaian Composers


30Vocal Works

31Israel Hene (King of Israel)

32Odumayefo Ibrefo (The tiresome worker)

33Yen Awurade Otumfo Kese (Our Great Lord)

34Oni Pa Da Wo Ho So (O man be on your guard)

35Yen Wura Jesu Anim Obi Nni Ho (There’s none like Jesus)–

36Wope Onyame Ase No a (If you wish to become like God)

37Akwaabadwon (Welcome song - Hail to the victors)

38Hyiawu (Based on traditional hunters’ song)

39Adawura Borne (Play for me)

40Alegbegbe Mamu I. Yeyeame (For God so loved the world)

41Abibirimma (Sons of Africa)

42Tete Wo Bi Ka (The past has a lot to proclaim)

43Nenyo De Wo Dede (Perfection)

44Momm’ Yenko So Mforo (Let us keep on climbing)

45Onyame Ne Sahene (God is the captain of our host)

46Biakoye (Unity)

47Asafo (War music)

48Three solo songs (with pianoforte accompaniment) —

  1. Bonwere Kentenwene (Bonwere weaving)
  2. Akwaabadwon (A song of welcome and congratulations)
  3. Mawue Naa Me, Mawue Tea Me (God gives, God withholds) published by Presbyterian Book Depot, Accra

49Akyede Pa Mafo (Giver of good things)

50Yen Ara Asase Ni (This land is our own)

51Enne Ye Anigye Da (This is a joyful day)

52Ennye Yen Nyame (Not unto us O Lord)

53Sam Befa (Go back and collect what you left behind)

54Asem Yi Di Ka


55Vocal Works

56Adanse Kronkron (Divine testimony)

57Mokamfo No (Praise Him)

58Wose Aseda (You deserve to be thanked)

59Piano Works



62Volta Fantasy



65At the Crossroads

66Rays of Hope



69Dagarti Work Song

70Builsa Work Song

71Chamber Work

72Sonata for Flute and piano

Vocal Works by Other Ghanaian Composers


73Aman Beyi Waye (God, nations shall praise Thee)

74Yeye Ahene Baasa

75Asasa Wosow


76Mmere (Time)

77Asamandwow (The resting place of the dead)

78Ghana Wim Hen (Ghana Airways)

79Ennyigye Ntrado (Happiness)

80M’enyigye Nsunyiwa


81Meye Den Me Kamfo Me Nyame (How do I praise my Lord)



83Asankare Nnuapae (Asankare Sawmill)


84Ayeyi (Praise)


85Dzodzoeto Nenye (Righteous Art Thou)

86Mazu Atimedide

Piano Works by Other Composers


87Divine Presence (1952)

88Akano Mframa (Battle scene echoes, 1952)


89Dialectics 1 (Meditations on a theme by Pappoe) op. 18a, 1991

90Dialectics 2 op. 21, 1987


91Pentanata op. 10, no. 1


92The African Fantasy op. 1 1989

Notes de bas de page

1 K. Nketia, The Music of Africa, London, 1979, pp. 14-15.

2 Fred Agyemang, Amu the African: A study in vision and courage. Christian Council of Ghana, 1988, pp. 26-27.

3 Fred Agyemang, ibid.

4 ibid., p. 46.

5 ibid., p. 109.

6 ibid.

7 See Misonu Amu: Stylistic and textual sources of a contemporary Ghanaian Art music composer: A case study of Dr. Ephraim Amu. M. Phil. thesis, Univ. of Legon, 1988.

8 This interview was conducted when the author visited Ghana in September 1994.

9 E. Amu, Music in Ghana. Ghana Musical Society, Vol. 2, p. 53, 1961.

10 See the preface of Dialects - 2 op. 21, Ghana University Press, 1989.

Précédent Suivant

Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence Licence OpenEdition Books. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.